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Teaching left hand technique to beginners

Discussion in 'Double Bass Pedagogy [DB]' started by Sean Riddle, Dec 13, 2018.

  1. So I’ve recentally been going to middle and high schools around where I live to coach some of the young bassists in the music programs around. Some of these kids are brand new to bass and have never really received instruction about it before. I’ve been having luck teaching them about posture and good arco/pizz technique, but for the beginners I’ve been having real trouble figuring out how to show them healthy left hand technique. I know I should’nt exactly expect some of them to have conservatory/professional level left hand technique within a few weeks of working with them, but I at least want them to not hurt themselves down the line, especially for the middle school kids if they continue music in high school. Does anyone on here have any information they would be willing to share about teaching beginners healthy left hand technique?
  2. damonsmith


    May 10, 2006
    Quincy, MA
    Putting something between the first and middle finger can help, we used to use a film canister!
  3. CayGee


    Feb 21, 2018
    a friend of mine who is helping with my left hand technique used a matchbook to hold the 1st & middle fingers apart. Think I'll try the film can too, no hard edges like a matchbook.
  4. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    With all due respect, I am having a hard time seeing how the ideas of "putting objects between two fingers to spread them apart in a way the hand isn't designed to do naturally" and "healthy technique" go together.

    When I was studying classical guitar almost 40 years ago, the standard right hand technique was a massively bent wrist floating over the guitar that allowed the player to straighten the playing fingers in the rest stroke movement. When I studied, my teacher had me practice with a box of cigarettes between the underside of my wrist and the top of the guitar. Time has proven that this is an incredibly unhealthy way to use the hand, and the pedagogy has moved away from that approach (or, at least, is moving away from it; thankfully at my school, our classical guitar teacher advocates against this approach for physical health reasons).

    Personally, I would be teaching a young person about wrist rotation within the standard 1-2-4 pattern and try to focus on getting them to hear the notes they are trying to play within that position more clearly.
  5. damonsmith


    May 10, 2006
    Quincy, MA
    While it is nice to think everything this is ergonomic and natural, the traditional span between the first and middle finger is neither, it is however, a reality of the traditional classical approaches. A physical reference in the form of an object is often very helpful. Joelle Leandre rubber banded my two middle fingers together in a lesson once!
    Focusing on hearing the notes is important and obvious. If hearing the pitches is not the issue at hand it is the wrong tool for the job.
    More often than not hearing is not the problem - and specifically, if the left hand position is the problem, the physical aspect must be dealt with.
    Hearing pitch is a far more natural thing for human beings than the subtleties of the traditional left hand movement required to play double bass.
    jazzcat_13 likes this.
  6. notabene


    Sep 20, 2010
    SF Bay area
    I wish I had started upright without using open strings. I think the patterns of the left hand are so repeatable and rational if open strings are not an important part of early learning to play. They are always easy to learn use later.

  7. Don Kasper

    Don Kasper Supporting Member

    Assumes facts not in evidence (IMFE/O).
    lurk likes this.
  8. Don Kasper

    Don Kasper Supporting Member

    Don't hurt yourself... Seriously.
    (NOT a good idea, IMO.)
    lurk, Chris Fitzgerald and wathaet like this.
  9. It will be worthwhile to do some trawling back through older threads/posts in the Orchestral Technique and Pedagogy forums. I have contributed my ideas in the following -

    ToeJamFootball August 30 2009 (Orchestral Technique)
    Menulov April 8 2010 (OT)
    jbdoublebass12 July 5 2012 (OT)
    Jas December 9 2012 (OT)
    David Pottts June 9 2013 (Pedagogy)
    jbdoublebass12 December 5 2015 (P)
    macaroni21 November11 2015 (P)
    GKon July 2017 (P)
    AndyMopley January 1 2018 (OT)
    RBrownbass April 26 2018 (OT)

    I have occasionally used the film cannister with students to demonstrate the vee needed while keeping the fingers arched but not asked them to practice with it.The material I use to introduce beginners to LH shape, finger spacing, thumb placement and intonation starts with using the first six notes of the D Major scale. This just uses fingers 1 and 4. I set this approach out in in the Pedagogy thread "What do you let slide?" by lurk (April 12 2018 in Pedagogy). I first establish the relaxed placement of fingers 1, 4 and thumb with arched fingers and cupped hand. I can then use two approaches to work on exercising the muscles that open out the vee between the arched first and second finger.

    The first is to raise the cupped hand from your side and place the arched fingers and thumb as naturally as possible on the neck while ignoring spacings. Observe that the fingers 2, 3 and 4 point across the strings naturally form a 1/2 tone spacing. From here find the muscle that pulls the arched index finger along the string away from the second finger to make a 1/2 tone spacing.The second is to set fingers 1 and 4 a tone apart and draw the arched second finger away from the first.

    To demonstrate a half tone sound I can use Fsharp to G, first with 4 to open G then copy the sound using 2 - 4 and 1 - 2 on the D string.
  10. Don Kasper

    Don Kasper Supporting Member

    IMO the open strings are a necessary & reliable reminder of Pitch, and very important to beginning players, especially.
    Just my $0.03.
  11. Seanto


    Dec 29, 2005
    You sure about that?
    Don Kasper likes this.
  12. statsc

    statsc Supporting Member

    Apr 23, 2010
    Burlington, VT
    +++1; and ESPECIALLY for those coming to DB from BG, who in my experience tend to learn scales and chord arpeggios through parallel hand shapes rather than by learning the actual notes involved.
    dhergert and Don Kasper like this.
  13. matthewbrown

    matthewbrown Supporting Member

    Jan 7, 2003
    Harwich, MA, USA
    Reiska likes this.
  14. Don Kasper

    Don Kasper Supporting Member

    Fair enough.
    I was referring to Musical Pitch, not the "Pitch" of spoken language.
    Musical Pitch requires the ability to (precisely) hear & then (precisely) manipulate pitch to "match" the desired pitch. Yes, many beginning bassists can play a "somewhat approximate Bb" in Half-Position, but few can play an "in-tune Bb in Half-Position" until their brain, ears and hands become familiar with the physical and mental(!) components of Matching Pitch.
    Thanks for your time and interest.
    Last edited: Dec 15, 2018
    jazzcat_13, Tom Lane and damonsmith like this.
  15. damonsmith


    May 10, 2006
    Quincy, MA
    I've never met a person interested in the double bass that had an actual issue with hearing pitch. I have never met a person interested in the double bass that had zero left hand issues or was naturally inclined to the required left hand movements.
    Pitch issues are almost always issue of the person not trusting themselves, a bit of singing and drone work can clear up most problems.
    Identifying note names, intervals and chords in the air with no instrument tends to take more time - this is a different area of ear training, of course.
    jazzcat_13 likes this.
  16. damonsmith


    May 10, 2006
    Quincy, MA
    Anyway, the thread is about teaching left hand technique, not the old chicken or egg / ear vs. hand debate. Of course it is both and both have to be refined and dealt with to the end of our lives.
    The fine movements of the hands are what a great bass player has that a great singer doesn't. It takes forever to good facility in the hands and cannot be started too early.
    Last edited: Dec 15, 2018
    MikeDavis81 and Sean Riddle like this.
  17. Thanks for a lot of the great info and links to other forums to check out everyone! One thing I actually did with a group of bassists I taught after I wrote this post was have them pick up a pencil with the tips of their fingers on their left hand and then have them put down the pencil while keeping that hand shape and then had them place their left hand on the neck. After I let them get used to that feeling for a bit, I started showing them the finger spacings and had some moderate success with that. They were able to play a Bb Major scale in half position with better intonation than they did before. I vaguely remember reading something about using pencil to show good left hand technique on this forum some where, just don't remember who and where exactly. So whoever did much thanks!
    I'm gonna do some more reading on the threads that were brought up by Mr. Potts tomorrow, once I'm done with this musical theater gig today, and will definitely plan spending this week as I make the rounds to the schools I've been going to focusing on left hand technique and posture.

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