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What do you let slide?

Discussion in 'Double Bass Pedagogy [DB]' started by lurk, Apr 11, 2018.

  1. lurk


    Dec 2, 2009
    The biggest problem I have as a teacher is deciding what to ignore and what to correct. Any helpful ideas?
  2. Steve Freides

    Steve Freides Former Mannes College Theory Faculty Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 2007
    Ridgewood, NJ
    We all have to make these decisions on a regular basis. I try to stick to one or two things at a time - your call as to what's most important for any given student at any given point in their development.

  3. Jeremy Darrow

    Jeremy Darrow

    Apr 6, 2007
    Nashville, TN
    Endorsing Artist: Fishman Transducers, D'Addarrio Strings
    I usually stick to the things we're working on at that moment. For example, if you're working on a bowing, don't worry about pitch just then. But if the pitch issue persists after the bowing is locked in, or the student doesn't seem to notice, maybe that becomes the next thing you work on.
    mtto, lurk and Chris Fitzgerald like this.
  4. In an ideal world I use the acronym "HEE" ( Hands to form notes, Eyes to read notes and Ears for quality control to guide and correct everything). Applying it on a more practical level depends on where a student starts and how far they have progressed. An absolute beginner with no previous musical experience needs a different approach to someone who has previously played, say, piano. My first emphasis for absolute beginners is to understand that music has its own symbols and language that anyone can learn to read. After this LH shapes and simple 1 - 4 spacings are established while D scale notes are learned from D to B on the top two strings with a very clear mind, aided by a simple diagram I call a road map that draws "frets" and names the notes. The first beginners' book that I use develops the D Major scale notes on the top two strings and gives plenty of time for this while using a simple bow hold (Suzuki- thumb outside ferrule). There are many well known nursery songs that quickly show up ability to hear in tune and make a good sound. The book ends with musical examples notes up to D on the G string. Someone who has previous musical experience can speed through this process, jumping quickly into the second book (same tunes, no fingerings, all in 1st Position and across all four strings using 1 - 2 - 4 fingering)). During this later time I change to beginning the more orthodox French bow hold, only asking for a clear musical sound and developing continuity of reading. I am not yet too worried about correct note and rest lengths, or drawing the bow at 90 degrees, or intonation.

    As the students progress I keep reminding them to be clear-minded about where the notes are on the fingerboard and how their LH connects them with nice shapes and spacings. As they become more confident I speak more about intonation and build a strong sense of structure of simple overlapping scales based on hearing the two groups of four notes (tetrachords), usually in the order of D, then Simandl for G, F and Bflat then C. Only around C Major and having the LH up and running do I start working more on the bow hold and right arm movements. After that it becomes a sort of alternating technical advancement between hands while always asking for good intonation as more positions and scales are learned, pieces are introduced and bowing, shifting and slurring are developed.

    I believe that the brain can only concentrate on two aspects at any one time, pulling them forward into focus from "the great wall of porridge" that is everything we know. So for me one becomes Intonation and two is........(some other aspect). I liken the teaching/learning experience to carefully building an upside down pyramid of strong technical and musical knowledge bit by bit, based on a strong start with very clear minds and lots of good humour.

    Simple concepts, however, we are only human.......!!!
    Last edited: Apr 16, 2018
    Lofreck, lurk, oldNewbie and 4 others like this.
  5. damonsmith


    May 10, 2006
    Quincy, MA
    I don't think we should ignore anything. A bass teacher's job is to know what the right things to work on at the right time are.
    The most common mistake is pushing someone to play perfectly in tune too early, as in when their left hand is all over the place, leads to very bad habits.
    It can be painful, but that is one of the reasons it is a job!
    Both the teacher and the student need to focus on one thing at a time and the teacher needs to know when a student is in position to tackle a particular issue.
    Sam Sherry likes this.
  6. neilG


    Jun 15, 2003
    Ventura, CA
    I don't let intonation slide. Whether or not they have a hand position yet, they need to play in tune, there's nothing more important. I'll let tone and bow control go by the wayside for a while, even reading music, but intonation is key.
    Chris Fitzgerald likes this.
  7. In all my playing life, except perhaps when a colleague played a practical joke in the section, I never have come across anyone who wanted to play out of tune. Even the most "tone deaf" of my beginners have generally sensitized to pitch with the help of white out dots. It takes time and patience all around. Many have come from a family scene where there has never been constant exposure to music, be it from a radio or hi fi, from someone learning or having learned an instrument, or even from singing around the house to express their emotions. Young students may not even have a lot of family support and encouragement. It is up to us teachers to maintain our friendly supportive not-too-critical "studio" environment that gives them the best chance for success. There is lots to teach and learn that will distract them away from a sense of failure with their intonation. In reality we are helping maintain and create the music lovers of the future because very few will go on to become professionals. We are also not going to be their only teacher if they do go on which, to my mind, is healthy.

    To my old ears much of today's pop music does not have the same elegance, beauty of construction and harmonies of the past eras that subconsciously trained our ears to hear whole and half tone intervals. What are your thoughts?
  8. lurk


    Dec 2, 2009
    Thanks everyone for taking the time to offer your articulate and we'll thought out ideas. I'm almost 70, and one of the great things about music is still feeling like a beginner.
  9. damonsmith


    May 10, 2006
    Quincy, MA
    Tuning a precise position is a far better long term method. The better a student plays with poor technique the more trouble they will have building good technique. I will let let tone and bow control slide to work on tuning, but not the left hand. We build the position, then we fine tune it.
    I am talking about your basic private bass student - in a university setting I could see being able to go another way.
  10. neilG


    Jun 15, 2003
    Ventura, CA
    I didn't suggest not teaching a precise hand position, that's definitely my thing, but that takes a little time for beginners. They need to develop the hand strength to hold position. Good intonation sense guides the hands. One can play in tune with sloppy technique, too. Some well-known players do it.
    Don Kasper likes this.
  11. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    ^^^^ This.

    Conception, then execution. If a student doesn't have a clear expectation of the sound of what they are trying to produce, all the technique in the world isn't going to do them much good. The technique (means) has to have a sonic musical ideal (ends). Horse, then cart. I teach a lot of students at the U. both in my studio and also in classes. It's amazing how much damage is done by young people trying to go through life with this basic paradigm backwards. I am occasionally asked to oversee classical bass classes when my colleague can't be there. The students play and critique each other, and I can't do what they can do with a bow. But sing a passage back to them in better form than they just played it in terms of contour, articulation, dynamics, and intonation, and they immediately know where to go. Without that internal direction, we might as well all be typing on a machine.
    Don Kasper likes this.
  12. damonsmith


    May 10, 2006
    Quincy, MA
    And they do it for life! Those are hard habits to break. Of course if I think the student is having trouble hearing pitch at all we deal with that. It is rarely the case. Most human beings who hear well enough to be attracted to the double bass hear far better than they can play. Focusing on on the right shape, fingers and shifts get them close and with repetition the intonation will come.
    This is for outright beginners. Once positions are place it is another story altogether. Still, tuning an awkward, imprecise position helps nobody.
    Last edited: Apr 18, 2018
    Jeshua likes this.
  13. The road to ......... is paved with good intentions!! I have a large mirror that I used to practice and teach in front of. With builders in the house I can't do it. My thought bubbles today are (1) I should use my own bass to demonstrate on and (2), that I should get back to that mirror to brush up and ensure that from where the student is standing my actual techniques correspond with my words of wisdom (In other words, do as I do = do as I say). Why am I saying this now? Reason - I have just watched Edgar's video again.
    damonsmith likes this.

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