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What Would It Take To Make You Play in Fifths?

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [DB]' started by rjspear, May 30, 2011.


  1. rjspear

    rjspear Commercial User

    Apr 23, 2011
    Ithaca, New York
    Luthier, owner Singing Woods Violin Shop
    Just a little foray into the minds of the membership here, but what conditions might influence your actions when even considering switching to fifths tuning on a bass in the violin family? Some items at random for starters listed below, but feel free to contribute other;

    1) A more comfortable string length
    2) A standardized instruction method for playing
    3) Cost of an instrument with improved qualities
    4) A feeling that a lot of others are going in that direction
    5) Your conductor tells the section to make the switch :D
    6) Composers' writing favors fifths tuning
    7) Bored with present fourths-tuning limitations
    8) Overcoming fear/predisposition toward anything new
    9) A wide choice of good strings
    10) A better chamber music instrument
    11) It's something for the younger generation to do
    12) Need for increased range in both directions
     
  2. Chris Symer

    Chris Symer

    Dec 13, 2009
    Seattle,Wa.
    For me it was the $50 gigs.............:D
     
  3. TroyK

    TroyK Moderator Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2003
    Seattle, WA
    Nice.

    OP, I don't know what your background is, but I think several of your points are ill-informed.

    1) Why would the mensure be any different?
    2) We have standardized methods for db, but they are all for 4ths tuning. This is actually a thing that keeps me from considering.
    3) I don't get it.
    4) Well, Chris, and he's already snatched up the $50 gigs, so...

    9) Switching to 5ths tuning on db LIMITS your string choices considerably (Actually this would probably help me more than anything)


    12) Personally, I don't. Really unusual for me to go as high in thumb position as my instrument would allow and though there are a few notes with some utility below E on db for jazz, not many.

    The thing that you didn't list that I do wonder about is the balance of tension from properly 5ths tuning a db, but that's just a curiousity.
     
  4. If it proved to be the better tuning. If it made the bass and the playing sound better, if standard repertoire was as easily played in fifths, if I found it more comfortable to play in and if there was a compiled list of unbiased advantages and disadvantages to playing in fifths, as well as the same for playing in fourths.
     
  5. Marcus Johnson

    Marcus Johnson

    Nov 28, 2001
    Maui
    It's crossed my mind when playing the cello suites. Other than that..nahh. Old dog, no new tricks please. I have a hard enough time with the old ones. :D
     
  6. Stick_Player

    Stick_Player Banned

    Nov 13, 2009
    Somewhere on the Alaska Panhandle (Juneau)
    Endorser: Plants vs. Zombies Pea Shooters
    1) A more comfortable string length

    Maybe, a 28" string-length, like the 'Cello?

    I have no problem tuning AND playing in 5ths with my 26.5-inch string-length Chapman Alto Stick. :cool:
     
  7. Marcus Johnson

    Marcus Johnson

    Nov 28, 2001
    Maui
    Showoff. :D I used to be a Stick sufferer too. Thankfully I sold it before I could ever embarrass myself in public on it.
     
  8. Nathan Parker

    Nathan Parker

    Oct 10, 2008
    Seattle, WA
    If Pirastro made a Chorda set, I would probably buy it. I wonder how that low C would sound...
     
  9. Chris Symer

    Chris Symer

    Dec 13, 2009
    Seattle,Wa.
    Yea! Larry Holloway too, but I don't think he works for less than $75........

    I'll be playing the session at the Owl n Thistle tomorrow night, why don't you come in and check out fifths? So far Nate Parker, Paul Gabrielson, Geoff Harper, Issac Castillo, Bren Plummer, Michael Glynn have all sat in and done fine playing in fifths......I also bring a slab in fourths for anyone that would rather play that, or bring your own!
     
  10. TroyK

    TroyK Moderator Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2003
    Seattle, WA
    Maybe I will fall by. Aint no way, though, that my first time playing 5ths tuning is going to be on a bandstand!
     
  11. Marcus Johnson

    Marcus Johnson

    Nov 28, 2001
    Maui
    Larry sure knows his way around fifths... that said... he sounded just fine on my boring fourths tuned bass last time I saw him. :eek:
     
  12. Nathan Parker

    Nathan Parker

    Oct 10, 2008
    Seattle, WA
    It's not that bad. Just call an easier tune, like A train or something. The last time I was there, someone called All the things you are, and it was a might bit tricky. Ya just gotta go for it.
     
  13. Chris Symer

    Chris Symer

    Dec 13, 2009
    Seattle,Wa.
    I suppose I should give a more serious answer to Bob's original question, even though I already switched....

    The big things for me were probably first of all the sound- hearing Joel Quarrington play I knew something was up from the very first note. It was especially apparent to me on his recording of the Eccles Sonata. It just sounded right to me.
    Oddly for me with Red Mitchell it wasn't his sound that I noticed, it was always his playing. The tuning just seemed to get him closer to where he wanted to be. I think Red sounds fantastic on recordings but I also think that too many people think that is the sound of fifths, when in fact it was the sound of Red.
    Playing in fifths is every bit as varied and individual as fourths, there just aren't as many of us doing it yet so the impression is that fifths in jazz sound like Red and in Classical they sound like Joel, when in fact it is far more open than that.
    Which is another reason I switched- I was getting tired of playing the same things in the same ways that 1000's of others were playing. Much of what we do as bass players (in a jazz context at least) has developed around what sits well on the instrument. Change to fifths? Bang! All that stuff I could do with out even thinking was gone. Yes, I could still do a lot of it, but I had to work for it. Meanwhile the instrument turned itself into much more of a blank slate. One that I had technique and facility on, but had yet to figure out what to use it for. I played a wedding about a week in and while the rest of the band was bored playing Girl from Ipanema, I was concentrating and sweating like mad because it felt like a whole new tune and my low F# was now way up WHERE?
    I do think that a shorter string length would ease the reach for thirds, which in my opinion is the big issue with fifths. More choices for strings? That would be great! Why is there an Obligato fifths set but not an Evah fifths set? It would be great if string makers would at least make their most popular sets available for fifths.
    A standard method would probably help draw more people to fifths. It would be great to see the tuning be as viable of an option as French or German is for bows (and we still argue about that!).

    As for Larry Holloway playing in fourths, Id liked to have seen that. Last time he sat in on my bass it wore him out after 1 tune (42.5in string length, medium action). He wasn't on your gut bass, was he Marcus?
     
  14. After playing some mandolin, I can certainly see the benefit of a shorter mensure but I'd hate to make the compromise on sound. Guess it would take bigger hands.
     
  15. rjspear

    rjspear Commercial User

    Apr 23, 2011
    Ithaca, New York
    Luthier, owner Singing Woods Violin Shop
    I meant the question in a general sense of "what would it take . . .", and I put that point first because of what I hear first most frequently, which is that the long string length of a bass makes shifting difficult for fifths tuners in low position. I'm trying to get a sense of what some reactions might be to a bass that addresses that problem.

    Somewhat the same idea for the second point, which is to ask that if there were a proven method for introducing fifths tuning, would it make a difference if a player didn't have the feeling he had to figure out everything for himself.

    Third point might be analogous to asking a runner wearing perfectly adequate shoes if he would be willing to pay more for shoes that would make him run faster.

    Fourth point was to see if peer performance might make one more willing to attempt a switch. Lots of comments in these posts from people being too modest about their skills, maybe? After all, one can't be singled out if everyone else is doing it.

    The rest of the questions are in the same vein. But now I have to admit that I didn't understand your last sentence about the balance of tension.
     
  16. TroyK

    TroyK Moderator Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2003
    Seattle, WA
    I'm not sure I understand it either. I have no idea what to expect when I someday put my hands on a bass tuned to 5ths. Sticking with my standard tunings, subtle changes in gauge or string construction can have a very noticeable impact on the feel the bass and how open it does or doesn't sound. I've wondered what the effect of an entirely different tuning would be.

    What I really care about is communing with the bass, having it sing and being able to get into that space where I am playing music rather than thinking. Anyone who can convince me that there is a better way to get there more often has my attention.
     
  17. Don Higdon

    Don Higdon In Memoriam

    Dec 11, 1999
    Princeton Junction, NJ
    Can you give me a ferinstance?
     
  18. Marcus Johnson

    Marcus Johnson

    Nov 28, 2001
    Maui
    Same bass, but I think I had Animas on at the time. He didn't play for very long... but long enough to see that he could play in fourths.
     
  19. Johnny L

    Johnny L

    Feb 14, 2002
    Victoria, TX
    I flirted with 5ths tuning for a while...using a Red Mitchell set.

    It sounded fantastic, that tuning. Plus arco sounded great on my bass with spiros in that tuning, which isn't the case in 4ths for it. Listening to the greats Red Mitchell and Joel Quarrington play along the way, I thought I would never change back.

    But I did go back to 4ths, entirely because I didn't have the patience to go back and relearn fingerings and patterns.

    My bad. I do think that, in the future of DB with all the advances of technique and virtuosity, 5ths tuning will become as common as German bows.
     
  20. I tried it for a spell, but my bass wasn't happy about it - couldn't get a clear sound out of the low C and the tensions were all over the place (yes, I was using 5th tuning strings)
    It was a shame because I loved some of the ideas I was playing and working on while it was happening
     

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