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What's the reverse of a Crab 'stretch'? A thought exercise and possible useful tool.

Discussion in 'Double Bass Pedagogy [DB]' started by eerbrev, Apr 11, 2021.

  1. eerbrev


    Dec 6, 2009
    Ottawa, ON, CAN
    I know I'm probably a bit of a crazy woman, but I was working through C major scales on my bass the other day (for context, I play a Five string, and I was working mainly on the lower two octaves), and I had something of a sliced bread moment.

    ... Let me back up a bit. I'm an early bass nerd. I'm interested in all the ways we used to play the bass, and one thing that's often stuck out to me is the use of 1-4 for both a half-step and a whole-step in some early schools of bass in places like Italy, where very large basses with long string lengths were more common.

    So, just keep that in the back of your brain.

    I was working through Boardwalkin's C major scale, which starts on the C on the A string, playing it with 1 and using 4 for a closed D, then moving back to E with 1. The exercise does not go down to low E, much less low C/B, so I had to modify it for my purpose.

    1-4-0- 1-4-0-2-4-0-1-2- 0-1-2-4

    (We'll see if that formats the way I wanted it to.)

    Which ... works? But it does this weird 1/2 position to 1st & 1/2 position (Simandl-speak, I'm aware Boardwalkin' uses the Rabbath positions) shift. It feels really disconnected. So I thought to myself, why don't I just shrink my hand down to a half-step 1-4, keep my 4th finger on the C and then use my 1st finger on the E. It was really successful and felt really connected.

    It also felt awfully similar to the rest of the 'crab' movements that I went on to make as I moved up the bass through the rest of the Rabbath positions.

    I've only done tangential work in the Rabbath system, so I don't know - is this something you guys talk about and use? because this seems really useful. Working with some of the teachers I've had, I'm sort of at a point where I've more or less abandoned a solid hand frame, so the concept of shrinking my hand instead of stretching it kind of makes sense in the same way that using 1-3 and 2-4 cross strings for thirds makes sense.

    Anyway, I'm interested in other people's perspectives on this, and - if they've tried it - what they think.

  2. Sekundus


    Oct 29, 2013
    What about Intonation?
    For me it ist mich easier to build up a claw, to habe the right intervall under the fingers. But that is Simandel, i can‘t play Rabatt mode so do what feels better.
  3. garrett2

    garrett2 Supporting Member

    May 15, 2017
    Is what you are describing a pivot? That's how you are supposed to do it!
    I think I'm not understanding though.
  4. eerbrev


    Dec 6, 2009
    Ottawa, ON, CAN
    I'm not sure! From what I know about using the Boardwalkin' book, and getting the basics of pivots sort of 3rd hand, it seems like you're covering a minor third in a hand. I'm describing going the other direction - having literally a minor second inside of the hand - while maintaining a similar kind of flexibility of hand frame.

    Maybe that's something everyone's doing nowadays, but I'm kind of disconnected from what's "new" and much more connected to stuff like fretted basses and gambas.
  5. garrett2

    garrett2 Supporting Member

    May 15, 2017
    Ah, interesting but no thoughts about it!
  6. If I get it right, you're referring to how to with which finger you should play E on D string, right? From your fingering I gather you are using Simandl '1-4 halftone' for B E A strings, whereas on D and G you try to use 'Rabbath' pivoting, and wonder whether it makes sense on D string at all. Right?

    Rabbath pivot is not about stretching your fingers. It's about moving your 1+2+3+4 fingers almost like when shifting, but with thumb staying in the same place, only turning to follow the 1+2+3+4 fingers. The reason for thumb staying in one place is orientation, so you could quickly 'run back' on basis of muscle memory, thus you effectively gain major third in one position, adding a half tone either way from Simandl grip. I think you can find a lot of understandable useful information in @Chris Fitzgerald 's Left Hand Perspectives. In my opinion, the Rabbath pivot goes very well together with what Chris describes at the end of the video. You generally try to make your hand more free, get more options, and rely more on your ears.

    If you went through Rabbath 2 book (that's the book where he introduces pivot), you can see that Rabbath is using Rabbath and Simandl grip as well, Simandl perhaps even prevailing. Rabath's idea of practising scales is 'practise at least 10 fingerings per scale and your hands will tell'. (my interpretation) Getting back to your example, this would mean that you should try:

    1-4-0- 1-4-0-2-4-0-2-4- 0-1-2-4 (bold is where you switch to pivot)
    1-4-0- 1-4-0-2-4-0-1-2-4-1-2-4
    1-4-0- 1-4-0-1-2-4-1-2-4-1-2-4
    and also Simandlian
    1-4-0- 1-4-0-2-4-0-2-4-0-1-4-1
    1-4-0- 1-4-0-1-2-0-1-2-0-1-4-1
    and so on. Perhaps you will find Simandl better for a scale as it is, but you always can come to a run that works better with another fingering ...

    Rabbath's Crab technique is completely different thing, concerning how to shift in higher thumb positions.
    Chris Fitzgerald and garrett2 like this.
  7. Dogfightgiggle


    Mar 4, 2020
    Last summer I was experimented with all sorts of fingering systems to help me navigate a 44” bass and one that tried was the Bottesini 1-4 thing you’re talking about. I didn’t get too deep with it, but I did find that the quality of stop you get with that small hand gives a really nice sound.

    I believe the orientation of the hand tends to be different when using this approach, with the main knuckles of the hand hanging somewhat lower than the fingertips. Did you find the need to adjust in this way to get the intonation dialed in? Might be a reason to avoid it.

    As to the “reverse crab”, I’ve done a little of this with thumb technique stuff when I’m using a bunch of forks. I called it a “tuck”.

    The only thing I’ve encountered about this in lower positions was on Michael Hovnanian’s blog. He employed the contracted 1-4 half step at the end of a demanding section in order to help his hand recover.

    Looking at your example:

    1-4-0- 1-4-0-2-4-0-1-2- 0-1-2-4

    I haven’t tried it, but why not just shift on the open A and play B-C as 1-2?

    The “reverse crab” or “tuck” you’re talking about would seem more useful on something like this:

    1-4 1-4-1
    eerbrev and Chris Fitzgerald like this.
  8. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    I use the "tuck" often, but more for reasons of where I'm heading than where I've been.
    Dogfightgiggle likes this.
  9. Dogfightgiggle


    Mar 4, 2020
    Actually, I’m going to amend my example:

    1-4 1-4-1-4

    That might make more sense?
  10. garrett2

    garrett2 Supporting Member

    May 15, 2017
    In the Rabbath-inspired approach to Bach there's a fair amount of this, if I understand what you are getting at, where you have a compressed position to facilitate the next move with the thumb which involves a stretch in a different direction. It makes sense within the economy of a piece.
    eerbrev likes this.
  11. eerbrev


    Dec 6, 2009
    Ottawa, ON, CAN
    Hm, not quite, I don't think.

    I'm using "1-4 0-1-4 0" on the lowest strings because after reading through the Boardwalkin' book (I've had it for a few years), this seems to be how the system handles major thirds in its lowest positions. Once you get into higher positions where you're no longer using the open strings you get a modular repeated pattern:

    (ish. I'm not right next to my bass to verify)
    That sort of cycles depending on what scale you're playing and what position you're in.

    Cool to see that this is something people are talking about. I didn't have to adjust my intonation especially, but you're also speaking with someone who uses 2nd or 3rd fingers interchangeably depending on situation in the lowest positions of the instrument, so knowing the necessary distance between fingers is something I've spent a lot of time practicing with a tuner.

    What I'm trying to do is eliminate the shift I'm making when I'm crossing from the A string to the D string, so just moving it earlier to the E and A strings doesn't fix the issue. Let's call it a "disconnected shift", just to have something to call it, where there's no connection to the notes that you were playing on the previous string. We play these things all the time, but they're usually pretty large shifts, like going from the harmonic G (I string) to the low G (IV string). I find that when they are close, and it's a small shift of a semitone, that these shifts become more difficult to accomplish (oddly enough. One would think it would be the other way around!!).

    By keeping the 4 in place on the C (III string) and using the 1 on the E (II string), there is no "disconnected shift". I don't personally find it difficult to properly intonate the interval, especially across the strings. As well, as you've mentioned, the sound of the stopped string using this fingering is very strong, and sounds quite good.

    I suppose, if you wanted to incorporate it more, you could use:

    1-4-0- 1-4-0-2-4-0-1-4- 0-1-2-4

    the bolded section being a whole transitional position where you're using the "tucked" fingering.


    A reminder to those reading that this is all "academic". I'm not looking for you to solve my problem by saying "why not just shift"? I know I can just shift - I got a whole piece of paper that says I'm a master bassist, and that I know how to shift (i mean, what else does one really learn at university? Musicianship?? bah!). The reason to not to shift is to avoid the "disconnected shift" of a semitone, which I personally find can be pitchy.

    I'm more arguing for a potential modern use case for an antiquated fingering system, than I am trying to reinvent the wheel.

    If you want something REALLY off the wall, try doing your chromatic fingerings as 0-1-3-2-4!

    Last edited: Apr 12, 2021
    jj.833 likes this.
  12. Dogfightgiggle


    Mar 4, 2020

    Now I understand you’re aim a bit better, thank you. And I agree that small intervals are, counterintuitively, much more challenging to intonate than large intervals.

    Anyway, back to the example, I understand why you play:


    But maybe playing the whole passage with the Bottesini half step would be simpler? You need to contract the hand at some point anyway and I find that for some reason moving/shifting early tends to be better than moving late.

    Besides that, might it be easier to just think, “OK, here’s the Bottesini phrase,” rather than, “OK, Bottesini fingering begins on the 2nd beat of the 3rd measure.”

    Oh, and how do you find that contracted 1-4 vibrato?
  13. eerbrev


    Dec 6, 2009
    Ottawa, ON, CAN
    I was doing the same scale today (It's C Major week) and came up with the same thought you had - why not just move into the "tucked" or "Bottesini" hand frame right after the G on the E string? Which would make it:

    1-4-0- 1-4-0-1-4-0-1-4- 0-1-2-4

    with the bolded section being "tucked". You've already got your 4th finger in the correct place (I was taught to hold the old note until you needed to move), so you might as well play the B with 1st finger anyway. Feels very good to play. I also find it feels like it connects the two sections around it from a fingering perspective - it feels more consistently like one "position" to me, playing it this way. Interested if anyone else might feel the same way.

    re: vibrato, I already contract my hand for more legato or 'bel canto' vibrato, when I do use it (Vibrato's a touchy subject in early music), so there wasn't a change for me. I find it quite easy to get a nice wide and relaxed vibrato.
    Dogfightgiggle likes this.
  14. Howl me down as a Luddite if you like but I think that you are making mountains out of molehills. You have spent years of your life learning to use one form or another of the common fingerings to hold good in passages fast and slow, legato or staccato, on- or off-the string. To unlearn and relearn these "inserts" to the same level of competency is time probably better spent on repertoire or honing your existing technique. Unless you are totally bored with being locked up/out by Covid (which we all are)!!

    I spent time with Tom Martin years ago, going through our respective teaching methods. Time and again he would say "Keep it simple".

    I use 1 2 3 4 fingering all over the neck positions however there are occasions when I contract (bunch up) my LH, for example when (a), sustaining vibrato on any finger, especially my pinkie, where I also move my thumb to be opposite each time, and (b) sustaining a long note on the E string, where I keep changing fingers as each tires. This latter is because my LH fingers lose some strength when the wrist pronates whereas my wrist is almost flat for the G, D and A strings. Aflat sounds much clearer if I can avoid using my pinkie. Finger 1 can alternate with Finger 2 on the bottom F or Bflat where each string is stiffest to stop. I can't remember which Wagner piece, Parsifal Tristan or one of the Ring Cycle, that opens with 127 slow bars of one note sustained. The niceties of LH use become replaced by ways to survive as deep grooves form in each finger tip.

    To each their own, I guess. There are many ways to skin a ...............bass neck!

    Best wishes, every one, and keep safe.
  15. eerbrev


    Dec 6, 2009
    Ottawa, ON, CAN
    Oh, they're definitely molehills - I just think they're interesting molehills!

    I do think we spend an awful lot of time talking about how to get more notes under our hand frame, and it pleases me to come at a fingering problem from the opposite direction. The work I did with Joel Quarrington really made me aware of how unhelpful a rigid hand frame really is much of the time. I'm glad it works for the people it does, don't mistake me, but it definitely does not work for me.
    jj.833 likes this.
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