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When to start with Rabbath's ideas?

Discussion in 'Double Bass Pedagogy [DB]' started by David Potts, Mar 30, 2014.

  1. Hi, perhaps you guys who have studied with Rabbath and /or know his techniques well could give me some advice.Here in Australia we have a music examination system called the Australian Music Examination Board (or AMEB) for all instruments.

    There are grade exams that start with Preliminary and rise to 8th. Grade and beyond. I am both a Double Bass teacher who teaches in this range and a String Examiner who hears all the strings ( Vln, Vla, Cello and Bass) up to 8th. Grade. We have a new Bass syllabus on trial this year that will incorporate some of Rabbath's studies and pieces (eg Ode d'Espagne). I am aware of Rabbath's pivoting and crab techniques and am worried that soft young hands may not cope with them.

    I feel that the early stages of learning to use the left hand should be about traditional techniques until the hand shapes and uses, intonation and mapping of the notes are firmly established. Only then will I introduce and talk about pivoting and maybe 1-2-3-4, usually when they will benefit a particular passage and I think the student is ready.

    My concerns are that (1) young players with weak hands are forced to bypass any Rabbath pieces, which will reduce their choices of repertoire, (2) candidates are strongly developed enough to play Rabbath's music by Grades 5 or 6, and (3) I only know of two players, both professionals, in the whole of Australia who have actually studied with Rabbath.

    I only have Rabbath's first book and his early Philips vinyl LP at the moment.

    Cheers, DP
  2. Most of his concepts can be implemented immediately. His ideas about bow placement (son premier), weight transference, posture, and the six harmonic-based positions have all become standard teaching tools in the US. The Vance method does an excellent job of distilling these things for beginners. Truth is, I don't know anyone who strictly uses the Rabbath books with beginners. For my money, the second and third volumes are the best books to use -- but only with intermediate and advanced students.

    Vance puts quite a lot of emphasis on pivoting right from the beginning, which is perhaps a little extreme. Rabbath pivots when it's convenient, and he treats both pivoting and crab as tools to add to the toolbox. They both come in handy from time to time, but you're right that it's not "essential" knowledge.

    Crab in particular is an extended technique meant for advanced students. I don't think anybody seriously advocates teaching beginners crab technique; it doesn't show up at all in the Vance books, and only shows up at the very end of Rabbath's third volume. Very few of Rabbath's concert etudes incorporate it.

    Vance also has students playing in thumb position almost immediately, which has a few advantages and drawbacks. It's a physically comfortable position to hold if taught correctly, and it keeps students from having any apprehension about playing high notes. It's also a bit easier to hear the pitch in the higher registers. The downside is it takes more time to get used to first and half position, and it can often be a year or two before Vance students can play anything practical with their school orchestras. The fact they're strongly recommended to use soft strings like Corellis doesn't help, but it is easier on their hands. Ideally, I think it makes a lot of sense to make sure the student has a solid technical foundation before they join their peers in ensembles, but this idea doesn't exactly fit with most school systems.

    I didn't grow up with any of these concepts and had to reeducate myself when I went to college. The former Vance students I know came into music school with a huge advantage over most other students. They all had an incredible technical fluency and ease with their instrument you usually only see with violinists who started Suzuki at age 3. They all had their hangups and issues, but I don't think learning how to pivot when they were 10 set them back.
    bassmastan likes this.
  3. Hi Paul, many thanks for the time and effort you have given to replying.

    Elsewhere in this Pedagogy forum you will find me explaining that I start young beginners (and old) in Simandl 1st. Position (Carl Fischer numbering), first working with two easy Australian books then Simandl 1st, 1/2, 2nd, 3rd, 5th with repertoire. I then work back through 3 1/2, 4th and 2 1/2 ( the more sharps and flats keys). By this time the basics are strong enough for their minds to remain clear and they can handle more complex fingerings and ideas.

    The old AMEB bass syllabus has not changed for years and some of the music is hard, if not impossible, to find. I don't mind the fresh approach but am not yet across the new repertoire, especially in the later grades. This is where Rabbath's name starts to appear.

    Again, many thanks,

  4. wathaet


    May 27, 2007
    I would recommend you get in touch with Caroline Emery who teaches at the Royal College in London as well as the Menuhin School. In my opinion she is the top teacher in the world with young students and she is intimately familliar with Rabbath as well as being a close friend of his.
    If you are reworking a national syllabus, contacting her would be very valuable.
    Paul has given some great advice here to start
  5. bassmastan

    bassmastan Guest

    Jun 25, 2011
    Fantastic point here!

    Where I really think you should start, is by contacting Hans Sturm over here in the US. I know he helped put together Art of the Bow and Art of the Left Hand and has spent years studying and working with Francois. You could also try contacting Paul Ellison as he too uses and teaches the Rabbath method.

    You could also see if the govt. would pay for you to go and meet Rabbath and see how he would deal with younger students, you would be able to see what he would assign for different skill levels, and it would be an opportunity of a life time for sure :cool: