Why Simandl?

Discussion in 'Double Bass Pedagogy [DB]' started by jj.833, Sep 24, 2018.

  1. I read a thread about double bass learning method. Almost everybody recommends Simandl's book. I would, with respect, like to know why.

    I started to play double bass when I was about 30 after 15 years of playing bass guitar. I had a teacher for about a year, we covered the 'physical basics' of posture, both hands, bow. I didn't need to talk theory or 'how to play jazz' or 'what to play' as I knew it already. Since that time I'm learning myself. I don't have the ambition to play classical music, it's jazz and around for me.

    In Prague, where Simandl studied around 1860, I never heard about Simandl method. I went to main city library, where they have lot of Simandl's etudes, and hidden in the depth of underground depository a single print of his first method book from around 1920 in german. I scanned it through. Seemed to me very similar to other, newer 'classical' methods better known in Czech, like Frantisek Cerny Double bass technical studies (1927). To me, the basic idea of Simandl/Cerny is 'play in low positions, when you are proficient, learn a new position higher on the neck'. The book itself doesn't really oblige the 'rigid' left hand pressing of two halftones with 1,2,4; I guess this is more a pedagogical tradition.

    When I was learning by these ideas, I was progressing slowly and painfully. As it is very repetitive (play the same until you can do it), I was fixating the good habits as well as bad ones, and the teacher constantly had to rectify me. I never understood, why I should learn what is position II, III/II, III etc, when really I need to learn the positions of tones and how to approach them.

    To me, much more satisfactory was Ray Brown's bass method.
    There is emphasis on playing in all scales, all notes on all strings. From the start, it takes the bass as an instrument where all fingerboard is approachable. It shows what you would want to learn tomorrow, after you deal with today's problem. Also, the intonation is learned from relations between tones, not in the 'this tone is here' way. And, not least, the licks you learn you really can use in your music.

    I was thrilled by watching Chris Fitzgerald's Left hand techniques perspective. It confirmed my feeling that double bass should not be learned in 'this is done like this' way. It's more effective to know how many ways there are to do the thing, so that the student understands he needs to find the way that serves him best, even if it forced old Simandl to turn in his grave.

    I would like to know whether the contemporary pedagogy corresponds with what I say. Or am I missing something and there is something important Simandl can teach me?
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  2. 1. Simandl is really about the music itself. It is really hard to play those etudes out of tune for very long. It really lets you know you are playing an etude. The methods that claim to be "more musical" seem to take longer and seem a bit less solid. The etudes themselves may not be as satisfying to play, but, playing the instrument well is incredibly satisfying. Results show that Simandl is still one of the most efficient ways to get there.

    2. As far as Jazz goes, all the major jazz greats did Simandl (save Wilbur Ware - even Haden worked on it). In some ways it is as much a jazz method as a classical method.

    3. No method is going to work if you are not a thinking person. Methods are only a beginning. It is best to consult great bassists and other methods throughout your life. I do the Simandl etudes with other fingerings and I transpose them.

    4. All due respect to @Chris Fitzgerald and his great video series, however, that is not a replacement for a foundational method of arco study, and his series probably shouldn't even be consulted without a year or so of basics under your belt. Same goes for the Ray Brown book.

    5. Simandl wrote his method and did his primary work in Vienna, that could explain why you are not seeing it there. His students, such as Ludwig Manoly made it to the US and taught Herman Reinshagen, teacher to Fredrick Zimmerman and Charles Mingus. That is part how it got to be so prevalent in the US.
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  3. jduym


    Jul 31, 2018
    I've bought a few years ago John Patitucci / 60 Melodic etudes (Carl Fischer, 0-8258-5705-8). Also usefull.
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  4. We shouldn't confuse fun or exciting with useful. Patitucci is incredible, his book is not a foundational method.
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  5. Scott Lynch

    Scott Lynch Supporting Member

    Nov 27, 2002
    Delaware, USA
    'Slow and painful' progress is ok if it is meaningful progress.

    Part of the appeal of Simandl is that it is the method by which so many players learned to play, when others come up asking how they should learn, it's a stock response. "I learned this way, therefore you should too." It's certainly not the only way to develop foundational skills but can be quite useful and practical to commit to learning thoroughly.

    There is a certain fingering philosophy to Simandl that is decidedly old school but is useful nonetheless. While you may find yourself approaching the fingerboard with more string crossings in fewer positions playing jazz, having the foundation from Simandl of practicing more shifting across positions will be there when you need it. And you will need it, at one time or another.

    Even just the etudes in parts 1 and 2 of Simandl are extremely useful for building practical left hand technique on the instrument. A scale is being taken and built out into something that demands attention to accuracy with regards to hand position and intonation. Take it a step further and challenge yourself to hear the chord outlined by what the melody line is doing in each etude. The fact that this is done incrementally and in all 12 keys is what I like to think of as a 'scorched earth' approach to building a bedrock of technique in the left hand.

    I agree with Damon that Ray Brown's book is a little more on the intermediate/advanced side - it might even seem simpler on the surface but as it doesn't provide much in the way of fingerings it requires a little bit more abstract reasoning, whereas Simandl really lays out for you what the left hand should do. However, part of growing on the fingerboard is learning that second, third, fourth, etc... way of fingering something.

    Simandl is a great first way of learning your fingerings. It's meant to take time to get down. Even learning one etude a week is valuable if it's done thoroughly and with the utmost concentration.

    If playing etudes is really not working for you, however, consider supplementing with a song-based approach like Suzuki or check out Vance's books as an introduction into Rabbath fingerings. Again, though, I agree with Damon that 'more musical' methods can be fun but often leave gaps in technique, like playing in the 'less common' keys like F# and B. Playing jazz really requires fluidity in all 12 keys and the Simandl method and etudes address this issue thoroughly.
  6. DrayMiles


    Feb 24, 2007
    East Coast
    Your argument is not new. You don't understand the benefit of learning tradition first, before you find your own path. Maybe you should think of Bruce Lee's example, and how he learned the other martial arts techniques, AND THEN discarded what he found nonsensical.
    I have played electric bass for a long time, with successes and failures. You ask a very legitimate question, and I hope you find a palatable answer to your liking. I personally will continue to go through Simandl, Czerny, Bille etc. Also, I usually have 3 or 4 books on my music stand. Currently it's Simandl I and 2, Berklee chord studies, Charlie Parker Omnibook, Petracchi, and others. I decided to put the piano books up for awhile...
    You have to start somewhere and open your mind, instead of expecting people to justify 100's of years of proven results being wrong... or right. Please understand, I'm not saying you're wrong questioning these things, I'm just hoping that your mind isn't relative to being a closed fist.... Where no one can put anything inside a closed fist, or mind... There are no shortcuts.
    Find a teacher, find a method (Simandl or something similar I guess ;) ) and do what is safe and comfortable for your needs...

    May a life of good technique and no injuries be yours... :)


    If you ever decide to use electric bass technique on the upright... Can I have your bass after you get RSI? ;)

    I'm kidding ok? :)
    Last edited: Sep 24, 2018
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  7. DrayMiles


    Feb 24, 2007
    East Coast
    Patience is still a virtue. Even with youtube...
  8. Don Kasper

    Don Kasper Gold Supporting Member

    Now THAT's Funny!
  9. Reiska


    Jan 27, 2014
    Helsinki, Finland
    IMO Simandl is definently the basis of double bass technique and one great method for learning the fingerboard. Problem with the method is that it emphasizes rigidity over relaxation, which is a recipe for injury, and that it`s badly outdated from pedagogical standpoint. I think the method should be re-examined and re-written by people who understands modern needs of music, bass playing, human physics and modern pedagogy. The new Simandl method could be printed on paper recycled from the old books, the remaining books have also some energy / recreational potential, were they used in fireplaces. Old books should be prohibited by international law from any teacher who ever mentions words " tradition " and " importance " in same sentence. Thank you.
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  10. neilG


    Jun 15, 2003
    Ventura, CA
    I use Simandl just about every day with students. Please indicate where in the book it states this. There's one sentence where he states you should keep you hand position as you shift. I'd hardly equate that with rigidity: even violinists and cellist maintain some sort of hand position as they shift. The fact is, the book doesn't emphasize anything. It is what the teacher makes of it. It's a good collection of basic etudes that use scales and sequential passages to help develop technique and intonation. There's also no rule that says you need to use it in order.
  11. neilG


    Jun 15, 2003
    Ventura, CA
    I still have my old English/German edition. I wish they still published it.
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  12. Both of these points are completely untrue. Simandl does not state that in any text.
    Secondly, an experienced player can hold their left hand position and be relaxed. It takes some energy, that is all. In tightly composed music it might not be worth that energy. In improvised music of any kind holding your left hand position is generally energy well spent.
    Max George likes this.
  13. I have played bass guitar for 50+ years, and 10 years ago I took up the upright as well, and now play it more than BG. I have taken lessons on the upright throughout the 10 years, and my current teacher is great. Recently, on my own initiative (not his), I asked that we take up Simandl's Etude 17 to study. Having heard it, I realized that being able to play it would help me with the music I play on upright (a mix of things including jazz, western swing, bluegrass and blues). It's in Em (or G if you prefer), and I like it as a piece of music:

    The fingerings can be tricky and you're not supposed to use open strings. But that's what I wanted to learn.
  14. Don Kasper

    Don Kasper Gold Supporting Member

    Me TOO! Vol. 1 & 2!
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  15. Thank you everybody for your respones. I'd like to continue with this discussion, if it can find a reader not tired out so far. What I learned here so far:

    A/ Simandl is classic way to begin with the instrument.

    I agree. Some years back I played some beginner/intermediate etudes by classical masters, from which I remember only Dragonetti as very inspiring musically. I had a feeling that the left hand is quite doable, while the bow is the real deal. I don't really think that the bow is a technique that a jazz bass player would widely use. It would be nice to know how to, but is it worth the massive amount of time needed, when I use it two times a year?
    The other thing I doubt: I'll spend a long time learning some etude precisely, which would make me happy. But I will not play it on solo classical gig, and I won't really use its parts in the jazz I play, because the overall harmonic idea is very different. Isn't it better to spend the time learning something more practical?

    (Actually, I already borrowed Simandl book from the library and will check it out in the month I can keep it to learn a bit better what I'm talking about.)

    Maybe the better question should have been: I'm not a beginner, I know Simandl fingering, I don't play bow. What is the thing Simandl can teach me?

    B/ Philosophical.

    I like classical music, but when I choose with what classical music I'll spend my limited time, it's always from the rank of contemporary. When there's bass, it's mostly not played very classical way, though I believe the players are masters and could play any Simandl in the world.

    I spent few years educating myself in (graphical) art, so I know that contemporary painting deals with problems very different from what it dealt with 150 years ago. Most of the today's painters would not be able to paint a classical 19th century academic oil on canvas, because they lack the technique and because they never, not even in academy, heard a good reason why they should do it.

    Do bass players think we shouldn't confuse fun with useful? What could be useful about music, if it's not fun? Can we express ourselves truly freely only if we study old academic methods?

    I imagine that teacher would teach a novice Simandl with these arguments: it's practical (you would need it for auditions), and it's base (you don't know what music you want to play, so start with the classic as from there you can go anywhere). But, when painfully dealing with the old monuments, how many will lose their personality, their 'natural music', in the process? Surely a good teacher can deal with this issue on personal basis. But I wonder, is there a method, a book or a pedagogical theory, non classical, 'non-Simandlian', to teach a novice double bass?
  16. DrayMiles


    Feb 24, 2007
    East Coast
    In my estimation, and evaluation of your posts...

    I honestly believe you'll be okay in your pursuits. Simandl is boring stuff... The excitement comes from being relatively sure that you are walking in the footsteps of giants.

    There's nothing wrong in questioning the standard way of doing things. Rabbath for example, is a prime example...
    Although he did study tradition first...

    Good luck Sir...
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  17. Scott Lynch

    Scott Lynch Supporting Member

    Nov 27, 2002
    Delaware, USA
    While it's ok if you yourself don't want to express yourself with arco playing in a jazz context, I highly recommend spending some time listening to jazz arco. Many great guys on the scene yesterday and today are quite adept at the bow. Furthermore, many of these guys have some sort of classical foundation in their playing. Paul Chambers, Ron Carter, Christian McBride, Stanley Clarke...

    Playing the double bass is, IMO, much more like learning how to paint oil on canvas than doing graphic design on a computer, which perhaps translates to proficiency with EDM and DAWs in music. If you're learning jazz double bass, i. e. making contemporary oil paintings in music (?) it helps to have a foundation in that technique, which tends to translate to studying the history of the art form and the medium in which that art form is being communicated. Like oil painting, the double bass has a long and rich history. Computers, their many virtues aside, do not.

    I don't recall learning arithmetic as particularly fun, but it sure made learning calculus a lot easier.

    Perhaps there is a thorough method that teaches novice double bass in a non-Simandlian way to those not interested in classical music. There's Walking Bassics by Ed Fuqua and the Improviser's Bass Method by Chuck Sher. I don't know these methods and can't vouch for them but maybe they are worth looking into in terms of addressing your particular interests. I'm sure there are others out there as well.
  18. No, and there is no need for one. The work arounds are flailing around and sounding terrible for decades, whole hog Rabbath with a serious Rabbath teacher - way more interesting music but the method includes playing scales for two hours everyday. Simandl is the most condensed and fastest way to get the job done.
    Other methods with a qualified teacher and intensive study are fine as well.
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  19. Simandl played with a bow is a method to play the bass in tune which helps greatly with jazz playing. There is nothing more practical. Like many, I do not even believe in practice without a bow. I have a saying: the only thing worse than not practicing is "practicing" pizzicato: at least when you don't practice you KNOW you didn't practice. Pizzicato is not truthful about intonation. The bow is the truth. We need to face the truth in our practice.
    I find pizzcato actually dulls our intonation. Arco practice repairs some of the damage. Practice and paying are two completely different things with completely different goals. The double bass is an instrument that needs to be practiced.

    The primary difference between music and art is music is generally social and art is often solitary.
    A painter is working between themselves, the paint and the canvas. They can make their own rules and follow them.
    Music is most often made with others. Pitch is a primary meeting point - Simandl will sharpen your pitch. Most of the study of music is related to working with others and finding more and more sophisticated places to meet. There are, of course, fantastic musicians who don't use any traditional material. They are limited to who they can play with and can't ever "break abstraction" to play a few notes - unless they can do it well. Drummers, for instance, have a whole other approach to sound.

    Further, anti-academic sentiment in art and music is an outdated concept from the time with educational institutions held cultural power. The corporate music industry holds the power now and the academics and institutions are our first line of defense. Learning history of art and music is part of where we can have our power. While Cy Twombly may not have ever demonstrated traditional draughtsmanship he found a so many rich subject matter from the classical world and all areas is historical painting.
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  20. neilG


    Jun 15, 2003
    Ventura, CA
    As Damon says, no. Last time I looked, classical and jazz players play all the same notes. I haven't seen one, but a purely jazz method for beginners isn't going to look much different than Simandl. In fact, many Simandl etudes have sections very much like walking lines. If I had a student wanting to play jazz exclusively, I'd have them use Simandl supplemented with actual jazz charts. It is possible to teach solely from literature without a method book, but you still need to learn technique.
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