My double bass colleague John Tuck recently sent some comments regarding my Rabbath versus Simandl post. He agreed to let me share them here. John is Assistant Principal Bass for the Northwest Indiana Symphony. He also plays for the Lake Forest Symphony and the Des Moines Metro Opera Orchestra, and he has performed with the Chicago Symphony and St. Louis Symphony in the past. He is an experienced double bass teacher and has been a clinician for the Whitewater Winter Bassfest. He is also the double bassist for Tiempo Tango Chicago.
I read some of your blog tonight, comparing Simandl and Rabbath. I too have spend hours pondering these generalized approaches to the bass (Simandl – Rabbath), and have a few rambling ideas that I would like to pass on.
The Rabbath approach implements the concept of pivoting, and I had questioned the validity of this for probably similar reasons that you had. It is now my assessment that the problems that one may associate with Rabbath’s concepts arise when there is an incomplete understanding of the concept.
Pivoting is really not that different from the concept of forward or backward extensions, which I understand is pretty much universally accepted by cellists. In addition, the concept of left hand technique that Ludwig Striecher adheres to in his method (where a particular finger does not leave its placement on a string until the next notes finger placement is firmly in established), which allows for one to reach for pitches which are “out of position” in a manner that is solidly rooted for intonation, is also similar to Rabbaths pivot in that there are no “block” positions maintained by the left hand. Where I think Rabbath may differ (in theory) is in his apparent reliance of the positioning of the thumb to guide the placement of the other fingers. Whether or not Rabbath actually dogmatically adheres to his system of positions, or simply uses these pivoting concepts to guide (and describe) his playing I am not sure. But, I am inclined to think that by following Streicher’s approach, the ultimate result would be as fluid as Rabbath’s.
As with a misunderstanding of pivoting, I see the main problem with the “traditional” position system also as being a misunderstanding. In my
opinion, traditional (Simandl) positions are not meant to restrict the hand, but to focus the mind.
When taken to their respective extremes, I don’t see the end results of the two position systems as being different. Each one can have its pitfalls if not understood or explained correctly.
As far as specific methods are concerned, for many years I HATED the Simandl approach. (the introduction of positions in a chromatic fashion, boredom, difficult keys etc.) I am still not fond of this method, but now see that it has some usefulness. I have come to the conclusion that this method was written for either those that already played the bass to some extent and wanted to go through a quick methodical text to solidify ones technique, OR for those that already understood music (and played another instrument) and wanted to learn the bass. I do not think this was intended for the raw beginner. The main problem with this method is that it focuses on reading music in terms of finger placement, rather than in terms of hearing the music first in one’s “inner ear” then playing what one hears. If one already has a developed musical ear, then this method may work quite well (though it is still a bit boring).
I have had luck in recent years by having intermediate students of mine work out of the “Bottesini Method” published by Yorke. This method includes many short and musically interesting etudes, that are organized by progressively more difficult keys. (12 in C Maj, 12 in its relative minor, then G Maj, it relative minor, F Major, etc). Rodney Slatford edited this method, but made a number of changes. BTW: I have acquired a 19th century original copy (English version) of this method and hope to make available at some point a new edition which does not include all the changes that exist in the Yorke edition.
For younger students or real beginners, I have found the Yorke Studies (Yorke Editions, Slatford) is very good. This first entire volume is in half
and first position. (There are 2 volumes) In addition to dealing with music basics, it also deals with meter changes and complex rhythms. The etudes are short, interesting and generally sound good on the bass.
FYI: The Progressive Repertoire was originally written as a possible official Suzuki method for bass, but was rejected by the Suzuki officials
because it sis not adhere close enough to the Suzuki repertoire and the order of the repertoire. Personally I think this is better than that method that became ultimately approved by the Suzuki program. This series is now in 3 volumes. The same series was originally published in 6 volumes (called The Bass Project) and each volume corresponded to one of the 6 volumes of the Suzuki method.
More on Simandl Positions: The violin system of positions includes 7 positions within the first octave. i. e. One position for each of the notes
of the diatonic scale. Very simple. Cellists have also adapted the violin system of 7 positions into 12 positions per octave and are named as in the Simandl method. First position being a whole step above the open string and each position above that named according to the interval above first position. (lower third position being a minor third above first position, upper 6th position being a major 6th above 1st position). Unfortunately this is never stated in the Simandl book. But virtually all variations of this system that have been adapted for bass adhere to this general structure. (Because an Aug 5th is the “same” as a Min 6th, some systems call the same position V, V+, VI or VI-). Sometimes a position may be named different depending on how the pitch is named. On the G string: D flat could be called lowered 4th position, while C sharp would be upper 3rd. I find this system useful because it encourages one to become aware of the size of the interval of one’s shifts.
Overview of position systems:
- Simandl system of Positions: Focus on finding pitched within blocked positions and reading music. This approach does not help develop the “inner ear”.
- Rabbath system of Position: Focus on left hand dexterity, at the possible expense of developing solid intonation.
- Violin system of positions (adapted): Like the Rabbath system, this is more generalized than the Simandl system, less confusing and encouraged the student to pay attention to the sound of the intended pitch rather than the “correct” placement of the finder. This system is tonally based however, which the Rabbath system is not. With this system one can play all major and minor scales, with one of 3 finger patterns, in any single position on the entire bass. This is the system I teach and use.
John Tuck ~ Double Bass
John is a member of the Lake Forest Symphony, the Northwest Indiana Symphony and also the Des Moines Metro Opera. He has performed with the Chicago Symphony, the Saint Louis Symphony, and the Chicago Chamber Orchestra and has participated in the Aspen Music Festival, Spoleto Festival USA and Festival dei due Mondi (Spoleto, Italy) . In addition, John Tuck has toured Asia with the Hollywood Concert Orchestra (playing electric bass), has performed with the Three Tenors, Andre Boccelli and Manheim Steamroller, and and has played in numerous jazz, folk, and experimental music ensembles. He received his Masters of Music degree from the Northwestern University School of Music.