Bass blog contributor Benjy wrote a wonderful comment after viewing the Hans Sturm videos about the Rabbath technique that we’ve been posting here. Since comment can quickly disappear under the radar here (due to the daily avalanche of new content), I thought that it would be a good idea to take a moment and highlight Benjy’s wonderful insights:
Jason and Hans; these blog videos are astounding and worth their weight in gold. Surely, your demonstrations will benefit any curious bassist in understanding how the New Technique works, but the most important information that should be be retained so far is that these finger shifts are only the tip of the iceberg. Allow me to share a few more ideas with you.
Back in 1984, I took a one week intensif course with François here in France. His “New technique” had just come out at the time and our small class of 8 (yes, 8 !) discussed the 12 topics that are covered in the introduction of the 3rd volume. The sixth topic is the one that I find the most important in having studied with him, and I think that talking about it now will enhance your excellent presentations.
Violinists and pianists have been transmitting the same concepts to their students well before Rabbath’s time. No one in the bass world has ever dared to do the same for our instrument, which is why we should open our eyes to this new way of thinking, since he was the first to talk about them. The idea behind this method is not to ultimately, become Rabbath clones, but to « throw your ego out of the window » (as he says) in order to find your own self.
The 282 permutated bowings and the 130 different fingerings for each scale and arppegio are not to be taken too seriously. They look scary at first, but when practiced in the following manner (according to François himself) make great sense and will never get boring:
First day : choose any scale and its fingering and start with the first of the 282 bowings. Everytime you start the scale again, go to the next bowing. Do this for 5 mins without stopping to correct errors in intonation. These problems will correct themselves as you come back to them.
Second Day : Continue doing the same thing as before, with a new scale and new fingering. Increase the practice session to 10 mins.
Third day : Now increase your work to 15 mins, always using a different scale and moving along with the bowing variations.
Fourth day : Stop. Do not practice at all. This relaxation period will give your muscles time to relax and regenerate and is essential in the process.
Fifth day : continue as before, increasing your time to 20 mins with different scales and fingerings and progressing in the bowing permutations.
Sixth and seventh days : the same as the fifth.
Eight day : Stop and relax
Continue this patterned routine of 3 days of non-stop practicing with one day off, until you reach the 2 hour time limit. You will suddenly realize that those first few days of 5-10 mins of hard intensive work don’t seem tiresome anymore. The 282nd bowing which calls for 22 notes (3 octaves) to be played in one bow will be a cinch. You’ll be able to play concertos, orchestral excerpts or even an entire recital as though it were child’s play because you have obviously surpassed the required technical demands that you are now confronted with.
The key factor in this kind of work is to create endurance, the kind of endurance that piano and violinist virtuosi obtain on their instruments. We too can reach a level of physical strength only if we work at it, for as François states, « to be a concert performer, you have to practice like one ». May I also add that this kind of extreme concentrated work requires a few sacrifices : no phone calls, no answering doorbells etc. Total immersion is the goal here. I have undergone this kind of practicing 3 times in my life, and feel that it has helped me achieve fantastic in my playing. I simply never get tired.
During those days of my « geographical fingerboard exploration », 2 ideas came into mind. The first was a vertical one, on how the hand and fingers would move up and down on the fingerboard. This reminded me of the way a tarantula walks. Its body glides and is in complete control. It gets from point A to point B, by using its legs do the work, but the legs have no mind of their own. Your hand is like a tarantula’s body ; your fingers are its legs. When playing a fast passage, chose fingerings that coordinate the movement of your hand within a given distance, and do that in the least amount of time. This movement, space, time idea is as you know, the first topic elaborated upon in the 3rd volume. This mental concept really helps out in the crab technique as well.
The second became a horizontal mental image. When we drive in the rain do we look at the road in front or do we stare at the raindrops on the windshield ? So you missed a note on the way up ? Was it out of tune on the way down ? So what ? Keep going and DON’T STOP ; you’ll only give them the importance they don’t deserve. These mistakes should not be blown up and inhibit your performance.
I hope that these comments in studying the bass will help one gain more insight as to how they can learn to slowly break away from being a student, and seek the performer that is in all of us.
Thanks for the great comment, Benjy! Check out the links below for more of Benjy’s blog contributions:
- Koussevitzky’s giant bass case
- Great Bottesini photo from Benjy
- Auditioning at 54: part 1 – part 2
- Remembering Jean Cros
- How to polish ebony fingerboards