I’ve used pretty much every bass method as a performer and teacher. Simandl, Rabbath, Billé, Petracchi, Sevcik, Flesch, Levinson, and Vance (to name a few) have all spent time on my music stand, and my thinking about bass technique and the most efficient means of developing and maintaining these skills has evolved quite a bit over the years. Like cooking a recipe, I would combine a few different practice materials and see what resulted over a period of time.
What I Use for Younger Students
After years of experimentation, I now use the following methods for younger (beginner through approximately 15 years old) students:
Ahhh, Simandl…. I’ve written about Simandl before, so I’ll spare the details and just say that it’s a time-honored means of learning the traditional half-step position system of double bass fingering. Boring? Sure. But it’s good stuff, and I still think it can’t be beat for teaching people how to play the bass the way it’s actually played in ensembles.
The George Vance books were originally intended to be the Suzuki Bass foundational books. Things happened, and a separate series of Suzuki Bass books were eventually launched. These are useful books, but there’s something about the way that Vance is laid out that really appeals to me. I’ve always thought that each piece is just about enough to reasonable expect a young student to learn. Personally, I have struggled with teaching the Rabbath position system to younger students (though I like the concept, I think that the students play more out of tune when I start them on this… though it’s probably the way I teach it and not the concept), and I have vacillated between embracing the system and crossing out all the Rabbath positions and writing in traditional ones.
I have a large stack of exercises that I’ve collected over the years which I introduce to students at different points in their development. My plan is to organize all of this material and include it in the upcoming Contrabass Conversations free app (it’ll blow your mind when you see how this is all incorporated), but until then I use a combination of accelerating slurred scales, fingering templates for major scales, left hand shifting, double-stop, and dexterity exercises, tone production, bow control, string crossing, stroke development, and all that kind of specific technical material.
What I use for Advanced Students
- Hal Robinson – Boardwalkin’
- Hal Robinson – Strokin’
You can order them through Robertson & Sons, a rockin’ bass shop located in Albuquerque, NM – my wife’s hometown!
Why these books? Simply put, I find them to be the best return on investment for my practice time. I get way more out of 30 minutes of practicing out of these books than anything else I’ve found.
This book takes a component of the Rabbath technique and fleshes it out for all keys. The approach is similar positionally to that of the violin, with six major positions based around the harmonics of the instrument and scale exercises running up and down through all six of these positions. It’s a healthy way to look at the bass. I’ve found that regular practice of this material leads people to see more possibilities for fingerings and to get better and devising fingerings. Sight-reading is also improved with regular study of this book.
This is the Sevcik School of Bowing Technique Op. 2 edited by a master double bassist. Do not buy another Sevcik book. Do not download it from IMSLP. Buy this book immediately. Having Hal’s meticulous bowings, tempo choices, and technical notations makes all the difference. Correctly practiced, this book will turn you into a technical powerhouse. It is the most comprehensive book on on bowing technique that I have found, and I practice out of it every day.
What do you use in your teaching? What are you practicing these days? Let us know!