Professor Robert Meyer’s advice

Professor Robert Meyer’s advice to young (or not so young) bassists, continued

In my post of July 8th, 2008, I wrote about having your bass set-up properly. That post was about rounding the fingerboard. This post is about setting the distance between the strings, which can greatly improve your technique thus giving you a better chance to get a job, quite a feat in these hard times, and also it will give you more satisfaction with your playing.

You see, sometimes it is necessary to press down two or three strings at the same time somewhat in the manner of a ligature that guitarists use, if your bass is set-up properly then you can do it.

As an example I can quote Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, Scherzo where there is a pianissimo rising passage that can be played with relative ease if you give some thought to the instrument’s set-up. Another piece is Richard Strauss’s “Heldenleben”.

My bass has a stop of 41 inches.

Distance centre to centre between the strings at the nut:  3/8” (three eighths of an inch).

Distance centre to centre between strings on the bridge: 27/32” (Twenty-seven thirty-seconds of an inch, just under seven-eighths of an inch).

One thing; it is critical that your bridge be of the correct height so that your bow clears the bouts of the bass.

Double Bass Auditioning Material

Some time ago I noticed an advertisement for a principal bass in the Concertgebouw Orchestra, Amsterdam, Holland.  One of the requirements for the candidates was that they play a Bottesini and Vanhal concerto.
In the early days of my career I gave many auditions and was told on several occasions that they didn’t want to hear a lot of harmonics and skating around the  top of the instrument but  they wanted to hear solos from the lower part of the bass.  The sound one made seemed to be the main concern. Because of this I changed my audition pieces to the orchestral range and without boasting, I got a lot of  jobs by doing so.

Willem Mengelberg, a onetime conductor of the Concertgebouw, made his feelings known very forcibly as to what a true double bass sound should be, especially a principal bass – strong and authoritative.  I can’t write the words he used because they are unprintable.

Edouard van Beinum who became principal conductor of the Concertgebouw sometime later, also had this concern for a big bass sound. I played many concerts for him and, I can tell you, he really loved the sound of the basses, at times flogging us to pull out that extra bit of tone.

In 1946 I listened to the Concertgebouw conducted by van Beinum, in London.  The main piece on the programme was Berlioz’ Symphony Fantastique, and the basses made a great sound. Later, I listened to the Czech Philharmonic, and their bass section sounded magnificent in Dvorak’s New World Symphony.

Considering that 99% of bassists make their living by playing in an orchestra, (everybody cannot be a Gary Karr – Gary is unique,) I can’t see why some audition requirements are for bass concertos and not the repertoire.  True, there are many bassists quite capable of playing concertos beautifully,  but  they play on a small solo bass, the strings are set lower on the bridge,  solo strings are used, and  usually the bass is tuned up a tone, thereby making it a kind of bastard instrument,  with a much different sound than that of an orchestral bass.

Often transcriptions are made of violin, cello, oboe etc. sonatas and concertos, but what’s the point of playing them for an orchestral audition?  I felt so strongly that the average listener would probably like to hear what an orchestral bass sound is like that I made a CD on an orchestral bass tuned GDAE The sound is gruffer than a solo bass, I grant you, but then, a bass is a bass is a bass!

So, all you young hopefuls who have been practicing for years and are now out there auditioning for jobs, take heed of my advice; I’ve been there and done it.

Published in: on November 15, 2008 at 12:40 pm  Leave a Comment  
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