From bass workshops with Jon Heilbron

While at Darmstadt, I had the pleasure of just bouncing ideas back and forth with Jon Heilbron on what can be done on the double bass. We got a lot of good ideas, and some terrible ones. I can’t remember all of them, but here’s some quick notes so that I at least can remember the most important things I learned from the two sessions we worked together. This won’t be interesting for the outside world, but is really just a note to self…

  • Spacing on the bass is only a major second per position close to the nut. High up on the fingerboard you can finger about a fourth.
  • This curse comes with its own blessing: you can really get a clear division of tones within this space, because there’s so much room at the lower end of the fingerboard. So there’s a real possibility of writing fairly complex weavings of eighth-tones.
  • Also, if one was to tune say the first string down a semitone to an F-sharp or F-1/4sharp even the available compass for making melodies without shifting position and only playing on the first and the second strings could be about a tritone give or take. For instance, fingering a minor third above the open string could give you on the third string: F to G, and then on the fourth string (now down a tone and a quarter) an open F-1/4sharp and fingered G-3/4sharp to A-3/4sharp. So the compass is from F to A-3/4sharp with a gap between G and G-3/4sharp. Plenty of possibilities there, and numerous natural harmonics (at m3, M3, and P4).
  • Bowing col legno still gets a huge amount of pitch, which is nice. It also gets nice harmonic sounds.
  • There’s a strong harmonic fingering a major 2nd It sounds 2 octaves and a 2nd up from the stopped note.
  • You can slightly bend the pitch of natural harmonics, since the strings are so fat they can take it. So it’s possible to have fairly wide vibrato on the harmonics, resembling a little a colour trill.
  • There are multiple ways of producing harmonics. Often simply playing sul pont will give you a set of harmonics, but it’s a bit indeterminate, and bow pressure is another influencing factor. But these will be different to just lifting your finger off on a natural harmonic node. This variety is certainly something to play with.
  • In any case, to really get natural harmonics to speak, you have to go a little sul pont. So, if you want a fairly quick ‘normale’ passage with occasional harmonic jumps (as in my violin etude), you have to be conscious that either the player will have to rapidly move their bow position towards and away from the bridge or to make a compromise that might make the whole passage sound too pont, which probably isn’t desired.
  • Sub-tones sound pretty cool, but you need a bit of space around them for them to work, otherwise they’ll just be over pressure.
  • You can have pretty excellent control of saltando bowing, and within rapid passages it can be introduced with great precision.
  • Vertical (spazzolare) bowing can be quite effective as another filter, and its speed can be changed nicely, along with the degree to which it is also horizontal.
  • Combining spazzolare tremoli at different speeds with passages moving quickly across all four strings: there’s an idea.
  • Speaking of which, I should look into bow speed as another variable a bit more
  • Non-bowed ‘tapping’ can be very effective – producing more noise than pitch most of the time. If you finger with your right hand high up on the finger board and then tap lower down this increases the noisiness of the tapping and reduces the pitch. As does slackening the string.
  • The most awkward area of the fingerboard is between the 6th and the 8ve. This is where the neck joins the body.
  • You can bow under the strings to get fairly solid double-stops between the 1st and 4th

There were quite a few more things that we came up with, and hopefully they’ll return to me, but that’ll do for now.