Archive for December, 2008

The Orchestral Audition Repertoire List for Double Bass

December 31, 2008

This is the list. THE list.

It was published in an International Society of Bassists Journal about 30 years ago (Sorry, I don’t know the exact year for this citation).When I went to study with James Clute he gave me a xerox of it, and it became the syllabus for his class.

The article was written by Jack Wellbaum, former Personnel Manager of the Cincinatti Symphony. He polled thirty-two symphony orchestras in North America for their bass audition repertoire and compiled the results as follows:

Repertoire asked two or more times (Ranked according to the number of times they appeared on the list):

Beethoven Symphony No. 9

Beethoven Symphony No. 5

Mozart Symphony No. 40

Strauss Don Juan

Mahler Symphony No. 1

Strauss Ein Heldenleben

Brahms Symphony No. 1

Mozart Symphony No. 39

Tschaikovsky Symphony No. 4

Brahms Symphony No. 2

Britten Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra

Shostakovich Symphony No. 5

Verdi Othello

Bach Suite No. 2 in B Minor

Beethoven Symphony No. 3

Beethoven Symphony No. 7

Ginastera Variaciones Concertantes

Haydn Symphony No. 88

Mahler Symphony No. 2

Mozart Marriage of Figaro Overture

Mozart Symphony No. 35

Mozart Symphony No. 41

Prokofiev Lieutenant Kije

Schubert “Great” C Major Symphony

Smetana Bartered Bride Overture

Strauss Till Eulenspiegel

Stravinsky Pulcinella

Beethoven Symphony No. 2

Brahms Symphony No. 4

Saint-Saens Carnival of the Animals

Wagner Die Meistersinger

Repertoire asked only once:

Bach Violin Concerto in E Major

Beethoven Symphony No. 4

Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique

Brahms Symphony No. 3

Bruckner Symphony No. 7

Dragonetti Concerto in G Major

Frank Symphony in D Minor

Mendelssohn Symphony No. 4

Schoenberg Variations for Orchestra

Strauss Also Sprach Zarathustra

Strauss Death and Transfiguration

Stravinsky L’Histoire du Soldat

Stravinsky Rite of Spring

Verdi La Forza del Destino

Verdi Rigoletto

Weber Euryanthe

Weber Der Freischutz

Every audition rep list I’ve seen lately has followed this pattern. When you know all these pieces, a concerto and a few movements of unaccompanied Bach, you’ll have 95% of all the rep you need to win an audition.


The interval exercise

December 22, 2008

Here’s a way to get to know your keys and your fingerboard. Play the first and third notes of a scale in one position. Do it slowly and slurred so that you use the whole bow. Shift and play the second and fourth notes, etc. Do this ascending and descending to nail down all those thirds and straighten out your hand position.blogex6a1

You’re not done yet. Play the whole thing again, but this time execute each third on the same string, so that you’re practising your shifts.

But that’s just thirds. Do the same thing with fourths, fifths, sixths, sevenths, and octaves, first within the hand position and then with shifts on the same string. After about an hour of this you’ll feel like an intonation ninja.


A Meditation on Tone

December 13, 2008

Pizz an open D string and let it ring. Listen. This is the sound of the bass in its naked state. The string is vibrating naturally – you aren’t imposing any stress on the system. Your body, too, is probably in a relaxed state – you are occupied with listening, no stress is needed.

Now, play the open D with the bow. Try to replicate the relaxed feeling and open tone that the plucked note had. It is interesting how little you have to work to get a good tone if the ear is in command. Tension gets in the way of good tone. You probably noticed that you didn’t have to push to get the string to move – just allow and listen.

Play a scale of long notes just like this. Pizz first, then arco the same note. You can alternate up and down strokes.


A quick warm-up

December 10, 2008

Here’s a quick warm-up that Lawrence Hurst taught me at Indiana. Its great for working the bow arm and getting you to feel comfortable at the extremities of the bow.

We’ll do a scale again. Put the bow on the string at the frog as though you are going to play the first note down-bow, but instead play up-bow. You’ll only have the space to play a very short note, and you won’t have to use anything except your fingers to engage the string. While the first note is still ringing, move the bow to the tip as though you are going to play the second note up-bow, but instead play down-bow. Again, it’ll be just a short pop from the fingers.


You are teaching yourself to gracefully move your arm between frog and tip, while also using the fingers to engage the note.

More Inspiration

December 7, 2008


The Shifting Exercise

December 6, 2008

This one is for the left hand. It’ll make you more accurate and secure in your shifts. The goal is Balance and Timing. When you shift positions, keep the hand-shape stable. Move the hand as a unit; stretched fingers or a dragging thumb would distort the hand and intruduce tension. KEEP THE STRING DOWN into the fingerboard as you shift, otherwise you’ll have to expend extra energy and time putting the string back down. This means that the finger which played the previous note is the one that presses the string down during the slide. J.B. vanDemark taught us this at The Eastman School.

This exercise can be used to practice shifts between every possible position. We’ll use positions 1 and 3 on the D string as an example.

The Shifting Exercise

Go through every combination of fingers: 1 to 4, 1 to 2, 1 to 1, 2 to 4, 2 to 2, 2 to 1, 4 to 4, 4 to 2, and 4 to 1. Make an audible portamento to keep the shift slow and controlled. Slide on the previous finger; this means that sometimes you shift to an audible intermediate note before the next finger goes down (grace notes). Keep the thumb behind the second finger at all times. Repeat each combination at least four times or until you feel secure and balanced in the shift.

Happy shifting!


December 3, 2008

What is your feedback system?

We can get feedback on our playing through our ears, our eyes, and our touch.

The ears are probably the best way, but the eyes and the touch can help, too. Try this: memorize a passage you want to improve, then practice using each way.

1. Play it in front of the mirror. You can watch for straight bow, good posture, even shoulders, etc.

2. Play again, checking how it feels. Be sensitive to tension, balance, etc.

3. Play again, listening with your eyes closed. Is the tone good? Is the rhythm good? Are the notes clear?

You have nailed the passage when it looks right, feels right, and sounds right.

The Bow Speed Exercise

December 2, 2008

Here’s the bow speed counterpart to the Mozart tone exercise. Again, we are dividing the bow into two equal parts, but now we are going fast-slow. For the first half of the stroke, move as fast (and loud) as possible without leaving the string. At the mid-point, suddenly change to a slow (soft) speed for the remainder of the whole-note, thusly:

Fast bow for first half/Slow bow for second half

Fast bow for first half/Slow bow for second half

Doing this every day will give you amazing control over bow speed. It’ll also help you keep the bow straight and with good contact.