Volume 10, May 2019
Intonation in the Performance of the Double Bass: The Role of Vision and Tact in Undershoot and Overshoot Patterns

by Fausto Borém and Guilherme Menezes Lage

1. Introduction

". . . from 'learn the sweet spots by ear and feel alone . . .' to 'cheat dots all over the places . . . .'" Comment from one out of 282 double bassists in a polemic international discussion (Chalmers & Pierce, 2016, at [0:29]).

The above epithet was taken from the speech of a beginner on the double bass and reflects one of the most controversial and passionate discussions in the international community of bass players. Not long ago, there was a tendency for popular bassists to accept marks in the fingerboard as a natural strategy and, on the other hand, a tendency for classical bassists to reject them. But this binary division is no longer so clear, as Avibigband (2016) illustrates: "... many of the best players in the world sometimes use them [the dots]. [Edgar] Meyer, [Boguslaw] Furtok, [Božo] Paradžik, [Rick] Stotijn, many more." In the link goo.gl/6m8E6M of another blog, Double Bassists (Contrabassists), the post shared on August 1, 2017 (Brown, 2017) had 282 comments from both segments, popular and classic, many of which quite fierce, accusative or biased, including remarks such as "lazy", "dots = no practice", "stupid", "self-taught", "buy a kazoo", "dots suck", "You cannot play if you're looking at dots", or else "ego trip", "Reminds me of the old Reagan Era 'do not do drugs' commercials", "purists will unleash their fury", to find no hint of agreement, pictured childish disputes such as "Edgar does not use the dots" followed by a "Yes, Meyer uses guides" and so on.

But all comments shared a lack of scientific knowledge about what Applebaum (1973, p.15) calls "the universal problem" of orchestral strings and Havas (1995) names as the main cause of an anxiety that leads musicians of the violin family to abandon music as a profession. If both tactile and visual intonation strategies are used by role model musicians such as Grammy Award winning bassist Edgar Meyer (Welz, 2001) and others, they are used only intuitively. Even when these sensorial cues are exploited in teaching methods as a guidance procedure to improve intonation (Barber, 1990, 1991; Green, 1980; Robinson, 1990; Starr & Suzuki, 1976), they still lack the support of systematic research.

After this introduction, we present  a review of the literature (II), the research method (with the participants, recording apparatus, tasks, procedures and analyses of audio recordings) (III), the results (IV), and the discussion with conclusions (V).