Volume 18, February 2024
E-portfolios as Learning Tools for Applied Double Bass Study; a Research-Based, Practice Oriented Approach

by Mark Elliot Bergman

4. Practice-oriented applications: intonation (see Appendix B)

The second artifact I collect from students is a video of scale playing against a drone. Drones can be a crucial tool for helping double bassists develop reliable intonation. Pirastro Strings Artist and double bass clinician Lauren Pierce (2016) commented upon this in her Discover Double Bass interview, noting "I practice with drones all the time . . . a drone is so great for your intonation" (Chalmers, 1:04 – 1:20). For this assignment, I ask my double bass students to record themselves playing major and melodic minor scales against an audible drone in quarter notes at quarter = 60 in a detaché style. My students may set the drone on the root of the scale or the fifth scale degree of the scale. In my experience, these drones reveal different intonation challenges. For example, playing against the fifth scale degree tends to make intonation issues with scale degree two and scale degree seven much more evident than when playing against the tonic.

When reflecting on this artifact, I ask my students to listen to which pitches are out of tune and identify if they are flat or sharp. Also, I ask them to review the video for themselves, playing in slow motion. Is the shifting motion smooth? Is the double bass stable when the player is shifting? In my experience, many young double bass players use their left hand to help stabilize the instrument. When shifting, the instrument becomes unstable. The instability is often visible when playing the video back in slow motion. Visualizing shifting problems helps students make appropriate adjustments in their physical approach to the instrument, which may improve intonation significantly. Being able to reference specific moments in the video also helps foster student learning and focus practice goals.