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Do you have a question pertaining to bass playing for Mr. Oppelt, Mr. Barber, or Mr. Manzo? Please contact us! We're happy to answer your inquiry and post it here to be shared with the bass-playing community.


Hi Bob:

If you have time, I have a question about right hand bowing technique. Particularly, how do you articulate various types of fast passages?

For example, for a Mozart fast passage, such as movement 4 of the Haffner/35th symphony, how would you describe the type of stroke you use to articulate this? Would you consider your stroke an on-the-string or off-the-string stroke? It seems too fast to play off the string. But musically it seems like it has to be a light enough stroke to "sing" somewhat.

Compare that to some fast Strauss passages, say, the triplets or the near-impossible to play fast sixteenths in Don Juan which outline various diminished arpeggios? Again, do you approach this as on the string or off the string? For the sixteenth passages is it even possible to honestly play those at that tempo or is it almost like the "storm" passage of Beethoven 6th where you are resigned to just moving your left hand fast and going through the motions?




I think Mozart 35 should be a little “off” the string for bass. Violins sometimes play that "on", but I think it's best for bass to be a bit off for added clarity of articulation. It also requires more effort to be on the string with it, as it requires more pressure to keep the bow from bouncing because the bow "wants" to bounce. If you allow it come off the bow will do most of the work for you. Just try to be in the right part of the bow, experimenting with it a half inch this way or that, and placement relative to the bridge will be a factor, too. Finally, tempo effects the type of stroke and how it is produced, as a slower tempo requires more deliberate manipulation of the bow off the string. It’s easiest when the bow bounces mostly from its own jitters.

For the Don Juan sixteenths – in my opinion they should be off the string. They’re pretty much as fast as one can play them. Practice it slowly at first, then gradually faster. Again, the bow will do much of the work for you if you are sure to start it away from the string and not on. That initial hit with the bow will provide enough rebound to help get you through it. But yes, it is a bit of a controlled fake...

I also play the earlier triplets (letter A) spiccato, but not too high...again, from off the string.

Bob Oppelt (Principal Bass, National Symphony Orchestra)

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