Last month we looked at fingerings for the f, bb, and g major scales in the half position and first position, according to Franz Simandl’s famous bass method. These scales lie nicely on the double bass fingerboard, and electric players might also find Simandl’s 1–2–4 fingering system comfortable for the left hand. Now that we’ve dealt with three easy keys, let’s move on to some trickier scales in the half and first position: Ab, Gb, and B.
First, review the geography of the lower positions according to Simandl. In half position, the left-hand 4th finger would play the note Bb on the G string. The first position is one half-step above the half position. In the first position, the left-hand 4th finger would play the note B on the G string.
The three scales we are working on in this Woodshed—Ab, Gb, and B—require shifting in and out of the half and first position. The Ab major scale is one of the most difficult in the lower positions (Ex. 1). On the double bass, the low Ab on the E string is a hard note to grab and play in tune.
Check out Fig. 1, a photo of my left hand holding a low Ab on the E string with my 4th finger. The left-hand fingers are slightly curved; the entire hand embraces the fingerboard in order to reach the Ab; the left-hand thumb is positioned behind the 2nd finger; and the 4th finger presses down the Ab with the other three fingers, which are also resting on the E string.
The Ab major scale is difficult because of several necessary shifts from first position to half position and back. In addition, the optimal fingering is different when ascending or descending. Note Ex. 1’s fingering for the ascending Ab major scale: 4 on the E string (the note Ab); 1, 2, and 4 on the A string (the notes Bb, C, and Db); 1 and 4 on the D string (the notes Eb and F); open and 1 on the G string (the notes G and Ab).
It’s possible to use the same fingering when playing the descending Ab major scale. However, the fingering shown in Ex. 2, which is only different on the D string, is slightly more efficient and ergonomic: 1 and open on the G string (the notes Ab and G); 4 and 1 on the D string (the notes F and Eb); 4, 4, and 1 on the A string (the notes Db, C, and Bb on the A string); 4 on the E string (the root Ab). Generally, when playing a group of three notes on one string, the shift should happen between the first two notes. In this case, the ascending Bb, C, and Db on the A string are played with 1, 2, and 4. The descending Db, C, and Bb on the A string are played with 4, 4, and 1.
Wow—Ab is a little tough to manage because of all the shifting, but at least there’s that open G at the top of the scale. Watch out, though—the Gb major scale has no open strings (Ex. 3). Here’s the fingering for the ascending Gb major scale: 1 and 4 on the E string (the notes Gb and Ab); 1, 1, and 4 on the A string (the notes Bb, Cb, and Db); 1, 2, and 4 on the D string (the notes Eb, F, and Gb). The fingering for the descending Gb major scale could be the same as the ascending fingering, or like the optional fingering shown in Ex. 4. The key of Gb major is the enharmonic equivalent of F# major, therefore the fingerings for the Gb and F# major scales are the same.
The ascending B major scale uses the same fingerings as the Gb major scale, although one string over, i.e., up the interval of a 4th (Ex. 5). Note the fingering for the ascending B major scale: 1 and 4 on the A string (the notes B and C#); 1, 1, and 4 on the D string (the notes D#, E, and F#); 1, 2, and 4 on the G string (the notes G#, A#, and B). The fingering for the descending B major scale could be the same as the ascending fingering, or like the optional fingering shown in Ex. 6. B major is the enharmonic equivalent of Cb major, so the fingerings for the B and Cb major scales will be the same.
Enough playing up and down boring scales! Let’s work on a short étude that combines the Ab, Gb, and B major scales (Ex. 7). As you play through this étude. you’ll notice that a well-practiced system of fingerings helps to maintain economy of motion. Be sure to use the fingerings exactly as indicated to gain the full benefit of Simandl’s 100-year-old, classic system.
Visit John on the web at johngoldsby.com for sound samples, videos and answers to all of your bass-related questions.
• Download a free comparative chart of bass fingering systems.
• Check out the original public-domain edition of Franz Simandl’s New Method for the Double Bass at the International Music Score Library Project database.
• Watch double bassist Geoff Chalmers explain basic fingering and shifting patterns for a one-octave Ab major scale.