Last month we looked at fingerings for some hard scales—Ab, G, and B major—in the half and 1st positions, according to Franz Simandl’s famous bass method. Those scales sit nicely in the deep end of the bass, the so-called “money” notes. On a standard 4-string bass, the major scales in C, Db, and D demand that we creep out of the comfort zone of the half and 1st positions. This month, let’s explore Simandl’s approach to the treacherous business of shifting up and down the neck.
The Simandl method that I have been describing uses the 1–2–4 fingering system (see Woodshed, October ’15 and November ’15). Many bass players talk about the Simandl system, and countless bassists have learned to play using it, but most do not know why the positions have their names. Full positions are found when the 4th finger of the left hand plays, or is positioned above, a note from the C major scale on the G string. Notes on other strings relate to the position determined by the 4th finger on the G string (Ex. 1 and Fig. 1).
Half positions are found when the 4th finger of the left hand plays or is positioned above a note on the G string which is not found in the C major scale. As with the full positions, notes on other strings relate to the position determined by the 4th finger on the G string (Ex. 2 and Fig. 2).
The lowest position on the fingerboard (Ab/G#, A, and Bb/A# on the G string) is the half position. The notes B, C, and Db/C# on the G string are in the 2ndhalf position, found between the 2nd and 3rd positions. The notes Db/C#, D, and Eb/D# on the G string are in the 3rd-half position, found between the 3rd and 4th positions.
Let’s look at more major-scale fingerings using the Simandl system. The C major scale begins with the left-hand 4th finger on the note C on the A string (Ex. 3), which is in half position. (The 4th finger playing the note C also hovers above the note Bb on the G string, which is not in the C major scale, therefore we know this is half position.) Remember:
Notes on other strings relate to the position determined by the 4th finger on the G string. Notice the fingering for the C major scale: 4 on the A string (the note C); open, 2, and 4 on the D string (the notes D, E, and F); open, 1, 2, and 4 on the G string (the notes G, A, B, and C). Simandl has us shift our left hand into 1st position on the G string to accommodate the note A (played with 1st finger), and then shift again into 2nd position to play the B and C (played with the 3rd and 4th fingers). The names of the positions are determined by the orientation of the 4th finger on the G string, even if you are not playing that particular note. Db major begins with the 4th finger on the note
Db on the A string (Ex. 4), which Simandl calls 1st position. Notice the fingering for the Db major scale: 4 on the A string (the note Db); 1, 2, and 4 on the D string (the notes Eb, F, and Gb); 1, 4, 2, 4 on the G string (the notes Ab, Bb, C, and Db). The first two notes on the G string are in half position (Ab and Bb), and the second pair of notes are in 2nd-half position (C and Db).
After groping through the key of Db major, the key of D major offers an oasis of sonority (Ex. 5). Notice the fingering for the D major scale: open, 1, and 4 on the D string (the notes D, E, and F#); open, 1, 4, 2, and 4 on the G string (the notes G, A, B, C#, and D). The notes A and B are in 1st position, and the notes C# and D are in 3rd position.
Example 6 runs through three major keys, using all positions up through the 3rd position. Start slowly and use the prescribed fingerings. When you become comfortable with the étude, try some fingering variations and see if you can improve on Simandl. Many players and teachers have developed alternate fingering systems since Herr Simandl published his system more than 100 years ago. If we could go back in time, my burning question for Simandl would be: “Why not just name the positions 1 through 12?” Or maybe I would ask, “What’s the best fingering for ‘Teen Town’?”
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