Eastern Positions for the Double Bass

The “eastern positions” for the double bass are a way to execute the micro tonality, or ‘quarter tones’*, that are in use in Middle Eastern music’s modal frameworks, making it possible to play the double bass in an ensemble and also to bring the double bass into prominence as a solo instrument in this genre.

The positions were first suggested in my master’s paper at JAMD, under the guidance of Prof. Taiseer Elias and Dr. Michael Klinghoffer. This paper is currently being rewritten as a comprehensive Middle Eastern double bass method book, and is focused on the details that will allow western players to begin playing, in a short time, from the repertoire of the classical Arabic music in the appropriate stylistic manner.

From the preface to the eastern positions chapter:

To incorporate the musical elements of Arabic music and to correctly express Arab maqamat* on the double bass, the positions for playing the intonation of the maqam need to be instilled in us. In other words, we need a strong mental tool, like the western methodologies, which will allow us to repeat the execution of subtle intonations with great accuracy every time.

The western positions are a strong tool in that they create a mental map of the notes on the fingerboard for the musician.
The eastern positions maps some of the notes between the notes we know, and are based on the western positions we are already familiar with, so we don’t get lost – in each eastern position we will always keep at least one finger in a familiar western position.

The following video is an example of using these positions. This is a duo arrangement of mine, performed by myself and oud player Loay Khlefi. The piece is “Samai* Hussaini” by Turkish composer Tatios Efendi.

The maqam is “hussaini” and its notes are D to D with E half flat and occasionally B half flat. Before the last part comes an improvised taqsim* by me.

 * Terms explained here

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5 Responses to Eastern Positions for the Double Bass

  1. Mark Dresser says:

    Thanks Hagai for this chart.
    Can you clarify please. The first circle below the nut is the equivalent of Eb with the first finger or the guide finger? The 2nd finger is a quarter step sharp of Eb, or E quarter flat? The second circle without a number, a guide finger, is on E natural?
    The fourth finger on the A string then is a minor 3rd above the open string, or C natural? If this is the case, then isn’t the 2nd finger is mid way, or 1/2 of a minor third?

    The traditional positions ala Simandl are not as universal as they once were as a result of the impact of Rabbath’s technique. Might it be useful to describe of microtonal location both in terms of intervals and positions? Just a thought.

    Thanks and best wishes!

  2. Hagai Bilitzky says:

    Hey Mark,
    Thank you for pointing this out!
    The chart is exactly how you described it, with the fourth finger a minor third above the open string and the first finger on the “E half flat”. This chart is for what I call the “three quarter position”, because it is based on simandl’s “half position”, only it has a 3/4 of a tone between the nut and the first finger instead of 1/2 a tone.
    About using the 2nd finger in this position- well, I guess one can play it with the second finger just as well, but for players who are used to play the 1-2-4 system the 2nd finger is the middle of the tone between Eb and F, making it is just as far from the E half flat as the first finger.
    Generally, I find it is easier to get the three quarter tone interval between E half flat and F (on the D string) with the first and fourth fingers in this part of the neck.
    It is also inspired by traditional oud playing techniques, some of them use almost only first and third fingers (even for semi tones!), making the first finger the “brains” behind the subtle ever-changing intonations. [Another thought – is contracting a position (like in Bottesini’s 1-4 finger chromatic scale) an older concept than expanding it? Is it more ‘natural’ or controllable?]
    All the eastern position I suggest are based on western principals, so I will not get lost on the neck- and some of them do involve some of Rabbath’s ideas, some of Petracchi’s at the thumb positions, and so on, plus some technical ideas that are explained in Dr. Klinghoffer’s new book.
    I agree with you about describing the microtonal location in terms of intervals and this is the reason I divided the neck into 1/8ths of a tone. The charts are different for every position and have more information, including the intervals and spacings.

    I am excited to hear from you, and hope you will agree to go over the book when I will have it together and tell me what you think.
    THANK YOU!!!

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  4. Kinnon Church says:

    Mark,
    when will your book be published, and where will I be able to purchase it?

    Kinnon

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