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François Rabbath's New Technique on CD-ROM

In this issue, I would like to take the opportunity to depart from the usual format of multiple reviews so that I might take one item and do an in-depth review. I was so impressed with the wonderful new state-of-the-art CD-ROM entitled François Rabbath- the Double Bass- the new technique. Internationally acclaimed virtuoso and pedagogue, François Rabbath and Label Image Production have joined forces and created a first class product containing a host of informative materials to contemplate. I believe a product such as this should belong in every bassist’s library! From beginning to end, this CD-ROM offers "a master class for everyone yet permits the individual user to proceed at his or her own pace." Over fifty musical examples (etudes and exercises) are included in addition to many other examples performed and discussed on a variety of topics. Highly innovative and very easy to use, it is compatible on both Macintosh and PC formats (see below for configuration requirements).

A genuine tour de-force, this is a fun, easy to use, and fully interactive software package offering advice on a full complement of topics dealing with performing on the double bass. There are multitudes of features built into the software, which make it both enjoyable and educational. Imagine being able to analyze a great virtuoso’s bow arm or left hand frame by frame (frontward or backward) at your leisure! Many sections contain audio-video demonstrations with addition information available in the form of written text. Over 50 musical examples, etudes, and exercises are demonstrated, with high quality sound and graphics displayed throughout each section. Multiple camera angles (at the click of a button), frame-by-frame examination, repeat mode, pause function, and zoom capabilities are just some of the many features found throughout this CD-ROM. Written musical examples can be printed out for further study.

The CD-ROM is divided into six sections, greatly facilitating working at your own pace and being able to find specific information of interest. In the introductory section, Rabbath introduces himself and wishes to present further explanation of his method books. There is a short biography, an impressive discography listing contents of each recording, as well as a section called the Family Album displaying photographs of many musicians and collaborators. Rabbath discusses in considerable detail his concept of setting up an instrument and includes templates of the bridge, nut, and fingerboard which can be printed out. Whether this setup would be ideal in an orchestral sense is questionable. I took the liberty of printing out these templates and took them to a respected luthier in town for a more qualified opinion. He was not convinced that these templates were true to size but felt that he could create proportional measurements from the information given.

In the second section a brief history of the instrument is given. Photographs and templates of François Rabbath’s Quenoil instrument and bow are included which show details of construction and proportion. A collection of sixteen photographs illustrates a luthier’s workshop as an instrument is produced. The third section is entitled Preparing to Play. François goes into further detail about instrument setup where he advocates a preference for a flatter fingerboard arch versus a more rounded arch. The flatter fingerboard necessitates playing more horizontally with the bow versus vertically (pulling the sound from the string versus pressing into the string). Pulling the string creates an oval oscillation thus allowing the strings to be set closer to the fingerboard. François discusses the importance of not over tightening the bow. "The tension of the bow must be adjusted low enough to allow the hair to hug the string, yet taut enough to permit the bow to rebound. The curve of the stick endows it with a resilience, which enables it to rebound provided that the tension is correctly adjusted and that the bow is drawn in the same plane". Rabbath continues in the section with a demonstration of how he holds his instrument. Of significant consequence to this technique is the use of the bent endpin, which displaces the center of gravity of the instrument thereby, reducing the weight of the instrument as it rests on the left hand thumb. The Egg Pin (a device designed by Paul Ellison and available through Robertson’s Violin Shop as well as Lemur Music) is a brilliant alternative to the bent endpin and allows for the complete adjustment of all angles.

Part IV, The Method, goes directly to the heart of the techniques of Rabbath. There is a segment on teaching beginning bassists which describes how he holds the bow. He demonstrates, with the aid of a student, a method of teaching the correct movements of the forearm and wrist. François discusses the placement of the thumb and advocates the use of a bent thumb. He further discusses the three criteria of position, weight and speed of the bow. There are explanations which address raising and lowering the elbow, as well as the problem of correct bow placement when notes are rapidly played in different registers. The section on bow strokes discusses sautille, bariolage, Jete and staccato. There is a fun section devoted to special pizzicato techniques he utilizes in his own compositions, many of which seem to be derived from classical guitar technique.

Rabbath goes into detail when discussing terminology in his method books regarding the left hand. Concepts that he elaborates on include movements of the hand and how this will influence fingering choices. It is these hand movements "which must be considered. They are the guiding lines for the fingering: the movement presents a general view, the fingering is a detail." The term’s movement, space and time as used by Rabbath still seem to ring with a mysterious quality. I am not prepared to dismiss these terms as flamboyant verbiage, though they still seem to conjure up more questions than his further explanations seem to answer. He discusses concepts of intonation and timing of the left hand. Explanations are provided for the Crab Technique (with many demonstrated examples), vibrato, pivoting technique and the need for consistent finger pad placement. Characteristic of Rabbath’s technique is the division of the fingerboard into six positions. There is an illustration of this positional division accessible from many of the sections of the software program. Artificial harmonics are discussed based on nodes a distance of a fifth, fourth, and a third above the thumb placement.

Finally, the last section is one of advice. I found this section to be very inspiring. He talks about many things including how he suggests practicing the techniques and exercises found in his books. I would love to share all the advice he gives but there is not sufficient column space to do so. Suffice to say, the amount of information found on this CD-ROM will likely take most people months (if not years) to assimilate and incorporate. Though the cost of the product is substantial, I believe it contains enough interesting materials and topics to provide substantial growth opportunities for most bassists and teachers alike. If one learns new techniques which clearly contributes to one’s ability to express themselves on a higher level, then is it not worth the price of 3or 4 private lessons?

Minimum configurations for Macintosh is a 040 processor using System 7 or higher (a Power Macintosh is recommended) with 8 Mb RAM, 2x CD-ROM drive, high color screen and sound card or PC Compatibles using Microsoft Windows 3.1 or later, 486DX-2 66 microprocessor, 8 Mb Ram, 2x CD-ROM, High color screen, and Soundblaster-compatible sound card.

Rick Vizachero
Bass World
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François Rabbath
New Technique on CD-ROM

Available in French and English versions.

For anyone unable to meet François Rabbath, this CD-Rom for Mac or PC provides an excellent opportunity to become acquainted with the essentials of his New Technique. It starts where a book ends, providing video clips of each element of the technique and snippets of studies in his methods. It introduces both the man (a photo album, a biography and discography) and the instrument (a visit to the luthier, a history and information on set-up).

I viewed the CD-Rom on a Macintosh Powerbook 1400c/166 (40Mb Ram) and was surprised by the sound quality which although somewhat crude - due to the limitations of the machine - was not at all unpleasant. The audio-loop accompanying the Main Menu and Contents got on my nerves after a while but it is quite possible to navigate round without returning there too often!

Rabbath's New Technique is described in detail. He shows different bow strokes and special pizzicati. The video clip of the pizzicato he calls 'progliato,' an effect similar to strumming a guitar, is great. The photos and text in the second book of his method had never made this clear to me. Rabbath stresses the importance of movement for good intonation, shows the pivot and explains the 'crab' movement for eliminating slides in traditional position changes. A table of positions explains how Rabbath divides up the fingerboard.

Such a written analysis of content, however, belies the pleasure that can be derived from browsing the CD-Rom, dropping in on a particular technique to see and hear how it is achieved or hearing Rabbath himself present extracts from various studies in his method books. In some video clips you can view from directly in front, to one side or from above, which is particularly illuminating.

A video of Rabbath's technique might have retailed for less money. But CD-Rom presentation allows instant access to the part in which your are interested at any given time, lets you read the text at your own speed and view still photographs as long as you want. Moreover, viewed on a laptop computer, it is infinitely more transportable.

At US $130. This CD-Rom is not cheap. However, no serious player, or student of the double bass at the end of the 20th century should allow themselves to be completely ignorant of the work of François Rabbath and this CD-Rom gives an introduction at considerably less cost than attending a full course. The method book may cost less but seeing and hearing about this new technique directly from the master has to be better; any confusion the written word might leave evaporates once the technique is seen.

Cathy Elliott
Double Bassist
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