Music is DOOMED!Cheap Instruments| Tenor & Alto Clef| Shar Music | Public School Auditions |The Educational Pendulum | Why Orchestra? |Talent |The myth of 1 page per week.| Correcters vs. Preventers|NO! I don’t wish I played the flute!|

The Classical Sky Is Falling!

Good morning everyone! Through Double Bass Blog I found this blog from the Milwaukee’s Symphony Principal violist.

I feel it has particular merit due to his position and therefore insight in to the orchestral world.

We all know there are many orchestra folding or having issues. There are also many orchestra that continue to run in the BLACK such as the Chicago Symphony and the Chicago Lyric Opera.

While the state of classical music is probably in one of the best states of being (well perhaps besides 18th & 19th century Europe) composers and musicians for over 100 years have lamented its condition.

As an educator, performer, conductor, and author, I blame conductors. When I choose literature for my ensembles, albeit young ensembles, I balance 3.5 goals:

1. Pick literature appropriate to the playing level of my group.

2. Think of the audience. I imagine myself sitting out there listening. Would I want to sit through my concert?

3. Educational value.

3.5 Fun factor! Both for the players and audience.

How my times have you heard a conductor say, “I’d love to conduct that”. Is that a musician or an ego talking? I’ve seen a local community orchestra (I was subbing with them), with a well known CSO musician as conductor, attack Mahler 5. MAHLER 5! Yeah that’s right. Now was that for those musicians or his ego. Hmmm. Would you want buy THAT recording?

So what is my point, other than needing another cup of coffee?

If conductors would take their egos out of the equation, think about the orchestra and audience – and how about some visuals as long as we’re at it – the lamented state of ‘art’ music could rise to the appreciated level it is in other countries.

Cheap Instruments


We all want to save money but as with most things you:
1. You get what you pay for.
2. There is a point of diminishing returns.


Many students and parents come to me wanting to purchase an instrument but want to spend as little as possible. I am happy to help them find a quality instrument at a reasonable price. They are out there but one needs to be reasonable about what to spend. I recently had a student say her uncle bought her a bass.Yep! And it was only $595! I felt my blood pressure rising. This can do more damage than good – a bass that’s not setup well can physically harm a young body.

I had offered the uncle my assistance – to look at basses on my own time, go to music stores, etc. I tried.

So I finally see the bass with this slapped on finish, warped bridge, barely carved nut, and strings I could barely press down.

What do I do?

The magic price point for double basses seems to be about $1500. When I bought my first double bass in 1992 it was $1500 and played great. These days, a Samuel Shen (pretty much the only entry level bass I recommend) plywood bass is about $1500 and is much better than my first bass.

And don’t forget most places offer rent to own. If you’re in the Chicago area the place to buy an entry level bass is Classic Contrabass.

I’ll write more later. My blood pressure is rising.


I propose that the use of tenor clef for the bass be eliminated. Bass and treble clef work well for the entire range of the bass. Use 8va where needed.

I also feel that the viola should read treble clef rather than alto. This is an easy solution – have the treble clef middle ‘C’ be the viola’s open C string. Yes, this would mean the viola would be a transposing instrument (by an octave) but so is the bass. This only alters the viola’s reading BY ONE LEDGER LINE and can turn the entire string world into a two clef world. Ah, happiness.

Tenor clef is on its way out. Much of the solo repertoire for bass from the mid 19th century used tenor clef quite frequently. Currently, I rarely see it utilized.

We also don’t use other moveable clefs which was once a common practice hundreds of years ago.


Shar Music Problems
9/28/07 Unfortunately I’ve had a terrible experience with Shar Music. My school purchases many instruments from them every year. This year after spending thousands of dollars we tried to return a bass. Shar refused to send us a box to return the bass in and gave me a difficult time about the whole thing. Final result – we’re keeping the bass and removing Shar Music from our purchasing and bid list. I’m asking that you consider other businesses for your purchases!

1/27/08 UPDATE – We were never able to return the Franz Hoffmann bass and therefore kept it. With the change in seasons it has become unplayable!! Our other 1/8 bass by Samuel Shen is great! In all fairness – Hoffmann violins, violas, and cellos are nice instruments in their price range. JAN / FEB / MAR – with the winter temperature change, the Hoffmann bass has become unplayable – these are garbage!

2/5/09 UPDATE The fingerboard has warped to the point where the strings are touching the fingerboard. I tried adjusting the “adjustable” bridge. Those barely moved and I only gained about a millimeter of clearance.


6/1/09 UPDATE Last week I received a call from Shar Music. It seemed that people do read MostlyBass.com and they wanted to rectify the situation.

The gentleman I spoke with was very nice and willing to help. They have since sent us a new bass – which means we are able to return the old one. At first glance this one seems to be better setup and have a better fingerboard.

I’ll keep you updated but a thanks to Shar for positive business practice.



Public School Auditions
Teachers – Stop asking ridiculous audition material of bassists that they haven’t been taught! Every year I get private students that come to me with scale and excerpt requirements that are not in their repertoire. Now, I’m not talking about youth orchestras, master classes, etc…Rather when public school orchestra teachers ask their own bassists to play a 2 or 3 octave scale that they never taught them. These students are not going to magically learn thumb position just because you ask it!
Meanwhile, sometimes these same students should be working on first position intonation, a solid bass tone, and proper technique.

Ask for better quality things that have been taught! Perfect the 1 octave Bb scale or have them practice with a tuner to improve intonation rather than force poor habits with outrageous requests. Stop asking for a 2 octave D scale!!! Just because it works for the violins or is in first position for violas and cellos, it is monstrous on the bass for young players!! Ask for a 2 octave E or F scale. ARGH.

The Pendulum & Buzz words
Rubrics – 1996-2000
Standards 1996-present
(NCLB – 2000 – 2008)
Differentiated Instruction 2004 –

Response to Intervention 2008 –
Race to the Top 2010
Professional Learning Community 2011-

A quality teacher should know to adjust their teaching methods to different styles.
The best education class I took in college was about changing attitudes rather than wasting time on theories. The professor taught us to TEACH. If the student isn’t learning, then adjust. Do something different so they succeed and learn.
It is frustrating to see the oscillation of educational theories come down from theorists and administrators to teachers. Frustrating because we have seen the theories come and go. Well only 2 actually. You adjust to one then about 5 or 10 years later the original comes back. Yes, perhaps with a different outfit but the same concept.

03/28/09 – At least the theories are becoming more useful!

WHY ORCHESTRA? Why should and do we have orchestra (or anything for that matter?) in schools?
We’ve all heard and given many reasons – to have a musical experience, to cultivate the arts, to allow to kids to ‘express’ themselves (yeah, right), because it’s good for them (it is, but WHY?), etc…
But these are all superficial reasons that only mask much deeper reasons and laws of nature and human nature.
Some say it’s because it fosters self-discipline and habits & ethics of work. That’s not bad. Perhaps it goes even deeper – down to self-sufficiency and trust. Learning an instrument is a true and tactile demonstration of natural law – you can’t run before you can walk and you can’t play the concerto without even learning how to open the case as a child. There is order and sequence. It is about learning about these natural sequences that are immutable and universal.
How about trust? What aspect of trust? The only way to gain trust is to be trustworthy and the only way to be trustworthy is to practice being trustworthy – first to yourself, then to others. How to you learn to be trustworthy to yourself; internally? By making by first making small commitments and keeping them – like saying your going to practice and doing it. Orchestra (and all music, and most other actvities) is a means to practice the muscle of trustworthiness. It is about keeping promises to yourself. You can’t keep promises to others if you can’t first keep them with yourself – YOUR self.
(Obviously, my reading of choice lately has been more Stephen R. Covey.)


What an interesting word. What a false, hollow, insulting word. I hate it when people call me talented. I am not. I once gave a recital for the other teachers at the school I teach. Afterwards, many came up to me to offer they’re congratulations and I often heard, “You are very talented.”
Talented? TALENTED? NO, NO, NO! I was insulted, angry, and hurt. The implication was of a shallow ability I had – something I could just pull out of my pocket on a moment’s notice. They did not see or even CONSIDER the hours I spent in a practice room. They didn’t think of how many times I declined to go out with friends or hang out at parties so I could stay home and practice – to go over the Bach one more time to be sure it truly was memorized.
None of that music came easy. As a matter of fact, it never has. Each victory, public or private, has come with difficulty and sacrifice. Not that I mind – I don’t. I love playing the bass. I love the way it sounds, I love the feel, I love the look. I enjoy talking shop and hanging out with other bass players. I get a rush from playing bass quartets. I get excited about ordering a new bass cd. But none of that changes the fact that my own skills have not been acquired with ease. When I decided to go to music school I had only been playing the bass for about a year. Not much time to get ready for an audition. Talent would have allowed me to watch tv and still receive that scholarship. No. I got home from school and practiced. I went to the band room during lunch and played the bass. I cranked the 3rd movement to Beethoven’s 5th in my car. I sang along with the recits from the Ninth.
Why didn’t they say, “You’re a hard worker.”? Only recently have I heard, “You must be very disciplined.” Now that’s pretty good and felt GREAT to hear. Disciplined. Yep, that works.
Talented? No.
Here are more thoughts on talent.

Weekly Assignment
I don’t know where or when this idea originated. It seems to have always been there; when I was a student, when I student taught, and now as a teacher.
It’s OK to give a half page, 1 example or 3 lines. Teach thoroughly. The teacher can set the pace. Do not be swayed by a student’s lack of patience or self discipline. This does not mean to turn a blind eye to the student or to disregard their goals and direction but rather that the fickleness of youth does not need our feeding.


Correcters vs Preventers

The problem with most music teachers is that they are correcters rather than preventers. So many teachers don’t teach to prevent problems. They just correct them. Which is very psychologically taxing because your are constantly dealing with negatives.
Teachers do this to themselves as well with shoddy teaching at the beginning level. Go slow and teach correctly. This also ties in the 1 page a week notion. What a terrible thought. Do one line or even one note and play it perfect with perfect technique, posture, etc.
Prevent problems by teaching correctly and knowing what you want in the future from your students. If you want your 8th graders to know a chromatic scales your elementary students should know what a half step is. And your beginners better know correct hand position to play the half steps in tune.
Unfortunately many music programs and curricula perpetuate this with busy concert schedules and performances.
6/28/05 **UPDATE** This concept has been explored in other areas! In “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” by Dr. Stephen R. Covey, this concept is call the P/PC balance. P is production and PC is production capability. Dr. Covey makes the analogy relating P/PC to the goose and the golden egg. The egg is production and the goose is the production capability.
Too often educators are concerned only with the golden egg – the immediate performance – rather
than a student’s understanding and true mastery level – their production capability.

The Flute
First, thank you for supporting the arts, music, music education, me, bassists everywhere, musicians, and everyone in the arts. Without you the arts would not exist. Thank you!
I, as a bassist, would like to (no need to) say a few things about me playing the bass, and hopefully I speak for fellow bassists as well. I (we) enjoy playing this giant instrument. I don’t wish I played the flute, piccolo, or clarinet. I don’t mind carrying the instrument (just please if you see me coming with the bass – move). I don’t drive a station wagon, van, or truck. And as a matter of fact I can fit a bass into almost any car. Some of the cars we drive here are: Stratus, Escort, Integra, Legacy.
When you see a bassist in the elevator with his bass think twice before you make some joke that all of us have heard dozens of time. You’re not the first to say it no matter how smart you think you are.


  • Your concepts about the viola are very uninformed. Please read some historical treatises on tuning before supplying anymore of your ridiculous opinions.

  • What’s a viola?

  • I really love MostlyBass.com Very entertaining! You’re very talented!

  • It’s a good thing I’m in a good mood 🙂
    I’ll just say thank you!
    I’m just glad someone is actually reading the blog.

  • You really are very talented, though.

  • on the beginner double bass,
    i got a fully carved flat back double bass from thomann.de
    for €1079 a year ago, a romanian “hora” bass, very good,
    great tone, very robust, carved spruce top and maple back. all ebony fittings and tiroline
    machine heads. very good setup aswell.
    would you not recomend one of these to your students ?
    or is there some problems that may arise ?
    before this i used a chinese laminate,
    horrible tone, cost “enough”, jujuba ebonised fittings
    and it developed split seams. not a robust bass at all.

  • Sounds like you got a great bass at a great price! It’s tough to say if I would recommend it or not without seeing and playing it. I have a student that bought an all plywood bass that plays and sounds awesome! There are many factors. I have also seen players spend $10,000 on a bass that was horrible.

  • Peter, I also support the “no tenor clef” in DB music. Some publishers (Liben and Ludwin) have picked up on this. But — you know — there’s a lot of bass music with tenor clef, and the bassist simply must be open to learning tenor clef in order to access some of these classics (like Eccles sonata from International).

  • i really hate it when people say “wow that’s such a big instrument!” It takes all i have not to say, “Really? i hadn’t guessed.”

  • Concerning the issue of cheap instruments lets not forget the Bow. If the student has a good Bass (Shen) and a cheap Bow (fiberglass or cheap carbon) s/he’s going to struggle. The Bass isn’t going to produce optimum results. Many times I’ve suggested the student save his money for a good Bow and continue to play on the school/rental Bass.

    The Bow becomes another point of contention.

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