Discovering the Magic of the Rabbath Positions on Double Bass

This post provides an in-depth exploration of the Rabbath Position system on the double bass, developed by Francois Rabbath, explaining his approach, the different positions, the pivotal technique, and its application to repertoire, all aimed at enhancing a player's technique and understanding of the instrument.

With Jason Heath · San Francisco, CA

In this post, we’ll delve into one of the most popular position systems on the double bass – the position system developed by the innovative double bass performer and teacher Francois Rabbath.. We will break down the positions, discuss their advantages and possible disadvantages, and explore why they are incredibly useful for double bass players.

About Francois Rabbath

Francois Rabbath, an innovative double bass performer and educator, is renowned for revolutionizing the approach to double bass playing. Born in Aleppo, Syria, his unique journey into music began without formal musical training. Despite this, he managed to perform in the most prestigious concert halls around the world. Rabbath developed a new method of learning the double bass, now known as the Rabbath Technique, which breaks away from traditional methods and focuses on the use of positions over the entire fingerboard. His contributions have significantly shaped the landscape of double bass teaching and performance.

Understanding the Rabbath Positions

The Rabbath Position system, developed by Francois Rabbath, goes beyond being merely a series of positions on the double bass. Instead, it is more accurate to view it as functioning in terms of regions on the instrument. Each position covers a certain region on the bass, thereby offering a broader and more comprehensive approach to navigating the fingerboard. This perspective facilitates a better understanding of how to transition smoothly between different notes and chords.

The concept of regions also helps in explaining the intricacies of the Rabbath system to others. It allows for a more dynamic and visual representation of the position system, making it easier for learners to grasp. By understanding these regions and how they relate to one another, students can gain a deeper appreciation for the complexity and versatility of the Rabbath system. This, in turn, can greatly enhance their overall playing technique.

Pivoting Technique

Pivoting is an essential technique and the key to maneuvering between the Rabbath positions on the double bass. It is a fundamental skill that many doubler bass players use to navigate the instrument’s fingerboard effectively.

With the use of the pivoting technique, navigating the lower part of the fingerboard can be smoother and more manageable. This technique allows players to maintain their hand position while moving their fingers to reach the notes within the position’s region. This ensures that transitions between notes are seamless, contributing to a more fluid and coherent sound. Pivoting essentially enhances the player’s mobility on the fingerboard, enabling them to cover larger areas without unnecessary strain or movement.

For a detailed explanation of pivoting, check out my separate video on the topic.

The First Rabbath Position

The first Rabbath position on the double bass is crucial as it’s the foundation from which other positions evolve. Located by the first finger on the note A, it sets the tone for player engagement. Mastery of this position, achieved through precision, familiarity, and practice, enables a more fluid performance and confident navigation of the instrument.

This chart was made by the wonderful double bass composer, performer, and educator Nicholas Walker.

Moving up to Second Position

The second position in the Rabbath Position system is reached by placing the first finger on the note C on the double bass. This position is significant because it opens up a whole new range of notes and possibilities for the player. An essential aspect to remember about this position is that it contains a harmonic that is two octaves higher than the open string. This means that in the second position, we have three key elements: the open string, the octave, and the harmonic.

The concept of harmonics can be a bit challenging to grasp initially, but it is crucial to the understanding and mastery of the Rabbath Position system. Additionally, the ability to transition smoothly between positions is a fundamental skill in playing the double bass. This is where the pivoting technique comes into play. By utilizing this technique, players can move seamlessly between positions, maintaining their hand position while moving their fingers to reach the notes within the position’s region. This ensures that transitions between notes are smooth and fluid, contributing to a more coherent and harmonious sound.

Continuing with Third Position

As we continue our exploration, we encounter the third position in the Rabbath system. This position is initiated by placing the first finger on the note D on the double bass. The third position opens up another dimension of the instrument, extending the musical possibilities available to the player. One of the key techniques employed in this position is pivoting, which allows for efficient and seamless navigation of the instrument’s fingerboard. By using pivoting, a player can skillfully traverse from the note D to G, thereby significantly extending the range and capabilities that the third position offers.

Entering “traditional thumb position” with the Fourth Position

Following the third position, we come upon the fourth position. The fourth position is unique as it starts with the placement of the thumb on the note G. This position encompasses a specific area on the fingerboard, ranging from the note G to D. The fourth position, like the others, is a vital part of the Rabbath system and its mastery contributes significantly to a double bass player’s proficiency. It offers a new array of note possibilities and further enhances the player’s ability to create diverse and complex musical pieces.

Exploring Fifth and Sixth Positions

The fifth position is a smaller region situated on the fingerboard. The sixth position can be thought of as the harmonic position and is another essential aspect of the Rabbath system. To summarize, the Rabbath positions are as follows: first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth.

Applying the Rabbath Positions to Repertoire

To become proficient in these positions, it is helpful to practice moving between the main notes of each position. These notes are integral to the knowledge and mastery of the double bass.

An excellent method that maximizes the use of Rabbath positions is the George Vance Progressive Repertoire Method. To further explore this method, I have recorded videos for each piece in the repertoire, which can be found in the linked playlist.

Final Thoughts

The Rabbath Position system is a brilliant and versatile approach to playing the double bass. By understanding and practicing these positions, you can unlock a world of possibilities and enhance your playing technique. If you’d like to learn more about positions on the bass, check out the linked video. Thank you for reading, and I’ll see you in the next blog post.

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