Mr. Karr, Would You Teach Me How to Drive a Double Bass?

Table of contents
Chapter One. Neutral Gear
Chapter Two. Swing Low Sweet Chariot
Chapter Three. The Sound of the Pendulum
Chapter Four. Shifting Gears
Chapter Five. Road Maps
Chapter Six. Slalom Driving
Chapter Seven. Crossing Safely
Chapter Eight. Shock absorbers
Chapter Nine. Radar Detectors
Chapter Ten. The Timing Belt
Chapter Eleven. Cruise Control
Chapter Twelve. “Ten books to a desert island” - Selected Bibliography
Chapter Thirteen. Appendix I - Scales with fingerings by Gary Karr
Chapter Fourteen. Appendix II - Excellence in the Age of Ratings
Chapter Fifteen. The Author
Mr. Karr, Would You Teach Me How to Drive a Double Bass?
2nd Edition
Michael Klinghoffer
© Copyright by Michael Klinghoffer
Table Of Contents
Mr. Karr, Would You Teach Me How to Drive a Double Bass?



























Copyright: Michael Klinghoffer















This book is dedicated to all my past, present and future students.




Introduction.1. Acknowledgments

I would like to thank the wonderful people who helped me accomplish this project:

Gary Karr for teaching me and for his ongoing support in the past twenty seven years!

Lady Bass, Diana Gannett and Yoan Goilav for great moments of inspiration.

Channah Persoff for editing the text and for her clever advice!

Inbal Nissim for her lovely KARRTOONS!

Miki Kesary for pushing me forward!

Barry Green, Sergiu Schwartz, David Murray, Cecil Adderley, Virginia Dixon and Avishai Cohen for taking the time to review the book.

Introduction.2. Preface by Gary Karr

Revolution • a dramatic and wide-reaching change in the way something works or is organized or in people’s ideas about it.

When I began to study the double bass in 1950 the strongest pedagogical influences were the method books written by the Czech bassist, Franz Simandl. His published materials were then considered to be the bible of double bass studies. My association with this approach to playing was further cemented by the instruction that I later received from Herman Reinshagen, who was a Simandl disciple. The Simandl concept involved using only the first, second and fourth fingers for half of the fingerboard (the other half used the thumb, first, second and third fingers). His codified approach was vertical with an emphasis on positions rather than a horizontal, intervallic perception of how the notes relate to each other on all four strings. In the 1960s when I observed what electric bass players were doing, I began to eschew or modify the Simandl method in favor of a four-finger technique that placed more emphasis on an intervallic understanding of the location of all notes in relationship to any given finger on any string. I realized that for strengthening one’s hand I needed to start using the third finger as much as possible. It seemed that the Simandl method not only instilled within the player a fear of using the entire fingerboard, it did not address the issue of holding the instrument to accommodate playing all four octaves of notes from the lowest to the highest. As regarding the old manner of bowing, I was disappointed in the lack of emphasis on the importance of bow-speed and the positioning of the bow between the fingerboard and the bridge.

After making alterations to move away from the traditional concepts of double bass playing I was so pleased with my own technical advancement that I incorporated the ‘revolutionary’ ideas in my student’s lessons.

Even after having written four books that define my new approach, no student of mine ever understood what it was that I was attempting to convey better than Michael Klinghoffer. What he has accomplished in bringing clarity to his ‘revolutionary’ method, Mr. Karr, Would You Teach Me How to Drive a Double Bass, is so brilliant, so clever and so comprehensible that I am thrilled to recommend it to all serious students of my instrument. Michael Klinghoffer is a masterful teacher who is a prime leader in the new age of double bass playing.

Introduction.3. Introduction

My first encounter with Maestro Karr occurred when I was quite young and confused. At the time, I had several dilemmas. I was not sure if I wanted to go into music or study philosophy. And if I went into music, I was not sure what I wanted to do. Compose? Conduct? Arrange? Although I thought that I could not make up my mind, I had just spent all my savings on buying a new bass. Winter came and it grew cold in Jerusalem. I still could not make up my mind, but I was already writing transcriptions. And then, one day, sometime in the spring, I went to a concert in which double bass soloist; Gary Karr was playing with the Israel Sinfonietta, conducted by its Music Director- Mendi Rodan. The moment Maestro Karr played his first note, I said to myself: “this is what I am looking for!”

The following year, I was already a full time music student and one of my classmates, a violinist showed me a brochure of a summer course in Switzerland, where Maestro Karr was teaching that summer. I did not know if I could pass the auditions, and there was no way I could afford to fly there. However, it looked as though some things were just destined to happen: a few months later, I was invited to join a symphony orchestra on a tour to Germany. That tour was very important because this was my first chance to buy bass records. I bought Gary Karr’s record with the Dragonetti and Koussevitzky Concerti and Moses Fantasy. I also bought Ludvig Streicher’s recording of Bottesini and Yoan Goilav’s1 record with Schubert’s Arpegionne sonata. When I returned from Germany, I found a note in my house, saying that Maestro Karr would be teaching master classes at the Jerusalem Music Center.

I cannot remember much about that event, except for the strong feeling I had that this was my chance to earn a ticket to Maestro Karr’s class. Winter came again and I can clearly remember the coffee shop where I sat and wrote to Maestro Karr. Two weeks later the application forms arrived.

Arriving at the U.S was a cultural shock. Every day another old theory of mine was challenged. However, it was not just about playing that my beliefs were put to the test. It was about music, about life, and very much about myself. I still use many of those notions that I gained at the time and so do generations of my students. These notions are the subject of this book.

As I finally started my studies with Maestro Karr, two subjects kept recurring: sound and vibrato. I tried my best to do what I was told, but it did not seem to make the Maestro happy.  I was getting upset and discouraged, too, thinking to myself that I would never be able to play with a sound and a vibrato like him. At one point, I was working on Schumann’s Fantasy pieces for my graduation recital at Yale School of music and Maestro Karr was away on tour. When he returned and I played it for him, he said, “I didn’t remember that you had such a nice vibrato”.  I was surprised because my vibrato was nothing like his and yet that was the last time vibrato was ever mentioned. Later, I understood that this was the first and most important thing about Maestro Karr’s teaching: Find your own voice!

Another concept that was very different from what I had learned before was that I would have to think and clarify my musical ideas first and then work on the technical aspects in order to succeed. I cannot forget one lesson in particular during which we worked for over forty-five minutes on the first phrase of the Brahms e minor sonata. I was looking for technical solutions, whereas Maestro Karr was trying to guide me to look in a different direction. He wanted me to find the way I really wanted to play the piece - a way that would be totally mine. After I had achieved this, I knew what I could improve technically. Again, this was very much like the previous idea of finding your own voice, but for me it also meant dealing with different priorities. I realized that if I just worked on technique, I would only be able to reach a certain level, but if I allowed the music to guide me, I would always find the technical solutions to reach a musical goal even if at the very moment I did not have the technical ability. Music always comes first! And yet, technique did have its place and it will be discussed in later chapters.

It might sound confusing in relation to the previous idea which is goal oriented, but Maestro Karr’s teaching of technique emphasizes the process and the understanding of the process. The right action will yield the expected results!

Another thing that sets Maestro Karr apart from many other bass teachers and players is the notion that the double  bass is a string instrument like any other string instrument and has to  be treated as such. We bass players should be thinking just like violinists both technically and musically. There is no reason to think of the double bass technique in other terms than we would think of violin technique. After all, we have known since Pythagoras that a string is a string is a string...

If I had to draw a “family tree” that would explain the origins of Maestro Karr’s techniques, I would put the Russian violin School on one side and on the other side the great solo double bass tradition of Dragonetti, Bottesini and Koussevitzky . On the violin side, I would add the names Fritz Kreisler with whom Maestro Karr shares a love of transcriptions as well as a love of the extraordinary lyricism, and Misha Elman with whom Maestro Karr shares the passion for expressive tone. Somewhere along the “family tree”, I would add the name Jenny Tourel to show the strong vocal quality in Maestro Karr’s playing.

When I first came to Maestro Karr’s house, I was expecting to find hundreds of double bass recordings. Instead, I found lots of opera recordings and for the first time became acquainted with the vocal ensemble-the King’s Singers, who have since become one of my favorite ensembles. One of Maestro Karr’s idiosyncratic comments that I still remember was: Don’t listen to bass players - listen to musicians.

Yes, it is well known that humor and the ability to laugh at oneself are two of the greatest tools a musician and a teacher should possess, but I think it goes much deeper: by setting an example, Maestro Karr always inspired us to explore new things, widen our horizons and do each exploration in a profound manner.

It is my hope to be able to share with the readers the spirit of Maestro Karr’s teachings as well as some of his “tips and tricks”

I have been using the ideas in this book for over  twenty years. The ideas can be applied  to any level of students and to any style of playing; I have used them in individual instruction as well as in groups. Furthermore, these exercises have helped me train more than ten youth orchestras in Israel. I hope that this book will be a resource for bass players, for bass teachers and for instrumental music educators alike.




Mr. Karr, would you teach me how to drive a double bass?


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    Yoan Goilav also became very influential in my development and I still play the beautiful Volpi bass (1859), you see in the photographs that had once belonged to him.

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