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Topic: Where to Place the Bass

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  1. #1

    Where to Place the Bass

    Just curious about this: Where is the most useful place to put the bass in a pit orchestra? Near the drums? Near the keyboard? Near the cellos? In the center, where all the musicians can hear it? Or, if the drums are on the far right, should the bass be on the far left (as I have seen in some productions)?

    I realize, of course, that a lot of factors (such as the number of instruments, their sizes, and how much room the players need) go into determining the position of the bass. But, just assuming you had a lot of room and flexibilty, where would you place it so that the other musicians who most needed to hear it could hear it?

    Allegro Data Solutions

  2. #2

    Re: Where to Place the Bass

    Hmmm, well as you said, there are a lot of factors that determine where a bass or any instrument is placed. My observation is that the main factor is always practical, just adapting to the available space as well as possible. All sorts of unique seating arrangements are used due to how much square footage there is, how narrow, how wide the space is. I did a quick Google Image search, not finding anything helpful really, every band/orchestra being set up differently. I saw a bass in the first row, to the left of the conductor. I saw a bass to the far right like in a classical orchestra.

    The bands I've seen most often for stage shows aren't large, and invariably the bass player is right there next to the drums, like a rock band arrangement, and usually to the right (stage left).

    In my mind, and I could very well be simplifying things - I don't think it matters! Considering that every possible placement is and has been used for the bass, for any instrument - folks just adapt to whatever they have to, and make things work.

    But you're asking for a theoretical situation where space isn't limited - an ideal, roomy space. I guess I'd be conservative and say stage left, the traditional place.

    --You're not asking this in relation to MIDI, virtual orchestra recordings, right? Because I think it's important to always move the bass to center in recordings. But it doesn't matter one iota where we pan things in a demo.

    And, as composers, it's not even in our realm to decide where instruments are placed. That will be up to the conductors and musicians on a case-by-case basis, based on their needs and the space they're given.

    So - I guess it can be interesting to contemplate, where to place the bass, - but whatever we might think is best really doesn't matter, since other, fairly random factors determine where it will actually end up!

    Randy

  3. #3

    Re: Where to Place the Bass

    My experience is similar to yours -- I've seen the bass just about everywhere. I was wondering if there is any rationale for it (other than the physical space).

    As fas MIDI panning goes, I assumed near the center of the stereo image would be best because the lower the pitch, the less directional it's supposed to be. I figured panning at dead center would either sound the most natural or the pan setting wouldn't matter at all.

    Allegro Data Solutions

  4. #4

    Re: Where to Place the Bass

    As far as orchestral music? Go with the accepted tradition: On the right (stage left). It can be argued that bass is *generally* non-directional, but the qualities of double bass change depending on frequency (e.g., lower end frequencies are wider; upper frequencies sound more directional).

    Since they're more "bottom end," they can be enhanced/amplified just like any type of bass frequency by placing them near a wall or in a corner (which may explain why it *might* not matter depending on the situation, venue, etc.).

  5. #5

    Re: Where to Place the Bass

    Most bass players will want to be set up right by the drummer, even better if they can actually see the drummer's kick pedal. This facilitates "playing in the pocket", and helps the two parts to lock together as one. There is a rhythmic aspect to bass playing that is sometimes overlooked, especially by novice players. If there is too much distance between the drummer and the bass, the tightness of the group can suffer. And in the mix, the bass should generally be positioned dead center, with the kick drum. A notable exception: John Entwistle was sometimes panned to the opposite side of Pete Townshend's guitar in the Who's stereo mix, but this worked because of the style of his playing.

    Jim

  6. #6

    Re: Where to Place the Bass

    Quote Originally Posted by Iacobus Rodelus View Post
    As far as orchestral music? Go with the accepted tradition: On the right (stage left). It can be argued that bass is *generally* non-directional, but the qualities of double bass change depending on frequency (e.g., lower end frequencies are wider; upper frequencies sound more directional).

    Since they're more "bottom end," they can be enhanced/amplified just like any type of bass frequency by placing them near a wall or in a corner (which may explain why it *might* not matter depending on the situation, venue, etc.).
    I agree, bass is pretty non-directional , and in a midi orchestsra I have found it sounds fine way off to the right. That way, it doesn't interfere so much with the weaker instruments, like flutes, clarinets, harp, etc. I basically use the pans that Sonar uses, with some slight modifications, and I find they are perfect for ensuring that all instruments are heard. (Except when my poor mixing skills get in the way).

  7. #7

    Re: Where to Place the Bass

    Thanks for the thoughtful replies.

    I can see how it would make sense to have the bass (especially if it were a bass guitar) close to the drums if the type of music called for a tight coordination between the two.

    I can also see how, in a more orchestral sounding score, where drums and percussion are used more for texture and ornamentation, the bass might be better placed close to the cellos.

    In the score I am orchestrating, the string bass is most often doubling the keyboard bass or the cello line (or a simplified version of it) an octave below. So, I imagine it could go either place.

    I also remember seeing the bass on the far stage right side (opposite the drums + percussion) in theaters where the pit is on the same level as the audience (not sunken). I suppose it was put there simply to keep it from blocking somebody's view of the stage.

    What I'm getting from this discussion is that the geography of the venue probably trumps everything. But, if you have a choice, you want to place the bass as close to the instruments that need to hear it most -- and as near to the stage as possible.

    Allegro Data Solutions

  8. #8

    Re: Where to Place the Bass

    Well, as I said earlier, ejr, it's not in the realm of a composer to determine where the bass or any instrument is going to be placed on stage. So, though I suppose it may be a bit interesting to think about it, what happens in a production or a concert is completely out of our hands, and it doesn't have anything to do with our actual job of composing.

    As far as recordings go, like a demo recording of a show, it's long since been established that bass frequencies should be at the center. In the earliest stereo recordings, when engineers were still experimenting, they sometimes would place bass over to one side. Bass may be "non-directional" in theory, but when you hear those recordings, there's no question that the bass is coming from one side and it's a lop-sided sound. Those were the days of vinyl records, of course, and they discovered that having the bass to one side caused needles to jump out of the grooves. The bass was moved to center to solve that problem, and then it was also happily discovered that it made for a generally better sounding, more balanced recording. Ever since, at least in popular music, bass has been at center. And I follow the advice from a MIDI expert I read years ago when he said that even in orchestral music, the basses should be at center, and also that 2nd violins should be mirroring the 1st strings, European staging style, also to help achieve a nicer sounding, better balanced recording.

    If your main issue here is in producing your demos, my advice is just to make them sound as nice to listen to as possible. It matters exactly zero if you have instruments in a different position than they'll be in the first production since that seating chart is impossible to predict, so it's not to worry about.

    Randy

  9. #9

    Re: Where to Place the Bass

    Hmmm.. Randy, you've got me thinking, which is almost always a bad thing on a Monday morning. Whenever I've done a demo recording, one for sale, or even a midi recording to be used as backup in a stage show, I've always taken a certain amount of time and trouble to use pan and reverb to try and the orchestra instruments to the same locations as if a real symphony was in the pit. Essentially, I try and place the listener in the sweet spot of the venue, rather than a similar spot in front of their stereo.

    Now, as I said, you've got me thinking about relocating not just the basses, but the second violins as well.

    If I may be so bold, would you be willing to share thoughts on locating other instrument groupings within a larger orchestra?
    Cheers,

    Kevin F..

    KM Frye- (SOCAN)
    Music Director- Four Seasons Musical Theatre- 2016

    Bella Vista Studios
    Canada

    GPO4, JABB3, Garritan World Inst, REAPER, Roland VS2480 DAW

  10. #10

    Re: Where to Place the Bass

    Hi, Kevin

    Quote Originally Posted by BVstudios View Post
    ...Whenever I've done a demo recording, one for sale, or even a midi recording to be used as backup in a stage show, I've always taken a certain amount of time and trouble to use pan and reverb to try and the orchestra instruments to the same locations as if a real symphony was in the pit. Essentially, I try and place the listener in the sweet spot of the venue, rather than a similar spot in front of their stereo.

    Now, as I said, you've got me thinking about relocating not just the basses, but the second violins as well.

    If I may be so bold, would you be willing to share thoughts on locating other instrument groupings within a larger orchestra?
    So, when producing tracks for a stage show, one choice is to do some orchestral seating which is something like the standard. But some people feel that mono tracks are best for stage, so that no matter what side of the house an audience member is seated in, he hears the same mix as anywhere else in the house. Sound from speakers doesn't work quite the same way as a a live band/orchestra.

    But, I've done quite a few tracks for show, and I do use stereo, just grates on me to think of doing it in mono.

    Doing demos, tracks for live, MIDI files - I think you're right that doing what you can to emulate the sound of a live band, complete with panning and reverb. - The latter, however, reverb, needs to be dryer for tracks used on stage, since the sound coming out of the speakers is going to be effected by the natural reverb of the venue.

    Still, even though having bass at center isn't part of any seating variation for a live orchestra, I still think it's a good idea for tracks made for a show. Again, think of the guy sitting way to one side in the house, if the bass is way over on the other speaker, it Is going to make a difference. If its center, that important bass foundation will be more equal - as I said earlier, even though bass is less directional, it still sounds different when thrown to a side or centered.

    Other instrument groupings - I've pretty much stuck with traditional seating charts, even though those actually vary a lot. But you know, percussion in the back but spread out a lot, as if there are 3 or 4 percussionists, harp to one side of the stage - That's usually stage right (audience left) - I invariably place it on the opposite side so it's not so close to the 1st strings. Having a harp on far stage left is a common variance from the more common seating. But woodwinds spread out a bit in the middle of the stage, violas at center, horns slightly to the right (I'm an actor, I'm talking about stage directions -stage right, audience left) - other brass towards the left, except trumpets centerish. Cellos in their traditional place on stage left works for me with the bass shifted to center, and the European style of 2nd strings also on the left, mirroring 1st strings, as I mentioned before.

    Randy

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