At what grade is my ability to play bass? I’m prompted to think about the question because I stumbled across the BBC’s ‘Virtual Orchestra‘ project this morning. Players of a wide range of instruments and across a range of abilities are encouraged to film themselves playing Bizet’s Toreador Song in time with a video of a conductor and then upload it by late August, where it will potentially be included in a performance event connected with the annual Proms.
I took a look at the double bass part and spotted that it comes in three levels – beginner (pre-grades), intermediate (grades 1-3) and advanced (grades 4-5). I assume this relates the long established ABRSM grades which go from 1-8, with the top end demonstrating that someone is a very competent player of the given instrument, at least within the bounds of the grading system. Getting involved in music by taking up electric bass in my mid-teens, I took a route into playing that avoided formal lessons and grading exams and so I can’t put a number on myself in that regard, although I did take Grade 5 theory and got a good pass.
Having a look at the Bizet piece, even reading through the advanced double bass part for the Bizet piece cold wasn’t too daunting. Credit for that probably goes for the much harder looking stuff I have worked on with The String Project over the past couple of years. Then I put the music down and just jammed for a while and it struck me that I can play much more complex things out of my head than I can reconstruct from the page – for what grades are worth, probably several steps higher – although I’m far from having a flawless ability to play by ear. Even with the String Project, I think I produce better results when I’ve learned the music enough to put down the score and let my musical intuition lead rather than following the dots.
At what grade do I play the bass? Well enough to keep on moving forward at least.