Episode 5: Innovation through Experimentation


Students will learn how composer François Rabbath developed innovative ways to play the double bass as a result of not having any formal training, and they will invent their own creative learning processes.

Grade Level


National Music Standard

8 Understanding relationships between music, the other arts, and disciplines outside the arts, 9 Understanding music in relation to history and culture


Ridere Quartet Kiyoe on stage at Carnegie Hall playing Reitba by François Rabbath

In this episode Kiyoe Wellington from Oahu, Hawaii plays a haunting and unusual piece by French composer François Rabbath on the double bass (also known as contrabass or upright bass). Kiyoe's family is a huge part of the international double bass world. Her grandfather was renowned double bassist George Wellington, Sr., who began the biennial Hawaii Contrabass Festival. Kiyoe's mother now directs the festival. When she was thirteen years old Kiyoe even had the opportunity to play Reitba for François Rabbath.

Rabbath discovered the double bass on his own and learned to play with only the aid of a contrabass method textbook he found. With no formal teacher to guide his studies, Rabbath relied on his own imagination to solve difficulties he encountered in his practicing. These techniques, which he later published, became the foundation of the Rabbath method. He has been called the "Paganini of the double bass" - pushing the traditional boundaries of the instrument's repertoire to include solos that can be described as no less than virtuosic.


Computer with media player and Internet access; speakers and projector if needed; pencils and paper

Activity Instructions

  1. Watch the video segment that includes Kiyoe's performance. Ask students for their reactions.
  2. Watch a YouTube clip on François Rabbath describing how he discovered his double bass techniques: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yy-03jH_mrE&feature=related. Discuss with students a couple of the difficulties he encountered while teaching himself his instrument and the ways in which he solved these problems.
  3. Brainstorm with students various tasks or skills they have formally been taught and those they remember teaching themselves (examples: reading, riding a bike, brushing one's teeth, drawing).
  4. Collectively or in small groups write down the steps we traditionally take to teach or learn a certain skill (example: for reading we often start with the alphabet and the phonetic sounds of each letter). Then brainstorm alternative ways one might achieve the same goal.
  5. Let each group choose an instrument that's at hand and invent a new or different way to play it.
  6. Discuss the benefits and challenges of formally being taught a skill versus figuring it out on one's own, and the role imagination plays in innovation.

Find out more!

About Kiyoe Wellington

Kiyoe also appeared on From the Top's radio program. You can hear her play and learn more about her musical life at:

Wellington Family Kiyoe at age 7 with her uncle, George Wellington, Jr., and her grandfather
Photo courtesy of Wellington family

About double bass techniques

The Rabbath technique versus the Simandl technique is a familiar controversy in the double bass world.

About the history of the double bass


From the Top The Bernard Osher Foundation Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Carnegie Hall Don Mischer Productions WGBH From the Top