Double Bass

Calling all double bassists!


Starting this thread as a place to more broadly discuss double bass, in theory and practice. Seems like there are a good number of bassists here on lines, often working in more experimental contexts, so I figured it would be a great place to chat and share.


I’m debating jumping into the double bass waters after 20 years of consideration. I grew up playing electric bass in my teens (by ear), and - much to my regret - turned down an offer to study upright with a terrific jazz bassist late in high school.

The chances of me pursuing a formal education in performance at this stage in my life (32) is slim, but I nonetheless want to reacquaint myself with music theory through upright bass lessons, specifically in a jazz context. I’m also a longtime fan of free improv, so the prospect of playing double bass in that context, and even using extended techniques in a broader experimental/electronic one, is really appealing to me.

Are there any double bassists here with recommendations on how I might approach this? I’m thinking of renting for a while and taking private lessons, but would love ideas from folks here who might be operating in that more experimental realm. I’m excited about the prospect, but of course nervous as well…

Thanks!

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I don’t know the best way to get a bass but I know they are out there. I do recommend taking lessons though. I have an electric bass and started taking lessons. I learned a lot. I think any kind of music lesson would be helpful for anyone doing music. I have been trying to tell my friend to take piano lessons but for some reason he doesn’t want to. Anyway…

Does your city have an improv jazz scene? Ask one of those guys who a good bass teacher would be.

@Olivier

renting was how i started upright prior to college with my parents help.

my first college degree was in upright with jazz focus.

there’s nothing to be nervous about. you will feel this huge vibration in your chest and belly and whole body so close to mother basso.

just go for it. it’s a feel deeper than any other.

these days i just play various electrics, no upright to speak of but many years of study and experience.

can gladly augment our coffee talks with upright thoughts if ever you’d like!

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I played double bass all throughout high school. Gave it up partially because it’s not the most convenient instrument to lug around, but I will say it was one of the most fun instruments I’ve ever played, due to the sheer physicality of it. My forearms were ripped haha. It also sounds great of course.

It was also one of the most frustrating instruments, and it took me awhile to develop the muscle memory to consistently play the correct notes on the fretboard, especially in the upper registers. So I would say definitely take lessons.

Also prepare to get some fat blisters on your fingers if you don’t have some rough calluses already.

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Paging @Gahlord

I’m working as the electronics assistant for a bunch of student composers writing pieces for double bass and electronics… will post an update on here later!

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I also played double bass for a bit in high school after playing bass guitar since around junior high- it is super fun. Since that feels like a ridiculously long time ago (I’m also 32), I mostly just want to say go for it! I honestly didn’t think that there was too steep of a learning curve going from electric to upright- obviously different fingering, fretlessness, etc to contend with, but really not too bad (though my brain was probably much more malleable back then…).

Plus, rockabilly spin tricks!

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Fun topic! I’ve played upright bass for about 19 years now. I still remember my first time playing upright after playing electric and I was sweating from how much I was exerting myself. It definitely takes a teacher to show you how to be relaxed while you play and not work your small muscles too hard.

I think the double bass is such a rich resource for electronic processing. The low fundamental with the ability to draw out rich overtones makes it very suitable to manipulation (to my ears).

I’m not sure where you are but renting is certainly an option. Also Upton Bass (here in Connecticut) has some very affordable and good sounding standard instruments.

Happy to talk about bass and electronics anytime! Feel free to DM.

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Amazing! I’m actually in Boston and was looking at Upton just yesterday (though currently looking at renting through New England Strings). Will send you a dm!

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So I’ve no idea how one should go about starting to play double bass, but here’s my story.

Around 6 years ago I had a semi-regular gig doing sound for a folk and sea shanty band. There were roughly a million members of the band, all playing different things; a banjo, a ukulele, flute, fiddle, low whistle, bodhuran, squeeze-box, cajon… Just a beautiful cacophony of folky goodness. “What we really want,” said Captain Cat, the leader of this group, “is a double bass player. That’d be awesome. Do you know anyone?” I didn’t.

A few gigs later the fiddle player and I were trading tunes (i was brought up playing classical violin) and he said to me “If we bought you a double bass, would you learn it and play in the band?” I told him this was ridiculous. They cost thousands, and even though the repetoire of the band was hardly difficult, they’d want someone with some experience.

Another few gigs went by. Captain Cat came over “We’re serious.” he said, “we want to buy you a double bass, for you to learn and play in the band”. I politely declined, not because I didn’t think they knew what they were talking about, but because it’d be too much obligation. What if after 6 months of playing in the band I got bored? I could hardly leave the band after they’d bought me a double bass.

A couple of weeks later I went down the local for a pint. I was meeting the violinist there. I walked into The Park Inn and there was a massive cardboard box next to the bar. The landlord grinned. “Kev,” I said “is this a new fridge-freezer for the kitchen?!”

“Nope.” he said. “It’s for you.”

I turned around to see the violinist smiling like a Cheshire Cat.

I’ve now been playing double bass in the band for 5 years. The band just had it’s 10 year anniversary. I went to the tattoo studio to celebrate with Captain Cat and the two backing vocalists for matching nautical tattoos.

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Thanks @Gahlord! I’ve been digging your 100 experimental pieces for double bass series these last few days. So much inspiration.

I have a love for late 50s/early 60s jazz (think Ornette, Dolphy, Taylor, etc.) all the way through various free improv schools, old and new. Of course, electro-acoustic music is also a constant inspiration. Which leads me to answering…

Basically I love anything that straddles the line between harmony and atonality, so my interest in theory comes from a position of “learn some of the rules in order to both use and break them”…

Working on this right now. I think I have a couple of decent leads. Happy to take this to dm if that’s easier.

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Update! Rental bass acquired, and my first private lesson is tomorrow. Thanks for the nudge, gang.

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Thanks for following-up! The double bass journey began well enough, but work and other obligations have prevented me from continuing to the degree I’d hoped for. It really needs a full commitment. I ended up pausing my lessons, though I’m still renting the bass for now. I’ll reassess in the spring, I think.

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I’ve been working primarily as a double bassist all my life. I’ve got a regional orchestra gig, a string band, and teach a boatload of kids cello, piano, and double bass. Two basses - a behemoth orchestra bass with an extension and a plywood Shen for gigs. Primarily a German bow player but I consider myself ambibowdextrous.

My first consideration is rent a quality instrument with a proper setup. Find a string shop/luthier that is bass friendly I.e. someone working there plays the bass. Every instrument is different and the setup really needs to be dialed into the bass. It will make you not hate yourself if the instrument does what it’s supposed to. I’ve got spirocores on my shen and honestly it plays way easier than the orchestra bass but then the orchestra bass lets me rip on all that orchestra stuff. It’s a tricky line but knowing what style you’re after can dictate your set up. If it were primarily pizz playing with some arco it’s hard to go wrong with spirocores but the lights don’t take the bow super well.

If you’ve got a background in electric then that’s cool but if you play 4 finger technique get ready to throw that out the window without injuring your hand. You’re only going to get two half steps per string per position. Time to make that whole hand travel. German vs French bow? I don’t know, it’s all the same after a while. You’re more likely to come across French bow players in the states but really, they’re both cool.

Also, Renaud Garcia-Fons is the jam.

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I actually started my musical life as a 17yo playing upright and bass guitar, and though I’m much more a ‘guitarist’ at this point in time, I consider bass to be my truest love.

It was really a breath of fresh air when discovering this forum to find out about people like Carl Testa and such, who so fluidly have bridged the gap between acoustic and electronic processes in a way that seems so familiar - I’ve thought on and off for years about picking upright back up, and may look into renting. When I played every day and gigged on bass for pay, it was all jazz all the time, but I think I could get back some of my bowing technique if need be!

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I’ve also started playing double bass a few years ago. Mostly jazz, and mostly pizzicato up to now, but I’ve been experimenting with bowing as well lately. I’ve been trying to play long continuous drones with the bow, but it’s tricky to eliminate the sound of changing bowing direction. Does anyone have any suggestions on how to do that? I found that fading in and out the bow pressure on the strings near the edge of the bow helps a bit…

By the way, I would recommend Larry Grenadier’s latest solo album


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I can speak for the cello, the most important aspect to this is to anticipate the change in direction with the wrist; it has to start before the bow actually changes direction. The more the bow accelerates/decelerates, the more the bow change is noticeable

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Hey all! I’m fairly new to the double bass world. Currently working my way through some method books, Simandl and Vance. Which has been a lot of fun. But now I’m looking for other pieces of music that I could try to learn.

I’m interested in the classical and experimental side of things, but not very interested in really notey pieces, mostly because I don’t have the chops yet but also because I’ve been on a mission to play less notes in my own music, which is getting much more droney these days. Some things I have come across that I’m enjoying to learn and record are Arvo Part’s “Spiegel im spiegel”, Dvorak “From the New World” Largo, Rachmaninov’'s “Vocalise”, Terry Riley’s “In C”. I would say it would be most helpful for pieces to have a recording I could reference while I am learning it but any suggestions at all would be most welcome.

And thanks for all the advice already in the thread, it helped me out a whole lot with my transition from electric to double bass, I only wish I hadn’t waited so long. Cheers

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Alan Hovhaness wrote a piece for bass and piano that might work for you. It’s modal and beginner friendly.

One mans opinion but upright bass solo literature is not great. Improvising and transcribing music that excites you is a great way to build a vocabulary.

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I like it :+1:t2:

Last night I started two-hand tapping on my bass guitar, and while it was fun I told myself “this is a slippery slope.”

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How cool are you with your thumb? All of good stuff is all pretty high flying IMO. I love the Bottesini Elegy but it’s got some notey bullshit going on. Big fan Dave Anderson’s 4 Short Pieces for Double Bass but I won’t lie, quality recordings are probably in short supply. The slow movement of the Juicy Koussy Concerto is pretty nice.

here’s a rant I wrote after being frustrated with knowing that all the rep I could think of is just ridiculous

I feel this less notes life. I’m really at the point in my life where I ask myself “why do that.” I appreciate all of the solo playing I’ve done and I’m glad I’ve got chops, or at least I know how to get them back again, but really - why do I feel like I’m juggling chainsaws all the time? Huge shifts just to be showy. You’ll land where you need to 95% of the time but what about that 5%? Fight the instrument to try and sound like a cello while playing cello suites at pitch on a bass which is an order magnitude more difficult to accomplish than the instrument it was intended for. Just like how I’m not a big fan of most cellists playing the 6th Suite. Again, I suppose I’m glad I learned how to do such things but it just isn’t fun anymore, I’d rather just pull out my cello to play a cello suite.

I like orchestra playing because I feel like I’m playing a part that was intended. Chamber music is cool. I just find myself reaching to innovative in the solo realm because everything else written just ain’t doing it for me. There’s modern stuff that seems to understand the instrument but it really ain’t my cup of tea. I guess I’d rather just play a fiddle tune on the bass and call it a day, go back to playing bass.

Sorry for the rant and thanks to anyone who reads this babble.

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