Learn to Play the Double Bass
The double bass is the largest and deepest pitched instrument in the string family. It is widely used in jazz and classical music, but also in rock and folk music. Getting started on the double bass can be hard, so finding a teacher that's right for you is essential.
Like the electric bass, the double bass is similarly an instrument that sounds very deep. Its primary function is to create the foundation and backbone of the music. This is true regardless of genre.
You can either play the double bass with a bow or by snapping the strings with your fingers - the technique will usually depend on the style you play and the sound required. Beyond that you can play double bass either standing or sitting on a high chair.
Unlike electric bass or guitar, a double bass has no frets on the fingerboard. Players must therefore use intonation to ensure they play notes correctly and accurately. See section "Left hand" under "Technique").
Table of contents
How to choose the right double bass
There are many different varieties of the double bass. The 4-stringed is the most common but they are also available as 5-string instruments. Here, an extra, darker or lighter string is added on. The latter is mostly used in classical music - the 5th string is not an absolute necessity for playing in different types of ensembles.
Depending on where in the world it is built, a double bass can vary greatly in shape and appearance, . They are also available in different sizes, which is relevant to the bass player's age. 3/4 size is what most adults play.
In classical music it is very common to play on a 4/4 bass (full bass), as classical music often requires a larger soundhole. Large soundhole = more sound.
Double bass size relative to age
1/4 = 7 to 9 years old
1/2 = 9 to 13 old
3/4 = 13 to 15 years old
4/4 = 15 years old or older
Tuning the double bass
One of the first things to learn as a bassist is to be able to properly tune the bass.
There are 4 strings on the instrument, they are controlled by machine heads and they all travel from the tailpiece at the bottom of the bass, over the bridge, up the fingerboard through the head. How much tension applied to each string is controlled by machine heads. If you turn the machine head clockwise, the tone becomes higher, turning the other way, the tone becomes lower. The 4 strings each have their own tone, and these tones are represented in different letters. The bass is usually tuned E, A, D ,G from the thickest to the thinnest string.
Today, many people use a digital tuner to help tune instruments. A tuner is a device that can measure sound waves and tell if your instrument is in tune or not. If the tone should be higher or lower, it will show on a small display whether the respective strings should be tuned up or down . Tuners come in many different shapes and price ranges; they are available as a clip-on, a guitar pedal, a regular handheld electronic device, or even as an app for iPhone and android. Prices start from as little as £15 and are a good piece of kit, especially for a beginner.
Things to Note When Tuning Your Double Bass:
It is important to take into account the stress ratio of the strings when they are up or down. As the instrument is so large, machine heads and strings can easily affect each other's mood. It is therefore a good idea to double check your tuning make further adjustments before you start playing. This is especially true if the instrument has not been used for a long time, or if the strings are new.
Do not worry if the bass creaks and creaks as you tune. It is completely normal!
A tuner is a good aid, but it's essential that you learn over time to tune your instrument with your ear. Restringing and adding pickups (to amplify the sound) are probably jobs for a professional.
Being in tune is the first priority for any musician but is especially important for the bassist, always try to take your time and take pride in always being in tune - for the professional, your phone will ring a lot more often if you are seen as a reliably in tune bassist!
Taking care of your bass
It is a good idea to develop a routine for regularly cleaning all parts of the double bass. The strings can be wiped, the fingerboard will benefit from regular attention and the. removal of dust with a soft cloth from the body of the bass will all help the instrument look, respond and sound as it should.
For cleaning the fingerboard, a tiny amount of linseed oil will help. Be careful not to use too much and also be aware of the flammable properties of linseed oil!
If you use steel strings, rubbing alcohol is fine for cleaning these.
If the finish is lacquered well and feels smooth, use furniture polish on the back of the neck. However if the finish is uneven, use a mixture of beeswax and linseed instead.
Use a soft cloth when cleaning the other areas of the instrument.
How often you should clean your bass is usually labelled on the instrument and will also depend on how much it is played. If used regularly however, clean once a week to secure a good bass tone.
A double bass is especially sensitive to extremes of temperature. Prolonged exposure can cause serious damage such as cracks in the wood. Temperatures that are too cold causes the wood to contract - too hot and humid will have the opposite effect. It is therefore important that the double bass for daily life has a good indoor climate.
Make sure you acquire a proper gig bag or hard case.
If the air gets too dry during the winter, you can benefit from a humidifier.
There are many different techniques on the double bass. The technique may vary depending on the genre played. Below you can read some of the most used techniques:
Arco means using a bow to play the strings, similar to the violin or cello. An Italian term, arco mostly occurs in classical music but it's also heard occasionally in jazz.. Generally speaking, there are two methods; you can either play with German bow or with French bow. That is either an underneath or over the top style of design.
Regularly rub the hairs of the bow with rosin. This will ensure a smooth sound and technique.
Widely used in jazz and pop music, Pizzicato is also an Italian term which means that the strings are snapped with your fingers.
There is more than one way to play pizzicato and one method is no more correct than the other. But whether you play with one or two fingers, it's important that you consider several things. Firstly, how far down / up you place your hand on the sting. Secondly how fast your finger passes through the string. Lastly, how much of the finger's surface you use to generate sound - fingertip, or your entire finger.
Slapbass is a technique that originated in bluegrass and country music in the 1920s. Giving a percussive element to the work of the bassist, it is believed to have originated in the absence of a drummer. By digging into the strings it sounds like a drummer is playing underneath the note. By letting go, they hit the fingerboard board and create a snare like bang. Slap bass later become very popular in rock'n'roll and rockabilly music.
Left Hand Technique
Whether playing rock, jazz, classical or bluegrass, it's the same principles that apply to the left hand.
Unlike electric bass and guitar, a double bass has no frets. This means that you must intonate to hit a tone without fading it. In other words; there is a very precise formula for where and how to place your fingers on the finger board.
It is also important to apply a good technique so that your joints and muscles do not get injured. Subjected to greater strain than the right, the left hand is especially important. If you do not correctly position your fingers, you may be injured. As such, when learning to play the double bass, it is important to have guidance from a teacher, whether you are taking online lessons or in person.
Accessories for the double bass
Alongside a great double bass, you'll also need some other equipment. Get started with this list:
A bow - Make sure you try this out before you buy and also check it is the same size as the double bass. For example, a 3/4 size double bass needs a 3/4 size bow.
A case - As mentioned above, a good case will help protect the instrument and also regulate the temperature. Wheels are on option that may well be worth exploring if you are planning to walk long distances with your instrument
A bow bag - The bow is delicate and a bag is a good way of keeping it safe in playing situations.
A music stand -. Investing in a portable, solid music stand is essential for any musician.
Ready for Double Bass Lessons?
Do you want to learn how to play the double bass? Maybe you already know, but you want to improve your abilities? We have lots of talented and experienced teachers all over the country. Find a teacher in your city today!
Instrument Lessons for Children
Is your child interested in starting double bass lessons? Learning the bass is an extremely fun, rewarding and educational experience. It has been shown that gaining musical experience is massively beneficial to a child's development, in multiple areas and subjects. Playing the double bass also teaches responsibility, dedication and maturity, all valuable skills for any child.
Most importantly, learning the double bass is fun! Starting to make music is exciting and enjoyable, and one day your child can join ensembles or bands, sharing their joy with others in the best ways possible.
Having dedicated support from parent and teacher is essential to foster learning in children. Here's where we can help: many of our qualified and vetted teachers are uniquely equipped with the skills to sprout and grow your child's passions. Find double bass teachers online or in your area today, to start your child on their musical journey.
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