An Introduction to the Double Bass (String Bass)by Bob Shann, Music & Arts Lesson Instructor
Tools for Success
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A music stand is required for proper posture when playing the double bass. The height of the stand should be just below eye level. Also, make sure there is enough room for the bow to have access to all of the strings.
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Rosin is applied to the bow to help it make good contact with the strings. Rosin comes in a dark or light formula. The dark is recommended for double bass students.
The metronome is an electronic device that produces clicking sounds that can be adjusted to play fast or slow tempos. It is important to get one that is loud enough to hear over the sounds of the bass.
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This is an electronic device that helps the student tune all the double bass’ strings correctly. Tuning is the first thing that should be done prior to every practice session. It is also important to get one that can clip on to the bridge or headstock.
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Use a soft polishing cloth to clean the strings and bass of rosin after every practice. Rosin buildup on the strings will cause them to wear out faster.
Notebooks are ideal for writing down details of each lesson and what to practice for the week.
These are necessary to write fingerings on the music the student is working on and for keeping a practice log. Pens won’t do because they can’t be erased.
About Your String Bass
Tuning machines are located at the top of the bass in the peg box. These are used to turn and tune each string to the correct pitch prior to practicing.
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The string bass has four strings tuned to the notes E, A, D, G. The E string is the lowest and thickest string.
The cello has four strings. Listed in ascending order, they are: C, G, D, A. The C is the thickest and lowest-sounding string. The A is the highest-sounding string and the thinnest.
The fingerboard is the long black piece of wood right below the double bass’ strings. The strings are pressed against the fingerboard to create different notes. It is important to keep the fingerboard clean.
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The bridge is the piece of wood located between the fingerboard and the tailpiece. It’s used to holds the strings up. The bridge will sometimes have adjusters on each foot that are used to raise or lower string height. Keeping the bridge in the correct position is critical because the bridge is only held on by the pressure of the tuned strings.
This is cylindrical piece of wood located inside the bass between the front and back of the instrument under the G string-side of the bridge. It is very important that the soundpost is located in the correct position. It is only held in place by the pressure of the strings on the bridge. If the soundpost falls, detune the bass and immediately take it to the repair shop.
The end pin is adjusted to raise the bass up to the correct playing position.
About Your Bow
The stick is the long piece of wood or composite material that accompanies the body of your instrument.
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The bow frog is the end part of the bow that encloses the mechanism that is responsible for tightening and loosening the bow hair.
Bow hair is made from horse hair or synthetic material. The hair of the bow is what makes the string vibrate to create sound when the bow is moved across the strings. Rosin is applied to the hair of the bow to help make good contact with the strings.
The screw is located at the end of the bow and is used to tighten and loosen the bow hair.
Correct Playing Position Of The String Bass
The bass comes in different sizes. The most common size is the 3/4 bass. The sizes range from 1/4, 1/2, 3/4, 7/8, and 4/4 or full size. 4/4 basses are rare and very difficult to play because of their size. All basses play and tune the same way. Beginning age for the double bass is generally 8-9 years old depending on the student’s height.
The correct position to play the bass starts with the player holding the bass with the left arm extended holding the neck. Then, let the neck come towards your left shoulder. The corner of the back of the upper bout should come to rest on the stomach area at approximately a 25-30 degree inclination. The student should be standing in an upright position with their weight distributed evenly on both feet. Keeping a good posture is critical while playing the bass. The left hand should have “C” shape with the thumb perpendicular to the floor while using the fingertips to produce the sounds of the notes. The left elbow should be keep up roughly even to slightly lower with the shoulder while playing.
Practice time should be the same time during the school week and consist of at least 25 minutes every day. The weekend practices can be set at different times, but the time spent practicing should be a little longer. A day off every now and again is okay, but not practicing for three days and then doing an hour of playing will not be beneficial to learning. Your instructor will help put a plan together to have a successful practice regime.
Maintaining Your Bass
Always protect your bass from preventable accidents. When not playing, lay the bass on its side with the bridge facing towards a wall out of the way of busy areas. While transporting the bass with or without the case on, carry it with the neck resting on the right shoulder and the bridge facing to the left. Do not stand the bass upright against a corner. Do not put the bow in the “F” holes. The bridge should be 90 degrees to the face with the feet aligned with the notches on the “F” holes. Keep your bass humidified during the winter months or in any extremely dry environments. Keep your bass clean of rosin and dirt on the fingerboard and make sure to loosen the bow after each use. Have you bass checked out every year or so to make sure everything stays in excellent working order.
To be successful at playing the double bass, it is important to learn to read music. Because there are no frets on the string bass, getting good intonation is critical. Learning the different left hand positions for all of the notes is best achieved by working with the bow. The study of jazz, music theory and learning to understand how music works is critical. Having a good instructor is incredibly important in learning this instrument. The string bass is a beautiful instrument and is fundamental to supplying the foundation of many styles of music. A good bass player is always in demand.
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