Mastering the Double Bass: An Inside Look at Scale Practice with Lauren Pierce

Lauren Pierce's book Scales, Scales, Scales emphasizes the importance of scale practice and offers her personal approach to mastering the double bass. The book includes detailed explanations and exercises and is useful for bass players of all levels.

With Lauren Pierce · Chicago, IL

In her book Scales, Scales, Scales: A Progressive Technical Journey for the Double Bass, Lauren Pierce delves into the importance of scale practice and shares her personal approach to mastering the instrument. In an interview, she discusses how she came up with the idea for the book and the benefits of incorporating a clear and consistent scale practice into one’s daily routine. With detailed explanations and exercises, this book is a valuable resource for bass players of all levels.

Lauren sat down with Jason to discuss her approach to scales and her inspiration for turning this approach into a book.

When did you come up with the idea for this book?

This was an unexpected passion project. I never imagined I would write a book about scales. I’m so familiar with my own approach to scales because, like I say in the book, I’ve been doing the slow scale since my freshman year of college. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed writing a book about scales!

This happens sometimes for me, like in the first course that I did for Discover Double Bass on bowing. I learned how to be a better French bow player.

As I was making the course, I felt this way a little bit with scales. Even though I obviously had a very solidified scales practice, I felt like I learned a whole lot about why I personally like my scales practice every day, why I teach it the way I do, and why I rely on it so much for my student’s development.

It started differently, where I was going to have like little inserts in the book and little points of, “Oh, do this here, do this there.” And that sort of evolved to a more self-sufficient way of going through the book, which I feel is better for your own personal development.

And, of course, writing the book turned out to take a whole lot longer than I thought it would originally. I was like, “Oh, I’ll get this out by the end of the month.” And then, it turned into several months later, which is fine because it meant that I could really craft the book exactly how I wanted it and add a whole lot of additional insights.

For instance, I didn’t have the second section where I’m talking about agility. That was not in the original concept of the book. So I was really happy I was able to slow down a little bit and have that added. because I think it really compliments the book really well.

I do think building some velocity up in scale form, that’s something that we want to be able to do. So I love how you dig into this and the way you map it out on the bass. I think you lay that out in a really cool way.

Thank you. I always felt like I was privileged with the way that I was taught to practice scales because it was really from day one, my teacher assigned me and all of my fellow students this slow scale, and it was you do one key per week, and we go on the cycle of fifths.

I continued from there. I still have so many of the tenets of practicing and approaching the instrument that I learned from day one at college that I still use. And that’s one of them. I feel really lucky because a lot of students that I have come to teach don’t know that they don’t have a plan because it’s not straightforward.

A technical exercise is built to be somewhat straightforward. You approach it this way, but scales are so vast and open-ended. So that was a goal for the book: to give a very clear method of how you could practice scales. You don’t have to, but this is something where you can use it as a jumping off point.

You get four-octave scales into this book! I thought that was really cool , to push your boundaries, not only in terms of agility later, but also just in terms of range.

I find that it’s really important. I’m going to be honest with you: I don’t really enjoy every day doing four-octave scales. It’s so hard, but I do feel like it’s really important.

I need that in my scales practice in the morning, not just to get my head centered and in the right place for playing up in the stratosphere, but also it’s valuable practice time. That’s practice time for my rep as much as it is just for bass in general.

I have a student now that I’m really impressed with. He’s an adult student. He’s, maybe late fifties, early sixties, and on his bass, it only takes three octaves to get up into, past the end of the fingerboard. I was certain that he was really going to struggle with it because he’d never done it before.

He just said, “Okay,” and he has been doing that and adapting really well. And I’m not sure how much he hates it, but I can tell that he’s doing it because his teacher. So all that is to say, I think sometimes, myself included, we bristle and pull away from things that we’re like, “Oh, it’s too hard, it’s too much pain, it’s too much, whatever.”

But in the same way as working out, the pain is where the growth happens, there are different kinds of pain, obviously there’s nuance to it, but, I think I have to remind myself of that a lot. And so, a lot of the content in this book are as much for myself as they are for other people.

If you could wave a magic wand and you had optimal practice time at all times, how would you divide that up?

If I was practicing five hours a day, and there are times when I do, I would still practice my scales as my warmup in the morning and then some technical exercises like the ones in the second half of the book, so maybe a half hour maximum, but I famously don’t like to warm up.

I hate warmups. I struggle to do them. I’ve always been like that, which is another reason for the slow scale because it’s something I know I can do every single day. If you’re a student, then that might be a little bit more of a chunk of time to spend on your scales. And I should also clarify I am lumping the warmup in with scales practice as well as technical exercises.

Obviously, there is a little bit of a divide, and it’s a personal thing, but I really love to jump right into my repertoire, which is not always great. When I was a student in college and in grad school, I was spending a lot more time on my technical exercises. But even still, I think you have to have a cap on certain things.

If you’re spending an hour on, say, one technique exercise that’s 32 measures long, your time could be spent better. But again I don’t want to admonish someone for just trying to do their very best.

I think just being able to learn how to get yourself into a state where you can play even if you can’t warm up optimally– I think that’s a super important skill.

I have students that I talk to about this all the time. It’s very understandable that you’d be concerned before an audition or before a performance about not being able to warm up beforehand. That’s totally understandable.

However, it is something that’s just a reality of life, and it’s totally mental. Your body is capable of doing a lot of things and the warmup is really, I think just for your own sake, it’s it’s like having coffee in the morning.

When I’m warming up with the slow scale, I’m still on, I’m recognizing the fact that like I might be a little stiff. I might not be at my A-game right from the get-go, but I’m still focused. I’m still here.

I do not necessarily see it as a throwaway warmup. And I’m also not saying that anyone who does warmups sees that time as a throwaway, but I’m very much focused on thinking, from the moment I put my bow on the string, “How can I approach this?”

When I play a performance with an orchestra, and I don’t have time to warm up, can I trust myself enough to know when I put the bow on the string for the first time that day or the first time in several hours before the performance, that I’ll know how to adapt and warm myself up organically?

I think that warmups aren’t necessarily a bad thing, but I think having the skill of being able to perform without warming up is so important.

Listen to this complete conversation in your podcast app of choice

How would you recommend that somebody who’s new to practicing skills regularly? How would you tell them to dive in and think about it?

The way it’s laid out in the book is taking it from someone who is a beginner or at least fairly new to the instrument. Whether that’s like day zero or year one, however, you define that for yourself, this book is a companion to your journey through the instrument.

You don’t have to start at one-octave scales. You can start wherever you feel comfortable. The point is not necessarily the scales themselves in the book as I’ve written them, it’s the learning of how to make them a vehicle for exploration, for improving your technique.

For someone who is a beginner, I think it’s laid out pretty well to start on page one. Start with F major. That one’s first. Then we go through the cycle of fifths, and I really push my students–new, seasoned, young, and old to perform one key per week.

My students tend to come in two flavors. They’re either super impatient and they want to do one key every hour, and they want to do all the keys all at once, which I love. Or they are perfectionists, and they want to stick with one scale until they can get it absolutely perfect. And that’s not the point of my approach.

I think whether you’re a beginner or you have more experience with the instrument, being able to stick to a routine is really what I was going for with this book.

Also, push yourself to just do what’s on the page. Stick with the metronome, do the best that you can. Put your fingers in the right place as you’re able, even if it feels like you’re not able to keep up.

Just keep going. Don’t stop.

That’s something I struggle with every single week when I start a new key. Even after all this time, I still struggle with the faster rhythms, but I know now that I have to just keep going, and I can only focus on putting my fingers in roughly the right spot.

Whether they’re in tune or not, that will come later. But staying with the metronome, putting my fingers in the right place, and just pushing on.

I think if you can get in that mindset sooner, whether you’re new to the instrument or not, but especially if you’re new to the instrument, then you’re going to have a lot more success and be able to actually enjoy playing whether as opposed to getting into that perfectionist mindset that we all get into.

Everything that we practice compiles on itself, and it compounds. So what you learn from doing F major one week, even if it’s not perfect, that’s going to continue when you go to the next scale, even if you know it’s a completely different fingering and a completely different part of the instrument.

It’s an ongoing exercise.

I do think that perfectionist streak comes up in so many of us, particularly people who might be adults and coming to the bass.

Playing the instrument isn’t playing one scale to perfection. It’s being able to play a lot of different things. It’s being able to pick up pieces of music and adapt and be expressive regardless of what you’re playing.

I’m certainly guilty of getting into that perfectionist mindset, and I think it comes in surprising ways. Avoidance of practicing is a perfectionist trait. Sticking with G Major for seven months is a perfectionist trait. Also, stopping in the middle of practicing or stopping in the middle of playing through something, stopping and redoing, and not letting yourself make mistakes. That’s also a perfectionist trait.

We’re taught that we need to fix mistakes in practice, but if we’re constantly stopping when we’re going through something, then we’re teaching ourselves that every time a mistake happens, we have to stop.

Find Lauren’s book Lauren Pierce: Scales, Scales, Scales: A Progressive Technical Journey for the Double Bass in the Double Bass HQ Sheet Music Store.

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