Playing the double bass as a beginner can be overwhelming, but with patience and hard work, you can learn to play it well. In this article, I’ll give you my battle-tested ten tips for beginner double bass players. These will speed up your learning and help you to have more fun playing this unique and underrated instrument.
1. Posture is key for all double bassists
Proper posture is not only important for the comfort of the double bass player, but it also prevents injuries that may occur due to improper posture. It is important to understand the significance of maintaining proper posture while playing the double bass. By following some simple guidelines, such as sitting up straight, keeping your shoulders relaxed, and supporting the bass with your legs, you can ensure that you play with ease, comfort, and minimal risk of injury.
It is also important to note that maintaining proper posture while playing the double bass will help you to produce better sound quality and ultimately improve your overall performance. So, always remember to check your posture before you start playing and make necessary adjustments to avoid any discomfort and potential injury.
2. Tune before every practice session
Tuning your bass before each practice session will help you develop a good ear and ensure that you are playing in tune.
3. Start with simple exercises
Most double bassists typically begin their practice sessions by warming up with basic exercises, such as playing scales and arpeggios. These exercises help to improve finger dexterity and familiarize the player with different musical intervals.
As the practice session progresses, the difficulty level of the exercises gradually increases, allowing the bassist to further develop their technical skills and musicality. This gradual progression in challenge level over the first half hour of practice ensures a focused and effective practice routine.
Berklee College of Music double bass instructor Susan Hagen has a wonderful resource titled BASSics of Bass: 8 Warm Ups for Players of All Ages. This excellent book is useful for all skill levels.
4. Practice with a metronome and a drone
Playing with a metronome is highly beneficial for musicians as it aids in the development of a steady sense of rhythm and timing.
By incorporating regular practice sessions with a metronome into your musical routine, you can significantly enhance your skills in various ways. Not only will you develop a greater ability to maintain a consistent tempo, but you will also improve your overall sense of rhythm and timing. Furthermore, practicing with a metronome encourages you to develop a heightened awareness of your own playing, enabling you to identify areas for improvement and work on them systematically.
Incorporating the use of a drone into your practice routine can greatly assist in the development of pitch stability. The sustained sound of the drone provides a constant reference pitch, allowing you to train your ear and improve your ability to stay in tune. Experimenting with different rhythmic patterns and melodic phrases while utilizing these tools will further enhance your musical skills and proficiency.
5. Listen to recordings as much as possible
To develop a better understanding of tone, phrasing, and style, it is highly recommended to actively engage with recordings of double bass players. By immersing yourself in the works of different musicians, you can explore the nuances and intricacies that contribute to the overall musical experience.
Paying close attention to the variations in tone, the subtle phrasing choices, and the unique stylistic approaches employed by these musicians will undoubtedly enhance your own playing and broaden your musical horizons.
Here’s a list of some of my all-time favorite double bass recordings. Let us know if you have a favorite double bass recording that you think should be on the list!
- Uncommon Ritual by Edgar Meyer
- Super Bass with Ray Brown and John Clayton
- Gettin’ To It by Christian McBride
- Standard Bearer by Ron Carter (check out Mr. Carter’s publications in our store!)
- The London Double Bass Sound by Gary Karr and Thomas Martin
- Ed BarkerConcerti for Double Bass by Edwin Barker
- All Ashore by Punch Brothers (Paul Kowert, bass)
- The Colburn Sessions by Mikyung Sung
Our podcast is also another great place to keep up with new albums and inspiring content from the double bass community. Click here to subscribe to the podcast in your app of choice.
6. Experiment with different techniques for bowing and pizzicato
Regardless of what types of styles of music you play, developing a variety of approaches to pizzicato and arco playing will make you more versatile and increase your overall enjoyment of double bass playing. Experiment with different bowing techniques, such as spiccato and legato, to develop your sound and expressiveness, and try out different hand orientations for getting different types of pizzicato sounds.
We have created several videos dedicated to developing your bowing and your pizzicato technique:
- Weird bowing sounds? This checklist will help!
- Jazz Bowing on the Double Bass – a look inside Olivier Babaz’s jazz bowing world
- Orchestral vs jazz pizzicato – what’s the difference?
- How to play pizzicato faster on double bass!
7. Join a double bass community
We bass players love to get together. There’s something about the supportive nature of the double bass that gives its players a community spirit.
Joining a double bass community, such as a local orchestra bass section or bass club, can provide support, guidance, and performance opportunities.
If you’re looking for a community orchestra, Meetup provides a wealth of resources, and with nearly 10,000 members, making a request in our Double Bass HQ Facebook Group is a great way to connect with other bassists and find ensembles to join.
If you’re looking to find a double bass event in your area, we have a map and listing of double bass events across the globe. This is a great way to see what’s happening in your area and to keep tabs on bigger upcoming double bass events.
The International Society of Bassists is a wonderful organization that hosts biannual conferences and publishes a great journal. I’ve been a member since I was a teenager and find it to be a continual source of education and inspiration.
The conventions are a total blast, and you can read my recap of the 2023 ISB Convention to get an idea of what this event is like.
8. Take double bass lessons
Taking double bass lessons from a qualified teacher can greatly enhance your musical journey. By receiving guidance and instruction from an experienced professional, you will not only progress faster but also develop a strong foundation in playing the instrument.
Having a teacher will ensure that you learn proper techniques and avoid developing any detrimental habits that may hinder your growth as a musician. With their expertise, they can provide valuable insights and personalized feedback, allowing you to refine your skills and reach your full potential as a double bass player.
There are a bunch of great options for getting started online with the double bass. I have courses available on Discover Double Bass for beginner and intermediate double bassists. This excellent resource has a wealth of courses from other teachers as well.
The International Society of Bassists also maintains a great teacher directory that can connect you with a local teacher. Many of these teachers also offer online lessons via Zoom or another such platform, giving you an opportunity for one-on-one instruction even if you live in a more remote area.
Our DBHQ Facebook Group is another helpful place to inquire about double bass teachers!
9. Practice regularly
Consistent and regular practice is crucial for making significant progress on the double bass. Building a strong foundation requires dedicating time and effort every day, regardless of the duration. By committing to daily practice sessions, even if they are brief, you are ensuring that you maintain a steady momentum and continue to improve your skills on the instrument.
I’ve put together a guide that takes you through what I practice if I have a short, medium, or longer amount of time in a given day. You can pick up a copy here, and let me know how you approach structuring your practicing!
10. Have fun
Most importantly, remember to have fun! Playing the double bass can be challenging, but it’s also incredibly rewarding. Enjoy the journey and celebrate your progress along the way.
We bassists don’t take ourselves too seriously. If you don’t believe me, check out ten of the strangest double bass videos I’ve seen over on our YouTube Channel. This’ll give you a taste of the sense of humor so many of us double bassists share. 😊