Double Bass Gig on Short Notice: My Cramming Strategy Revealed!

This post details my strategy for preparing for a last-minute double bass gig, which involves finding resources, listening to recordings, analyzing the music, addressing practical considerations, and mentally preparing for rehearsals.

With Jason Heath · San Francisco, CA

I was recently on a walk with the dog when the phone rang. It was the San Francisco Symphony saying, “What were you doing tomorrow and the rest of the week? Could you come to play a concert with us?”

So, I came back and canceled everything for the week. That was great. I loved to play with the symphony, but I found myself with a little bit of time before the following morning. And so here’s how I approached needing to learn music as best I could for a professional-level gig in very, very little time.

Step 1 – Finding Resources

The very first thing I did was to see what the music was. Luckily, we had wonderful resources like IMSLP, and I had a lot of bass parts myself. So I downloaded Brahms, which we were playing, and I downloaded Beethoven’s Symphony Number Two, which I might have been playing. I knew I was definitely on the Brahms. I was probably not on the Beethoven, but what if I was?

In addition, there was this Hilborg piece. Even if I only had a few minutes or a few hours, like I did for this case, I went and I looked up some recordings. So I found Anders Hilborg’s Piano Concerto No. 2. Oh, there were none on YouTube or Apple Music. That’s because this was a world premiere. So, I was sight-reading that the next morning, but I had played Hilborg’s music before, so I had access to recordings of it.

Listening and Familiarizing

While pottering around the rest of the afternoon, I listened to the recordings of Brahms and Beethoven and tried to get those in my nervous system and my bloodstream. I wanted these shapes laid out on the bass and tried to remember how these pieces sounded. I had already done a technique practice session to stay ready.

Analyzing the Music

The order of the day was just getting in as good a shape as I could for the next morning’s rehearsal. So, I started by looking at the Brahms. I scanned and looked for variations, density of notes, key signatures, and all that stuff. Since I had played this piece before, it was just a review. I focused on playing well and getting the shapes under my fingers rather than playing up to tempo right away. I was not too concerned about the tempo as long as I was playing well and getting the shapes right.

Practical Considerations

I tried to avoid open strings and thought about good tone and impeccable pitch. I was also concerned about fingerings and bowings, especially since I didn’t know what the bowings would be the next day. I tried to play with the longest string length possible and use logical fingerings. It was important to keep tension out of my body and maintain a relaxed playing style. I checked the tempos of faster passages to get a sense of the tempo, but I didn’t force speed during preparation. I also took into account the preferences of the bass section and adjusted accordingly.

Preparing for Rehearsals

I prepared for rehearsal by picturing myself on stage, watching the conductor, and waiting for cues. I made sure I was locked in, checking key signatures, and thinking about volume control. I was aware that these licks could vary depending on the conductor, so I tried to get them under my fingers and be prepared for anything.

Looking Ahead to Future Weeks

I also spent some time familiarizing myself with Beethoven’s Symphony Number Nine, which I would be playing the following week. It was important to get all the music as soon as possible and work on it early to avoid unnecessary stress. I analyzed the shapes and considered the preferences of the bass section in this piece as well.

Final Thoughts

In the end, the preparation process involved analyzing the music, listening to recordings, familiarizing myself with the compositions, and addressing practical considerations such as fingerings, bowings, and techniques. By staying relaxed, focused, and efficient, I aimed to be in the optimal mental and physical performance state. I could successfully perform professional-level gigs with careful preparation, even on short notice. Stay tuned for more insights and tips on musical preparation!

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