Five books for developing a good double bass practice routine

Feeling stuck in your same old practice routine? These five books can help to jumpstart your creativity!

With Jason Heath · San Francisco, CA

Let’s face it–there’s no perfect practice routine for us double bass players.

Sometimes, we’ve got a concert looming and urgently need to learn those parts.  Other times, we feel like we’ve plateaued, and we need to find a new way to kick-start our progress.

As we change and grow, our practice routines also change and grow, balancing the needs of the current moment with long-term training for the future.

It can be really frustrating when you feel like nothing’s working.  Fortunately, there are many resources for building your practice routine.  

All five of the books below are available in our shop and have been conceived of as “supplemental” exercises to go along with a more fleshed out method like Simandl or Rabbath.  These will help double bassists in classical, jazz, and other styles of playing to develop a good practice routine.

Susan P. Hagen: BASSics of Bass: 8 Warm Ups for Players of All Ages

Susan’s book is awesome.  These simple but deep exercises have been written by Susan for herself and her students.  She uses them to warm up before rehearsals with the Boston Symphony, but they’re also great for someone new to the instrument.

Susan writes:

Warming up is a helpful and important way to prevent injuries. The ones featured in this book will help you work to build a healthy physical approach to the instrument. Over time you will build strength and endurance. I find these to be a fun way to achieve that. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.

Susan and I even did a video collab about her cool book:

David Heyes: Daily Exercises for Double Bass

David is a force of nature in the double bass world. We have a wide array of titles from him in our shop, and this one is great for people looking to develop and hone the skills most necessary on the double bass.

This book is broken down into the following exercises:

  • Chromatic Positions
  • One Octave Scale Study
  • Hammer Fingers
  • Four Note Patterns
  • Diatonic Shifts
  • Scale Patterns
  • Fifths
  • Chromatic String Crossings
  •  Neck Block Positions
  • Thirds
  • Running Thirds
  • Thumb Position (Hand Shapes)

David writes the following about how to approach this book:

The book should be seen as a starting point for you to discover and devise new technical exercises to extend and increase your technical skills throughout the entire range of the double bass. The exercises are in no particular order although the first (Chromatic Positions) is useful as a warm-up study and to develop a good hand shape.

I would suggest choosing two or three exercises each day, gradually working through the ones you feel able to tackle, eventually adding the more challenging exercises when you feel confident to do so. It is possible to adapt each exercise simply by choosing a few bars and by adding different bowing and rhythmic variations.

Michael Kurth: Several Pleasant Harmonic Progressions of Three-note and Four-note Chords in All Major Keys

This book reminds me of the famous Nicolas Slonimsky – Thesaurus Of Scales And Melodic Patterns that John Coltrane used to practice… only much more accessible!

These open-ended exercises can be practiced in a variety of ways:

  • Arpeggios
  • Bowing Variations
  • String Crossings
  • Shifts
  • Double stops

Michael also writes the following, with his characteristic wit coming through:

Also Rather Useful for Mastering the Reading of Each of the Various Clefs Employed (but Not Necessarily Enjoyed) by Double-Bassists: the Bass Clef, the Treble Clef, and the Dreaded yet Sadly Misunderstood Tenor Clef.

James Schulz: Double Bass: Exercises, Scales, and Reference

James has harvested exercises that he has used for years in his teaching, including:

  • Half/First Position modal scales
  • Scale Fragments, exercises, variations, and application
  • Bow Distribution
  • Bow Recovery
  • Selection of Bow Strokes
  • Left Hand Shape Exercises
  • Vomits
  • Double Stops
  • Arpeggios
  • Thumb position
  • Vibrato
  • Orchestra Excerpts (studying Legato, Bow distribution/recovery, and Spiccato)
  • Major Scale Fingerings (1, 2, and 3 octaves)
  • Natural Minor Fingerings (1 and 2 octaves)
  • Music Theory reference (basic scales, modes, chords, chord function)

James writes the following about the book:

This book is a collection of things that I wished for as a teacher and as a player. These are warmups I love to play. These are exercises I would time and time again scribble out in terrible handwriting for students or give photocopied photocopies of old pages. These are references for straightforward scale fingerings and theory concepts that I think are most important and practical for bass players.

Jason Heath: Fundamentals of Double Bass Technique

This book is a product of the research and preparation that I did for my courses with Discover Double Bass.

I had first been approached about filming a double bass course by a company called Musician’s Toolkit.  I did the filming in 2018, but the FBI seized all the assets of this company (!), including my bass course.

Fortunately, I had also been chatting with Geoff Chalmers of Discover Double Bass about doing a similar project.  I took those planning documents from the original course and gave them a thorough overhaul, incorporating what I had learned about what worked (and didn’t work) for that Musician’s Toolkit course.

 After filming the Discover Double Bass courses, I realized that I’d basically written a book in the process.  I fleshed it out into this concise step-by-step approach to how I’ve taught people new to the double bass.  If you’re a total newbie, this might be a good place to start.

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