How to “Fake It” Successfully in Orchestra on Double Bass

Playing in an orchestra can be daunting, especially for double bassists who struggle to keep up with the pace of the music. However, there are five steps you can take to "fake it" successfully and contribute to the orchestra.

With Jason Heath · San Francisco, CA

Playing in an orchestra can be a daunting task, especially for double bassists. The pace of the music can be incredibly fast, and it can be difficult to keep up with the other instruments. However, there are ways to “fake it” and still be successful in an orchestral context. In this article, we will discuss five steps you can take to “fake it” on double bass and still be a valuable member of the orchestra.

Also, it’s important to remember that “faking it” doesn’t mean cheating! It means finding creative ways to contribute to the music while still playing within your skill level.

Step 1: Think Long-Term

When it comes to playing double bass, one of the most important things to keep in mind is taking a long-term approach to your practice. Rather than getting too hung up on achieving the ultimate tempo right away, it’s crucial to focus on slowly but surely solving the problems at hand. By taking a slower pace and working at a comfortable tempo, you’ll give yourself the time and space to master even the most challenging sections of the music.

Additionally, it’s important to give yourself plenty of breaks and opportunities for rest during your practice sessions. Not only will this help prevent burnout, but it will also give your brain the chance to process and internalize the new skills you’re learning.

Finally, don’t be afraid to experiment and try new things as you practice. Whether it’s exploring different fingerings or experimenting with alternative bowing techniques, the more you can challenge yourself and push the boundaries of your playing, the more you’ll be able to grow and improve over time.

Step 2: Simplify the Part

When you’re faced with a difficult musical passage, there are several steps you can take to make it more manageable.

Firstly, identify the most important notes in the section and prioritize them. This will help you understand the harmonic structure of the music and give you a foundation to build upon. Once you’ve identified the key notes, you can start to simplify the part by removing any extraneous or less important notes. This will allow you to focus on the core elements of the music and make them sound as good as possible.

Additionally, practicing the simplified part will help you build up your skills and eventually be able to play the more complex version. By taking these steps, you’ll be able to contribute to the overall sound of the orchestra while still managing to play the difficult passage.

This passage from Sibelius’ Symphony No. 1 can be tricky for any bassist. Playing only the downbeats can be a good way to make the part more manageable for beginner and intermediate bassists.

Step 3: Rhythm is Key

After simplifying the piece you’re playing, it’s time to shift your attention to the rhythm. While it’s important to play the correct notes, the rhythm is often more crucial to the overall sound. Ensure that you’re playing in harmony with the rest of the orchestra, even if you’re not hitting every single note. By prioritizing the rhythm, you’ll be able to stay in sync with the rest of the orchestra and contribute to the overall sound and feel of the piece.

One approach to improving your rhythm is to practice with a metronome, which can help you maintain a steady tempo and stay in time with the rest of the orchestra. Additionally, you can pay close attention to the conductor’s cues and body language, which can provide valuable guidance on the rhythm and the overall feel of the piece. Remember that a strong sense of rhythm will not only make you a better musician, but also a better collaborator and contributor to the music-making process.

Focusing on the rhythm is paramount for passages like this.

Step 4: Use Bowing Techniques

Another way to enhance your performance on the double bass is to use bowing techniques to create the illusion of playing more notes than what is actually there. This can be achieved by using the spiccato technique to create a fast, bouncy sound that can make it seem like you’re playing more notes than you actually are.

You can also incorporate other bowing techniques such as détaché, sautillé, and martelé to add texture and depth to your playing. It’s important to keep in mind that using these techniques effectively requires practice and patience. As you develop your skills, you’ll be able to stay relaxed and focused, contributing to the overall sound of the orchestra.

Remember that the key to success is not only playing the right notes but also conveying the right emotions to the audience. By utilizing these techniques, you can create a more nuanced and expressive performance that will captivate your listeners.

Creative use of the bow can disguise the “work in progress” level of playing that beginners may be at with passages of this difficulty.

Step 5: Practice, Practice, Practice

Finally, it’s important to remember that “faking it” on double bass is a skill that takes practice. You need to spend time working on simplifying parts, focusing on rhythm, and using bowing techniques to create the illusion of playing more notes. With practice, you’ll become more confident in your ability to “fake it” successfully in an orchestral context. Remember, solving the problem at a slow tempo is the most valuable skill of all. The body doesn’t remember tempo like we think it does, and solving things at a greatly reduced tempo is key for long-term progress.

Passages like this will be mastered with enough time!

Conclusion

Playing in an orchestra as a double bassist can be a challenging experience, but there are ways to “fake it” successfully and still contribute to the overall sound of the orchestra. By thinking long-term, simplifying the part, focusing on rhythm, using bowing techniques, and practicing, you’ll be able to master the music and become a valuable member of the orchestra. Remember, “faking it” doesn’t mean cheating; it means finding creative ways to contribute to the music while still playing within your skill level.

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