How to learn fast passages on double bass

Playing fast passages on the double bass can be tough, but with the right approach, you can make big progress fast. Here are five tips to help you master fast passages on the double bass.

With Alex Hanna · Chicago, IL

Learning to play fast passages on the double bass can be a challenging task, but with the right approach, it is possible to make significant progress quickly. In this post, we will explore five tips and techniques that can help you master fast passages on the double bass.

This infamous passage from the first movement of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 can benefit greatly from these five techniques.

1 – Practice Slowly

One of the most crucial aspects to keep in mind when it comes to mastering fast passages on the double bass is the significance of practicing slowly. This may come across as a paradox, but it is critical to building muscle memory while also developing accuracy. To begin with, it is advisable to play the passage at an unhurried tempo, taking the time to fully grasp each note and its placement.

As you progress and become more comfortable with the notes, gradually start to increase the speed, but do not rush the process. Take the time to play the passage correctly, and if you make a mistake, stop and start over again. Remember, slow and steady wins the race, and the same principle applies to mastering fast passages on the double bass.

This excerpt from Ein Heldenleben by Richard Strauss becomes less scary once you really break all the motions down.

2 – Break the Passage Down

Learning fast passages can be a challenging task, but there are several techniques that can help you master them. One such technique is breaking the passage down into smaller, more manageable chunks. This allows you to focus on specific sections of the passage and identify any problem areas that need extra attention. By taking the time to practice each section individually, you can ensure that you have a solid foundation before attempting to put the whole passage together.

Also, double bassist and educator Lauren Pierce has created a great guide on setting yourself up for success when learning a new piece.

Another useful technique is to practice with a metronome or other timing device. This will help you develop a sense of rhythm and timing, which is essential for playing fast passages accurately. By gradually increasing the tempo as you become more comfortable with the passage, you can gradually build up the speed until you are able to play it at the desired tempo.

It’s also important to approach the passage with a positive mindset. Instead of viewing it as an insurmountable challenge, try to see it as an opportunity to improve your skills and develop your technique. With patience and persistence, you can overcome any obstacles and achieve your goals.

In summary, learning fast passages requires a combination of techniques and strategies, including breaking the passage down into smaller sections, practicing with a metronome, and maintaining a positive mindset. By incorporating these methods into your practice routine, you can improve your skills and master even the most challenging passages.

Bach’s Baadinerie can benefit greatly from acceleration practice with the metronome.

3 – Use a Metronome for “Acceleration” Practice

Using a metronome is an essential technique to improve the speed and accuracy of your playing, particularly when practicing fast passages on the double bass. By setting the metronome to a slow tempo and practicing playing the passage in time with the metronome, you can effectively train your muscles to play in perfect time. Not only that, but by practicing with a metronome, you can also develop a more precise sense of rhythm, which is critical for any musician.

In addition to building speed and accuracy, practicing with a metronome can also help you to identify areas where you may be struggling. If you find that you consistently fall behind the beat or lose track of the rhythm, for example, you can use the metronome to help you pinpoint these issues and work on correcting them.

Another benefit of using a metronome is that it can help you to gradually increase the tempo of the passage you are practicing. As you become more comfortable playing the passage at a slower tempo, you can gradually increase the speed of the metronome to challenge yourself and push yourself to improve.

Overall, incorporating a metronome into your practicing routine is an excellent way to improve your playing in a variety of different ways. So, whether you’re a beginner just starting out or an experienced musician looking to take your playing to the next level, be sure to give this technique a try and see how it can help you to achieve your goals.

Ian Hallas, who recently won a position in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra double bass section, explored this topic in great detail on a Contrabass Conversations episode.

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Practice with a Drum Machine

Another effective tool for practicing fast passages is a drum machine. A drum machine can help you develop your sense of timing and rhythm, and can also provide a steady beat to practice along with. Set the drum machine to a slow tempo and practice playing the passage along with the beat. As you become more comfortable with the passage, gradually increase the speed of the drum machine to challenge yourself.

Adding a drum machine makes this passage from Schubert’s C Major Symphony a blast to practice.

Bonus: Cool Technique from Chicago Symphony Orchestra Principal Bassist Alex Hanna

While attending the 2023 Pittsburgh Double Bass Symposium, I had the chance to get a great tip from Chicago Symphony Orchestra Principal Bassist Alex Hanna about a cool technique that can help speed up the process of learning a fast passage.

Additional advice on the topic from a reader

After sending this out on our email newsletter, we had a couple additional great tips from one of our readers:

Practice slow with the same length stroke you will use fast. It may not sound great but if you don’t there is a tendency to use a stroke that is too long when you speed up.

And be aware of where you will be slowed down shifts string crossings need to happen super fast otherwise you will get behind!

Alryn Curtis

Conclusion

Learning to play fast passages on the double bass is a challenging but rewarding task. By practicing slowly, breaking the passage down into smaller chunks, using a metronome, practicing with a drum machine, and using the right technique, you can make significant progress in a short amount of time. With dedication and practice, you can master even the most challenging passages and become a skilled double bass player.

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