Mastering Shifting Techniques: Enhancing Left Hand, Right Hand, and Posture on Double Bass

We cover how to master shifting techniques to improve left-hand, right-hand, and posture for double bass players. We dig into various exercises and drills, emphasizing the importance of maintaining proper posture and consistent tone quality and exploring different finger combinations to enhance your performance.

With Jason Heath · San Francisco, CA

Shifting drills are a fundamental technique for developing double bass skills. In this blog post, we will explore the importance of shifting techniques and how they strengthen not only the left hand but also the right hand and posture. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced bassist, these exercises are designed to improve your technique and take your playing to the next level.

You can download the accompanying PDF here, and let’s dive in!

Shifting Techniques – Strengthening the Left Hand

To truly comprehend the intricate mechanics of shifting, it’s absolutely essential to firmly grasp the underlying concept of the ‘elbow on a string’. This notion can be likened to the simple act of throwing a ball, where the elbow naturally takes the lead role and the hand dutifully follows its lead. By dedicating time to consciously practice this specific motion, where the elbow takes the initiative and the hand subsequently follows, you’ll be able to gradually develop a more fluid and smoother shifting technique.

I encourage you to visualize your elbow as being connected to a string, being gently pulled upwards and downwards in a rhythmic motion as you diligently practice your shifting. This mental image serves as a helpful reminder of the role your elbow plays in ensuring smooth transitions.

One of the great advantages of these exercises is their flexibility. They can be performed without the necessity of your bass, providing the convenience to incorporate them into your daily routine, regardless of your location or schedule. This consistent practice, even away from your instrument, will greatly enhance your understanding and execution of shifting.

Bow Shifts – Strengthening the Right Hand

Shifting, while it is primarily considered a left-hand exercise, significantly impacts the way the right hand operates as well. This is most notable in the case of bow shifts, a concept that has been thoroughly explained by renowned double bass educator Andy Moritz. This technique involves a deliberate migration of the bow along the north and south axis of the string, a movement that requires precise control and coordination.

To effectively practice bow shifts, it’s crucial to maintain certain elements of bowing constant, such as the speed at which the bow moves and the amount of weight applied. By doing so, you can concentrate your efforts on mastering the variable element of bow shifting, allowing for a more focused and efficient practice session.

One particular exercise that has proven beneficial for many in practicing this concept is the A major shifting drill, colloquially known amongst musicians as the “vomit exercise.” This drill not only challenges the motion of your hand, but also the sound product produced as a result of this technique. The combination of these two aspects makes the “vomit exercise” a comprehensive and effective method for improving your bow shifting skills, and as such, it comes highly recommended for inclusion in your regular practice routine.

Posture – Strengthening the Body

The role of posture is absolutely vital when it comes to shifting and overall technique in playing the bass. As you navigate the heights and depths of the bass, making adjustments to your body to maintain optimal positioning is crucial. This involves a careful balance of motion and stability that is essential for effective performance. Regardless of whether you’re standing or sitting while playing, the key strategy is to bow into the bass, then rise back up in a motion akin to that of a deadlift.

This movement is not only crucial for effective playing but also promotes healthful practice. Ensure to keep your chest open, thus facilitating better breathing and preventing any unnecessary tension. It is important to steer clear of hunching over, which can lead to back strain and hinder your performance. Instead, strive to maintain an upright position, keeping your spine aligned and your body balanced.

Consistency in your posture, coupled with a heightened awareness of how you’re positioned, will not just enhance your technique but will also help prevent any potential strain or injury to your body. Developing good posture is a long-term investment that will benefit your musical performances and overall health.

Stretching Your Abilities – Taking It to the Next Level

Once you’ve reached a level of comfort and familiarity with the fundamental exercises related to shifting and posture, it’s time to push your boundaries and stretch your abilities. At this stage, you should focus on incorporating vibrato into your shifting drills. Start with a basic one-to-one shift, adding a simple vibrato. As you grow more comfortable, gradually increase the complexity of the drills, pushing yourself to navigate into higher positions on the instrument.

Throughout these exercises, it’s crucial to remember the importance of maintaining consistent tone quality between the lower and higher notes. This might require adjusting the angle of your vibrato as you shift into different positions, ensuring that the tonal quality remains uniform across the range.

Furthermore, don’t limit yourself to only using the same finger combinations. Explore different combinations to keep challenging your technique and to avoid falling into a pattern of repetitive, predictable shifts. Lastly, consider incorporating two-octave shifting drills into your practice routine. These drills are challenging but are an excellent way to push your technical skills to the next level.

Final Thoughts

Developing strong shifting techniques is essential for every double bassist. By mastering the coordination between the left hand, right hand, and posture, you can unlock the true power of shifting. Incorporate these exercises into your practice routine, starting with the fundamentals and gradually progressing to more advanced variations. Remember to prioritize proper posture and body alignment to maximize your potential and prevent injuries.

So go ahead, download the PDF, and embark on a journey to strengthen your left hand, right hand, and posture through the art of shifting. Happy practicing!

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