Playing the double bass with expressive bowing techniques can greatly enhance your musicality and bring your performances to life. In this article, we will explore various techniques and concepts that will help you play more expressively with the bow on the double bass. Whether you are a beginner or an advanced player, these techniques can be applied to elevate your playing to the next level.
1. Overall philosophy of constant improvement
To play more expressively, it is essential to have a mindset of constant improvement. Every time you pick up your double bass, strive to enhance your playing. As Alex Hanna wisely said in our Contrabass Conversations interview, “never practice, always perform.” Whether it’s an open string, a scale, or a piece from your repertoire, always focus on shaping your phrases and bringing out the musicality in your playing. Let’s explore some exercises and techniques that will help you achieve this constant improvement mindset.
2. Set yourself up for success with the bow
Before diving into specific bowing techniques, it’s important to approach the bow in a healthy and optimal way. We have put together a guide with exercises that will help you optimize your body and bow for good tone production. Take the time to check out this guide and incorporate the exercises into your practice routine.
3. Long-tone work
Long-tone exercises are fundamental for developing control, tone quality, and bow technique.
Start with preparatory exercises such as the “long and loud” bow. Challenge yourself to sustain long notes, explore different dynamics, and play close to the bridge. Use a metronome set at 60 to maintain a steady tempo. Keep your left hand ready to pluck the string to reactivate the sound. Think of carving a block of marble as you shape your sound with the bow.
These six exercises that I learned from renowned bass teacher Jeff Bradetich are highly recommended for developing bow control and dynamics. Practice soft-to-loud, loud-to-soft, and hairpin dynamics on both downbow and upbow strokes.
4. Listen to great string players
Expand your musical horizons by listening to great string players, not just double bassists. Take note of their phrasing and try to imitate it in your own playing. Analyze how they develop notes and when and how they use vibrato. By studying the phrasing of different string players, you can gain valuable insights into expressive bowing techniques.
5. Double stops
Double stops are an effective way to build tone, strength, intonation, and control. Incorporate exercises and studies that focus on double stops into your practice routine. Start with simple double-stop exercises and gradually progress to more challenging ones. Check out this resource for guidance on getting started with double stops on the double bass.
6. Develop extremes
To play expressively, it’s important to have the capacity for extremes in dynamics, articulations, crescendos, and decrescendos. Focusing on the six Bradetich exercises mentioned earlier can help you build the capacity for these extremes. Practice over-exaggerated dynamics and articulations to expand your expressive range.
Pushing the limits of your dynamics, tone, vibrato, and imagination is part of the magic of playing a good phrase. Check out this guide on how to analyze and practice phrases.
7. Putting in the work with Strokin’
Strokin’ is Hal Robinson’s brilliant adaptation of a portion of the Sevcik School of Bowing Technique that will add nuance, character, control, and capacity to your bow arm. Dedicate 15-20 minutes a day to practicing Strokin exercises to refine your bowing technique. Consistent practice will yield noticeable improvements in your playing.
Playing the double bass with expressive bowing techniques requires dedication, practice, and a constant drive for improvement. By incorporating the techniques and concepts discussed in this blog post into your practice routine, you can unlock a new level of expressiveness in your playing. Remember, it’s a continuous journey, and every practice session is an opportunity to refine your skills. Embrace the challenge, enjoy the process, and let your music speak through your expressive bowing.