Why is double bass so underrated?

This often misunderstood instrument has been evolving at a rapid clip.

With Jason Heath · San Francisco, CA

Despite its importance in so many musical genres, the double bass is often underestimated and under appreciated.

It seems like people are constantly picking up guitar or drums as a hobby.

Why not the double bass?

There are a few big reasons why people shy away from the double bass, but also some encouraging trends that are making this instrument more popular than ever.

What scares people away from double bass

#1 – Size

Look—the double bass is a big instrument.

It’s hard to get it in and out of cars. People look at you funny if you try taking it on the train.

And if you want some real headaches, try taking a double bass on a plane!

There are definitely more annoying instruments to cart around. Just ask my wife—she’s a harpist!

Wheels, pack pack straps, and the like definitely make it easier to transport the double bass.

I don’t wish that I played the flute… but I have to acknowledge that it’s an easier instrument to move around. 😀😫

#2 – The physical nature of the double bass

The double bass required a surprising amount of physical strength to play. Whenever I talk to adults who are learning the double bass, one of the most common things they mention is how tiring it can be to play.

The double bass world has come a long way in terms of setup, and luthiers are making more ergonomic basses to open up the instrument to people of all sizes. But at the end of the day, it simply takes a certain degree of strength and endurance to play the instrument.

#3 – Lack of understanding

A lot of orchestra teachers are kind of intimidated by the bass, and they have a tougher time teaching it than the other string instruments.

This makes a lot of sense, actually. After all, we’re the only bowed string instrument that’s tuned in fourths.

Also, lots of school double basses are in poor repair, making it almost impossible to get the left hand working properly or to get a good sound.

Why more people than ever are being drawn to double bass

#1 – Young students are starting on double bass more frequently

There has been an incredible surge in teachers focused on young double bassist pedagogy. Double bass pedagogues like George Vance have created methods that map out the bass in a musical, ergonomic, and appealing way.

This has resulted in a wave of young bassists with skill levels that would have been unimaginable a generation ago.

#2 – Double bass events (camps, festivals, bass days)

There has been an explosion of local, regional, and international double bass events over the past couple of decades. Starting in the 1980s, the International Society of Bassists began organizing conventions, which played a huge role in making these events a regular practice.

Bass Europe also organized vibrant double bass events in “off years” from ISB conventions for several years.

These larger double bass events are incredible opportunities for double bass players, students, amateurs, and enthusiasts to come together. These weeklong events include concerts, young bass experiences, competitions, exhibits, and much more.

There has also been a proliferation of local bass events like KC Bass, the Golden Gate Bass Camp, Bass Camp NRW, Galicia Graves, and many more. These events are incredible opportunities for double bassists to come together at the local level.

They vary from all-ages experiences for all skill levels to highly focused events for aspiring professionals. Some events, like Bass Works and RCR Stage International de Contrabasse, included multiple tracks for different skill levels.

#3 – Availability of better equipment

We’re truly living in the golden age of the double bass in terms of luthiery. As a result, we’ve got basses that are being designed with playability in mind. We’ve also got a huge array of rosins, strings, endpins, and other accessories to make our musical lives much easier.

#4 – More composers are writing for double bass

The proliferation of composers writing for the double bass is truly remarkable. With his prolific output over the decades, David Heyes has been a key figure connecting bassists worldwide with double bass titles.

Influential composers like Francois Rabbath have redefined double bass technique, inspiring composers like Lloyd Goldstein to share their own work.

This trend is global, with composers like Andres Martin achieving worldwide recognition.

#5 – More resources dedicated to the double bass

We bassists have had some great resources, like the International Society of Bassists, which is over 50 years old and hold biannual conventions that bring together well over 1,000 bassists.

The rise of the internet has connected the double bass community like never before, and with this website and our podcast, we’re thrilled to be a part of this trend.

The seductive allure of double bass

The double bass has been associated with a certain stereotype of being a background instrument, simply providing the bassline for other instruments to shine. However, this is far from the truth. The double bass can be a solo instrument, and its unique sound can create a mesmerizing effect. It can also add a special flavor to a song, making it stand out by providing a distinctive sound.

Moreover, the double bass can be used to create a wide range of moods and emotions. It can be used to create a serene atmosphere, or to add a sense of urgency and excitement to a piece of music. Its versatility allows it to be used in a variety of musical genres, from classical to jazz to rock.

In conclusion, the double bass is an instrument that deserves more recognition and appreciation. Its rich history and tradition, as well as its unique sound and versatility, make it a valuable addition to any musical ensemble. As more and more musicians discover the joys of playing the double bass, we can expect to see it take a more prominent role in modern music.

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