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Advice on starting to play upright

Discussion in 'Double Bass Pedagogy [DB]' started by jdh3000, Nov 30, 2018.

  1. jdh3000


    May 16, 2016
    I'm thinking about getting an electric upright. Of course this would be one that's pretty much a neck.

    My question is for anyone who has moved over to playing upright; did you find it to be difficult?

    The only real fretless experience I've had was playing fiddle a little years ago, so I know It'll have to get used to that.

    Also if you have any advice on what are some decent ones of this type that come in around a thousand or less, I'd appreciate it.

    The answer to why I would want to is just to try something different. I play other instruments, and thought it could be fun to take on gigs for some songs.

    I know a couple of guys who play them, but thought I'd get a few more opinions about.

  2. keyboardguy

    keyboardguy Supporting Member

    May 11, 2005
  3. Marko 1

    Marko 1

    Mar 9, 2009
    N.E. Ohio
    Some time ago I thought about one of those (I think) "Barker" upright basses? Fretted bass guitar necks, and really cool. :)
  4. ArtechnikA

    ArtechnikA I endorsed a check once... Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 24, 2013
    It has its challenges. When I got mine I'd been playing fretless for 5 years so I was used to the intonation thing, but of course the scale lengths are different so you have a whole new muscle memory skill to develop.
    I paid not much more than that for an NXT-5 with upgraded tuners and a bunch of other nice stuff. Follow the classifieds on the DB side, where there is an EUB forum also.
    Randy Ward and jdh3000 like this.
  5. saabfender

    saabfender Banned SUSPENDED

    Jan 10, 2018
    Get a bow and learn to use it.
    John Chambliss and KUNGfuSHERIFF like this.
  6. Whippet


    Aug 30, 2014
    I am learning to play on an NS Design EU6. The best part of learning to play the electric DB is that all of a sudden, the fretless Fbass AC6 is a lot easier to play.

    DB is so different than an electric, you can't really compare it correctly. First of all you're playing less notes but because of this it's crucial to play it correctly. Right hand technique really shows if you can constantly produce the same tone. And yes, it is difficult.

    If you want to jump in and start playing right away, stick to something like the NS design. The action is low and it makes everything much more easier. Don't go to 6 string because you can't bow it. 4 or 5 at the most is the best. Get the best that you can afford. Low action is a must. Get it set up professionally when you buy it or go to someone who can do it right. Even the NS EU6 didn't play correctly out of the box and that's an expensive equipement.

    And NO. They don't sound like an upright.
    jdh3000 likes this.
  7. msb


    Jul 3, 2002
    Halifax,N,S. Canada
    Get a good teacher , they will fix any bad habits before they get ingrained . And save you a lot of grief learning .
    jdh3000 likes this.
  8. jdh3000


    May 16, 2016
    I appreciate all the good pointers.
    It's all something to think about. It would never be my main, but something I could switch over to for certain songs.
    I have a buddy that plays one, I guess my first step should be to go play around on his a bit to see if it feels right. He never played it much, but he may give me some pointers... Who knows, he might be looking to sell his.

    Thanks again!
  9. Space Pickle

    Space Pickle

    Apr 15, 2013
    Yep, playing double bass is a full time job. If you want to gig you need to spend time building endurance for pizz and slap, but if you want to be good at pizz and slap you have to practice arco...
    jdh3000 likes this.
  10. Reiska


    Jan 27, 2014
    Helsinki, Finland
    You`ll need good all-around setup on your instrument, daily practise, and most propably a bow and a teacher. It isn`t structurally a guitar and needs very different technical approach, and so you need all that to get in terms physically with the instrument and to not hurt yourself.
    jdh3000 likes this.
  11. Learn to start and end whole, half, quarter and eighth notes so they ring their true value. This goes a long way to sounding credible if your intention is to only dabble occasionally the upright.
    jdh3000 likes this.
  12. Steve Freides

    Steve Freides Former Mannes College Theory Faculty Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 2007
    Ridgewood, NJ
    My history: I went from electric to fretless electric to get used to that aspect then to a regular upright. That you played violin will help you somewhat, and since you did that, I recommend you try to bow French.

    My opinion: Learning how to stand with an upright bass is a way-too-often overlooked aspect of playing, and you're not going to address that with an electric upright. I think both students and teachers of _all_ musical instruments tend not to spend enough time on simply how you hold the thing or position yourself in relation to it, and this goes for everything from 4th grader recorder players to pianists. I think electric upright as a step isn't needed and can be counter-productive.

    I teach a number of instruments, and in all of them, I have my principles about how one should hold each but I try not to be dogmatic - everyone's body is different, and this may matter more for upright bass than just about any other instrument.

    Your bass is your dance partner. I encourage all my double bass students to find a position in which they can bow open strings without needing their left hand to steady the instrument because I believe the left hand should be free to play as needed.

    You will find plenty of people playing the bass who manage to be good at it without doing what I've suggested above, and I think they've made their life as a player more difficult than it needs to be.

    Randy Ward, jdh3000 and The Biz like this.
  13. jdh3000


    May 16, 2016
    I contacted my friend this morning and he loaned me his two NXTs, what a great guy. This'll give the the chance and time I need to decide if it's right for me.
    One is a shorter scale 5 string with a narrow neck, I never could get used to five string but I like it, thinking a four string in that woukd be fine, it also has a strap attachment since it's small enough to just be a fretless bass...
    The other has a bulky neck, but is more the neck of a double bass.
    He was telling me the shorter scale required being more precice where the longer allowed more wiggle room, which makes sense.
    Been playing on them both, seems like it may be possible. I can hear when I'm slightly sharp or flat, which I know with time and practice my fingers will go to the right spot, which is some I would've doubted has I not played a fretless instrument.

    I appreciate all of you taking the time to give me some great pointers.
    Now I just need to work a bit with them. If I can play along with recordings of all the songs our band plays, especially the more difficult ones, then I'll know...
    Thanks again!
    Reiska likes this.
  14. I spent the last few days rethinking my stance, taking deep breaths and letting my body relax (re-reading Kenny Werner!) and then adjusting the end pin according to how my body naturally accommodated the bass.

    Last night, after all these years, I truly experience a relaxed left hand. it was amazing observing how easily my fingers were able to move about the fingerboard without tension. EVERYTHING just felt right! I just wish I had this epiphany years ago. I was so focused on keeping the bass in balance that I would contort myself into a slight slant that added all sorts of unneeded tension across my shoulders and inevitably made me squeeze the bass (for absolutely no functional reason).

    I went to bed very satisfied with myself and woke up ready for anything. Great stuff Steve, the dance partner is a good analogy.
  15. unbrokenchain

    unbrokenchain Supporting Member

    Jun 8, 2011
    Asheville, NC
    Since no one's said it yet... one of the most important things for me to learn was to not use the left thumb for clinching power... to not choke the chicken as they say. Keeping the left fingers curled and pulling the whole arm towards the body rather than using the hand muscles to stop notes is imperative to not injure the hand. Once you get your stance dialed and your left and right hand techniques tuned in, you may realize that the only physical similarity between electric bass and upright is that the strings are tuned in the same intervals. Otherwise, it's a whole different game. But it's an awesome game :)
  16. Steve Freides

    Steve Freides Former Mannes College Theory Faculty Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 2007
    Ridgewood, NJ
    @The Biz, excellent! Thank you for the kind words, too.

  17. Steve Freides

    Steve Freides Former Mannes College Theory Faculty Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 2007
    Ridgewood, NJ
    I will disagree. I think on upright, and also on guitar, resisting the push of the fingers is a combination of thumb pressure on the other side _and_ the way you hold the instrument. While I think it can be instructive to try to play without left thumb pressure sometimes, I wouldn't recommend it as a general practice and I wouldn't require it of any student of mine.


    unbrokenchain likes this.
  18. unbrokenchain

    unbrokenchain Supporting Member

    Jun 8, 2011
    Asheville, NC
    I'll yield to Steve's perspective since he's a teacher and I'm sure has a lot more experience than me. I'll say, though, while I don't mean literally zero thumb pressure, I had the experience of developing painful tendonitis in the left hand and was worried that I wouldn't be able to pursue the instrument further. Had another player in town show me how to leave the thumb mostly out of the equation (which was really a lesson in how to stand/hold the bass as discussed above), and I have not had the same issues since.
  19. unbrokenchain

    unbrokenchain Supporting Member

    Jun 8, 2011
    Asheville, NC
    I suppose it's worth noting that my avatar picture was taken long before the mentioned experience :) And back when my hair was long too... anyway.
    Steve Freides likes this.
  20. damonsmith


    May 10, 2006
    Quincy, MA
    It is a lot of work and not very fun to play without getting some lessons and being able to get around with confidence. It is almost completely unrelated to bass guitar. It shares the same register and pitch, but, it pretty well ends there.
    Lessons with a teacher who has some level of classical background will set you up best. Most of your practice should be arco - this is the "fast" way.
    Unlike many years ago, a solidly made and nice sounding Hybrid bass is not too expensive. A decent bass with a carved top and at least a year of lessons are going to make it far more enjoyable. Otherwise you will just fight with it.
    You will learn to use your body more efficiently. Not squeezing with the thumb is a useful description of what you learn even if it is more complex than that as Steve points out.
    jdh3000 and Steve Freides like this.

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