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Holding the bass

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by Davidoc, Mar 4, 2004.

  1. Hi, I'm taking a poll to see how different players hold their instrument when playing. I have a teacher, but I am trying to broaden my horizons a little, and want to learn how many of you hold the bass. How high is the peg? How much do you lean it? Where do you lean it? I

    I want to know what options are out there, and some of the advantages and disadvantages of them. (I'm not at a state yet where I can make an educated assesment myself.)

  2. degroove


    Jun 5, 2002
    Wilmington, DE
    I hold my bass to my left hip. It leans at, I would estimate a 60-70 degree angle. The peg is set so that when I look at my bass head on, I am looking above the nut.

    I am taking lessons, and this is my second. I will post a thread on it.
  3. groovinreuven


    May 2, 2004
    Not a bad idea, but you might also just try to watch as many different people play as possible, preferably live, as well as looking at photos, to get some more ideas. Check out pictures or video of the old dance-hall bands, jazz bigbands the hollywood onstage bands, symphony orchestras etc. Those guys played for hours on end, so they knew how to find the place to be to do that.

    I remember my teacher's picture of his teacher (Roger Scott, principal bass of the Philadelphia Orchestra for 50 years) on the wall of his studio. Mr. Scott sits there, balanced, poised, and with beautiful posture. To this day I picture that image when searching for my 'power place'.

    These are all very good and valid questions. I have arrived at my current posture after many years of playing and experimenting. In a way, how I hold mine is only important to you if you can benefit from that knowledge in some way. We are all different, and many of our instruments are different as well. The real lesson here is that you have to experiment for yourself with these factors and find what works best for your body and bass. There are no hard and fast rules, but many differing schools of practice on this subject.

    That being said, there are certain underlying principles. The first is comfort. You must be comfortable, not in the sense of lying on the couch, but like an athlete poised for performance - all systems go. Any physical blocks from your posture or head position can interfere with your playing.

    To that end, then, try to stand up as straight as possible (not ramrod stiff, just balance your head - feel the 'earlobe to bum' plumb line).

    Height of the instrument/peg should match your own height and reach. Try and try again. Only you can say when it's right.

    I have tried a lot of different positions for the instrument itself regarding leaning. My bass has large shoulders, and should be played as upright as possible. An instrument with more sloping shoulders might have more leeway in this department. In general, though, you don't want to be holding the bass up with the fingering (left) hand, to keep it free to move. (a quick mental survey of my colleagues turns up that most people, like me, seek the most upright position possible for their instruments as well. This does not equal straight up and down, but no drastic lean either)

    For arco work, make sure that the inside of your elbow is always pointing to the tip of the bow. Never extend your bow arm fully, always keep a nice curve (while allowing the elbow to flex).

    The options out there are myriad. There are bent endpins, the Eggpin, stools, footstools - all kinds of stuff, none of it a magic bullet. I would avoid any accessories for now and concentrate on standing (or sitting) well. If it works for you, nobody can tell you it's wrong. You can always make an educated assessment of your own physical needs. You just need to be honest about whether something works or not.

    This is not a trivial matter you have happened upon. Holding the bass well is one of the true keys to playing freely. Keep searching, it's worth the effort, and probably not so far away.

    -no probs.
  4. junglebike


    Feb 14, 2003
    San Diego, CA
    I wonder how many others out there sit on a stool while they play?

    I started doing so after a lesson with Bob Magnusson on left hand shifting technique. He plays this way 90% of the time:

    Somewhat high stool , left foot resting on a rung so that your thigh is almost parallel to the floor. Here's the key: rest the back of the bass on your left thigh, using that leg to support the entire weight of the bass. Your right knee can be used to stabilize the side of the bass as needed.

    Using this technique, you should be able to play without using your left hand thumb at all. This prevents the poor technique crutch of clamping your thumb down on the back of the neck, and forces you to use the weight of your arm to hold the strings down. It also makes shifting much much easier.

    I've found it to be something of a revalation, and I now play this way most of thte time, both arco and pizz. It sucks bringing a stool to gigs, but it's worth it.

    Anyone else play this way?
  5. No stool for me. I used one for years and it led to back aches and, well, other aches.

    I switched to standing with the rear corner of the upper bout of the bass leaning into my "groinal area," which worked well for a while. When I got my new bass and got inspired to study the solo repertoire, I found that holding the bass straight up and down, or even leaning it forward a little bit for thumb position, gave me a better arco tone and better access to the upper regions.

    With this position, when done correctly, there need be no need for supporting or gripping with the thumb. Now I use this stance exclusively, whether jazz or classical, and I've found my stamina to be noticeably better.
  6. I adopted this method about 30 years ago after developing back problems that prevented me from standing for long periods of time. It works well for me.
  7. I'm more or less with Mike G on this - Don, in a thread who waxing lyrical about the benefits of Alexander technique put me on to trying it after years of considerable bass-lean into the body. I feel balanced on my feet and oddly I find that both hands move more freely over the bass without the bass moving unintentionally than they did when it was allegedly more anchored ot the body. I'm more balanced and relaxed too, having equal weight on either feet and the freedom to move if I choose, and even if the bass moves it does not do so without taking the same relationship to my hands with it. However, I haven't tried playing thumb position without the thumb and leaning the bass forward, though I do sometimes lean it - I'll be trying this one when I get home tonight.
  8. Chasarms

    Chasarms Casual Observer

    May 24, 2001
    Bettendorf, IA USA
    I play standing with the bass pretty much straight up and down. The pin is set so that nut is even with my eye.

    I prefer this to the bass leaning into me. I am a fairly large person with long arms, so with the bass leaning in, my left arm feels too much folded in on itself.

    With my height and arm length, I have no issues with the shoulders even with the bass perpendicular to the floor.

    My teacher is fairly small and leans it to him quite a bit.

    I think this is one part of your technique that is driven more by your body type than anything else.
  9. Johnny L

    Johnny L

    Feb 14, 2002
    Victoria, TX
    I alternate between 2 schools of thought:
    • The bass leans towards the body at an angle, with the endpin extended so that the nut is at eyebrow level in playing position.
    • The bass is held vertically against the body with additional support from the left leg. The endpin is adjusted high enough to use the bow near the bridge without discomfort.
    For the first bullet, I use an angled endpin to remove some of the weight off my left thumb. Otherwise, the thumb prevents the bass from falling back altogether.

    For the second bullet, I use a straight endpin to keep the bass from falling forward. There's no weight on the left thumb to contend with. It's my favorite way to stand as well, because it's easier for me to keep the bow near the bridge when I want no matter what note I'm playing.

    As far as thumb position goes, I was taught to use separate strategies. First bullet - the neck rests on my shoulder. Second bullet - my armpit lays on top of the heel of the neck.

    A few people I've discussed standing strategies with who prefer to sit on a stool seem to warm up a little more when I talk about the bass leaning against me at an angle and letting the neck rest on my shoulder for thumb position. But I'm in full agreement with Chas, that your body type and what is comfortable to you is going to make the choice for you in the long run, and it will likely be a hybrid model of some sort after you figure all this stuff out and are instead concentrating on making music.
  10. godoze


    Oct 21, 2002
    No stools for me. I play standing up, most of my body weight on my right leg with the bass leaning into my belly (plenty o' cushion there).

    I've tried on oaccasion to play with the bass perfectly upright but I feel as though I'm going to drop it.
  11. Don Higdon

    Don Higdon In Memoriam

    Dec 11, 1999
    Princeton Junction, NJ
    An interesting discovery for me was less stressful body use and better access to thumb position by lowering the endpin, so that you drop (relax) your shoulders and lean forward from the hips, maintaining a straight line in the spine from tail to cervical vertebrae C1.
  12. Yes! When I first started experimenting with the "vertical bass" stance, I was having a lot of trouble getting comfortable and was about to give it up. When I dropped the endpin a notch, things immediately felt better.

    It kinda goes contrary to reason the LOWERING the bass would make playing thumb position easier, but there you have it.
  13. McBass


    Mar 31, 2004
    Brooklyn, NY
    For anyone who hasn't tried it yet, the bent endpin is an essential experience. You have to try it for at least an hour, though. Then immediately go back to the straight endpin. You'll be amazed at how much weight and tension is placed on the left thumb with a traditional straight endpin. Also, no more bending over for thumb position. I can reach up to a high g in thumb position without bending my back or leaning forward. I'm certain my back and shoulders will thank me in the years to come.
  14. Don Higdon

    Don Higdon In Memoriam

    Dec 11, 1999
    Princeton Junction, NJ
    That's the problem. How do I try it without having to keep it if I don't like it? I don't want anything that requires drilling, and I expect to want it adjustable.

    Hmmmm. "McBass" Does your instrument come with fries?
  15. McBass


    Mar 31, 2004
    Brooklyn, NY
    Nothing permanent. To try it, just measure your endpin diameter and take that measurement to your local hardware store. Buy a corresponding diameter of steel rod (less than 5 bucks). Take it home and estimate the length you'll need for about a 45 degree angle with about 6 to 8 inches inside the instrument. Stick the rod in a vise, or between two strong, imovable pieces of metal (I used the radiator in my apartment) and bend it to the desired angle. Probably somewhere between 30 and 45 degrees. Put it in your endpin socket with it pointing straight back so that the bend is just below the end of the plug. Play. The bent pin will probably rotate some in the socket and, depending how tall you are, will bounce a little. Play with the rotation of the pin until you get where it feels best and then file a flat spot on the rod where the thumb screw contacts. That should keep it at your prefered orientation. If you don't like the angle, bend it again.

    It'll take a while to find the balance point, but when you do you should be able to take your hands away from the bass and have it suspended for a few seconds without it falling. You should be able to reach the full range of your bass by only moving your left arm. I have my nut at about eye level when the bass is leaning into me. Rabbath's method for finding the correct height is to hold to bass infront of you at a full arm's length with your left hand just above the heel of the neck and your arm parallel to the floor. Thats your goal height. After about an hour, try the bass with your original pin. Notice the pressure on the left thumb and how conscience you are of holding on to the neck to control it.

    If you like the end pin and want to keep it a while, you can file or grind a point on it so it digs in to wood floors, or you can put a rubber tip on.
  16. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    I sit in this "neo cello" position, and have for years. What I like about it is that the left thumb has nothing to do with pressing down the string, so there is a great deal of freedom gained. I think there's a pic or two of this position on my site (see signature). Also, there's another thread around here somewhere on the subject. If I can dig it up, I'll post a link.
  17. I blew my back away years ago using a stool, nothing I can do except that now.....If I were born again, I would be a Rabbath stancer all the way.
  18. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Okay, LUNG GALLERY's three page monster thread on stools can be found Here.. Turns out I don't have any pictures up on my site in my "new" seated position with both legs up on the upper rungs and my right knee in the bass bout...suffice to say, I still like this position a lot, and it feels a lot healthier on my back than anything else I've tried - it's kinda like sitting cross-legged in that it keeps your lower back straight, only you don't lose your circulation. To each his own, I guess.
  19. LM Bass

    LM Bass

    Jul 19, 2002
    Vancouver, BC
    I'm a "stander". I think it's really important to find what works for you personally, but I believe I have a bigger tone and less back stress this way. Mr. Higdon pointed out that lowering the endpin helped him out, and I've done that lately too. I find I can get more sound, and I don't bump into my bass' big shoulders as much. One thing about the completely vertical or "leaning forward into the fingers" stance, is that the area from E-G on the G string seems a bit more problematic to shift around, than when sitting.

    On another note, I am always surprised at the stools some bassists sit on! I've seen Orchestra bassists using those really hard metal stools -creaky, cutting off blood flow, and hard on the back -for years. If I was going to have to sit every day, I would certainly spend the money for something really high-end and adjustable.
  20. Nuno A.

    Nuno A. Velvet Strings Customer Service

    Jul 9, 2001
    It was the same with me, i used to play with the endpin very high and kinda get used, however after i lowered the endpin, i start to feel way more confortable and it was easier to play on thumb position,which is something that i just couldnt believe at the begining... i tried to sit on a stool for a couple of times, but i just couldnt play for more than 15 mn without back pain...


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