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Player and Bass. Position, Posture, how to do it?

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by J_Bass, Nov 1, 2019.

  1. J_Bass


    Feb 7, 2008
    Porto, Portugal

    First of all, sorry for the lack of variety in my english, I'm not a native speaker. I'll try the best to put into words all the somewhat complex thoughts I have in my mind about this issue.

    I recently started a thread about Jazz Trios, but as I was watching some videos, I noticed that the players position varies a lot. So I would like to know some more about this issue, because there seems to be a lot of information about the subject, but it's all from the mechanical perspective. I am interested in knowing more about being really relaxed, without having to be conscious about the position of the bass and the left hand, because it distracts me from the music.

    I play double bass for just a year now, so I am a nude and crude beginner. Although I play piano since I was a child, and electric bass for almost 20 years, the double bass is a completely different thing, playing wise (and everything wise).

    I have private lessons with an excellent player and teacher. During the lesson, The guidance helps me a lot and i play better, but at home, with my bass, I struggle.

    Only recently, for about a month or two ago, I started feeling that I wasn't struggling so much with the bass anymore. For 10 months, my state of mind when practicing was divided between the music and the constant "physical presence" of the bass, and that keeps away from playing, sometimes. This is the difficult part to explain in english. It's like you're dancing with a bad partner, always stepping on your toes. But in this case , the bad partner is me. I think I am the one stepping on the bass' toes, not the other way.

    This last few months I found a way to be more comfortable when playing (always standing up). But that came with a huge cost. I lost a good part of my already scarce intonation. Now it is all over the place, even in half and first position. It's not horrible, but I notice the subtle variations.

    So, my fellow TB'ers, how do you approach this issue? How can you play for an hour or two without thinking about this part of the task?

    How do you use your body to transfer your energy to the bass?

    How do you keep yourself relaxed and avoid getting tired?

    How do you keep your left hand relaxed, avoiding to much pressure?

    Thank you all for the help, I really want to learn more about this.

    I want my practice to be like this:

    texto livro praticar contrabaixo.

    And this issue is standing in my way.

    Source: "Comprehensive Bass Method For Jazz Players" Hein Van de Geyn.

    Capa livro praticar contrabaixo.

    Thank you.
    Last edited: Nov 1, 2019
    CayGee and unbrokenchain like this.
  2. Sean Riddle

    Sean Riddle Supporting Member

    Aug 11, 2013
    Ventura, California
    So the big thing with standing is making sure your bass is balanced and that your hands don't do more work then they should. While standing may not have the total left hand freedom that sitting or a bent endpin may have, it is still absolutely possible to attain. The overall position of the bass is all a matter of preference and teacher, but I've come to notice that larger and taller people tend to lean the bass into themselves while smaller and shorter people tend to have the bass almost or entirely upright, which from what I've gathered is very common in Germany. In the end like you said in your post your hands should be focused on making music rather than holding the bass up. So continuing I can relay to you what I do and often work on with my students who stand.

    After a lot of experimentation with endpin heights and bass positions, I've settled on a moderately high endpin height with my bass leaning into me. I've found this to be the easiest for me in transferring the gravity in my body (I'm a pretty big guy) to the bass. It also makes pizz a lot easier because my right arm more or less drops through the strings rather than having to pull through them in a more upright position. The big thing though no matter what height and angle you choose is to start off each practice session getting the bass balanced on your body and see how long you can balance it before it wants to fall. Do this for a few minutes before you start working on any music. The two things I think you should be aware of is how much weight of the bass is on your body and if your knees are or aren't locked. There's obviously going to be some of the bass's weight on you, but if you and it are balanced you shouldn't get all of it. You want to able to make sure that your knees can bend, so that your legs act a bit like a spring. If they're locked it can and will hurt you (I've done it before and it's not fun) but if they're too loose you're not gonna be able to hold up the bass.

    If you don't have a bow yet get one and make it part of your practice, even if you're solely focusing on pizz playing. One thing I think will help in getting balanced and keeping your body relaxed is to start off each session with some open string long tone exercises. But don't do these with your left hand resting on the body of the bass. You want to eventually be able to do any long tone exercises without the aid of your left hand. Something I've come to notice that while playing pizz standing is that since your right hand is anchored on the fingerboard, it winds up taking a bit of the balancing load and thus it feels easier to balance the bass. The moment you throw in the bow this convenience is gone and thus makes keeping your bass balanced harder. Achieving a solid balance while playing with the bow is going to free up your body tremendously while playing both pizz and arco. And overall once you get a pretty solid balance while standing, your left hand is going to be so much freer.

    Overall pick your teachers brain about balance and what not and try out what they advocate. If it works for you that's great! If not try experimenting with some different options to see what works for you. And if you haven't yet, get a bow and add it to your practice regime! Your intonation will improve, it will help out with balancing the instrument, and it will make your pizz sound better and louder. Also check out this video on various different postures for double bass that Chris Fitzgerald made. It's a really cool resource and might be helpful for you in discovering what works best for you.

  3. J_Bass


    Feb 7, 2008
    Porto, Portugal
    @Sean Riddle thank you very much for your input.

    I have a bow, but it is exactly as you said. If I try to play with it, I loose support of the bass and the left hand has to hold it. I will add the warm up bowing exercises to my practice. Thanks for the video, I will watch it carefully.

    My teacher has an excellent posture. He plays super relaxed, standibg up or sitting. He corrects me during the lesson, and I feel better. I just can't seem to do the same at home.
  4. jsf729

    jsf729 Supporting Member

    Dec 12, 2014
    Central Maryland
    For left hand fatigue, use open strings as much as possible. They can be used more than you think. This gives your hand a momentary break to relax.
    Rice and J_Bass like this.
  5. LouisF

    LouisF Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2003
    Los Angeles, CA
    delta7fred and J_Bass like this.
  6. LouisF

    LouisF Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2003
    Los Angeles, CA
    A few more

    (John Clayton has a whole series of these)

    delta7fred, Joshua and J_Bass like this.
  7. J_Bass


    Feb 7, 2008
    Porto, Portugal
    Thanks guys. Lots of good information to guide me. I’m just finishing watching the first video and the way Bob Sinicrope holds his bass is very similar to mine, but he has the nut lower. Going to finish the videos and take some notes to see if I can improve my position and also try to play seated.
  8. Sean Riddle

    Sean Riddle Supporting Member

    Aug 11, 2013
    Ventura, California
    Sinicrope's position is definitely unusual, but it was really cool to hear his explanation of why it works for him. It's probably useless for playing with the bow, but definitely can work for pizz. Thanks Chris for including his perspective in the video!
    Chris Fitzgerald and J_Bass like this.
  9. birgebass


    Nov 7, 2011
    I find that sitting and playing eventually wears my left shoulder out. I keep a stool at my main gig, but lately it holds a cup of coffee and not my rear end. I think posture is very personal, and there is no true right answer. Watch an NBA game, every one of those guys carries themself in a slightly different way. The main thing is to modify your posture if you feel any pain. The last thing you want is pain when you play. Those injuries can pile up quick. In your case, I would mimic my teacher as much as possible, and modify as needed to what works for me. Unfortunately, it takes time. Don’t get discouraged.
  10. jsf729

    jsf729 Supporting Member

    Dec 12, 2014
    Central Maryland
    Plus forgot to mention that they're always in tune so helps in intonation as a reference point
    J_Bass likes this.
  11. J_Bass


    Feb 7, 2008
    Porto, Portugal
    Yes, I use them a lot. My teacher uses them all the time, and has insisted that I use them too.
    It has even changed the way I play the electric, in some way. I never used open strings.
    jsf729 likes this.
  12. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Great topic, and I look forward to reading the different perspectives in this thread. Apologies for the length of this post, but I'm a total nerd about this stuff, and you asked, so...

    [Verbose bass nerd rant]
    My journey with the relationship between the body and musical instruments started long before I ever touched a double bass. In college, while studying classical piano, I had an amazing musical mentor and teacher who was almost literally half my size and more than twice my age, but whose sound was easily twice as big and rich as mine. She was attempting to teach me how to play in a relaxed manner from the center of the body rather than with the smaller muscles at the extremities. One of the things she did in every lesson was to stand behind me while I was playing and manipulate my elbows and shoulders to help me see how to lead the dance that was the music from my torso rather than from my fingers.

    I'll be honest: at first I thought she was a bit crazy for saying things like "we don't play the piano with our fingers" and draping herself over me from my back and moving my body in the direction of the line I was trying to play. She used phrases like "the choreography of the body" in just about every lesson and I didn't really understand what she was talking about in any depth until years later. But she had a secret weapon - when she played the same music that I was playing to show me what she was trying to get me to do, there was no arguing with the music her tiny little frame was able to produce, and produce in a completely relaxed way that was impossibly powerful in both the physical/pianistic and musical senses. That experience was the ignition point.

    Later, experience with two martial arts that espoused the same sorts of physical philosophies opened the door further. Aikido introduced the concept of extension, where relaxed extended arms allow energy from the center to be transmitted away from the body; in this way a small motion of the torso could produced a crazy amount of force at the end of a relaxed limb. Jiu Jitsu introduced the concept of "shrimping", where drawing the body forward and inward from the center and focusing on the core and hips for power was a central concept (along with "bridging", which is its opposite, but which I haven't found a use for yet in music).

    Back on topic, at some point I discovered that the "neo cello" position - sitting on a low stool with the bass between my knees - allowed me to use these two concepts both apply pressure to the strings in the left hand and also draw the fingers through the strings in the right hand while keeping the arms and fingers relaxed.

    - In the left hand, the emphasis is on keeping the arm open enough at the shoulder and elbow to move the hand in any direction with leverage from the torso. This allows the hand to stay in a more natural relaxed position rather than the traditional spread formation, so that the fingers no longer have to reach for notes; instead the arm moves them into position to play. Instead of gripping the neck, the hand can stay relaxed with almost no pressure on the thumb on the back of the neck, and maintain a relaxed curve that was known as "monkey grip" in jiu jitsu. This grip is thumbless and keeps the forearms relaxed.

    - In the right hand, the fingers are extended in a way that simply makes them the ends of the entire arm rather than independent muscle ends of the forearm. The whole arm acts as a whip, so that a small motion of the torso/shoulder generates energy through the extended arm into the finger that is exponentially more powerful than what the small forearm muscles are capable of. Any tension in the elbow, forearm, or wrist chokes off this energy and applies stress to the joint at the constricted point. It takes a long time to calibrate this stroke, but once it starts to come into focus the right arm feels like a dance, or like it's being controlled by a puppeteer and the finger flowing through the string is just the inevitable end of the motion.

    I have not found a way to really do this from a standing position because the force it creates makes the bass always a moving target. But seated, the body moves around the bass and it cannot move except with the body. The left hand force is like a "shrimping" BJJ movement where the stop is created by drawing the arm into the body, and the monkey grip is just a shape that transfers that force into the strings. The right hand force is like a whip extension from Aikido, where energy is projected outward into the extremity in order to keep it relaxed.
    [/Verbose bass nerd rant]

    That Hein Van de Geyn quote is a beautiful description of the discovery process that we all go through in learning to relate to our instruments. I've spoken to him about this via email and it's clear that he truly loves the instrument and has an endless fascination with every thing about it, and that he sees it as a beautiful portal for each player to discover things about both music and themselves. Thanks for sharing that!
    AGCurry, marcox, wesonbass and 7 others like this.
  13. jleguy

    jleguy Supporting Member

    Jun 6, 2006
    DC Metro
    Off topic but, that's a very nice tribute to your teacher, Chris. I bet you instill the same kind of passion when teaching your bass students. I recently rediscovered my guitar and electric bass teacher that I started with in first grade, that I credit giving me the initial gift of music and hooking me up with a guitarist that I made a lot of music with in high school. My current upright teacher may not rise to the level of DORIS KEYES, but I'm pretty satisfied with who I landed with as I look back at my first two years of learning upright at 58 years old.

    Is your teacher still alive?
    Chris Fitzgerald and J_Bass like this.
  14. unbrokenchain

    unbrokenchain Supporting Member

    Jun 8, 2011
    Black Mountain, NC
    This hits home for me. I've been trying for months now to find a seated position that works for me (all the other instruments get to sit down sometimes!), have watched every posture video I can find and still coming up nil - only way I can seem to play seated is with a lot of contact with the back of the bass.. :meh: I'll find it one of these days though.

    One of the things that's helped me in playing standing, particularly with the bow, is to be aware of the balance points of the bass and to slightly tilt the bass forward when playing in the lower register. It allows the weight/resistance of the bass to help stop the note and allows me to use little to no left hand thumb pressure.
    Wasnex and J_Bass like this.
  15. J_Bass


    Feb 7, 2008
    Porto, Portugal
    Great conversation, thank you all.

    @Chris Fitzgerald thank you for the long description. I am looking for a relationship like that with my bass, I’ll get there. Really enjoyed reading the jiu-jitsu links, about the forces.

    Today I will focus on the stool. Mine goes from 62 to 81 cm (24,4 to 31,9 inches).

    As you can see from the picture, I’ve been all over the place, marking on the stool different heights I think might work.


    I am really interested in this topic. As an amateur musician (sorry to the real musicians, I shouldn’t abuse the word) I am interested in all aspects of music, like the relationship with the instrument, the way and how often we listen to music, how that translates to other aspects of our lives, etc..

    Listening and playing music (as much reading about it) is a very significant part of my life, so I like to dissect every aspect of it.

    Thank you all for helping me.

    Chris, if you speak to Hein Van de Geyn, please send him my compliments, the books are great. My teacher recommended me to get them and he was right. They are wonderful to read and to explore.

    I will share the complete pages of the practice theme,I hope this doesn’t brake any forum rules.



    As he says in the beginning of the book,

    “It’s not about the goal,
    It’s about the movement towards it.
    It’s not about being big,
    It’s about the growing itself.”
    Chris Fitzgerald likes this.
  16. J_Bass


    Feb 7, 2008
    Porto, Portugal
    I must say that two weeks ago I went through a health episode that gave me my first glimpse of mortality, a few days after I turned 39.

    I am ok and it is nothing serious. But it scared the heck out of me. I had an episode of Bell’s Palsy and now I can’t move the right side of my face. When it happened, I thought it was a stroke, but thanks to the Universe, it was just a warning to reevaluate the way I live my life. It has been very humbling and has served to stop and think about my real priorities.

    I am a high stress, full gear type of person, managing my professional activity, where I conduct a specialized practice on my patients that is not life saving related, but is very demanding and where the attention to detail is fundamental. I also have to deal with my teaching at the University, my PhD and, of course, my wonderful family, that is always there for me. In all this, music is my moment of zen. And I think I finally found my voice with the double bass.

    Music is not just music for me, it’s so much more. I’m sure a lot of you guys must feel the same way.

    Anyway, sorry for the boring post, I just thought I needed to put some personal perspective to the thread, so that everyone could better understand my goals with the double bass.
  17. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    @jleguy She passed in 2016 at 88. I stayed in close touch with her after graduation, visiting her often at home for coffee and small talk and if I was lucky, some 4 hands sight-reading of great classical symphonies until she stopped playing in about 2008. I try to pass on her lessons to my own students, but I have to admit I always feel like I'm standing in a giant's shoes when I do. Fortunately I have a picture of her on my office wall and the students all get used to me pointing in that direction often as I attempt to pay a little nugget of her wisdom forward.

    The folks I know play well seated are very conscious of the back of the bass. One thing to keep in mind is that it's OK to touch the edges of the back where it meets the sides since this doesn't really do much to dampen vibrations. As a very long legged person this is natural for me, but students who are shorter of limb often struggle with the left knee dampening the back.

    @J_Bass Hein and I exchanged a few emails after he commented on one of my videos and the conversation migrated to email. His mind is as sharp as a razor blade, and he loves to see possibilities and then go flesh them out. He shared an Excel sheet with me about an exercise he conducted with one of his students where they attempted to catalog all of the possibilities for fingering 2 octave scales. If memory serves the total came out to roughly 100. I have the greatest admiration for his contributions to the music and the field, and can only marvel at the detailed way his mind works and the seemingly endless amount of wonder and curiosity his descriptions of his journey impart. I will pass along your message. Who doesn't like a nice compliment?

    EDIT: I should mention that as I revisited those emails from 2016 to forward on the compliment, I noticed that Hein had written that he finds the whole concept of the "anti-thumb grip" approach in the left hand fascinating, but that his physiology does not work with that approach and that he finds the left hand thumb grip extremely important in his own playing. That said, he is also very much in the "many roads to Rome" school of thought and is interested in the accounts of the scenery from others who take any and all of them. Another point for him, as though he needed more points in his favor!
  18. unbrokenchain

    unbrokenchain Supporting Member

    Jun 8, 2011
    Black Mountain, NC
    That's kind of what puzzles me, I'm 6', thin and long-legged, but I haven't found a good spot for my left knee. I've tried to emulate your posture holding the bass pretty closely, but with my knees in the bouts I'm too directly behind the bass and it feels quite foreign, but turning the bass slightly results in my knee/thigh muting the back of the bass... sorry for the slight derail. I'd like to be able to play sitting down, intellectually it seems like a much better way of using the weight of the left arm, just have found it difficult in practice!
    AGCurry, J_Bass and Chris Fitzgerald like this.
  19. J_Bass


    Feb 7, 2008
    Porto, Portugal

    Same here 182cm and long legs.

    It’s exactly like you said. Left knee in the bout and the bass is in front of me and the right hand doesn’t reach the position it should. If I tilt the bass, the left knee touches the back of the bass.
    Last edited: Nov 2, 2019
    unbrokenchain likes this.
  20. Don Kasper

    Don Kasper Supporting Member

    Hey! Look on the bright side....You can sell your bow!!!
    delta7fred, unbrokenchain and J_Bass like this.

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