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Should I learn the Double Bass?

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by jwelz, Jan 24, 2006.

  1. jwelz


    Jan 24, 2006
    A friend recommended I should try this site. I'm sure this question has been asked before, but not, perhaps, by an older adult. I'm in my 50's and I've been thinking of taking up the cello or double bass. I have had lessons in both instruments in the past (briefly) but I never had time to really focus on them. I would like to play in an amateur orchestra. An acquaintance suggested I give the double bass serious consideration, because, in his view, the orchestral parts would be more attainable and because the double bass could be used in other settings (e.g., jazz). I find the cello appealing because of its ability to carry a melody and, frankly, it's smaller. I'm wondering if my acquaintence's assessment of the advantages of double bass is realistic and whether any of you struggled with the same considerations.

    - Josef W
  2. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    Generally, the double bass is a pain in the ass.

    It's big. It's bulky. Usually heavy. Schelpping the bass plus gear isn't easy. The strings have ALOT of tension, and if you're not careful you could permanently injure yourself. Intonation is hard. Bowing standing up is weird and isn't easy. If you play pizz then you'll probably get lots of blisters. A decent instrument is expensive. There's alot of wood in a bass, so if you live where the seasons change alot then it's prone to crack. Repairs are expensive and a good luthier, depending on where you live, can be hard to find. On and on...

    But despite all that, I can say for myself (and others will probably say the same) that I'm smitten. I love playing it and I love the sound it makes. I'm hooked on it. I get withdrawals if I don't practice regularly enough.

    So I say, play bass cuz you wanna play bass or because it speaks to you. I dunno, maybe cello is easier.
  3. Justin K-ski

    Justin K-ski Supporting Member

    May 13, 2005

    Nearly every single aspect of playing the double pisses me off. In addition to the pains listed above, people make annoying comments, the soft covers really don't portect the instrument that well and carrying a stool makes me want to die.

    That being said, I love everything about playing bass. It's sound, its presence the shape of the instrument even looks like a beautiful woman.
  4. I'd say your friends assessment is pretty accurate. Depending on the repertoire, in community orchestras, the bass parts can be pretty easy (down beats, potato notes, etc) for a novice player. However, the bass rarely gets to play melody. If that's your bag, and you want to play orchestra music, I'd choose the cello. Otherwise, you can do as I do and noodle away in the practice room practicing melodious bass sonatas and concertos you'll never perform in public :p .

    The size thing never bothered me. But I actually like hatchbacks and station wagons.

    Personally, I started playing the bass by default; a void in the school orchestra needed to filled, and I was just the sap to fill it. I ended up loving the instrument. I suspect many here have a similar story.
  5. I started studying double bass, almost four years ago. I'm fifty five years old now, and have been playing in a communitiy orchestra for the past two and a half years.

    Everthing said above is true, but I feel it is worth it. The first time you take your place in the bass section, and feel your self to be a part of making beautiful music, you will likely feel the same.

    Yes, there seems to be a need of bassists, and I would imagine it is easier to find a spot as a bassist. While it is true that in some music the double bass parts are less challenging than the first violins, or the cellos, and may not require complete mastery of the instrument, you will find Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, and Haydn, plenty challenging and frustrating.

    The point is I started at 51, and was playing in an orchestra about a year later, albeit, in way over my head, and it has gotten better, more fun, and more rewarding ever since.

    If you can afford the equipment and the lessons, go for it.
  6. Freddels

    Freddels Musical Anarchist

    Apr 7, 2005
    Sutton, MA
    Well . . . if you decide not to learn either of these instruments . . . what will you do in your spare time?

    Pick the one that speaks to you. Which instrument sound do you prefer?

    Go for it.
  7. Uncletoad


    May 6, 2003
    Columbus Ohio
    Proprietor Fifth Avenue Fret Shop. Technical Editor Bass Gear Magazine
  8. Reuben


    Aug 8, 2005
    Brooklyn, NY
    Dr. Sypher speaks for me. I became a bassist somewhat by accident, switching from the guitar when I discovered the subtle power we have in an ensemble. Sometimes merely changing which octave you play a root note in has an awesome effect on the entire sound of the group. Stuff like this whet my appetite to delve deeper and deeper into the bass, and the world of sound.

    It's a good life!
  9. Sumguy7787


    Jan 12, 2006
    The one thing I love so much about double bass is the POWER. You are the backbone of the song and you drive the song. When I listen and play I can feel the vibrations of the bass go through my body. The sound is so much more thick than a cello or guitar.
  10. jwelz


    Jan 24, 2006
    LOL! I thought intonation was hard just for me. Frankly, the cello doesn't do anything for me. Do I really want to play it? No, I want to play in groups and that's not the instrument I want to play (I'm not berating any string instrument..they're all wonderful). I like being at the bottom. I don't want to be the mush in the middle. If I want to "play tunes", I'll work on jazz solos...or putz with a viola da gamba. Of course, a BASS viola da gamba (they're tuned in 4ths).

  11. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    Well if cello's not your bag, then why are you asking us for?

    Start shopping for a bass to buy or rent and get crackin! :D
  12. Libersolis


    Sep 9, 2004
    Austin, TX
    No one here is going to say anything negative about playing the bass :) Sure it can be a pain in the ass, but the sound is just too magical to stay away..
  13. JayR


    Nov 9, 2005
    Los Angeles, CA
    I play both and I enjoy bass a lot more. I dont want to sound like a dick, but frankly cello is a LOT easier to play, but not in a satisfying way. I like to feel like I'm working for every note I put out. As an example, say, I learned the bourrees from the 3rd cello suite at about the same time on bass and on cello (I'm kind of a novice cellist). The execution of the same music on cello is far simpler, but I find that when I play bass I give my full awareness to every note I play simply because the physical effort needed to produce sound is so much greater. Bass, however, is much easier to get good at fast than cello. In my opinion. Except you have to worry about giving yourself godawful tendonitis when you're developing. I did that when I was trying to get good and practicing 4 hours a day, before I had the hand strength and proper technique built up, and I still have leftover pain from that. Still. Never totally goes away. Am I making a coherent point here? Kind of doubt it.
  14. jwelz


    Jan 24, 2006
    JayR, in what context are you playing cello and/or bass? And what doyou mean that you can get better at bass faster than cello?

  15. bdengler


    Jan 23, 2000
    New Albany, Ohio
    JayR, I have "godawful" tendonitis on my left hand index finger. How did you build up your hand strength? Is your tendonitis still bothering you?

  16. JayR


    Nov 9, 2005
    Los Angeles, CA
    I still am fighting with the tendonitis I got from a few years ago, and it's something that I get on and off. I'm kind of in maintenance mode right now. It's something that I keep under control 90% of the time just by stretching and taking breaks in my practice routine, but if I overwork myself (IE 4 hours of rough playing with no breaks at all) I'll get a flare-up and my arm will hurt like a bitch for about a week. I've never had anything in my fingers specifically, but I think that could be remedied by working to be sure you press the string with the weight of your arm and not just your finger's muscles. As far as cello v bass goes, I find cellists end up with a lot of right arm tendonitis issues as it's a really easy instrument to play tense. Because of this, I only play cello for my own enjoyment inside the walls of my own house. I tried playing it in a community orchestra for a few rehearsals, but they decided they needed me as a bass player more and, for the life of me, I can't do the tenor clef transposition on something that's not a bass. I play bass really actively in 3 diff orchestras and practice regularly. Cello, I never practice anymore, simply because it actually makes my tendonitis worse and throws off my bass playing.