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Sit at a bass, like a cello?

Discussion in 'Orchestral Technique [DB]' started by Common Tater, Jan 23, 2017.

  1. Common Tater

    Common Tater

    Jan 15, 2016
    I'm taking bass lessons now at university, this is my second semester doing this as a one credit class to fulfill a general education requirement. A couple problems came up in lessons before and I thought I might discuss with experienced players here. First thing is that I am quite tall, 6 feet and 5 inches. Second is that I busted up my feet in the Army and they are now arthritic, which now makes standing for any length of time uncomfortable or even painful. While sizing up a bass for me the music school staff had a problem finding a bass big enough and with a long enough end pin for me to play standing, not that I'd play that way for long. I was able to find a stool to sit on for playing, it wasn't easy but we found one. Even while sitting I can feel uncomfortable as it seems like I'm still putting too much weight on my feet.

    One thing I considered is just finding a low stool or chair, pushing in the end pin, and sit at the bass much like a cello player would play a cello. I suggested this to my instructor the last semester I had lessons but he said it was unlikely the course supervisor would allow this. So I played on a high stool for the semester. Another thing I thought is that I'm just doing this wrong, and I need to adjust my "stance" (or whatever you'd call it) while playing on a stool.

    Should I be more adamant about wanting to sit on a low stool while playing? Are there some resources to show this as a proper playing technique? Should I try some smaller change in how I play? What kind of change would that be? The school of music at the university is oriented toward instructing students on orchestral technique, or at least that is my impression, so I pose my question in this sub-forum. If there is a better place to discuss this then I'll ask a moderator to move this thread to the proper place.
  2. jallenbass

    jallenbass Supporting Member Commercial User

    May 17, 2005
    Bend, Oregon
    A number of professionals play sitting on a low stool and approach the double bass similarly to a cello. It shouldn't be a big deal.
    wathaet, Shane_Thomas and salcott like this.
  3. Adam Booker

    Adam Booker Supporting Member

    May 3, 2007
    Boone, NC
    Endorsing Artist: D'Addario Strings, Remic Microphones
    Check out Catalin Rotaru. World class player, and sits low. I've been slowly changing my form in this direction, with both feet on the ground. My back has never felt better.
  4. Common Tater

    Common Tater

    Jan 15, 2016
    So I should merely be more "assertive" in my request? It sounds like playing this way isn't "wrong" really, just uncommon? I didn't push the issue last time because it wasn't that big of a deal, the practice rooms, lockers, etc. were all very close together in the old music building. In the new building I now have to pick up my bass from the locker in the basement, take the elevator to the second floor, get a stool from the auditorium, get back in the elevator, go up to the fifth floor, and carry both the bass and the stool to my instructor's office down the hall, then reverse those steps after the lesson. So part of the problem is just carrying this stuff around the building, and that bass isn't exactly light. Maybe it's a matter of having to walk so much while carrying this stuff that is making me uncomfortable while playing.

    I asked if I could leave the stool in the instructor's office. No, can't do that, not enough stools to go around. I asked if I could take my lessons in one of the basement practice rooms. No, can't do that, not enough rooms. I considered just buying my own stool and leaving it in my instructor's office, which I assume he would not mind but I'll ask. If not using a stool I can just use the desk chair or the piano bench in his office, either of those should be the right height.

    One thing I've considered, and this is something of a tangent from the original question, is getting an electric upright bass. That would be lighter. I doubt I'll find an EUB with a long enough end pin anyway so I'd likely have to play that sitting down. I mentioned this as a possibility to my instructor last year and he discouraged it since an EUB is a different instrument, it's not the same as playing a "real" bass. If I'm going to continue playing, and not just use this class for credits, then I'll need an instrument. I don't see myself keeping such a large object as a full sized bass in my little house, and still be able to play it with any regularity. I'd want something I'd be able to take with me to family gatherings and the like. I figure that if I buy this instrument while I'm taking lessons then I can learn on the instrument I'll be playing in the future, not the one I'd rent from the school and never see again after the semester.

    Anyway, that's just a few more points to consider. Thanks for the replies so far.
  5. Les Fret

    Les Fret

    Sep 9, 2009
    Well it isn't exactly like a cello player would sit though. Because a cello player has both legs 'around' the cello so to speak whereas on bass the left leg is at the back of the bass. A bass is too big to put both legs around.
    I don't see much difference than playing with a higher stool. Only you have both feet at the ground and have the endpin lower. I can not understand why someone would not allow this. What is the reason behind that? Some old school dogma perhaps? Just do what feels comfortable for you. That might be different than what feels comfortable for your teacher. Everyone is different.
  6. Adam Booker

    Adam Booker Supporting Member

    May 3, 2007
    Boone, NC
    Endorsing Artist: D'Addario Strings, Remic Microphones
    Discuss this with the teacher. Let him or her know about your disability and your veteran status. These are buzzwords in academia and any professor that wants to stay employed will usually bend over backwards to accomodate. Especially if you bring up the department chair...

    Thank you for your service!
    andonbray, Oddly, LM Bass and 2 others like this.
  7. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    This is true. Still, there is something "cello-like" about sitting on a low stool, because it tends to open up the bass and put the player's body more behind it than beside it.

    In my experience, the difference is greater than that. The center of balance of the body is lower, the bass is often angled differently, and feet on the floor (or on a rung that is the same height for both feet instead of the common staggered rungs on taller stools) tends to set the body in a more symmetrical position as regards the hips, legs and back. I agree that there shouldn't be too much pushback against this, especially if it is for physical accommodation in a one credit course.
    Adam Booker and Phil Rowan like this.
  8. Phil Rowan

    Phil Rowan Supporting Member

    Mar 2, 2005
    Brooklyn, NY
    This is exactly why, when the stools at wherever I'm rehearsing are too high for me, I bring along two yoga blocks so that both feet and be on the ground with my legs bent at the knee, most weight going into my sit bones, lower back ever so slightly slumped. I try to "release" into things, a la Alexander Technique.

    Also, keep in mind that finding the sitting (or for that matter standing) position that works best for an individual bass player takes a bit of trial and error, experimenting, etc. Having come from a jazz background, it took me a while to even begin trying to sit in orchestral settings.
    Last edited: Jan 24, 2017
    Adam Booker and Chris Fitzgerald like this.
  9. jsf729

    jsf729 Supporting Member

    Dec 12, 2014
    Central Maryland
    You could also try a a variant that I have used. Sit on a "bar" stool with your left leg on a rung of the stool and your right foot on the floor. This position creates a natural place for the bass to rest- that is against your inner left leg. If you take your left hand off of the bass, it will still stay nice and balanced. And you'll still have the correct angle to play. Just angle so that when you are bowing on the E string, your right leg is not in the way. Plus these stools are relatively light in weight. The only downside to this- which isn't an issue for you at this point- is that it will inhibit the bass from vibrating optimal with your leg muffling the back. Especially if it fully carved. Good luck!
  10. There is an extensive thread, "Finding a comfortable sitting position", in the Pedagogy forum to check out.
  11. CSBBass


    Sep 21, 2013
    I wouldn't even consider it especially uncommon, particularly for (although this seems somewhat backwards at first) taller individuals. As someone who is 6' 3" myself, I am absolutely more comfortable sitting with a lower stool, and I've actually found it to help my technique (particularly right arm) because with the endpin extended just a couple inches, I can set the bass to lean towards me more rather than being more vertical as it usually would be when sitting higher up, and this allows for me to more easily relax the weight of my right arm into either the bow or my plucking fingers if I'm playing jazz.

    Being overly tense in general can be harmful to your playing, and you may not even notice it at times. I know there have been times when I had to carry my bass long distances repeatedly for a few days or weeks, and the initial soreness in the shoulder/arm/back from lugging it around definitely made a difference when I played. One of my saving graces thus far has been getting a wheel for the bass--perhaps consider getting a wheel like this one ( K.C. Strings Bass Buggie ) to make getting around the building a little less of a chore. Something like that can really make your life easier.

    This isn't a bad idea--but if you do it, I would suggest an adjustable one. As a student myself, I've adjusted my stool height many times over the years and think I've found something that I'll likely stay with for quite some time. However, if I hadn't had an adjustable stool, that would've required trying different stools at different heights, borrowing stools, buying new stools, etc. Would've been a massive hassle and made the exploration a lot more difficult, and seeing as you're still searching for a comfortable position, you may be exploring for some time before you find what you're really happy with.

    One comment about desk chairs/piano benches--in theory that's a plausible option for someone who sits low, like me, but there is such a thing as too low with the bass. Being only a couple inches shorter than you myself, the bass itself is still too tall for me to sit THAT low with it, even with the endpin all the way in. My left arm would be pretty far above my head, right arm awkwardly bent to reach a good point of contact for the bow, etc. And if you try to lean the bass towards you more to mitigate those issues, you'll end up with the bass resting on the wood seam where the bottom meets the back, rather than the endpin. I don't know if that poses any risk to the instrument itself, but even if it doesn't, the wood is slippery and doesn't have any grip like the rubber tip or sharp point on your endpin, thus it'll end up slipping all over the place. As someone who much prefers to sit when playing and has ended up with no stool once or twice, I've attempted the chair thing and quickly decided standing would be more productive even though I've never been as comfortable standing and playing. Certainly, give it a shot, but you'll most likely want a stool that's a good 6-12 inches taller than most chairs. (For reference, the average chair is about 18 inches tall--the average barstool that many people talk about using would be anywhere from 24-30 inches).

    If this is really the truth for you, then by all means go for getting an EUB. Most EUB's come with stands so that standing it very possible, by the way, so the thought that it would force you to sit isn't entirely likely. But if you think that's the instrument you want to play in the long run, get one and give it a shot. Ultimately, music should be fun, and if fun is the only thing you want to play bass for than do it in the way that makes you happiest, and induces the least stress. Hopefully your teacher would be understanding of the fact that you're doing this for your own enjoyment and not with the intention to try and win a symphony job, in which case doing a lot of your playing on a "real" upright would be fairly important.

    This is quite common--however, if foot pain is something the OP is already experiencing, this could be pretty uncomfortable for the left foot, especially if he ends up sitting on a lower stool. I found that the pressure of the rung on my left foot for long periods of time wasn't particularly comfortable for me, though obviously many other players do not suffer from this as evidenced by the number of people who play in this position. I suspect the issue has to do with my height--because my legs have to bend more in order to get my foot up to a rung of a certain height compared to someone with shorter legs, this exerts more pressure on the knee and also on the foot to maintain the more sharply angled position of the leg. Perhaps that's not entirely accurate--I'm neither a physician nor an engineer so my logic may be flawed there but it makes sense to me anyways. This is a big part of why both feet on the floor is my default sitting position now, as well as that it feels much more natural to have both of my feet aligned at a similar height, thus not throwing off my hips and lower back.

    The thread David Potts suggested is really great--check it out. There are some very interesting approaches, a lot of similarities and key differences and just a lot of great food for thought when it comes to how you physically approach the bass.
  12. Roger Davis

    Roger Davis

    May 24, 2006
    I went to a rehearsal a few weeks ago with my Kolstein Travel bass and was feeling a bit slobby. So I got a standard pub stool, kept the endpin fully in and played with the bass back resting against my left knee. It proved very comfortable, was dead easy to play and I didn't feel/look at all slobby. Might do it again some time.
  13. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Here's the link to the thread David mentions. It's a good informative thread that the OP would do well to check out.
  14. I adopted some of Rabbath snd Totellier's ideas about a more horizontal position and find the arm weight better used in both hands- more relaxed, beter sound for longer periodsand less pain. I sit on a cheap $13 folding stool that is light and portable. I carabinered my xeros stop to keep it on. You should be able to sit with good symmetry with your feet on the ground given your leg length.
  15. CaseyVancouver


    Nov 4, 2012
    Rinat Ibragimov appears to do pretty not too bad at the bass, playing it kinda like a cello.
    He also holds his bow a bit different. His first instrument was cello. Of course he is a gifted soloist that plays a lot in the highest registers, not really like most of us.
    Maybe I'm posting this just to watch him play haha.

    Here he is, playing the bass A A Stepanov gifted him.

    Last edited: Mar 11, 2017
  16. It can't be exactly like a cello, but the point (Rabbath's and Tortellier's) of horizontal positions is to get gravity to do the work and to be able to save the energy wasted in propping up a vertical bass and pulling back on the fingerboard.
    Tom Lane likes this.
  17. Common Tater

    Common Tater

    Jan 15, 2016
    I've been meaning to keep this conversation going for weeks now, if only to thank everyone for the feedback. I've had a couple lessons since my last post, with spring break leaving a gap in the middle. What I've been doing is using the instructor's stool, which is a few inches shorter than the one I've been using before and is at a comfortable height for me. This has proven convenient for me since I don't have to worry about having to borrow a stool from the auditorium. The instructor simply stands to play during my lesson.

    For my practice sessions I will use one of the practice rooms in the basement of the music building, they all have a chair and sheet music stand. To avoid having to find a stool I've been just using the chairs in the practice rooms. I'll either flip the chair around and sit on the top of the back of the chair, or sit on the chair normally and just lean back with the end pin set low.

    Sitting on the back of the chair brings me to about the right height but it's a bit uncomfortable on my rear end. It's a good position to practice, especially for my bowing technique. When doing my fingering practice I'll sit on the seat of the chair which makes bowing a bit unnatural but its easier on my feet, back, and rear end. The instructor did say he keeps a stool by his locker near the practice rooms that I could borrow, but whenever I go to use it I can't find it. I think someone "stole" it and never put it back. I forgot to mention this issue in my last couple lessons.

    I saw a few suggestions on putting my feet on a rung of the stool but I don't think that would be very comfortable, I think that would put pressure on the arch of my foot. Now that the weather is a bit warmer I've been wearing running shoes, which are light, have plenty of cushion in the sole, but not much of a heel to keep my foot on the rung. In the winter I'll wear my Doc Marten boots, they have a heel to "hook" onto a rung but are a bit heavy so I only wear them when there is snow and ice to deal with.

    A couple lessons ago I started the lesson asking the instructor about choices of seating and instruments. I ended up not playing but instead we talked the entire lesson. Based on that chat with my instructor and what I've read here I have an idea on what to look for in a seat. If I'm going to do these lessons for a while, which I think I will do as long as my GI Bill money lasts, then I might want to invest in a proper seat.

    This gets to a different topic, a choice of instrument. In my discussion with my instructor he made a curious suggestion. He said if I didn't have a lot of money to spend on an upright bass, but wanted something real cheap to practice with at home, that I should consider getting a fretless bass guitar. I thought even mentioning a bass guitar was some kind of heresy or blasphemy coming from an upright bass player but he did in fact say that getting a bass guitar might be a good idea to stay in practice.

    His argument was that while the bass guitar and upright bass are obviously two different instruments that there is still value in having a bass guitar for practice. The argument was that I could practice my left hand fingering, keeping tempo, and reading music with the bass guitar. I could not practice my bowing but I can focus on that when I'm on campus with the bass provided by the university. He said a moderately priced bass guitar, at about $200, would be a better investment than trying to find even a cheap upright bass, which would be at least $1000 and not include a bow. I'll spend $200 on a textbook for a class and not even blink, spending $1000 on a bass is quite an investment. The bass guitar would also be much easier to move and store, and if I decide I don't need it any more it would also be much easier to sell off.

    What does everyone think, would getting a bass guitar be a good idea?

    I went to the local Guitar Center to ask about pricing and such and found a couple options I'd consider. At the top of my list are a couple that cost just a hair over $200. One is an acoustic/electric which is light and does not need a speaker to make sound. The other is a pure electric which is of standard dimensions (making finding cases easier and raises resale value), but is heavier and needs a speaker. The guy at the store said that if I don't care much about quality or volume of the sound that I could just use amplified computer speakers until I decide that I want to invest in something more suitable. Does that sound right to you?

    Since I've gone on for so long already I'll make this post a bit longer yet with one last thought. I mentioned the idea of building an electric upright bass to my instructor and I'm pretty sure he thinks I'm insane for even pondering it. I'm pretty handy with tools, I've seen online how people have done it, and if things get too far I should be able to get my brother to help out. My older brother makes custom furniture and other complex items from wood and metal. When I first posed the idea to him he thought I was insane. When I pointed out what parts I could get already made, and I didn't need (or want) a large and complex sound box, then he thought it would be a manageable project.

    If I'm going to build my own EUB then my first problem is choosing a scale length. I figure I have really three choices, 42 inches (like a 3/4 upright bass), 34 inches (like a standard bass guitar), or 27 inches (like a cello and short scale bass guitar). Finding a fingerboard, neck, bridge, and other parts for 42" and 27" basses would be trivial. For the longer scale I can just get 3/4 scale upright bass parts, for the shorter scale I could use 4/4 cello and short scale bass guitar parts. One might think that making a 34" scale EUB would be trivial but I was not able to find parts unless I went with a flat bridge, in which case I'm really just building a bass guitar and I can find those too cheap to bother building one.

    Would I be insane to try building my own EUB?

    Thanks again for all the advice so far, I really appreciate it.
  18. james condino

    james condino Spruce dork Supporting Member Commercial User

    Sep 30, 2007
    asheville, nc
    How many times do you want to hear this, "Look...he's playing a cello....."?????

    Gigcello'd, not my favorite.....
    damonsmith likes this.
  19. Common Tater

    Common Tater

    Jan 15, 2016
    This somehow is different than what I can expect with a 3/4 scale bass?

    If I do decide to make a cello sized bass (wait, is that like a puppy sized elephant?) then I'm not sure it'd look like a cello. I'd likely keep it simple, and have it look like a board with stings. This means it'd look a lot like many other electric upright basses out there.

    If I did make a cello sized bass, and make it look kind of like a violin family instrument, then I'd have some fun with it. I'd try to keep the body thin and light for reasons of keeping it easy to move and store but I'd also put a chin rest on it to make it look like an oversized violin. If anyone asks then I'd tell them it's a "bass fiddle" and then proceed to put it to my chin and play a few notes. I got long arms, I could make it work. If I do it right then I think I could make it so it'd fit in a standard acoustic guitar case.

    Then I'd get people to ask me why I'm playing a guitar with a bow.

    I thought I'd test the theory of using computer speakers on an electric bass guitar. I took my smallest amplified computer speaker to Guitar Center and asked the staff if I could experiment, they agreed to let me try. I hooked it up and I was able to get an acceptable level of sound out of it, or at least I thought it would be if I was in my home with less background noise. With that question answered I'm more confident of the practicality of getting a bass guitar to practice with.
  20. Bisounourse


    Jun 21, 2012
    Gent, Belgium
    Just go for an electric bass and a little combo amplifier. Both can be found on the second hand market for not that much money.

    If you're making a cello sized EUB, you'll just end up with a cello tuned in 4ths. And for bowing: there is a slight and subtle difference between bowing a cello(like instrument) and a DB (In my opinion, YMMV).
    etorgerson likes this.

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