Standing position question

Discussion in 'Double Bass Pedagogy [DB]' started by davehertzberg, Sep 20, 2016.

  1. I've always played with my left knee helping to support the weight of the bass, and as an orchestra teacher I've taught my beginners this position as well. The new book I'm using clearly instructs students that the belly is the only point of contact with the instrument, and that has kind of thrown me. I don't remember when or from whom I learned this position, but I've never even considered holding my bass any other way. It has always made sense to me to put as little weight on the left thumb as possible to facilitate left hand movement. I have always had lower back pain, though, and now I'm wondering if I'm just holding the bass wrong and this has contributed to my back pain. I understand there are different methods and schools of thought, but have I been teaching it wrong this whole time?
  2. Steve Freides

    Steve Freides Former Mannes College Theory Faculty Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 2007
    Ridgewood, NJ
    What book?

  3. Measures of Success. I had been using Essential Elements, but there were some things about it that I don't like.
  4. Steve Freides

    Steve Freides Former Mannes College Theory Faculty Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 2007
    Ridgewood, NJ
    Leading a school orchestra or just bass lessons?

  5. Elementary school orchestra. The beginners are 3rd graders.
  6. Steve Freides

    Steve Freides Former Mannes College Theory Faculty Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 2007
    Ridgewood, NJ
    That is _young_. Around here, school band and orchestra starts in 5th grade.

    My criteria for standing is can they bow open strings without needing their left hand to hold up the bass. We start with just being able to stand without the left hand holding up the bass, and the bowed open strings is the acid test to see if they've really found something stable.

  7. Right, but I myself would have a hard time balancing the bass like that without my knee. That's how the book recommends it, and now I'm discovering it seems that this is actually the most common way of holding the bass. Just weird after playing for more than 20 years to find out that maybe I've been doing it (and teaching it) incorrectly.
  8. Steve Freides

    Steve Freides Former Mannes College Theory Faculty Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 2007
    Ridgewood, NJ
    Uh, no, you've been doing it correctly in the opinion of, well, everyone I've ever heard. It's not uncommon for the most common thing not to be the right thing.

    YosemiteSam likes this.
  9. Thanks Steve. :)
  10. Don Kasper

    Don Kasper Supporting Member

    Sure! I'll throw some gazoline on this fire! (From a recent "Orchestral Technique" thread):

    My $0.03 -
    (German Bowist, BTW.)
    I've been standing for 39 years, (and, boy, are my legs tir........) - one significant point to mention, (very different from the Karr/Klinghofer style), is that my left leg/knee is NOWHERE near touching the bass - there is at least a foot or more between the back of my bass, and my left leg/knee. (Similar to Steve Bassman's stance, above, I believe.) This means that the bass is only touching my stomach/(gut). The geometry is such that the bass is (literally) leaning into me - I maintain a fairly normal posture, except when moving up into Thumb Position. (NOTE: the bass leans a bit more into me, as I enter into TP, but that's getting OT.)
    I'm not fond of letting go of the instrument, and I've never understood the apparent NEED to have the bass balance perfectly with my hands free - In my world, I always maintain some LH/L Arm contact with the instrument (neck or top of the G side upper bout), which ensures that the bass won't fall over. Do people ever ask the Tuba player to "let go" and see if the Tuba balances by itself? (answer: NO). The bass is in a manageable position, with a predictable "lean" into me.
    This "standing dance" with the bass, does take a bit of getting used to, but I've found it to be ergonomically sound for the LH, (great for the back, too, as a normal, balanced, standing posture can be maintained - none of the "hunchback" spinal curvature that I see with some "sitting" players), and allows for a very fluid relationship with the instrument, as needed.
    I am primarily a jazz player, but I still spend (not enuf) plenty of time with the bow, and have NO access issues with bowing the E string, or moving across all 4 strings.
    Good Luck.
  11. Steve Freides

    Steve Freides Former Mannes College Theory Faculty Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 2007
    Ridgewood, NJ
    It's getting to be time for some selfies-with-bass, I can tell.

  12. Remyd


    Apr 2, 2014
    St. Louis, MO
    The belly-only thing is how I've always done it while standing. When seated, I used left knee for stability, but I haven't played that way for quite a long time.
  13. Steve Freides

    Steve Freides Former Mannes College Theory Faculty Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 2007
    Ridgewood, NJ
    FWIW, here's how it goes in my teaching studio.


    you want your left hand positioned like a "proper" classical player with your thumb more or less at the middle of the back of the neck, then you can't use your left hand to hold up the bass. When I see a belly only position, it's usually belly up to the side of the bass, and the fix I give is to have the corner of the bass hit just inside the hip bone, which means there's a little, but not much, belly on the bass, which makes it possible - although not automatic - to have the left hand where I want it to be.

    AND IF

    you have contact with the corner of the bass only and not most/all of the width of the rib


    You need your knee as a second point of contact, otherwise the bass FDGB*


    And some it depends on the size of your belly, we have to say. I'm 148 lbs. and taller than 3', which means I don't have much belly.

    * FDGB - a bikie expression for Fall Down, Go Boom.

    Thus speak I to my students.

  14. bassfiddlesteve

    bassfiddlesteve Your first second choice™ Supporting Member

    Dec 3, 2003
    Here are my comments from the "Orchestral Technique" thread that Don Kasper referenced above. The OP, a double bass newbie, posted a video in which he was using a German bow and finding it difficult to bow the E string without his body getting in the way.

    "I play German bow and I stand further behind the bass than you do and have the bass tilted back a bit more. The back corner of the bass rests against my body, but my knee does not contact the bass at all. I distribute my weight equally on both feet and keep them a shoulder's width apart. I always stand when I play and the endpin is about two feet in front of my left foot, maybe a little less depending on how far the endpin is extended. I realize several methods discuss using your left knee to support the bass while standing, but I've found no way to do this that allows you to distribute your weight equally which I believe is crucial for a relaxed stance."

    - Steve
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  15. bassfiddlesteve

    bassfiddlesteve Your first second choice™ Supporting Member

    Dec 3, 2003
    I'll also go so far as to suggest there could be a connection. When you use your knee to support the bass, your weight cannot be evenly distributed which can lead to increased tension and tilted pelvis, both of which can lead to back pain. I'm not a physical therapist, but I've worked with a few in dealing with music performance related pain, and they agree that even weight distribution and a relaxed stance is essential for increasing endurance and avoiding discomfort.

    I don't know to what degree my left hand is holding up the bass, but I have no problems maintaining a classical hand posture and shifting to access the entire fingerboard.

    - Steve
    Last edited: Sep 20, 2016
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  16. Don Kasper

    Don Kasper Supporting Member

    FWIW - (@5'8" 200lbs!) Only a small portion of the back edge of the bass is in contact with my substantial "belly" - Never the Side of the Bass - this "Hillbilly" approach leads to all sorts of E string/arco, accessibility issues.

    Nope - my knee(s) are not in contact with the bass (or anywhere near the bass, for that matter.) My bass has never FDGB.
    I not a fan of contorting the stance (i.e. - bending the left leg/shifting the weight to the right leg/curving the spine/tilting the shoulders) in order to have the left knee make contact with the bass.
    I've found that it is just not necessary and causes more problems than it solves.
    I must give full credit to my former teacher James VanDemark for getting my a** off of the stool, and helping me experiment and get comfortable with standing.
    This was a Game Changer for me - LH, RH, Posture, Contact Point of the Bow, (and later) - Jazz Pizz RH + arm geometry, looseness and weight transfer into the string.
    Tom Lane and Steve Boisen like this.
  17. Carl Hillman

    Carl Hillman

    Jan 1, 2010
    Neither of my knees touch my bass.

    That may make you feel like you have more control of the balance, but sticking your knee against the back of the bass will hinder it from vibrating and partially choke your sound.
  18. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    I did a video on this subject this summer showing how 10 different bassists hold their basses differently: 3 seated players, and 7 standing players. Three of the standing players (Lynn Seaton, Rufus Reid, and John Goldsby) tend to bow a lot, but two use angled endpins. Here's the video starting forwarded to Rufus' segment, which is followed by Lynn's and John's segments in case this might be useful:
    donfede, J_Bass, Jeff Bonny and 6 others like this.
  19. Jay Corwin

    Jay Corwin Supporting Member

    Jan 29, 2008
    Sanborn, NY
    I think you can file this one under "many ways to skin a cat".

    I'm certain that my left knee makes contact near the C/lower bout corner. Probably more so if I'm into the third set after an exhausting day.
    Chris Fitzgerald likes this.
  20. Jon Stefaniak

    Jon Stefaniak Supporting Member

    Sep 2, 2000
    Tokyo, Japan
    Of course, it depends greatly on body and bass size and what you want to do with the bass.
    This is a good start:

    (That's my new bass leaning up against the mirror in back!)

    I prefer a much steeper angle and open stance behind the bass seated or standing (alla Rabbath) but with a bass with a generous shoulders, this puts your bow at a major disadvantage when playing the g string. This is what Tom was getting at in his video talking about old English orchestra players.
    Sloping shoulders not only make it easier for your left hand, but also situates your body closer to the plane of the strings, and helps your bowing too.
    Here's a couple examples with nice viewing angles. All with Quinoil basses :

    Without multiple considerations - endpin angle, instrument size and shape - this posture is not practical.
    Rabbath's is practically polar opposite of the Karr stance. Maybe it is good to start with something in between.
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