The Physical Demands of the Double Bass

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by flyingmarcel, Nov 28, 2004.

  1. Greetings,

    I am currently righting a research proposal, with my research interests focusing on the occupational health of musicians, namely double bassists. I am nearly finished (and think I've done a pretty good job of outlining the reasoning, methodology, as well as signifiicance of my proposed work) BUT....

    I need one more thing and could really use the help of some of you. I have been searching for a really good reference outlining the physical demands of the double bassist focusing in both the jazz and classical areas of music. I could probably right something that would characterize these things well, but am looking for a legitimate "referencable" paper/book/document etc that will add validity to my argument. I have been searching extensively for such a source, but have yet been unsuccessful. Any help, as always, will be very much appreciated.

    Thank you in advance

  2. NJL


    Apr 12, 2002
    San Antonio
    sounds interesting

    bump for you

  3. Have you heard of the Alexander Technique? I am unqualified to clearly explain it but several folks here (Don Higdon and Ray Parker come to mind immediately) are proponents. In fact, Don is in the process of becoming a teacher of Alexander. As I understand it, AT is a approach to the instrument designed to prevent the injuries and complications you are researching. Chances are Don might be able to steer you toward some specific information/research that could benefit you. If you don't get any good responses, I would suggest you PM Don and discuss the matter with him.

    You might also try Bob Gollihur's site (click here)
    Toward the bottom of the page he has several links dealing with DB injuries and problems. I think it also has some info on AT.

    Good Luck.
  4. There was an article in Double Bassist magaizine a few years ago relating to the physical hazzards of DB playing and how to avoid them. You might start there. I'm sure there are references listed in the article. You might want also want to interview as many proffesional players as you can.

  5. Hello,

    Thanks for the help thus far. The point of the research (I hope) will be to look at the significance of risk factors in leading to injury. This is the stage at which I hope to begin the interview/inspection process of professionals. I have to convince some individuals first, however, this work is warranted (read worth their investment)...This is what I need these references for ie. to finish writing my proposal and give it some validity


  6. I realize it may be some time before you even start your research, but I'm sure I'm not alone in saying I'll be very interested to read about your findings. Please keep us updated on the proposal and if it will be possible to access the results of your work when it's completed.
  7. Matt Ides

    Matt Ides

    May 12, 2004
    Minneapolis, MN
    Check out International Society of Bassists (ISB). They will have info and should lead you in the right direction.
  8. Thanks,

    I check out the ISB website and am considering membership in any case, but am wondering if membership gives you access to past publications at (at least) a reduced price. I'm curious, as I would likely need to review some back issues to find what I am looking for and cannot afford, although I would like to, to buy each back issue listed in the archives....

    Any info would be much help


  9. theres this great website where this guy sells all these hand exercisors and exersise videos, some are specifically designed for musicians. he would be happy to help you out in any way he could and if nothing else its a site that every bass player should visit.
    no i dont work for them or anything i just think its a good site for this topic, i know 3 or 4 really talented musicians who cant hardly play anymore because of related injuries that could have been easily avoided
  10. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    No disrespect intended, but you do realize that playing the double bass - or the piano, for that matter - isn't really about the hands, right? You don't play the bass with your hands any more than you throw a ball with your both cases, the part that is often given credit for having "executed" the activity is simply the smallest and weakest link in the chain. In both cases, it's better to think holistically (as in Alexander technique) than to focus on the minutiae of the apparatus. "Hand exercise" alone is abject crap, more likely to do damage than good. I don't have the modem speed here at home to watch the videos, but I can only hope that this gentleman is advocating a whole regimine of body exercises and posture goals rather than a bunch of isolated hand exercises. If he is, then my apologies for the rant. If not, then all I can say is if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck, it probably makes the same sound.
  11. Savino


    Jun 2, 2004
    Thats a crazy little website there. Im not sure about that "hand gym" i would take that guy with a grain of salt ;)
  12. Chasarms

    Chasarms Casual Observer

    May 24, 2001
    Bettendorf, IA USA
    This may sound a little odd, but about a year ago, I returned to fairly hardcore weight training after several years of being away from it.

    I had not lifted since I took interest in the DB.

    After only a months of lifting, almost all of the physical discomforts associated with playing went away. These days I have very little issues no matter how long I play or what position I take.

    Overall general good health is definitely the key for me.
  13. Savino


    Jun 2, 2004
    be wary of free weights chas. wrists can be very fragile things. nautilus type equiptment is better in the long run.
  14. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    True in general, but there are some advantages to free weights as well if you know how to use them. I lifted 3 or 4 days a week up until Kate got pregnant with the little fat boy, and I've never felt better than I did during that period. The key for me was avoiding exercises that targeted the wrists/forearms specifically (since these seemed to have a "tightening" effect on my hands), and switching from barbells to dumbells, since dumbells allow for more freedom of wrist movement. In general, I think that lifting weights for total body fitness is an excellent thing to do as long as you learn how to do it properly. The benefits to back/shoulder health are hard to ignore, especially now that I don't have the time to do it anymore. :meh:
  15. Chasarms

    Chasarms Casual Observer

    May 24, 2001
    Bettendorf, IA USA
    I think free weights are far superior and in many ways safer.

    I was involved with various athletic training programs as a young person and also have worked with a few excellent personal trainers. My exposure to some quality strength coaches and training instructors has given me the background I need to train properly.

    Plus I am at age that I have nothing to prove. It isn't really a manparts swinging contest like it often becomes with the young guys. I know my limitations and the dangers of stepping outside them.

    That being said, I have worked with Nautilus and similar equipment for several months a couple of different times. IME, the joint and muscular discomfort is much GREATER with these machines. I have heard several explanations as to why, but the greatest for me is the fact that my body seems to fall outside the parameters of the design models. Ergonomically, they tend to force movements that are not natural for my body size. My shoulders, elbows and knees can't handle them. Even my wrists ache if I work on many of the machines. Even the newer ones that allow for some ergonomic adjustment.

    Whereas with free weights, especially dumbbells, the open movements are not only less restrictive, but also allow for the development of secondary muscle groups and better balance, stability and muscle coordination. Overall, you will reach a higher level of muscle development using free weights all other things being equal.

    Not to mention, you'll get much stronger faster using free weights and be able to maintain that strength with a less time-consuming program. And, the load-bearing properties of free weights promotes the strengthening of bone tissue, which promotes skeletal health and overall a better quality of life, especially as you age.

    I am fairly conscious of my hands and wrists. I wear wrist supports and use straps on exercises that call for it. I worry more over damaging my wrists or hands with RSD from typing 10K words a week or playing ball with the guys than I do from strength training.
  16. Also, don't forget elbow risks when lifting. The left elbow is at greater risk of being aggravated because of the amount of time in a raised position while playing double bass. Regardless of body location, if you strain something, give it time to heal before you go back to regular or vigorous lifitng.
  17. From my experience, +1 to everything Chasarms says.
    I think Nautilus/ Cybex/ whatever machines are ok for light weights and lotsa reps. If you're lifting heavy for fewer reps and training to failure with the most weight you can manage, free weights are the way to do it. Like so many other things, you need to learn and practice proper technique. And listen to your body. Don't overdo it and hurt yourself.
    As an aside, if you're into heavy deadlifts or pulldowns, or anything else where you use wrist straps, check out 1tonhooks. Full disclosure: The guy who makes them is a friend of mine. Nonetheless, they do work.
  18. I've been studying Alexander Technique ("AT") for the better part of 2 years, and find it very useful in bass playing.

    AT is about a lot of things, but probably the two main keys are these:

    1. free the head and neck to free the entire self. AT holds that use of the head and neck are the primary dynamic in any movement or posture. If you get these freed, the back is freed, and on to the shoulders, arms, and hands, and pelvis legs and feet. Whatever you want to do in the physical realm is going to work more efficiently. It all starts with the neck.

    2. master inhibition and direction to bring more conscious control to whatever you do. This one is harder to grasp until you've done it for a while. To "inhibit" in AT is to not do something. Before you can do something a different way, you need to stop doing it the old way. This is really hard to do.

    Here's an example. Imagine that you are about shift your left hand from a low position to a high thumb position, and you are trying to modify your technique. If you really look at what's going on, you discover that before you even start your shift, your whole body is teed up to do it your habitual way. Just having that first "shift" thought, subconsciously the instruction book for "this is how I shift" is opened up in your brain and a whole group of commands are all queued up and readied to go. Head, neck, shoulder, arms, hands, fingers, pelvis, legs, face, everything, an entire habitual pattern of muscular instruction across the whole body that means "shift" to you is loaded up unconsicously, just waiting to be triggered.

    If consciously you are attempting to do the new thing, say, a different way of shifting, at the moment you go for it you probably end up with most or all the old movement's instructions issued, with maybe some parts of the desired new movement's instructions jammed on top. A real mess. The trouble really started as soon as you thought "shift". The hardest part in learning new ways to do things, is to stop doing the old way.

    AT teaches you how to become conscious of these old habitual patterns and stop them at the moment you first think about doing the new thing. So as soon as you think about shifting, you "inhibit" the old response to that thought by saying. "okay, I'm NOT going to shift. or maybe I am, maybe I'm not. But my mind/body is NOT going to do the "prepare to shift" thing" It is a bit like a funny mind game, but the point is STOP the habitual mid/body response to the "shift" idea, before it even gets loaded up. This is not easy, but with guidance and practice, amazingly, it can be done. This is a big part of AT.

    Once you have inhibited the old response to the original idea of your shift, you then need to issue specific instructions, called "directions", to implement the new movement. "Arm this way, shoulder that way, thumb to this postion", etc. You have replaced a habitual movement or action with a different one, and all under conscious control.

    Now, anyone who hasn't tried this will be thinking this can't possibly be done for every movement or every action. In bass playing, for example, the music is popping along at tempo, and who's got time go through all these silly mind games for every gesture and action. And who's got time to issue consciously all these detailed directions like hand this way, neck that way. The answer is, at a minimum, with a certain amount of AT work, you can learn to do this pretty fast. So you can use it as a powerful learning tool, to become aware of old, inefficient habitual mind/body behaviors, and where you want to, replace them with newer, more efficient ones. If you study long enough, you can get to a point where the entire mind/body mechanism takes on a different tone, and the whole inhibition and conscious direction thing actually can be working continuously, more or less all the time.

    The other key point about AT is that you can read about or talk about it all you want, but you can only really understand it by doing it. Its like explaining what red is to a sightless person. The real understanding of AT has to be mind/body together. And, it is generally accepted that you can only do it under the guidance of a teacher.

    Now about this weightlifting thing, weightlifting and AT are not very compatible. One of the benfits of AT is that your awareness of what's going on in your body gets much more acute. You quickly discover that there is all sorts of excess, unneeded tension all over the body most or all of the time. Without AT you're just not aware of it. Think of someone (yourself?) using one of those hand squeezer thingies to "strengthen" the hand muscles. Think of a clenched fist. Most people go around all day with "clenched" bodies, and don't even know it. And if your body is "clenched" when you play the bass, guess how your sound is going to sound?

    I recall in my first months of AT I experienced layer after layer of habitual tension gradually, or sometimes suddenly, moving into awareness and then evaporating. In particular, I remember one day after around 4-5 months. Suddenly my feet started to feel like soft pillows all day long. I realized that I had been habitually "clenching" my feet, presumably for years, just trying to grip the soles of my shoes or the floor, and that I was suddenly aware of it and it was gone. That was a particularly nice bit of unneeded tension to be rid of.

    I still do nautilus once in a while but with a strange AT twist. I set the machine to the lowest possible weight setting, either no plates or one plate, and do the movement VERY slowly each way, with inhibition and direction all the way, and work on using the absolute lowest possible effort to complete the movement. I am not trying to build strength per se, although I certainly am building strenth. Instead, I am concentrating on awareness and conscious control and minimizing tension in the each movement. Free the neck. The small amount of resistance provided by one plate is just enough to help focus on which muscles must be brought into action, and which can be directed to be still.

    There is an exercise that Gary Peacock introduces in his bass video where he first fingers a note with his left hand and pizzes repeatedly with his right, then gradually relaxes the pressure on the string until the note starts to buzz. His point is that the amount of left hand pressure that is just barely above the level where the buzz comes on is all you need. Any more effort than that is superfluous and is just going to get in the way . (Also, it's a moving target. Louder/softer pizz means different pressure minimum.) You need to have the sensitivity to feel this pressure level and stay as close to it as possible at all times

    anyway, I ramble . . . .
  19. BassBrace James

    BassBrace James JBH Enterprises /

    Jan 17, 2005
    Cookstown, Ontario
    FlyingMarcel, contact Mary at the Performing Arts Medicine Association - they publish a journal of such things, and also keep a huge bibliography of all sorts of articles relating to the growing field of Performing Arts Medicine. Her email is (I think - I'll check again and edit if I got that wrong). Google Performing Arts Medicine to find all sorts of goodies, including PAMA's site.

    Good luck with your research!