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Who's tried Double Bass and failed. Why?

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by jmone, Feb 5, 2018.

  1. jmone


    Mar 1, 2010
    I've always had in the back of my mind that I wanted to play upright. I've tried all the gimmicks to make my electric basses sound like and upright but nothing is quite the same. I've tried fretless basses (with fret markings) and they just sit differently in the mix - it's not the same functionality. The other night we played a show and one of the bands had an upright and I was just in amazement. My band also agreed and said they'd totally support me if I wanted to use it on all our songs or, however I see fit.

    So what am I overlooking? I'd hate to buy one and then play it for a month and never pick it up again. I played one of those NS electric upright in grade school but it had fret markings...

    I want to hear from the people who invested in one and then put it down for good or sold it. Why did you? Maybe you can talk me out of it?
  2. Bob_Ross

    Bob_Ross Gold Supporting Member

    Dec 29, 2012
    One thing you may be overlooking is amplification. Unless you invest in a very good pickup and an appropriately high quality amp -- which is not necessarily the same high quality amp you may currently use with your electric bass -- the sound of an amplified upright can be indistinguishable from the fretless electric basses you've already tried. Moreover, even if you do get primo electronics to amplify your upright, amplification in general may interfere with the qualities that you're attracted to the upright for in the first place. I've had more than one well-respected jazz drummer tell me that they think it's easier to swing when playing with an unamplified upright, because amplification changes the way they hear the attack of the bassist's notes.
    Hahaha, old spice, JimK and 1 other person like this.
  3. fdeck

    fdeck Supporting Member Commercial User

    Mar 20, 2004
    Madison WI
    HPF Technology LLC
    I've been failing every day for 35 years. Does that count? ;)

    For me, I'm trying to learn how to play jazz on the cello.

    In my view, the double bass has Problems (size, intonation, amplification), but every instrument has Problems. On the other hand, I've known people who have learned instruments as adults, and I think the biggest hurdle is actually unrelated to the specific instrument: You have to get through the time of Darkness when you know how you need and want to sound, but you're not there yet.

    You have to spend that time at home by yourself, or maybe with a teacher. So I think you have to mentally prepare yourself for this in several ways. First, have realistic expectations about how quickly you will come up to speed. Second, treat the double bass as an end unto itself. My motivation to keep trying comes not primarily from gigs, but from the fact that I just love playing the thing for myself, in my living room. I love the tone, the bow, the history, the great players, and the sheer absurdity of the thing. Third, treat yourself to a nice enough bass, that the instrument itself won't be an obstacle to your progress. Fourth, save yourself from blind alleys and injury by getting some lessons if at all possible. Teaching adults is different than teaching kids, so you have to find a teacher who understands the difference. (Mainly, we adults pick things up more slowly, and get frustrated more easily).
    Dee-man, McFarlin, s0707 and 6 others like this.
  4. Joe Nerve

    Joe Nerve Supporting Member

    Oct 7, 2000
    New York City
    Endorsing artist: Musicman basses
    Me. Because I didn't want to drop money on strings, a setup, and lessons - all of which I believe are necessary to play well the big thing I've got sitting in my living as a museum piece now :).
    two fingers and jmone like this.
  5. BD Jones

    BD Jones

    Jul 22, 2016
    I started in 4th grade and actively studied it until college when I focused on trumpet instead. I still played after that, but eventually sold it. Here's my advice. First, don't buy one; rent one and take lessons. I'm sure there in a band and orchestra instrument store in Toronto where you can rent one and take lessons. That way if you don't like it you can just give it back. Second, don't expect to become proficient on it quickly. It is not like playing the bass guitar. An upright is a completely different animal. Left and right hand techniques are totally different. It isn't just standing up a bass on end. Everything will feel different. It will also be frustrating at times, but don't give up if this is something you want to do.
    MrLenny1, bassfran, McFarlin and 3 others like this.
  6. lz4005


    Oct 22, 2013
    I haven't played a gig with mine since I got a good EUB 10 years ago. They're huge, delicate, difficult to store and transport, a pain to amplify, and require more daily practice to keep your hands in gig-shape than other kinds of basses.

    Nothing else sounds as good for certain things, but once you're out of acoustic ear-shot that doesn't matter as much.
    Pacman, Whippet and jmone like this.
  7. blue4


    Feb 3, 2013
    St. Louis area
    I went to the store once to see about renting one for awhile, but after 10 mins with the thing I realized that it would require much more time then I had to give to it. Especially since I just wanted to play it with a bow.
    jmone likes this.
  8. jmone


    Mar 1, 2010
    I do practice a fair amount everyday so I would intend to add this to my practice regime. I think my expectations are realistic...I understand that intonation, paired with new techniques, all while holding solid core strength is going to be a challenge. I totally respect how different this is from EBass and that's more of the reason why I want to learn it. I was taking lessons when I had my EUB and I just loved the way it felt to hit those strings with my right hand. I definitely would want to find myself a good teacher if I take on the challenge. Also since I actually have somewhere I can play it (in band practice) that just means a couple extra hours a week I'll spend with the instrument. If it didn't fit my bands music I think it would be a little harder.

    That's actually a really good idea. I'll have to look up what the costs are but I'll see about renting one for a month or two and give it a real try before I commit to buying one!

    Thanks for all the replies!
  9. For me it was a health problem. Poor circulation and a gradually failing heart valve over time caused muscle cramping that manifested quicker and quicker during gigs, till it became prohibitive. I can still play electric with little ill effects, but it really compromised my upright playing.

    I don’t miss it too terribly. I’ve played electric for 40 years, but upright only for the last 10. I am quite good on electric, but only mediocre on upright, so I was happy to just go back to electric only.
    jmone likes this.
  10. Wasnex


    Dec 25, 2011
    I started on upright and learned 3 finger (1,2,4) Simandl technique. When I picked up electric, I applied many of the same techniques I had learned on upright. Eventually as I gained skill and began to play more technical music, the left and right hand techniques I used on each instrument diverged and I found the instruments more dissimilar than alike. For example, I now use 4 finger technique on electric, so fingerings don't translate when I switch between instruments.
    eJake and jmone like this.
  11. Bunk McNulty

    Bunk McNulty It is not easy to do simple things correctly. Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 2012
    Northampton, MA
    I played one for a little while when I was 14. I was terrible. I wish I had stuck with it; in the right hands it is far more expressive than the bass guitar.
    the harp unstrung and jmone like this.
  12. Jon Moody

    Jon Moody Commercial User

    Sep 9, 2007
    Kalamazoo, MI
    Manager of Brand Identity & Development, GHS Strings, Innovation Double Bass Strings, Rocktron
    This. Right. Here.

    As an active "doubler" on both electric and upright, the biggest thing I notice is that electric players that SUCCEED in moving to double bass realize that it is a different instrument that has much more physical demands than the electric does.

    It's not just a bigger version that's played vertically instead of horizontally, and if you can get past that, you'll be fine.
    Dee-man, s0707, mrbaloo and 1 other person like this.
  13. jmone


    Mar 1, 2010
    That's always how I saw the instrument anyway just have been hesitant to take the plunge and actually do it.
  14. Jon Moody

    Jon Moody Commercial User

    Sep 9, 2007
    Kalamazoo, MI
    Manager of Brand Identity & Development, GHS Strings, Innovation Double Bass Strings, Rocktron
    Then you're in the minority. Most don't, and then get frustrated because they can't just transfer their skills from one to the other.

    Are you in an area that has an orchestral program in the public schools? Meaning, is there a local music store that caters to orchestra/band musicians and has a rental program for instruments? We do, mainly because purchasing a double bass outright for a middle/high schooler to use at home is not something a parent is usually willing to do.

    If so, rent one for a couple of months and see how it works out.
  15. silvertone


    Nov 6, 2007
    SF, CA
    I don't meet the criteria of your question because I own and regularly play upright and haven't failed at it...

    But IMHO playing upright is very much like learning to speak a foreign language. To really get it to sink in so that you get beyond the lessons, or attempts to teach yourself, you have to constantly play with others - to put the approach to double bass into a context where it functions. It's really challenging to sit in a room alone with a double bass and create music with any meaning until you have a general facility with playing it.

    I came to the upright from being a bluegrass mandolin picker, but I'd also played some bass guitar in HS.

    The role of the mandolin in bluegrass is to chop the off beats (2 & 4).
    The role of the bass is to play the down beats (1 & 4).
    The connection between bass and the mando chop creates the "boom-chick," integral to the pulse of bluegrass.

    So with this in mind, it became a very basic exercise in getting used to playing bass when playing 3 chord songs by playing 1-4 root notes over I-IV-V changes. After a while doing this, one naturally begins to explore other song forms and by extension, one learns to pedal over these changes and to find alternative ways of voicing the changes in different registers on the neck.

    Initially, it definitely helps to apply white-out dots to the side of the neck to learn positions, placement and how to intonate, but eventually, I got to where I don't look at my left hand.

    This takes time.

    But now I play double bass and fretless (which came next) in rock contexts with way less of the dum-chit, dum-chit pulse that was foundational to learning the upright.

    Ultimately, you have to LOVE playing upright to get good at it...
    Did I mention it takes time?

    Good luck with it!
    Last edited: Feb 6, 2018
    jmone likes this.
  16. bass12

    bass12 Say "Ahhh"... Supporting Member

    Jun 8, 2008
    Montreal, Canada
    I started playing upright a little over a year ago. I'm very glad I did - it's been a lot of fun and has been great for my electric playing as well. Do it. :)
    mrbaloo likes this.
  17. BassUrges


    Mar 14, 2016
    I’ve been at it since last May. I have 2 kids doing Suzuki (guitar and cello) do I got the Suzuki bass books and music. Playing melodies selected for pedagogical value helps with motivation. Also my teacher generates his own etudes that I work on.

    I hope to play in a community orchestra someday. I played it on “Battle of Evermore” recently, too, but the sound guy must have decided my intonation was bad because nobody could hear it.
  18. GVisc


    Apr 20, 2014
    New York
    I tried to practice laying down on my couch, like I usually do with my electric bass, it didn't work out so well. That's when I returned it.
    jmone likes this.
  19. BassUrges


    Mar 14, 2016
    You should learn to do your own setups. I did, and it only took me 6 or 7 hours and $100 in tools that I can’t use for anything else.
    T_Bone_TL likes this.
  20. jmone


    Mar 1, 2010
    I mean Toronto is a pretty dense area. I'm confident there's somewhere I can rent one within driving distance and easily find a teacher

    If this is the case, I'm really thankful I'm in a band where it would work and can practice it in band context.

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