Wednesday, September 05, 2007


notes on playing the double bass with a human body

We bass players do weird things with our bodies. Maybe not as weird as this yoga guy here; but then again, he'll probably hold that posture ("yoga nidrasana") for five breaths and then be done with it. Whereas we'll hold an awkward posture for minutes, even hours at a time - or else we'll go through a series of crazy contortions in a split-second, without time for a single breath. In terms of body weirdness, I'd say yogis and bass players are fairly well matched.

We take pride in the weird things we do - all those extended hand positions, awkward bow strokes, notes far off the fingerboard. We've invested a lot of time and effort into doing them well. Like that yoga guy, we didn't just walk into our first bass lesson being able to do this stuff. It takes will-power, patience, and conditioning.

And as with any conditioned activity - walking, singing, blogging - we can learn to do it better. We can recondition our movements to be more powerful, consistent, graceful, and efficient. After all, our playing can only change and improve when we change our habitual patterns of movement. Unfortunately, we often don't even think about efficient movement until an injury or stress forces the issue.

I'd like to start a series of posts addressing the physical issues of playing the double bass. I'm planning to use a lot of ideas found in Gerhard Mantel's book Cello Technique, translated by Barbara Haimberger Thiem; as well as some ideas I've picked up through practicing yoga; and through my own checkered history of playing a double bass using a human body.

My initial idea is that studying the body doesn't need to be complex, painful, or overwhelming. We don't need to wait until it's broken to start exploring what the body can do - but if something is broken, that's all the more reason to take a closer look. Most of all I want to make this a fun and interesting discussion, about how we can better use our bodies and maximize our efficiency as musicians.

note: I lifted the above image, of bassist Nico Abondolo in fully-splayed glory, from the site, a tribute to LA Studio musicians by Gio Washington-Wright.


Joe Lewis said...

The book entitled "Violin: Six Lessons" by Yehudi Menuhin has some interesting discussion on limbering the body for violin playing which I found applicable.

It could be worse - we could play the viola... ;-)

Anonymous said...

Matt -FYI.
I noticed that you had expressed interest in Peter Askim's EDGE a while back. There's a new recording of his that features EDGE, his bass concerto Islands and Eight Solitudes (which won the ISB Composition Competition), as well as performances by the Tokyo Symphony, Ransom Wilson and Orchestra Asia - Japan.
More info, sound clips, and the CD are available on his website.