Trying Out the Bass

Bob Kreutz shows us the double bass including the proper grip of a German bow, how to hold the instrument, and some surprising sounds you too can make with some practice.

Equipment Considerations:

All string instruments are sized to the player, and the bass is no exception. In general, students entering the sixth grade will begin on a 1/2 bass but occasionally smaller framed students may find a ΒΌ sized instrument more comfortable. An improperly sized instrument will be frustrating for the player and inhibit their musical development. Their teacher or your local music store will be able to offer guidance on what sized instrument is appropriate, so utilize these resources.

Accessory Considerations:

Endpin Anchor! Students should acquire an endpin anchor which is a strap with a stay for the endpin, attachable to the leg of the stool which will keep the endpin stable, not allowing it to slide as the bass is set up to play on non-carpeted surfaces. If you are renting your instrument, this is typically an additional one-time purchase (not included with your rental) but is an essential accessory.

Rosin! Rosin is typically provided with the rental of an instrument, though upgraded brands are always available for purchase. This sticky substance is petrified tree sap and is applied to the hair of the bow to create friction between the bow hair and the strings. This causes the strings to vibrate, creating sound. No vibration, no sound, so rosin is quite important! Rosin will eventually be depleted through normal use and will need to be replaced.

Tuner! Basses go out of tune through no fault of the player and must be tuned every time they are played. The best way for a beginner to learn this necessary skill is using an electronic tuner. There are many brands and options of tuners, but by far the most popular are ones that can clip on the bridge of the bass. They provide an instant readout for the student so they can quickly and correctly tune their instrument. This item is a one-time purchase typically not included with an instrument rental.

Strings! Strings are the lifeblood of the bass. Student level instruments will almost always come with steel core strings due to their relatively inexpensive cost and durability. Having said that, all strings eventually break or wear out, so while these should be considered fairly durable, they are an ongoing expense. Strings are sized to the instrument, so make sure you are purchasing the correct ones for your bass.

Maintenance Considerations:

Basses are made of wood, an organic material, and are therefore affected by atmospheric conditions (temperature and humidity, specifically). Extreme highs or lows of either of these can be damaging to your instrument. What will typically happen is that the bass will crack or a seam (or multiple seams) will come apart. All of this is fixable by a professional repair technician or luthier. The tools and glue used are very specific so not only are home repairs strongly not recommended, they can possibly damage the instrument beyond repair.

Bass bows are almost always strung with horsehair, which will eventually need to be replaced. How often depends on the level of use, with top level professionally having their bows rehaired several times a year. Beginners should not need this done often at all, but if you think your bow might need new hair consult with your teacher or local music store for guidance.

The bass is the largest of the string family, and will need careful, thoughtful transportation to and from home and school. Please consider this when choosing the instrument.

Financial Considerations:

Given the sizing considerations inherent to string instruments, it is strongly recommended to rent or rent-to-own any string instrument until the player is large enough for a full-sized instrument. This will assure you have not purchased an instrument that will eventually become obsolete. Basses tend to be at the highest monthly rental rate, given their high purchase price.

Due to their size and higher cost than other string instruments, many school programs will have basses available for use by students (sometimes for a modest rental fee). It is not uncommon to rent one bass for home practice and have the school instrument for in school use, thus eliminating the need for transportation. It is strongly recommended to consult with your teacher directly to confirm what options may be available for your situation.

Step up and professional instruments and bows can (and will) start in the mid to upper thousands and rapidly increase from there to purchase new, so if bass is an anticipated life-long pursuit this long-term expense must be taken into consideration.

Fun Facts:

The bass is an extremely versatile instrument! Not only is it at home in the symphony orchestra, but it is also commonly found in country, tango, bluegrass, rock, blues, folk, and jazz.