This is a post from double bassist from Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music student Nicholas Hart. Nick will be contributing weekly posts to the bass blog about life as a music student in one of the nation’s most exclusive programs. I think readers will find this different perspective on the double bass world and the music world in general to be quite interesting, and I am looking forward to reading these posts. You will be able to read all of Nick’s contributions under the articles page. Enjoy!
Since school has started up again, Mr. Laszlo and I have been attacking the four main issues in bass playing – sound, intonation, rhythm and clarity – by improving my posture. It is unfortunate that posture is not stressed enough for beginning players, as poor posture is very hard to correct and adjusting posture can have a negative effect on one’s playing until it is properly adjusted.
In adjusting posture the method that has worked best for me is expanding my abdominal muscles and opening up the space between my abdominals and chest cavity. This was the easiest way for me to improve my posture without tiring myself out. Also, opening posture by expanding the abdominal muscles properly aligns the body with little to no effort.
Of the four previously mentioned issues, I believe that posture has the most effect on sound. The taller that we make ourselves, the bigger our sound can become. In one of my posts on sounds, I talked about creating a bigger lever with our bodies by drawing our sound from the floor. Opening up our abdominals adds at least 3 inches to our sitting height and those three inches can have an enormous impact on our sound. The taller we sit (or stand) the bigger, bassier, and more vibrant our sound can be.
There is the common misconception that we need to get closer to the bass to play in the higher registers. Yes, it is a further reach so our first instinct is the get closer to the instrument, but if we make ourselves taller and get over the instrument, it is actually much easier to reach the notes and to pull a big, free sound.
Good posture creates good balance, and balance is the key to good intonation. For me to play in tune, my left hand needs to feel the same no matter where I am playing on the bass. Mr. Laszlo has moved my focus from dividing the instrument into positions, to thinking of having only one position – balance. I realize I am stressing the word balance, but if the left hand does not have a constant connection with the string and does not apply weight to the string evenly it will be hard to have solid intonation.
Clarity is probably the most important aspect of bass playing. If we cannot produce a clear sound, it would not matter how in tune or in time we play, because it cannot be heard. After opening up my posture, I was able to improve the clarity of my sound by using my body as a whole. If I initiate the bow movement from my body, meaning I lead the bow with my body, the bow changes are much subtle and can even sometimes be inaudible. Also, a common misconception with playing the bass is that we need to use a lot of bow. If we make a comparison from a violin bow to a bass bow, the violin bow is much larger than its string length and even the instrument itself, while the bass bow is much smaller. So by using smaller amounts of bow, a slower bow, and add in our natural body weight, our sound can really clear up.
I believe that rhythm is the most important aspect to music. I’ve heard many orchestra musicians say that during an audition they rather hear a person play perfectly in time and play a couple of notes out of tune than play out of time and play everything in tune. Rhythm holds together an ensemble. When I play with a crunched posture I find it very to internalize the pulse of a piece, If I sit up, and my body has a more natural feel to it, I am able to internalize pulse and rhythm more and not have to think about it nearly as much. Also, with better posture comes easier movement. Movement is rhythm, and if we can move easily and in rhythm than we can maintain the pulse and play with better rhythm.
About the Author
Admitted into the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music at age 16, Nicholas Hart is currently pursuing his Bachelor of Music degree as a scholarship student of Albert Laszlo. A product of the New York City Public School System, Nicholas attended the Juilliard School’s Pre-College Division where he studied with Eugene Levinson. Nicholas has performed in Solo, Orchestral, and Chamber ensembles throughout New York City in venues such as Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, and Symphony Space. Nicholas enjoys a long collaboration with the New York Pops, having performed with them and being one of the first recipients of their Martin J. Ormandy Memorial Scholarship. Additional studies include masterclasses with Harold Robinson, Timothy Cobb, David J. Grossman and Pasquale Delache-Feldman as well as summer study with Bret Simner. Nicholas has performed with such artists as Aaron Rosand and David Bilger, and aspires to play in a major symphony orchestra after college.