Full Disclosure: The bow in this video was given to me as a gift from Steve at The String Emporium. This is a comparison between my Bernd Dölling bow and a carbon fiber Finale bow–I just want to make it clear up front where I got the bow from for full and fair disclosure. The Dölling (last time I checked) retails for around $4200 in the U.S., and the Finale stick costs $340 (plus case and rosin!). I think you’ll be very interested to see how these two sticks stack up. For more information on Finale bows, visit this page at stringemporium.com.
It’s been a great year of blogging for me personally, and I’m really excited to have reached the phase of development for both Contrabass Conversations and doublebassblog.org that I’m at currently. We’ve got a large daily readership (we were pushing 2000 daily page views for these sites plus Arts Addict during the spring) and a dedicated and engaged community for the podcast.
I really enjoy writing, and having the opportunity to both compose longer-form posts (an index of these appears on our Articles page) and make the move into writing books (both with Road Warrior Without an Expense Account and the new book of crazy gig stories I’m currently working on) is extremely satisfying.
These are some of my favorite recent posts. I hope you find a few thing that you may have overlooked in previous months. You can always use the page navigation at the bottom of each blog page to sail forward or backward in time, use the calendar in the sidebar, or check out our sitemap. Enjoy!
By the way, all these posts come from April, May, and June of this year. Geez–I write a lot! I don’t really notice until I line them up back to back…and these are only a fraction of all the posts written during this time!
The Tale of the White Jacket – I think that all men in classical music look at the concert attire worn by our female colleagues with a little bit of envy from time to time. Not that we men all want to wear heels and make-up (though some of us probably do….not that there’s anything wrong with that!), but putting on a tuxedo shirt, tails, and a tight bow tie is not exactly the most comfortable way to play a musical instrument. Though we men get to dress in comfort in many pit situations, wearing black just like the women, most of the time we’re confined to some jacket and tie combination–even in the summer! (more)
The Art of Slowing Down – Summer is when I really developed my blog in the first place, and in subsequent summers I did most of the redesigning and behind-the-scenes work. It’s also a great time to do some writing and restore those creative energies, renewing my enthusiasm for another year of teaching, performing, and writing. While I have a good time simply blogging in my kitchen (like I’m doing now!), drinking coffee and hanging out with the cats, I’ve been able to play chamber music with a dynamite group of musicians up in Door County these past several years….(more)
Ripping Off Your Teachers – When I was getting started as a freelance musician at the tail end of my masters degree, I was quaking in my boots about my future prospects. After all, I was regularly buying CDs at Borders and Barnes and Noble from former Northwestern doctoral music students. If the best they could do was retail bookstore work after getting a doctoral degree, what were my prospects going to look like? got a call for at the…. well, I’l call it the Jimbobo School of Music for the purposes of this post. I’m sad to say that this “school of music” still exists here in metro Chicago, and it’s a truly rotten operation—the perfect representation of everything that’s wrong with the private lesson “music school” system. (more)
Blogging on the Beach – I am currently at the northern tip of the Door County peninsula on the Lake Michigan side, hanging out in the the wild and rarely visited Newport State Park. Though many of the other parks up here in Door County are packed with Illinois tourists escaping the smog and stress of Chicago, this park is pretty far off the beaten path, and I am one of only a few cars parked here. I’ve got a great view of the beach, joined at the moment only by the seagulls and the mosquitos (note to self–buy better bug spray). Man, if only I could live this kind of lifestyle year-round! (more)
Twelve Survival Tips for Freelance Musicians – Over time, professional freelancers develop a set of skills quite peculiar to the profession, alternately taking on the role of long-haul trucker, delivery man, cabbie, and crisis control expert. Though they share the same basic musical skills as their more stably employed colleagues, freelancers are constantly faced with foreign environments and unfamiliar faces, and are required to execute their musical craft amid a dizzying array of unusual and often bizarre circumstances. (more)
Instrumental Junkies Part 2: Musical Scavengers – I was recently playing in a massive venue in Chicago’s McCormick Place convention center, with 5000 seats and a stage large enough to hold a 747 jet. I paid my parking fee, pulled in and unloaded, wheeling my bass and stool in my tuxedo through throngs of conventioneers in button-down shirts and sport jackets. As I passed through the crowds into the dilapidated and expansive convention center, people gazed at me as if I had a third eye on my forehead. “What’s that?” – “Where ya goin’ with that thing?” and the ubiquitous “betcha wish you played the piccolo!” line, one that I seem to hear every single time I take my bass out of the house. (more)
Here Comes the Bride – A colleague of mine got a call to play a wedding recently with a rather strange request. The bride wanted “Here Comes the Bride” played at the ceremony….but she specifically requested that the double bass play the melody! “Uh, okay…” my colleague replied. “So you must have… played the bass in high school, then?” “No,” said the bride. “Uh…. okay…..” It’s not that we bassists can’t play Here Comes the Bride, of course. But why the bass? It’s like having the tuba play revelry or taps at a military ceremony. Kind of cool but kind of… well…. unusual. (more)
Top Ten Ways That College Debt Screws Up Your Life…and How to Avoid It! – Achieving success in the classical music world (I’m defining success rather narrowly here) often requires a musician to audition for a select handful of schools that have a specific teacher on faculty with a reputation for turning out “successful” students. Unlike disciplines like engineering, business, or computer science, there are frequently only a few schools that have a consistent track record of placement for a specific instrument. Want a job? You’d better think seriously about fighting for a spot at one of those schools… even if that school costs $40,000 (or more) plus room and board each year. (more)
Instrumental Junkies: Overview – This is both a completely exhausting and strangely addictive lifestyle, and every time I try to divorce myself from it I keep getting pulled back into it. Sometimes I hate it, especially when I’m driving home from a $75 gig in a snowstorm, but when faced with a week off or a week of crappy gigging, I usually opt for the crappy gigging, even if it doesn’t make a whole lot of financial sense. Simply put, playing the bass makes me feel…well, useful. While outsiders may seem a week off from playing as a cause for celebration (after all, how many people in regular joe jobs daydream of the flexible schedule of the musician?), when this week off is a result of there simply not being enough work rather than an intentional vacation I feel myself getting antsy and feeling more than a little bit like a bum. (more)
Mac versus PC part 3: podcasting – After a few weeks spent adjusting to this new operating system and the new applications available to me, I’v discovered that I can massively cut down on the number of small but annoying tasks that always plagued my Windows podcasting workflow. This experience is strikingly similar to what I outlined for my blog workflow transition in part 2 of this series. Even though I’m basically doing the same tasks for blogging and podcasting on my new Mac set-up as I was doing on my old Windows set-up, the more seamless integration of programs and user-friendliness of the major applications has sped up my process considerably, leaving me more time to actually create content rather than futz with settings and file transfers. (more)
The Babbling Conductor – Though I am thinking of one conductor in particular for this exmple, I’ve seen this kind of phenomenon happen in many orchestras, and I believe that the behavior of the musicians described in the following paragraphs (I’m making you curious, right?) is a natural orchestral musician response to long-winded conductors. Is this a fair response? Immature? Jocular good fun? That’s for you to decide–but it is a very common occurrence in the orchestra! I actually think that a verbose conductor can be a real asset to a performance, and that it often really enhances the audience experience in the abstract; in reality, however, I become one of the squirrelly musicians I’m describing. I just can’t help myself. want to play when I’m on a gig, and any extra talk keeps me from doing the job that I was hired to do….even though I realize that this is a valuable part of the performance and something that should happen. (more)
How Taking Less Work Has Led to More Work for Me – As I spend more of my time focusing on local activities (playing, teaching, etc.) and less on driving all over the country, I’ve gotten a chance to really take in this remarkable city that I live in. What a fascinating and multifaceted place metro Chicago is! I’m currently sitting on the Midway Pleasance, gazing up at the awe-inspiring neo-gothic architecture of the University of Chicago (though it was constructed around 1900, it looks like someone ripped out a medieval European city and plopped it smack-dab in the middle of Chicago. (more)
Mac versus PC part 2: blogging – One of the main tasks I use my laptop for is blogging, and the workflow on the Mac was of primary importance to me. Though I spent the first few years of my blog ging career on a PC, I knew that over 50% of all bloggers use a Mac, and therefore I figured that there had to be some benefit. I’ve found the transition from the PC to the Mac to be an overall positive experience, though there are a few things that I miss from the PC. I am not interested in running Windows on this Mac in any form (whether through Boot Camp or Parallels), so though I know that I could install Windows and get these programs, I’m trying to find a suitable Mac replacement for these components of my blogging experience. (more)
Standing versus Sitting for the Double Bassist – Ahh, those lovely and divisive double bass issues like standing–fodder for eternal and impassioned debate on both sides of the fence. Deciding whether or not to stand while playing the instrument (or to do both depending on the context) is a pivotal decision for every single bassist, and it is the source of much controversy and confusion. Honestly, I should have my head examined for even considering tackling this thorny topic. I’m sure that even pointing out these various differences will cause a good deal of heated debate and disagreement (notice that I avoid mentioning the stance I actually use). What on Earth am I thinking? Who knows…but here it goes! (more)
Mac versus PC part 1: overview – Only a few days after writing about how everyone mocks my Acer laptop, I moved over to a shiny new MacBook with a 2.4 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor and 2 gigs of RAM, with Leopard, iLife ‘08, and the regular accoutrement of Mac applications. As a former Mac user who switched over to the PC just as OSX was on the horizon, coming back to this platform is like coming back home, but to a sleek, 21st-century home outfitted with the latest gadgets. (more)
Disturbing Trends in Adjunct Faculty Employment – A recent article in the Chicago Reader (May 1, 2008 Vol. 37, No. 32) titled And All I Got Was This Lousy PhD jumped off the page as I was perusing the paper recently, and for good reason–this piece by Deanna Issacs confirms many of my frustrations and concerns regarding trends in hiring practices at many universities. I’ve written two articles on this very topic which may interest readers (the former was published in 2007 in Adjunct Nation Magazine, and the latter is part of my upcoming book Road Warrior Without an Expense Account)….(more)
In Search of the Perfect Bow – Most string players own several different bows during the course of their playing career, usually starting on a fiberglass or inexpensive wooden bow in early years of study and upgrading many times on the journey toward professional-level playing. Like strings, rosin, and other key pieces of gear, bows are a very personal and subjective item, and many string players spend their entire lives in search of the perfect bow. (more)
How Long Should a Private Lesson Last? – I’ve always been fascinated by the wide variance in lesson durations among various teachers. Many of my piano teacher colleagues hold lessons for preschoolers that last only 15 minutes, while some legendary pedagogues teach lessons that last six, seven, or even eight hours. I’ve even met some teachers who teach a student until the late hours, then give them a place to sleep, feed them breakfast, and resume the lesson for another multi-hour stretch! (more)
Everybody Mocks My Windows Computer! – As a blogger, podcaster, and all-around new media guy, I have found that most people assume that I am on a Mac. I frequently have people ask me if I’ve installed Leopard yet, how to perform a specific task in iMovie, or tips on assembling podcasts in GarageBand. This is a pretty reasonable assumption–a majority of mew media types seem to be on a Mac these days, and for good reason! Integrating audio, video, pictures, and blogging into one’s workflow is just…well, easier on a Mac. (more)
Bye Bye Basses – Hydraulic stages are both a blessing and a curse! I’ve played on them in a variety of venues, and while they’re usually a blessing for stage and pit logistics in multi-use halls, they can yield some amusing (and potentially disastrous) unintended results.I have played performances with a variety of groups in Milwaukee’s Uihlein Hall over the years, but most of these performances have been with the Milwaukee Ballet. This hall has a hydraulic stage, which is raised for full symphonic performances and lowered in the front for ballet and opera performances. (more)
Influx of Music School Funding – With ever-diminishing opportunities for music performance careers, why have so many individuals, universities, and foundations contributed funding for these ambitious new developments? Don’t get me wrong–I think that these are wonderful developments. I’ve spent all of my college years at aging and ill-equipped facilities, with ratty practice rooms, scant ensemble rehearsal rooms, terrible soundproofing, and no elevators. (more)
How Solo Part Assignments Change Your Playing – As a performer of an instrument traditionally used in multi-member orchestral sections, much of my energy and focus in rehearsals and performances is spent achieving unanimity of blend, pitch, timing, and tone with my double bass colleagues. My goal is to first amalgamate with my section mates, then to weave this cohesive sonic product with the rest of the ensemble. I love this process–this, in fact, is one of the main reasons why I play music! To me, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as being part of a well-oiled double bass machine. (more)
The Real Cost of Driving to Gigs for the Freelance Musician – A recent feature in the Chicago Tribune (Sunday, April 13, 2008 by Jim Mateja) about the actual operating costs per mile for a variety of different vehicles caught my eye–not surprising considering how much I’ve written on commuting and its effect of the livelihood of a musician. The price of gas rose 31.5 percent in 2007, which means that the average consumer (driving 10,000 miles a year) will spend between $5,510 and $9,095 to operate a 2008 model car. This figure is based on gas, oil, tires, and maintenance–parking or tolls are not included in these calculations. (more)
This is a post from National Symphony Orchestra bassist Jeff Weisner. Jeff also teaches bass at The Peabody Institute in Baltimore and co-authors the blog PeabodyDoubleBass. Click here for all of Jeff’s doublebassblog.org posts.
In my last post I looked at the systemic problem: Having great instruments and bows can help you become a better player, but to have the income to afford those instruments, most folks have to already be great players (or independently wealthy). So, what is the young or not-so-young bassist of modest means to do? Over the years, I’ve tried to notice the little things that folks do to their basses to improve the sound and playability of their instruments. Some of these were shown to me by my own teachers, some by my professional colleagues in the NSO and elsewhere, some by random bassists I have met in my travels, and others by various repairpersons and luthiers. All these things are relatively inexpensive things that can improve the equipment that you already have. None of them are going to magically transform your Chinese bass into a priceless old Italian instrument, but they can help, and sometimes by a surprising margin. These fixes don’t all work for everyone, but it’s likely that at least a few of them might help you.Please note that, by “relatively inexpensive,” I don’t necessarily mean super-cheap – some of the items I mention could cost hundreds of dollars. However, compared to the cost of upgrading your bow or bass, they’re all pretty affordable. I have ranked them in rough order from cheapest to most expensive.
- Go Balls Out – No, I didn’t name it that! “Balls Out” is shorthand for flipping the ball ends of your strings (the ends that fit into the tailpiece) around so that, instead of being behind the tailpiece, they are on the outside of the tailpiece. This makes the angle of the strings over the bridge sharper, which changes the pressure exerted by the strings on the top of the bass and can have an effect on the sound. My string gurus and advisors recommend only doing this to the upper three strings, for reasons a bit too arcane to go into here (it has to do with relative string tensions – I barely understand it myself).
- Good Rosin – I often see students with horrifyingly old, dried-out rosin cakes. No matter what sort of rosin you use, if the surface of that rosin is getting dry and powdery, or cracking off in small pieces, then it’s probably time to invest in a new cake. This is especially true with Pop’s and other lighter, softer rosins.
- Protect your Rosin – To prevent problem #2, keep your rosin in a plastic case with an airtight seal. Some rosins are sold in plastic cases, but many are sold in cardboard cases that can let the rosin get too dry. Put these rosins in a small plastic container with a snap-on lid – I use a small size Gladware container myself. I’ve seen similar size containers at stores like The Container Store.
- Lead Tape – If your bow doesn’t bounce well or get the sound you want, it might just need a little weight added at the tip or frog for better balance. A great way to do this is to use some of the lead-lined tape that tennis players use to adjust the weight of their rackets. It’s adhesive-backed and can be cut to precisely the right size and shape. (If you use it on your frog, you might want to cover it with adhesive tape so that your hand won’t be rubbing up against lead all day…) Experiment with your teacher to find the right amount and location. It’s inexpensive and sold in tennis shops and sporting goods stores, and you won’t need much.
- Close those Seams and Cracks – Lots of basses can pop open here and there. Some instruments have certain seams that open on a regular basis. Gluing these seams shut can improve instrument resonance, as can of course fixing any cracks.
- Basic Setup Issues – how long has it really been since you had your soundpost checked by your trusted luthier or shop? Soundposts and bridges can migrate quite a lot on some instruments, and we need to keep them in line. Make sure that your soundpost is the correct length as well, and that it’s in good, firm contact with the top and bottom of your bass.
- The Endpin – The materials, size, and shape of your endpin can have a surprisingly large impact on the sound of some basses. The first, and less “invasive” option, is to replace your steel or other metal endpin with a carbon-fiber endpin. There are several types of these endpins, most of which are designed to fit the 10 mm Goetz-style endpin housings. They come in different densities and lengths. Find a shop that carries them and try one out to see its effect on your bass. I find that they can be especially helpful with basses that might be a little tight or unresponsive, opening up the sound and giving the strings a slightly looser feel. The second and more involved option is to consider obtaining a Christian Laborie-style endpin for your bass. This involves drilling a tapered hole into the endpin block at an angle and inserting a wood or carbon fiber endpin into it. More and more shops and luthiers are able and willing to do this alteration in your instrument, but it will require some significant adjustments in your playing and should only be considered if you are working with a supportive teacher who can help you with this. By the way, you can often use a Laborie endpin for either sitting or standing….
- Saddle Up – the tailpiece rests against the bottom of the bass on a beveled piece of hardwood called the saddle. Most saddles are very low, snuggled right up against the bass. By putting a new saddle on your bass that sticks up higher off of the bass, you create a more shallow angle of the strings relative to the bridge, which can reduce the pressure on the top and improve the openness and volume of your instrument.
- Wear Nylon – Replace your metal tailpiece wire with a nylon or other non-metallic wire. This can change the pressure on the top.
- One Wire – Some luthiers will set up your tailpiece with only one wire with loops on both ends, rather than having two wires that meet to make one large loop. This allows the tailpiece to move more freely and can affect the sound.
- All Wire – Some teachers, most notably Albert Laszlo of Juilliard, advocate removing the tailpiece completely. A wire runs directly from the saddle to a set of four wires that hold the balls of the strings.
- Strings, Strings, Strings – It is sad that this option has become the most expensive way to explore your instrument, but such are the ways of exchange rates and economic ups and downs. The only good news in the area of strings is that there are more and better choices available to bassists today than ever before, and there is probably a string set (or combination of string types) that will get more of what you want out of your bass. Hopefully I’ll be able to blog a bit more on strings in the future – they deserve a post unto themselves.
I hope at least a few of these sound like things you could try out yourself. If you know some more cheap fixes for your instrument or bow, please don’t keep it to yourself – drop me a line or just comment on this post.
Most string players own several different bows during the course of their playing career, usually starting on a fiberglass or inexpensive wooden bow in early years of study and upgrading many times on the journey toward professional-level playing. Like strings, rosin, and other key pieces of gear, bows are a very personal and subjective item, and many string players spend their entire lives in search of the perfect bow.
Early Student Bows
String players generally start of a fiberglass, cheap carbon fiber, or brazilwood bow as part of a rental package or school instrument set-up. While this kind of stick may be adequate for the very early stages of development (particularly if one starts as a young Suzuki student), upgrading to a higher-quality bow in middle school or high school is one of the surest ways to increase the playability of a student’s gear.
Early student bows are likely to have the following characteristics:
cheaply constructed – either fiberglass or brazilwood
poorly balanced – too heavy, too light, inconsistent weight distribution
poor camber in the stick – straight and unwieldy sticks are par for the course with many brands of student bow
overall stiffness – difficult to use for more advanced bow strokes
While these kinds of bows are adequate for the early stages of a string player’s development (and may be the best kind of bows for Suzuki or early elementary playing, where instruments and bows are getting banged around on a daily basis), once a student starts taking private lessons and attains a moderate degree of proficiency, these cheap bows should be a number upgrade priority.
Moving to a Better Stick
When a student begins their search for a higher quality bow, there are several factors to consider that will help to narrow their search:
Budget – How much can a student reasonably spend on a bow? Some students (and their parents) balk at spending even $300 on a bow, while others have no qualms about spending $1500 or more on a first bow upgrade.
Carbon Fibre or Wood? – I generally recommend that students looking for a bow under $1000 invest in a carbon fibre bow. One can get a carbon fiber bow that is very well-balanced and that responds quickly for around $800, and I have seen some models priced as low as $400 that work very well as an upgrade bow. While many students like the idea of owning a wood bow, unless the player gets lucky and finds something that handles exceptionally well, I usually recommend that students looking to spend less than $1000 seriously consider a carbon fiber bow.
Buy from Local Shop or Have Bows Sent Out? – I like supporting local instrument businesses. After all, when one’s bass is in need of an emergency repair, how much help will a retailer located four states away be? I firmly believe in helping give local luthiers and instrument shops business, and I will recommend them over national outfits in any circumstances. When looking for a bow, however, one may simply exhaust the local possibilities without finding something that really “clicks”, and in this case I recommend that students contact a regional shop (for the double bass, Kolstein, Robertsons, and the Cincinnati Bass Cellar are three good retailers with a lot of credibility) and have them send out a few bows for a trial.
Buying a bow privately – Finding a local player who is selling a stick may be the best way to find a good bow. Keep your ears open and ask around—it’s quite likely that a bassist in the area has a good bow that they are trying to sell!
The Best Method for Trying Out Bows
Whether trying out bows from a local shop, national dealer, or private individual, there are some things that every student can do to ensure that they give these sticks a fair and logical trial. After all, bows are a very subjective thing, and one may fall in love with a bow and buy it impulsively, only to realize a few weeks later that it’s not really that well-balanced…. maybe a little too heavy… maybe that gold wrapping and fancy inlay disguise the fact that it is somewhat lacking in actual playing quality…
Don’t let this happen to you! The following tips will help to ensure that you are well-informed and have fairly tested your options before buying:
Always have your teacher try the bow….always! – I’ve had a few (not many, thankfully) students come in with a brand new bow to a lesson. I widen my eyes in surprise, then in silent horror as I start to play. Students really shouldn’t buy a stick without having their teacher try it out! Emotion plays a big part in selecting a stick, and a student may “fall in love” with a bow that really doesn’t work for them. Also, they may notice that the bow they are trying out is an improvement and just by it because it feels better. What they often don’t realize (without the guidance of a teacher) is that a little more thorough hunting could have yielded a bow at the same price that works significantly better.
Realize that this process may take time – This bit of advice also applies to instrument purchases! Though a student may be anxious to get a new bow immediately, they really should take the time and do their homework, try out a lot of sticks and really live with them for a week or so before making any decisions. And if nothing that really satisfies during this search, don’t just buy the least unappealing option! Try out merchandise from another outlet, ask around and see what’s available, and bide your time—the bow for you is out there. Just be patient.
Never try out only one bow – When looking for a car, few folks simply into a dealership, test drive a car, and purchase it without doing any research into mileage, safety features, consumer reviews, or the like. If people are reluctant to simply buy the first car that crosses their path, why should buying a bow e any different? And bows are much less standard than cars—even more reason to try many models before making a decision.
Try out bows from different shops – While you may very well get lucky and find a real gem of a stick from the first shop you try, realize that the quality of merchandise and pricing varies dramatically from shop to shop. I’ve played bows priced at $4500 that I would pay $1000 for, and vice-versa! Even if your budget is in the sub-$1000 category, there is still a wide discrepancy in stick quality out there, and many shops tend to get their less expensive bows from only a few makers, so a different shop is likely to yield bows from different makers.
Don’t buy bows from eBay unless you really know what you’re doing – I buy my fair share of merchandise off of eBay, but I usually tense up when a student tells me that they’ve found the “perfect bow” online. It’s one thing if you’re a professional and are making an informed purchase, but students looking for a solid stick that works with their laying style really should try out many bows for an extended period of time before making a purchase.
There are circumstances where using eBay makes a lot of sense for bow purchases. If you’re looking for really cheap student bows you’re likely to find quite a few out there, though I’d rather give that business to a local retailer and help keep my area shops in business. Also, if you’re looking to buy or sell a quality professional bow and you know what you’re doing, eBay can be a dynamite way to find a good stick. I’d highly recommend that students looking for an upgrade stick steer clear of eBay without the help of an informed teacher.
Should you have a bow made for you?
I tend to shy away from having instruments or bows custom made for me. I’ve found that I often love one particular bow or instrument, only to be sorely disappointed in another model from that very same maker. Even if the maker makes it clear that I don’t have to buy this particular new bow or instrument, I still prefer to try out several different pre-existing instruments from several makers when making purchase decisions.
Still, many professionals have instruments or bows made specifically for them, with great results. There’s something to be said for the relationship formed between luthier and player during this process. Luthiers usually stand behind their work and will do repairs for free (or a reduced rate).
Also, for very popular makers, getting on a wait list for a custom-made bow may be the only way to get a stick from this maker. Wait lists usually require a deposit (which is sometimes refundable if the player decided to bail—check this out before signing up!), and the player is then guaranteed a bow somewhere in the upcoming queue.
There’s nothing quite like the feeling of finding an excellent stick that really fits with your particular playing style, and taking a little extra time in the research and trial segments of the bow purchasing process can really pay off. Even if the first bow you try out seems to really fit, taking a little extra time and checking out some of the other available options is a much more prudent course of action. If you don’t find that “perfect stick” right away, don’t despair! There is bound to be a good bow out there that fits your budget and playing style, and you’ll be glad that you took the journey.
The following is a guest post from Double Bass Blog contributor Phillip W. Serna. Check out Phillip’s recitals and interviews on his Contrabass Conversations page, and visit him online at http://www.phillipwserna.com/. Enjoy!
Contrabass Conversations and the Double Bass Blog are continues is series on early bass performers. It will highlight many different perspectives on early bass/ violone performance. Our next guest is luthier Thomas Schiegnitz. We hope that you will enjoy these interviews and glean a good deal of information from our esteemed guests.
About Thomas Schiegnitz:
Thomas Schiegnitz is an instrument builder and restorer at the Musical Instruments Museaum Berlin. Thomas Schiegnitz trained at the Geigenbauschule in Mittenwald (1978-1981), worked in violin building in Germany and abroad and has been a restorator with the Musikinstrumenten-Museum Berlin since 1992. He is a builder and restorer of period instruments including cellos, double basses & Viennese Basses.
You can visit Thomas Schiegnitz’s website at http://www.geigenbau-schiegnitz.de/.
Viennese bass, Johann Josef Stadlmann, Vienna, about 1750
When and how did you become interested in early music, and how has it shaped your life musically?
In about 1980 ( being ca.24 years while studying at the “Geigenbauschule” in Mittenwald) looking for a facsimile for a Boccerini-Quintett at the Munich Bibliothek, which we played then, still on modern instruments, but impressed by the praxis of baroque-music performance by dutch groups ( Koopman, Kuijken family etc.)
The following is a guest post from Double Bass Blog contributor Phillip W. Serna. Check out Phillip’s recitals and interviews on his Contrabass Conversations page, and visit him online at http://www.phillipwserna.com/. Enjoy!
Our next guest in our early music interview series is Richard Myron. We hope that you will enjoy these interviews and glean a good deal of information from our esteemed guests.
About Richard Myron:
Richard Myron is an immensely experienced period bassist who has worked with a number of prominent American groups such as Concert Royal, the Brewer Ensemble, the Smithsonian Players and Orchestra, the Connecticut Early Music Festival, and many other small ensembles. In Europe, Richard has performed with la Petite Bande, Anima Aeterna, Les Arts Florissants, Concerto Vocale, the Ensemble Mosaïques, Al Ayre Espanol, Hesperion XX. Richard Myron was a founding member of the Freiburger Barockorchester and Il Seminario Musicale and has also worked with l’Arpeggiata and Les Basses Réunies, a group consisting of only bass instruments.
When and how did you become interested in early music, and how has it shaped your life musically?
My interest in early music goes back to my studies in New York at Juilliard—Albert Fuller gave a course in historic interpretation, and I was fortunate enough to understand his message.
In addition to violone, what other instruments (period instruments or otherwise) have you studied or played? Have these informed your approach to period bass/ violone performance?
Well, I play double bass(3, 4 or 5 string) and violone(6 string). I can also play a little(self taught) viol; Funny enough, I started on the Fender bass—I still love to play it!
We’re featuring Barrie Kolstein on Contrabass Conversations this week. One of the most prominent and influential figures in the double bass community, Barrie was a real treat to interview, and co-host John Grillo and I really had a blast chatting with him. In this interview, Barrie discusses his father Samuel Kolstein and how he got into the bow making business, the progression into the bass making business, and the development of the Kolstein line of products (including rosin, stings, and cases) that bassists worldwide use today.
Barrie is a perceptive and extremely knowledgeable figure in the double bass community, and it was a real pleasure to do this interview. John, Barrie, and I actually chatted for a couple of hours, and it is all excellent content, so I’ll be breaking this interview into two hour-long segments, and you’ll be hearing the first half today. Visit the Kolstein shop online at www.kolstein.com, and check out our co-host John online at www.classicalmusicnews.tv.
John Grillo of classicalmusicnews.tv (and our regular co-host on the Contrabass Conversations podcast network) and I interviewed Barrie Kolstein of Kolstein Music, Inc. and Kolstein & Son, Ltd. Barrie is a legend in the double bass community, running the prestigious Kolstein shop on Long Island for the past several decades after taking over the reins from his father Samuel Kolstein.
This was an absolutely wonderful interview. Barrie takes us back in time to the early 20th century with stories of Barrie’s father Samuel, Fred Zimmermann, and the vibrant post-World War II New York City double bass scene in this interview. He also covers the various iterations of the Kolstein shop, from its early mid-town Manhattan location to its relocation to Long Island and eventual home in the community of Baldwin, New York.
We also discuss Barrie’s own instruments, the double bass market and consequences of the continuing rise in price of older instruments, plus many of the Kolstein line of products, from the flight case to Kolstein rosin production and much more. We will be releasing this interview the weekend of March 14th, so stay tuned!
Learn more about the Kolstein shop at www.kolstein.com.
This is a post from double bassist and music educator Peter Tambroni. Peter is currently a string teacher in suburban Chicago where he teaches string lessons in grades 3 – 8 and conduct the middle school concert and chamber orchestras. He also leads an Irish ensemble and a bass quartet. Learn more about Peter at his website petertambroni.com, and hear him perform and discuss the instrument on his Contrabass Conversations page. Read all doublebassblog.org contributions from Peter here.
Zen, Mastery, and…Orchestra?!
Beyond practice charts, scales, and warm-ups. Alternative approaches for you and your students to reach your next level of mastery.
“There is no easy or difficult; only familiar and unfamiliar.”
– Kenny Werner, author of Effortless Mastery
What is Zen?
Zen is a way of life that fosters calmness, awareness and intuitive thinking. It enriches your life, encourages patience and is “a source of vitality and inner focus.” 1 It promotes natural and intuitive thinking.2 These characteristics are common among great teachers, performers, conductors, and all great musicians. However, there is nothing mystical or supernatural about Zen. It is something all of us can incorporate to create better classrooms, ensembles, and performances. The goal is to be in a state of mindfulness. Thich Nhat Hanh, in Zen Keys, writes “Mindfulness helps us focus our attention on and know what we are doing.” With a little practice both you and your students will be using another tool to assist them on their musical journey.
We achieve mindfulness by being 100% focused on the present moment. Enjoying and being in the ‘right now’. And, well, right now is the only moment we can experience anyways so we may be in it all the way. This doesn’t mean ignoring facts or stimuli but rather let them be while you ‘be’.
For me, simply refocusing my brain and attention helps me to get into the zone. I ask myself some questions such as
1. What are your hands feeling?
2. Are my feet planted flat on the ground or am I tensing muscles and lifting my heels?
3. How is my breathing?
4. What are the sounds around me?
Now let’s put it into music.
Try this. Play a scale. Pick one you are very comfortable with. Rather than worrying about pitch, rhythm, tone, posture, etc., just be aware of your bow hand. Don’t nitpick, just feel. Feel the wood against your fingers. Notice the smooth ebony and octagonal pernambuco. Notice how it feel against your flesh. Now play with the scale with ultra long tones on each note — perhaps 5 – 10 seconds on each pitch. Take as many bows as you need on each pitch. Don’t worry about anything – just be aware of your bow hand. Be mindful.
You can try this again and focus on other parts – your fingertips, your back, your feet against the ground. You will probably find that other areas that you are not focusing on become more relaxed while your inner voice becomes less self-conscious.
The trick is always to slow down – both mentally and physically.Be deliberate but not forceful. But you have a recital coming up, right? All the more reason to relax. In my teaching I have found by teaching slower we are able to progress at a faster rate. It sounds contradictory but an analogy here works well. If we are in a car and race the engine the tires will not grasp the road. Even though the engine may be going at full speed the vehicle is not moving. But if we press the accelerator gently we will move forward as the tires gain traction. So it is with learning. Even the most advanced piece can by reduced to a chain of simple tasks that you are capable of.
The more you practice your instrument while being in a calm zone the more you will perform in that zone.
Slowing down – dispel the myth of 1 page per week.
“It doesn’t really pay to move on until something is mastered.” – Kenny Werner, author of Effortless Mastery.
Too many instrumental music teachers think they need to assign a new page every week. I don’t know where or when this idea originated but it seems to have always been there -when I was a student, when I was a student teacher, and now as a full time teacher. This often frustrates the young student who is already overwhelmed! Remember, this young person is thinking of many things – is my bow hand right? what did the teacher say again about my pinky? am I practicing enough? wait, how many fingers for a G? what position? did I use enough rosin? too much?
I will often assign a half of a page or even only a few songs. The students gain much more by being successful with less material that by struggling with more material. Assigning more material does not create better musicians, but mastering less music will always improve a musician. If a student is having difficulty with math, you don’t assign more problems you pick apart FEWER problems so the student learns the process and the inner workings. And do you as a teacher ever feel better by hearing more music that isn’t played correctly?
Rather than stepping on the gas pedal with the wheels slipping at 100mph, isn’t it better to do 10mph and actually move forward? Too many of us have spun our tires and pass on this useless high-speed method to our students. It is not a race to see who can finish Essential Elements first but rather to increase the level of playing with where the student is currently at.
Over the years I actually had to convince myself that it’s all right to give a half page, 1 example or 3 lines. IT IS OK! If the student can handle more, then by all means give them the challenge they need.
Teach thoroughly. The teacher sets the pace. The student does not. Just because the student wants to go on to the next page does not mean you should go along. I have found it useful to tell the students their book is designed to be a two (or three) year book. Most students think they need to get through an Essential Elements book in one year. That’s ludicrous and will only create a short-lived and shallow feeling of accomplishment. If they can’t play each page then what good is it to say they’re done?
The same concept of gradually moving forward rather than racing ahead can be applied, with great results, to the classroom or rehearsal setting. When you go slowly you will find something in your teaching and classroom that may have been missing – calmness. Feeling calm is positive and the effects on classroom atmosphere and student behavior are amazing. The students will sense a reduced feeling of pressure yet are very responsive since they are continually learning AND being successful. I am NOT implying that by covering less material the students are not learning or that the learning process slows down. On the contrary! By covering less material, you can go in greater depth and work the student’s brain harder! It sounds like a paradox but it works.
When teaching new music, use Kenny Werner’s “As slow as” rule. Play the music as slow as you need to go to play it perfectly. I also like to this diagram from his book. (try this link if the picture doesn’t show up well.)
We have a tremendous amount of informative, interactive, and downloadable resources for double bass students here at doublebassblog.org. If you are having trouble locating a specific resource, or if you would like to suggest a new resource for the blog, please e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org or fill out the contact form at the bottom of this page. A list of complete double bass blog resources is available at doublebassblog.org/features.
Articles for Students
These articles focus on educational issues and information for double bass instructors. A complete list of available articles is available at doublebassblog.org/articles.
- Adjunct University Teaching by Jason Heath
- Advice for Aspiring Music Performance Majors by Jason Heath
- Arm Exercises for Flexibility and Strength by Phillip Serna
- Arm Exercises for Flexibility and Strength by Rob Oxoby
- Auditioning for the older musician by Jean-Yves Bénichou
- Balancing solid musicianship and solid bass playing by Nicholas Hart
- Buying a Bass by Jason Heath
- Choosing a double bass gig bags by Jason Heath
- Comparing Rabbath and Simandl techniques by Jason Heath
- Contemporary conservatory life by Nicholas Hart
- Double bass extensions by Jason Heath
- Ethical considerations in adjunct teaching by Jason Heath
- Essentials for bassists by John Floeter
- German bow grips by Robert Oppelt
- Getting a Good Sound by John Floeter
- Getting in shape fast after a vacation by John Floeter
- Getting out of the practice room by Nicholas Hart
- How posture affects sound by Nicholas Hart
- How to polish ebony fingerboards by Jean-Yves Bénichou
- Jean Cros – in memorium Jean-Yves Bénichou
- Mental aspects of bass playing by Nicholas Hart
- Misconceptions between teachers and performers by Jason Heath
- Mock Auditions by Nicholas Hart
- Organizing practice time by John Floeter
- Performance Anxiety by Nicholas Hart
- Playing the Mahler 1 bass solo by Robert Oppelt
- Practice organization – getting a good sound by John Floeter
- Reflections on Double Bass Teaching by Jason Heath
- The Psychology of Being Musical by Nicholas Hart
- This new bass (a painful journey) by Eric Hochberg
- Tuning in Fifths with Joel Quarrington (audio interview on NACO)
- Upgrading instruments by John Floeter
- Sound and motion in bass playing by Nicholas Hart
- What to practice when time is of the essence by Joe Lewis
- Why I teach by Jason Heath
- Why teach music? by Jason Heath
Want to find out the latest double bass auditions, news about recent winners, and more? Just visit our audition index to learn more.
Get the skinny on what material is required for auditions at various major music schools, and add to the body of knowledge by leaving additional information here!
We have a diverse set of excellent collaborators contributing content to doublebassblog.org. This page features biographical information for our writers and a link to all of their contributions.
Check out our constantly evolving archive of double bass audio interviews with luminaries from all musical genres. Once on this page, individual guests may be selected (each is pictured next to their name and occupation). We add to this archive on a weekly basis, so check back frequently for more content!
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- Tuning in Fifths with Joel Quarrington (audio interview on NACO)
Visit our Contrabass Conversations archive for weekly performances from double bassists across the globe! Classical, jazz, bluegrass, and electric bassists are all featured, and available offerings may be searched by guest or keyword.
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Listing of all videos available on DoubleBassBlog.org.
We have several multi-part video lessons available. These may be viewed online or can be downloaded. Links are available to download each individual video (viewable on your computer, iPod, or other portable media device), and all available videos can be downloaded automatically by subscribing to our Contrabass Conversations feed.
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Would you like to know what life is really like as a professional musician? We’re constantly turning out new stories about the wacky things that we musicians run into on a daily basis. Ever have a car explode while coming home from a gig? Ever have a plane taken over by the musicians? It’s happened, and it’s covered here.
Weekly audio and video episodes featuring interviews, performances, virtual lessons, crazy gig stories, and much more.
Click here to visit the DBB.org download archive and pick up hundreds of PDFs, MP3s, and other resources.
Links for Students
General Bass Sites:
International Society of Bassists
Bass Club Chicago
American School of Double Bass
Bob’s House of Basses
Bob Gollihur’s Double Bass Links Page
Double Bass and Violone Internet Archive
The Online Double Bass Guide
Harmony Central Bass Resources (great for electric bass)
The Double Bass Page (UK)
DaXun Zhang’s Website
Sigi Busch’s Website
Gary Karr’s Website
Encyclopedia of Bass Logic
The Online Journal of Bass Research
Rufus Reid Homepage
Bob’s House of Basses has a very comprehensive listing
Music Publishers for Bass:
Career Websites for Performers:
Summer Festivals to audition for:
Aspen Music Festival
Tanglewood Music Festival
National Repertory Orchestra
National Orchestral Institute
Pacific Music Festival
Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival
American School of Double Bass
Brevard Music Center
Sewanee Music Festival
Birch Creek Music Performance Center
Hot Springs Music Festival
MYA Summer Music Festival
Bradetich Master Classes
Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp
Pine Mountain Music Festival
National High School Music Institute
Boston University Tanglewood Institute (BUTI)
Crane Youth Music Camp
Sarasota Music Festival
Youth Orchestra of the Americas
Frenchwoods Festival of the Performing Arts
Neue Mozart-Ausgabe: Digitized Version This site provides a complete and freely accessible and downloadable catalog of the same source material used in the Bärenreiter edition of Mozart’s works.
The NMA Mozart project places restrictions on the use of material on the site, making you click through a license agreement that restricts you to personal use (not public performance use).
Audacity – a great FREE sound recording and multi-track editing program
Classicalmusicarchives.com (comprehensive MIDI orchestral repertoire)
Violinmasterclass.com – an excellent educational resource for all string players with videos, practice charts, and more
MusicTheory.net – great online music theory compendium
Online Ear Training
Practicespot.com – great site filled with practice tools, games, downloads, exercises, articles, etc.
Getting the Most Out of Your Practice Session (Bill Koehler)
Inner Game of Music
MIDI Library for Solo Bass
more solo bass MIDI
more MIDI files
Hans Sturm’s Double Bass Audition Resources (audio and text bass resources)
Finale Notepad (basic free version of Finale)
Electric Bass Downloads Page
Douglas Yeo Trombone Home Page (not a bass page, but full of valuable career and practice info.)
FlexiMusic (offers a set of great music software, including FlexiMusic Wave Editor, Generator, Composer, Orchestra, Composer, and Kids Composer)
Listen to and follow along with double bassist John Grillo as he takes listeners through the standard orchestral audition repertoire for the double bass. Includes both audio double bass excerpts and dialogue.
Take me to the study guide >>
Listen to and follow along with double bassist John Grillo as he takes listeners through the standard opera audition repertoire for the double bass. Includes both audio double bass excerpts and dialogue.
Take me to the study guide >>
Hundreds of MP3s are available to work with online or download for student practicing. This page also features a list of useful online tools for practicing and musical development.
Learn more about the double bass and hear great interviews and performances from leaders in the field through the Contrabass Conversations audio and video podcast series!
We offer an ever-expanding set of full-length performances of double bass solo and chamber repertoire. This page lists our current offerings. You can find many more live performances in the Contrabass Conversations archives, and feel free to submit a piece or suggest a feature through the form at the bottom of this page.
Our list of shops that sell, repair, or construct double basses and related gear. View our listings or add your own for free!
Submit your own tracks anonymously for evaluation from the community. You do not need to be a bass player to participate!
To get in touch, email jasonheath -at- doublebassblog.org.