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Classical Pieces for Beginner to Intermediate Level Bassists

This week, Dr. D. tackles a reader’s question about incorporating classical music into his practice routine.

Q: I have recently started the switch to upright bass, I have been practicing technique and working my scales (pissing off my roommates) but I want to bring a third portion to my practice and incorporate some beginner classical music. What good is practicing these skills without playing actual music? My problem is that I haven’t been able to come across any beginner pieces for the double bass. There are lot of beautiful pieces, but they are more demanding. Any suggestions? – Josh

A: Congrats on playing scales! Used correctly, they are the quickest way to technical virtuosity. I agree that playing tuneful music is important as well. Not just for musical and technical development, but for the soul.

The great thing about working instrumental technique in classical music is that we become privy to a long tradition of pedagogy that has been constantly refined over the past 165 years or so. There have been some particularly great strides in the past 30 years. Much of the learning process has been refined at a high level, and by studying classical music we can benefit from this pedagogy, no matter what music we decide to play for a living.

In addition to method books, technical exercises and etudes, however, there is also a vast library of solo classical music for bassists at every level. In fact, great teachers have a progression of works in mind when working with a student. For students at any stage of development, they have a number of pieces that are appropriate for their skill, and will also prepare them for the next level. Of course, without seeing and hearing you play it is impossible to make a specific repertory suggestion. A qualified teacher is always your best bet, and I hope you seek one out, but I will try and point you in the right direction.

For beginning level I would check out:

  • Bass is Best series published by Yorke editions and compiled by my friend, colleague and great U.K. young bass teacher Caroline Emery.
  • Solos for the Young Bassist, also by Yorke editions.
  • Double Bass Solo (1) compiled by Keith Hartley, published by Oxford University Press.
  • Contemporary Modal Solos by Milton Weinstein. This book is one of my favorites to use. Tuneful solos, easy to play, yet melodically and harmonically interesting. Published by University of Miami Music Publications.
  • Progressive Repertoire for the Double Bass compiled by George Vance. (Volume 1 is the easiest, Volume 2 is more difficult, etc.) Not everyone agrees with the playing method espoused by Vance, but one can always disregard things like fingering if they wish. Whatever your technical style, you can still benefit from play the repertory, which is thoughtfully planned out.

All of the above publications have tuneful melodies for the beginning player.

For something slightly more advanced, but still on the easy side try:

  • Transcriptions of the Vivaldi Cello Sonatas. G. Shirmer publishes a collection of 6 of them, edited by Lucas Drew.
  • Solos for the Double Bass Player, selected and edited by Oscar Zimmerman and published by G. Schirmer. I like this book because it includes works by recognized masters (i.e. Beethoven) presented in a manner that an early intermediate player can easily handle.
  • Bel Canto Basso published by Zimmerman press. These are 18th century Italian vocal exercises transcribed for bass. Nice melodic material that keeps you below the half point of the string (12th fret…if we had them).
  • Lucas Drew Solo Albums for the Double Bass and Piano, Volume I, published by Warner Brothers. These are Intermediate level pieces, but fun to play if you know a few notes in thumb position.

There are a myriad more available, but these publications are a place to start.

Of course, consulting with a teacher for a one-to-one lesson is the quickest and most accurate way to find the appropriate piece for your exact level. Even with the suggestions above, I recommend finding a teacher for at least a single lesson, in person or online, who can hear/see you play and make such a recommendation.

A final thought:

From the way you phrased your question, it sounds like you are a jazz, pop, rock or “other” style player. If you are, then I would also suggest learning the heads (i.e. melodies) to some familiar tunes as well. Put them in a comfortable octave, use the bow and you are off to the races. It’s good for your ear and technique. Plus you can play some bass karaoke with your recordings!