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Developing Stamina

I have trouble with stamina, especially when playing difficult music. How do you develop stamina? – John H.

Developing stamina can be a real challenge on an instrument as large and as physically demanding as the upright bass. If developing stamina is a goal you need to achieve, I would suggest focusing on the following items as you begin your journey.

Practice everyday

If you are out of shape instrumentally, you will not have the stamina you desire and technically demanding music will especially tire you. Practicing everyday (or at a minimum, six days a week) will, by the nature of its regularity, increase your stamina. Playing everyday is the first step to increasing your stamina.

Strive to play with minimum effort in everything you do

Undirected effort and unneeded tension are two of the largest barriers to increasing one’s stamina on the bass. Work diligently to ensure that you are only using the minimum necessary physical effort to achieve the sound you desire. Be aware of your entire body and make sure that all muscular effort is directed toward a specific technical goal. Avoid physical tension that serves no purpose or, worse yet, inhibits your freedom of motion. Gain knowledge of body mechanics and strive for ease in all aspects of your playing. A good teacher will help you, but body-awareness is a prerequisite.

Slowly increase the amount of time you practice each day

Once you are practicing as part of a daily routine, you should slowly increase your practice time. I suggest lengthening your sessions by no more than 15 minutes each day until you reach your goal. The goal length of your practice sessions should be at least as long as your performances. By slowing increasing the length of your practice sessions, you can avoid injuring yourself by practicing too much, too soon. Whatever you do, try to avoid sudden increases in the time spent at your instrument. No matter how attentive you are to using minimum effort when you play, going from 30 minutes a day to four hours a day is not advised.

Be in generally good health

Even the most accomplished instrumentalist can have a low energy day, especially if their health isn’t in order. From back pain to muscle tightness to hangovers, all can diminish your stamina. In addition to an exercise and stretching routine that fits your needs, adequate sleep and proper nutrition are also beneficial. This should be obvious, but it may still take some planning. The rigors and unexpected nature of being on the road can often get in the way of our health, as can the nature of life.