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Thoughts on Improving Your Technique on Bass

There are voluminous technical exercises designed to make us better instrumentalists. Nearly all have benefit when executed properly. Unfortunately, many people focus solely on the musical result expected (e.g. How fast can I play that trill today?) when doing technical work.

However, the best results are gained when we balance our focus between the musical result and our physical actions (e.g. How fast can I play that trill while moving my fingers lightly and easily? Is my hand shape correct?). By doing this, we will ultimately have more control, stamina, etc, reaping the most benefit from any exercise.

There’s no way around it: Playing the bass well means using you’re your body efficiently. So, when you work your next exercise (for trills, bow strokes, double stops, whatever) keep in mind some of the principles below. Doing so will allow you to garner maximum value from your technical work.

  1. Move only as much as you need: Unnecessary movement wastes energy and makes bass playing harder. Keep movement to a minimum. Do what needs to be done to make the sound you want, and no more.
  2. Avoid Static Tension: Don’t let muscles contract without releasing them. Keep your muscles moving. Also, don’t tense muscles you don’t actually need to use. This applies not only to your larger muscles around the shoulders (a major source of tension for many bassists) but also the muscles in the forearm and hands. Pay special attention to the thumb muscles.
  3. Whenever possible, use balance and gravity rather than muscular effort: No doubt playing the bass requires the use of our muscles. Much can be done with loose limbs and gravity (i.e. weight) however. This is true not only of our bow/pizz arm (Who hasn’t been told use “Dead” weight rather than muscle before?) but also in the fingering hand/arm as well.
  4. Keep the breath moving: When we hold our breath between exhalations and inhalations, our muscles tend to tighten. We also are robbing our muscles of properly oxygenated blood. Breathe in and out, as if it were a normal procedure.