Photo by Wilfred Paulse
Q: I have been playing bass guitar for about 8 years, got my grade 8, toured, recorded and got myself to a semi-professional session level. As I am going to go full time as a bass player in the next 18-24 months (I am realistic as well as ambitious) I started lessons with an outstanding teacher and someone who has played bass (and double bass) as a career for over 30 years. I am getting a lot out of it and learning so much. The more I learn and the more confident and better I get. Recently my teacher and I have been discussing the double bass. It is something I have talked about and thought about for a while. In your opinion is it worth learning both the double bass and the bass guitar? Or should I focus on just the bass guitar? Personally I think I should learn the double bass because it will open up doors for me being able to play both but my fear is the bass guitar will suffer as I will be getting lessons and practice time on the upright. What do you recommend?
A: Worth noting: I answered a similar question near the end of last year. I thought that this worth worth re-addressing because you’re coming from a slightly different place from within the question. The previous column had more to do with a student who didn’t feel the need, personally, but was encouraged by his instructor to learn the double bass and work through a collegiate classical program.
It sounds to me like you have an active interest in pursuing both instruments but are more concerned with efficient use of your time and being the best player you can be, with the time you have available.
In a way, the foundation of my answer is the same: Follow your heart.
If you’re feeling a pull in any given instrumental direction, you should definitely explore that world a bit. Pursuing a deeper understanding of – and ability level for – any other instrument gives you insight into music from multiple other perspectives. You gain insight because you develop an understanding of what goes on in the mind of a player of that instrument:
- What it takes physically to achieve a certain sound or feel.
- How you think about your role in the band from the perspective of this other instrument.
In short, you gain instrumental empathy and connection. You will likely find yourself being a more intuitive player as you gain experience with other instruments.
So far, I’ve only written about the idea of playing other instruments to expand your perspective. But, what about the seemingly simple switch from a small bass to a big one?
It’s still very much a different instrument and will definitely take some focus and attention to build the muscle memory and get a real “feel” for it. In the short run, it may cut into your bass guitar time a little bit, but if you’re making the switch to “full-time player”, like you said, the short game should be focused on shedding and planning. You should be focusing on tightening up any aspects of your musicality that need attention and you should (very much) be thinking about your hire-ability and how to maximize your value in the market.
For example, doubling gives you a huge leg up as an independent musician.
I would make a special point to make time for the bass guitar as well, however. If you’re going full-time, treat it like full-time. Carve out an hour-plus for each instrument (or more, ideally). You can separate the shed times, if you like but keep pushing on the electric while pushing on the upright as well.
If your focus is on musicality and hire-ability (those two things go hand in hand, by the way) and not explosive chops and Youtube fame, then exploring the double bass makes total sense.
- It’ll make you a better bass player. On either instrument. You’ll just be better because you will have a broader perspective of the role of the bass.
- You’ll be able to take more gigs.
- You’ll be able to gig in more styles of music.
All of the above mean that you’ll be working more and playing more diverse styles of music. Those two things mean that you will develop much more quickly and develop a strong voice on the instrument
Personally, I don’t double on these two instruments. Why? Well, I’ve dabbled, but I never felt the tug from way down deep so it’s more for my own pleasure and on occasion. I’m more of a home/jam with friends double bassists and not a gigging one. I always wished that I had felt that tug because it made sense logically, but I didn’t, so I never gained proficiency.
You, however, sound like you want it but just don’t want to bite off more than you can chew. If you like it, you’ll do it and, if you love it, you’ll flourish.
Readers, how many of you double on both instruments? I’d love to hear about your journey and your approach. If you’ve made the leap, please share your experience and learning in the comments.