Exercises and Schedules for Building Stamina on Bass

Bass player in concert

My experience has been that when musicians work, they really work. It is completely feasible that we can play gigs morning, afternoon and evening. When times are good, we can find ourselves playing nine hours a day, or more, many days in a row. Needless to say, when these periods come around our stamina needs to be high. The demands of the job necessitate that they be. The last note of the day needs to be just as strong and in control as the first note. This takes stamina and without adequate stamina, intonation, time, tone, etc. can all suffer.

However, when musicians don’t work, they really don’t work. Many styles are seasonal. These musicians might go for days or even weeks without work. These dry spells can have adverse consequences for our stamina if we don’t take precautions. Not only do we need stamina on the first day of the heavy season for musical reasons (every note must be as good as it can be, no matter what else we have done during the day), but also to protect ourselves against potential injury. Jumping into six-hour days unprepared can have physical consequences.

Keeping a daily practice regimen does some to help us stay in shape. However, if we don’t employ stamina strategies in our sessions we may find that the first day of multiple gigs to be rough. To combat this, below are few techniques to test, maintain, and build stamina.

Jazz and other styles: Set up a “play-along” playlist that lasts one hour and 15 minutes. This is approximately the length of a set.

Classical and Solo styles:
Use your concert/recital material, orchestral excerpts, etudes, or whatever is in your current repertory to create a one hour and 15 minute long concert.

Stamina-Building Areas of Focus

  1. Start playing and don’t stop until the playlist runs out. Don’t break, don’t rest, don’t go to the bathroom, just play for the entire set or until you fatigue.
  2. If you fatigue before the time runs out, stop. Note your time.
  3. Extend the time the next day by 10 minutes and try again.
  4. Continue adding time each day until you reach your one hour and 15 minute goal
  5. Keep running a one hour and 15 minute playlist daily until you can do it without any fatigue.
  6. If you can run for an hour and a half long set easily, move from “gig mode” to “concert mode” and put together a two hour playlist.
  7. If you can’t go straight to a two hour session, extend your time slowly (as mentioned above) over a number of consecutive days
  8. Keep running a two hour playlist daily until you can do it without any fatigue.
  9. You’ll know your stamina is solid when you experience no mental or physical fatigue at the end of a two-hour playlist. Then you can focus on maintenance.

If your stamina is already good, doing the above type of session two or three times a week will probably keep things in order. If you are trying to build stamina, follow a plan like the one below.

Be sure you can play at least one hour and 15 minute (or two hours, if you are ambitious) as indicated above. After you can do that, then follow this schedule:

  • Week 1: One stamina session on Monday
  • Week 2: One session on Monday, One on Thursday
  • Week 3: One session Monday, One on Wednesday, One on Friday
  • Week 4: One session Monday, One on Tuesday, One on Thursday and One on Friday
  • Week 5: One session 5 consecutive days.
  • Week 6: One session 6 consecutive days.
  • Week 7: You should be in shape by now! Go to maintenance mode, two or three times a week.

As always, use your powers of discernment and proper instrumental technique to prevent injury.


Dr. Donovan Stokes is on the faculty of Shenandoah University-Conservatory. Visit him online at www.donovanstokes.com and check out the Bass Coalition at www.basscoalition.com.

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  1. I like how you’re setting up prescribed rest in your workout implementation. A lot of folks jump into multiple sessions per week immediately and then injure themselves. Great article, Dr. Stokes! =)