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Adult Upright Bass Students

When I first started to 'pickup' the upright bass, it wasn't love at first sight by any means.  I was conned into using it on a couple of ballads in my high school jazz band.  I was 18, not 8!  The high school was just starting their orchestra program, but the few basses they had there, were of really bad quality and set up terribly so.  I can't complain though, the price was right!  I was really into playing electric bass then and in my heart of hearts, it was all about studying electric bass, being the best at that, and playing like Jaco Pastorius!  I had gone to Berklee College of Music the summer before (for elec. bass) and had a short glimpse into what a career might be like or at least, that I wanted to pursue a college degree in music. That summer, a friend there bought a hybrid upright bass from one of the teachers at Berklee.  He was naturally excited, but truly, I didn't care.  After my brief sad introduction with that other high school bass where the strings were at least 1/2" high, dead 'cheapo' strings, coat hanger used for a tailpiece wire etc...I couldn't understand how or why anyone would go for thaaat!  While I was hanging out in my friend's dorm room, he asked if I wanted to try his new bass.  I hit the A string, then the G on the E string and my life changed forever...

So thaaaat's what the hell they are supposed to sound and play like.  That was just the beginning really as I found out and got to play on many upright basses after that. (Who would have known back in 1978 that I would eventually own one of the biggest and best upright bass houses in the world!)  Putting that aside, I started to save my money for my own (real) upright bass.  I still used that school bass, but my heart was thinking, "ok, I will find the notes and learn on this clunker, but soon, I will get a nice bass."  I saw the light...

When young, small children learn on an instrument, certainly there are some hindrances to learning: Their hands are smaller and underdeveloped, the coordination isn't there yet (or as much as will eventually be), they don't have the concentration skills, nor the musical ear training.)  Let's face it, just listening to the radio, you're learning throughout your whole life.  The biggest, most overwhelming advantage children usually have though is their lack of fear and not having too much pride.  They are used to screwing up everything when they learn.  It is only adults that cannot stand the slightest site or smell of failure in anything.  (To prove my point....how often do men ask directions to go anywhere or even admit that they are totally lost???)  Yet, these kids could care less if anyone laughs or how bad they play, they know, just like everything else that they learned through their young life, that mistakes, big ones, ugly ones, teach us and make us better, and very, very quickly!  Be a kid, don't be afraid.

We get at least one or two phone calls a week by middle aged  adults that either play electric bass now and want to 'convert' or those that just want to start playing an upright bass.  Is it impossible or too difficult to learn they ask?  The answer is absolutely NOT!  In fact, in some ways, it is easier to start on the upright than on the electric bass.  (Electric bass, with it's fretboard simply laid out and accessible first gives the impression that it is all there for the taking...easy!)  Yes...and no!  Yes, it is accessible, but no, what you do with it is quickly the issue rather than how you do it.  The upright bass forces you to learn in stages.  Think of it as going up a ladder once step at a time.  To be really philosophical about it, the 'ladder' really never ends for even the best, but you get pretty high up and the sights look (and smell) pretty good up there.  You won't regret it.  It is amazingly easy walking up that ladder.

So, be like a child!  Take up the bass and enjoy playing.  People (teachers) are amazingly giving and I have never heard of any really accomplished player begrudging helping a less accomplished player.  Especially upright bass players. We have a serious fraternity and I am not the only one that thinks or experiences this.  I meet bass players at airports and in all sorts of places and no matter what we're doing or where we're going, we'll find a way to hang and compare and share notes with each other.  (I once literally caught someone's bass as it was coming out of the other side of an airport x-ray machine).  I was already checked through the other side, when I heard the screams: My bass, my bass, someone please catch my bass!  I did.  A French guy, (jazz player) flying out of NYC for a string of gigs, he hugged me and then couldn't believe that I was actually a bass player too!  A small world?

Anyhow, ask for directions!  Get a bass, get a good teacher to help you get the right stance posture and at least give you a good start.  Some don't want to or don't have time to commit to weekly lessons, but just a few starter lessons, will pay off in the end. How to hold it, how to pluck it, how to form your left hand. Done!  A ladder, one step at a time.  I have never heard of anyone being disappointed though, especially once they get one of our basses and see and feel how a bass can be so easy to play on.  (Remembering high school again!) It's amazing how everything fits together.  You never forget the joy of feeling and experience something truly great!!

How to find a decent teacher.  We have a new web page here called upright bass teachers.  We have heard that a lot of people are finding teachers through that page and it was really out of necessity that we created it.  (Again, if you are a teacher and not on that page, email us now and give us your info.) There is quite a range of levels and expertise with these teachers.  In some cities there are a lot and in others, not so many at the moment.  Again, don't be afraid to call or contact people.  Also, don't be afraid to try a couple different teachers to see what or how they do.  There are all sorts of people and for some reason or another, some are more compatible or make it more enjoyable.  That's life!

There are a couple of really great DVDs out there too, not to mention Youtube.  Kids nowadays can see and hear so many different things (musically) that one cannot begin to imagine what the music and technique is going to be like because of it in the coming years.  I always like to recommend Rufus Reid's DVD which is truly a wonderful sincere approach.  This guy loves the bass and it oozes all over his DVD!  I loved it too and wish I had that DVD in high school man!! 

So playing the bass isn't hard and in many respects a lot easier to play on than an electric bass. Everything on it (as in life) comes in mini steps.  At first you will make huge steps and then incremental ones, but the steps are always enjoyable.  Tennessee Williams liked to say, "if you find a job that you love, you will never work a day in your life."  I never thought playing the bass was real work (hey...I worked at McDonalds before, now that was work!!)