How to Use Arm/Hand Weight Whilst Playing the Double Bass
- Do you struggle to use hand/arm weight when playing double bass?
- Do you squeeze the neck to press the strings and get thumb pain?
- Does your left hand often get tired when you play the upright bass, especially on long gigs?
In this video lesson I answer a question from a member of the 'Discover Double Bass Study Group'. Sid asked about a problem he was having balancing the double bass and using arm weight. This happens to be an issue that I’ve seen a lot recently and it’s really important to address. If you haven’t balanced the instrument correctly it can be harder to use left hand/arm weight to help keep the strings down and play with less effort. Just using the muscles in the left hand can lead to squeezing with the thumb causing fatigue and soreness. These can also be caused by poor left hand technique, or even a badly set up instrument, but without getting the correct posture and using arm/hand weight, all aspects of your playing will be harder.
Before you check out the lesson here’s a quick caveat, you will see other bassists using a different posture to the one I recommend. However, the method I describe in this lesson allows the use of arm weight in the left hand, which I consider essential to play for long periods of time in comfort and without fatigue, so I recommend you try it to see if you can use all or part of the technique. It also very easy to understand, but hard to do, so allow plenty of time for it to become second nature.
If you are having problems here’s some of the most common questions I get on this topic:
Is it all arm/hand weight, or am I actually using my arm muscles as well?
The key is to be as relaxed as possible to let your hand/arm weight press the string down for you, but to do that you do have to use the larger muscles (mostly arm and shoulder) to position your arm. Once your arm is being gently held in position you allow the weight of your hand and arm to help your left hand press the string down to play the notes.
My thumb is sore, is this related?
Yes it’s very likely to be caused by squeezing the neck, rather than using hand/arm weight to keep the strings down. Watch the video then check out this other lesson called: Left Hand Thumb Technique for Double Bassists.
How can I check if I'm still squeezing the neck?
Try playing sat down, that way the bass is being supported for you and you won't need to hold it with your hand to keep it in position. Switching between playing seated and standing should help you to establish if it's more of a problem when you are playing stood up. If so, it's a posture issue as you are not correctly positioning the bass and are using your left hand to hold it.
Bear in mind it may also be that you are using the wrong technique to depress the strings, but at least you now know you should start with correcting your posture.
Is the technique different If I am playing an EUB?
Playing an EUB instead of a regular upright bass can make it harder to use this technqiue as many 'stick basses' don't have a frame which can act as the outline of the body. It's this frame that should be resting against you to help support the bass and keep the neck in the correct position. As there is no body of the instrument on an EUB it can also change the distance you stand from the bass. Often the player will move too close to the instrument as they focus on their left hand. If you are stood touching the body of the EUB it will likely make it impossible to use hand/arm weight as your posture won't be correct due to the instrument being too vertical.
Another consideration is that as EUBs are much lighter than regular double basses they can be prone to moving around as you add weight to the strings. A great design to counter this problem is to use a T bar on the spike which stops the instrument rotating. I've seen this used in Eminence double basses.
Double Bass Set Up and String Height
Having your instrument set up properly makes playing the double bass a lot easier. You should make sure yours is well set up with a moderate to low string height at the nut and bridge. Strings may also play a part and some people like myself find lighter gauge strings make it easier to play with good technique. To learn more about strings you can check out our 'Double Bass String Buyers Guide'.
I don’t feel comfortable with the bass. What should I do?
This technique will only work if the double bass is correctly balanced against you at the right angle. If it's too vertical you won't be able to let the weight of the hand/arm press the strings down. Symptoms that suggest it may not be positioned correctly are that the bass feels as if it wants to fall past you, or that you are squeezing with the thumb of your left hand.
Good posture is the foundation of your technique so I recommend learning this method to see if you can apply all, or part of it to your playing. If you want to learn more about posture and all of the essential aspects of beginner’s technique check out my step-by-step video course 'Beginner’s Double Bass'.
I hope you enjoy this short video and if you have any ideas, feedback or lesson suggestions please leave a comment below.
For more lessons on the fundamentals of technique please check out Beginner's Double Bass: A step-by-step method to get started with the upright bass. 43 video lessons, 5+ hrs