Ask the Teacher - Orin O’Brien


The double bass teacher advises her students to analyse their instrument’s role

What common problems do you see, and how do you deal with them?

I often see awkward posture, with one foot off the ground, which frequently leads to back pain. Both feet should be on the ground with the weight balanced, and the knees slightly fl exed. Some students let the bass fall forward while shifting to an upper position. I encourage letting the bass neck fall slowly on your left shoulder when moving gradually into thumb position. It is only an adjustment of an inch or two, not a major alteration of stance.

The most difficult problem for the left hand is double-jointedness: the fi ngers buckle when trying to maintain a strong curved position. I recommend a fi nger-strengthening clay called Power Putty. Push the curved fingers (use the third and fourth fingers together) gently into the putty for one or two minutes, morning and evening, and in six weeks the ligaments will be strong enough to retain a curve. I also see ignorance of bow management. Many bassists do not have the years of bow study that other string players do: after six months of lessons they get thrown into the school orchestra and told to get on with it. Frederick Zimmermann’s Contemporary Concept of Bowing for the Double Bass is a huge help with any kind of bowing problem.

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