Are you a stander or a sitter?

This is a follow-up to Jason Heath’s excellent post on the various seated vs. standing positions when playing the double bass:

With non-standardized instrument sizes, string lengths, and instrument shapes, it’s no wonder that players and teachers have developed such a dizzying array of stances and postures to cope with this large instrument. But with such a bevy of options, what is the poor music educator to do? Throw a dart at a list of options and go with whichever they hit? Ask their local bass teacher (ask two or three teachers, and you’re likely to get two or three completely different responses)? How can students and teachers make an informed decision on such a slippery topic?

The debate is primarily about practicing the bass standing up vs. sitting. Then within that, we have the various parameters of endpin length, angle of the bass to the body, angle of the body to the floor, height and shape of the stool if you use one, and all the other peripheral gadgetry to keep things in line – rockstops, bent endpin shafts, etc.

And the winner is: Mac! No wait, wrong thread….

I used to be a cello-style sitter, but I became an upright bass practicer when studying with Don Palma. His argument was that you should be able to play accurately and comfortably while standing, and then you’re free to sit as needed in orchestra or just for comfort’s sake.

I’d certainly say that in performance for solo music, it is a lot more comfortable to be able to not have to sit for me. And, it’s one less thing to have to lug around. Another thing I notice is that standing is psychologically liberating – bassists who stand tend to be fairly confident either way when they play. Bassists that are only comfortable playing while seated tend to get somewhat uncomfortable when in situations where they must stand.

However, I’ll still admit that there are a couple of things that for me at least are slightly easier to do when seated in a medium to low stool – stratospheric thumb position, and the more articulate aspects of bowing. Gravity provides a bit of added support in both cases.

Here’s a thought: I think French bow is more naturally attuned to seated position, while German bow lends itself more to the upright brigade. When I look at the other violin-family instruments for which the French bow players (myself included) share a general bow design, the direction of pressure is downward towards the pull of gravity. The gamba family of bows, for which the German bow design resembles, is more often played with the instrument in a vertical aspect and the bow pressure directed in a plane horizontal to the pull of gravity.

So ultimately my philosophy is: Practice the double bass while standing so you have the capability and posture taken care of. Sit as needed, especially during ensemble rehearsals, or just to take a break, but don’t rely on the chair. It is far easier to switch to a seated position if you are comfortable standing than it is to switch to standing if you are always practicing the bass while seated.

3 thoughts on “Are you a stander or a sitter?”

  1. Great post! It’s great to hear your perspectives on these issues, and I agree–those who stand seem to always be able to sit down, while the reverse is not necessarily the case! I’ll be sure to do a follow-up post and mention your thoughts on these topics.

  2. Stander, and Mac user.

    At the risk poking into things a little out of my realm (and maybe sounding a little too hillbilly in front of your other readers), your conclusion is right on the money.

    The only style of music I play that really lends itself to sitting is hotclub jazz. Single mic bluegrass can require a pretty decent amount of choreography, and most of the other styles of music I play don’t lend themselves to sitting at all. At least not if you’re trying to keep the dance floor jumping. I suppose that is why the laymen sometimes refer to it as the stand-up bass.

    A great many of the gigs I play can exceed four hours of playing (my current record is 7 hours at a recent wedding). If I didn’t regularly play standing up, I simply wouldn’t survive. In the blue-collar double bass world, mastering the instrument often feels more like a matter of endurance, rather than one of self expression, doing justice to the piece, and achieving the magic tonal qualities that made you fall in love with your instrument in the first place.

    Besides that, though, it’s surprising how many aspects of the instrument are consistent between these vastly different styles.

    Very insightful post. Keep them coming!

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