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Double Bass: Keep A Dying Instrument From Extinction

After looking long and hard, I have found a shockingly limited number of resources for double bassists and their instrument. There are plenty of resources for electric bass guitars, from periodicals to web sites, that may print articles for the upright bass enthusiasts, but that's about all. This site is a case in point. There is a subject called Double Bass in the lessons index, with a mere eight lesson entries. The author of one of those (lesson #4098) even admits that he doesn't know what a double bass is. I point this out not as a criticism of the author but to make my point that the double bassist is involved in a dying art. I believe the reason for this is that in the day of electronic music, the music culture has forgotten about the significance of the upright bass, and therefore does not take it seriously. In America, if I wanted to go out and listen to a bassist at a local club, more than likely the club must be one that celebrates jazz or bluegrass traditions, in other words, old-time music. In fact, of the contemporary rock and roll bands that I know, only one plays the upright bass instead of the bass guitar, and even that one band uses the electric upright bass. Indeed, the double bassist seems to be involved in a dying art, and I feel this is an unacceptable state of circumstances; something must be done about it.

That said, I see two paths that the upright bass is heading to in the future:

1. If nothing is done, then jazz and bluegrass will surely suffer for two reasons. They are art forms that are unique to American culture and are thus largely localized here, and they are art forms where electric bass guitars can easily replace upright basses in a post-modern America. Classical music will surely follow. In the Baroque Period there was no pianoforte instrument, but now that in modern times the piano has been so popularized that the instrument takes over as the traditional instrument to use. The same can be said for the bass. Although the bass is still stronger in classical music than popular music (since it requires a bow and has been in our history for longer), there only needs to be an instrument in future development that will produce a sound similar to a bowed bass. Take the keyboard as an example.

2. If we do something about this, then the bass will thrive as an important instrument in modern times, to be taken seriously, and to be used in many different musical styles around the world. I would prefer the second scenario.

In bluegrass circles, double bassists are hard to come by. I've been told the reason for this is because no one wants to destroy their fingers by plucking on tough, thick strings, and practicing takes too much effort because it's tiring holding your hands up for so long. I can see the logic in these arguments; I've been playing since May and I have received at least three blisters on my index playing finger. Lord only knows how many I would have if I played on a regular basis. But the blisters are also a product of a) playing incorrectly, and b) not playing enough. The double bassist who has been playing regularly and for a long time has developed toughened fingers; time can take care of both issues.

Do we really want the double bass to die a natural death? What are we bassists committed to here? I urge each and every bass guitarist to pick up a double bass and use it. It is an amazing instrument, one that I feel very close to while playing. I haven't fooled around with the bass guitar, as tempted as I am, but I have fooled around with acoustic guitars. The bass guitar must feel closer to the acoustic guitar than the acoustic bass, and I have to admit I didn't feel as "one with the instrument" as I do playing an instrument I literally feel like I'm dancing with. As for businesses that promote bass playing, on-line or otherwise, I urge you to take a stand for the double bass. Don't treat the instrument and its players as afterthoughts. Treat the original as royalty and provide the community of bass players with an incentive to pick one up. If the leaders lead, the followers will surely follow.

Now, I understand that this web site, ActiveBass.com, is a little different, for most if not all of its contributions come from the users themselves, but I look at ActiveBass.com as a leader in the bass resource industry precisely for this reason. ActiveBass.com, lead the community into action. With businesses and users working as a team, we can all play our part and create the double bass as an asset to a great s ound and musical expression, rather than an aging grandmother on her way to the grave.

Joshua Prentice is a double bassist living in Alexandria, VA.