Learning the Double Bass: A Beginner's Guide

There are so many things to consider when you’re starting a new musical instrument, whether it is the double bass or the clarinet! It can feel a little overwhelming - what age is best to start, what accessories do I need, will I even enjoy this? We’re here to make the start of your musical journey a little easier - we know exactly how you’re feeling and it’s our pleasure to share our advice with you. This guide is perfect for parents or adult learners themselves.

WHAT’S THE BEST AGE TO START AS A CHILD?

A child should start learning when they are ready. 

What do we mean by that? You can start the learning process informally from a very early age - eg 3 years old, wait until 5 or 7 if you prefer. You can start the learning process with a very small bass (1/16 size) at a very young age, however, it’s probably best to wait until 7 or 8 years old because the double bass is such a large instrument. 

The guide we recommend looking for is interest. If the child is eager to learn, and is showing an inquisitiveness, there is more likely to be immediate progress. Some children may show a “want” regarding the double bass, but when we try to engage them they show no focus. Perhaps they simply aren’t ready! The teachers in our team have experienced this over the years with their students, and they have come back a couple of years later ready to learn. 

Don’t force kids before they are ready - if they start in their own time, they are more likely to enjoy the journey, hence will show better progress as well. 

 

Get your kids into bass lessons if that’s what they want, but be aware that pre-Grade 1 children may not be able to focus well enough yet, and don’t turn them off music by pushing them too hard, too soon. The best thing you can do to get the ball rolling is expose your small child to music and see where it takes them. There are hundreds of early music classes around the country that will give your child an excellent start to their musical journey before progressing to a double bass.

LEARNING AS AN ADULT

The most frequently asked question from adults is this - have I left it too late? And our answer? It’s never too late to start. 

Many adults take up a musical instrument, frequently it’s when their children are a bit older and you have time to do something for yourself, or you’re an adult who would like to re-start. If it’s something you’re passionate about and can invest time in every day (even if it’s just 15 minutes) why not?

We are often asked by older people if they have left it too late. It’s never too late to start, and by all accounts is very good for our aging brains. 

WHAT DOUBLE BASS SHOULD I BUY?

There are thousands of options on the market, so it’s important that you shop with a reputable violin store or maker. 

Renting is also a great option if you’re not sure about whether you or your child will enjoy the double bass - you might find yourself playing viola or cello instead! 

If you’re an adult learner, you may only want to buy an instrument once, and buy well. If your budget allows for this, it is a great place for starting and continuing to develop your musical skills. This level will mean you have an excellent double bass that helps with your development, as it produces a lovely, clear tone and is very easy to work with.

If you want to buy, but don’t want to splash out just yet, we recommend purchasing a good quality beginner instrument and upgrading the strings. Many beginner instruments will be fitted with basic steel strings from the manufacturers. Our advice is to upgrade the strings from the start: this will make learning easier, as the sound you produce will immediately be more enjoyable and rewarding.

WHAT DOUBLE BASS SIZE DO I NEED?

Children require the correct size or their development can be impacted. Usually we would expect a child to start on 1/8 for two years, then 1/4 for another two or three years, 1/2  for two or three, then somewhere between 13 and 15 year olds, they would move to 3/4. 

Most “full size” double basses that you see, especially in orchestral settings, are actually 3/4 size! Adults mostly play on 3/4 double basses, unless their hands are much larger. Then they might use a 7/8 or even an actual 4/4, but most “gigging” bassists would use 3/4 for convenience. Larger sizes are more the requirements of a very strong bassist with big hands working in a symphony orchestra. 

GETTING LESSONS AS AN ADULT

There are lots of resources available when it comes to actually starting to play your new double bass. There are plenty of resources on YouTube and other platforms that can help you to get started by yourself if necessary. Some of the beginner method books on the market also link in with Smart music, an interactive practice software, that helps you learn and keeps you on track. 

However, a very important part of learning a stringed instrument is technique, including posture. Online resources can tell you if you’re in tune and in time, but at some point you will need expert eyes to watch you and give this important advice. Incorrect posture or technique can cause ongoing difficulties with intonation, but they can also create physical injury over time, causing both your body and your bank account considerable pain. We do recommend visiting a double bass teacher as you start off, to ensure your posture is correct and not causing you any pain. 

If you’re looking for lessons for your child, there are local music schools in most suburbs. The majority of these will have string teachers who specialise in playing and teaching the double bass. You may need to prepare to have lessons at a local studio, your teacher’s studio, at your home or online lessons.


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