Background Bass Information

Photo by Henrieta Tornyai

The string instrument family has many members, but it is typically the violin, viola and cello that are most familiar to many people. The melodic beauty of these three instruments is often heard thanks to the significant solo repertoire that exists. However, the double (or ‘string’) bass has traditionally been thought of as an accompaniment instrument. As a result its development as a melodic or ‘solo’ instrument has been slow. According to Paul Ramsier, bassist and composer, “There is a potential breakthrough for this instrument that could rival anything that has happened to musical performance in this century. It would be a real tragedy for the musical audience at large if the double bass does not get a chance to emerge. It can combine the most extraordinary range, virtuoso artistry and lyricism, with spectacular visual excitement. The bass is unique is all its features. The concert world needs to be refreshed and the double bass is waiting in the wings.

LIMITING FACTORS

As the bass relates to children and their musical development, there are two major inter-related problems limiting their opportunity to explore this instrument and its melodic beauty, thus its virtuosity:

  • Instrument size, availability and cost,
  • Availability of training.

INSTRUMENT SIZE, AVAILABILITY AND COST

Due to the imposing size of a ‘full-size’ bass a child must generally be 14-16 years of age in order to handle the instrument successfully. Currently, the smallest size bass that is normally available is 1/4 size, which is still too large for children under the age of ten. Additionally, the supply of 1/4 size instruments is limited and cost is high. Children under the age of 10 will need 1/8 or 1/10 size instruments, both of which are extremely difficult to find and very costly to purchase (over $2000). String instrument retailers and rental companies typically do not stock these small size instruments due to the scarcity of players and the large capital investment required to purchase the instrument for inventory. If a small size instrument is available families will typically rent the instrument because purchase is not practical since resale values are low and children outgrow the instruments within a few years. In contrast, violins, violas and cellos are readily available in smaller sizes ranging as low as 1/32. This is primarily due to the fact that well known music programs such as Suzuki have made these instruments very popular with children as young as three years of age. As a result, the manufacturing industry has responded to the demand and produced appropriate size instruments of reasonable quality at an affordable price.

AVAILABILITY OF TRAINING

While programs such as Suzuki have done much to popularize violins, violas and cellos with children, they have not done so with the double bass. This is primarily due to the lack of instruments of appropriate size and cost, as well as the short supply of instructors with experience teaching the double bass to very young students.

As you can see, these two problems are very inter-related. The net effect is that children cannot begin study of the double bass until they can physically handle the larger instrument. The lack of availability of smaller instruments results in fewer students which results in fewer teachers. Therefore, when students reach college age they will have had much less formal training (typically only three years) than students of other string instruments. This hampers the bass student’s ability to reach the same level of proficiency at a given age as that of students of other instruments. Enhanced awareness of the versatility of the double bass, combined with wider availability of quality training for young children may also result in more music scholarships for promising musicians who specialize in the double bass.

The Foundation is dedicated to correcting this situation as outlined in the Goals and Objectives section of this document.