Just a piece of advice…

OK, so, it’s been roughly a month and a half, and I haven’t posted anything…and I promised I would. Once again, I’m finding myself the victim of circumstances beyond my control: my dad had a stroke roughly 3 weeks ago. He’s been steadily recovering, and I’m grateful to God that it wasn’t as serious as it could’ve been. Personally, this means that I’ve been incredibly busy, what with finishing up school, working, practicing, and being the taxi driver for my family. Things are starting to settle down again, and my life is beginning to resemble something much more normal.

Anyway, I wanted to address 2 things in this post, both of which essentially struck me like bolts of lightning.

It seems like a lot of bass players (college musicians in general, really), with the post-audition, you’ve-already-gotten-your-acceptance-letter-to-the-school-of-your-choice mindset, sort of begin to lose some motivation to practice. Pre-college audition life is pretty strenuous, and most students (myself included) probably practiced no less than 4 hours a day, while still dealing with homework and school obligations. Once you’re free of that, it’s like a breath of fresh air after you’ve been under water longer than you can actually hold your breath. You begin to realize a few things about life that you may have forgotten:

I’ve got friends! Whoa. Haven’t seem them in a while.

There’s some good movies out.

Everyone seems to have sun-kissed tans and I’m pale and pasty and my skin begins to burn and blister when I walk to the mailbox.

So, after realizing that life is pretty enjoyable and that it’s OK to not practice 4 hours a day, you begin to indulge in being human again; or, at least I did. The weird thing is that I began to have this strange reluctance to practice…1 day of not practicing suddenly turned into 3! Ugh…and then it’s hard to pick it up again. Sort of like having to go back to the gym when you haven’t been for a month. Of course, I’m a music major, who has the intention and ambition to get a decent to well-paying job someday, and not practicing is NOT an option.

I finally forced myself to practice for a couple of hours and get some serious work done. What agony it was! Nothing sounded good, or as good as it did a week ago. My fingers weren’t quite as nimble as I remembered them being. Everything looked (I use a mirror when I practice) and sounded weak.

So, what’s my advice?

Don’t ever let yourself go more than a couple of days without touching your bass! It is bad! You will not be happy with the results when you pick it up again! If you’re really busy with work, family or school stuff, pick it up for 10 minutes before bed and run through an excerpt or Bach movement, just something to keep your fingers in shape.

The other thing I’m beginning to realize is how all double bass gear (bass, bow, strings) is not created equal! This, too, probably sounds like fairly trite and old-hat-ish information, but it’s really true. Up until recently, I firmly believed that the ability of the player overode the state of the equipment. Basically meaning that if you’re good on your particular instrument, it doesn’t matter what grade or quality of instrument you’re holding in your hands; you can make a good sound with it.

I still believe this is true.

Just not for students.

I’ll use myself as an example. I just recently sold my J.G. Bottoni bow (which is worth over a $1,000). I made almost that amount on the sale of the bow, but due to other bills that had to be paid, I couldn’t use the money to upgrade. The music store by my house had acquired a fairly decent-looking, $400 bow. The maker of the bow was Samuel Eastman. I’d seen an ad or two from the Eastman shop in Double Bassist magazine, so I figured his bows MUST be legit. But…just to be sure, I’d better bring in my bass and actually try it out before I buy it.

It worked great!…for everything on the string. For some reason, it didn’t occur to me to play any excerpts with the bow. I played a movement of Bach and a bit of the Koussevitzsky concerto, and the bow seemed to work decently enough, so I bought it.

Don’t get me wrong! For the price, the bow does exactly what it should. Unfortunately, what I need it to do includes excerpts, and therefore off the string strokes. I found out over the coming months that it does not do these things well! It’s also very light and it even bounces when it shouldn’t. I’ll be pulling a straight, legato bow, and it’ll give a weird flutter-ish bounce at the tip. Very irritating.  I’m currently trying to get together finances to purchase a better bow.

Back to what I was saying earlier. I still believe that the talent of a good player will come through regardless of what instrument and bow they’re playing on. For the most part, I would say that this true of professionals and talented college students. Not me! I’m just about to enter the CCPA Conservatory in Chicago, so I wouldn’t exactly consider myself advanced; more like I have the potential to be advanced. I know that some of this probably sounds like old hat observations and well-known truths, but I thought I’d put it out there. To be sure, the quality (or lackthereof) of a bass and bow can be prohibitive to the advancement of a serious student.

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~ by benjamin86 on June 5, 2008.

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