miniature double bass instruments

Can a Child Learn the Double Bass?

Double basses look like big beasts which should only be played by equally big people. You may be wondering whether a child can play such a big instrument.  If your pre-teen or teen has their heart set on being a double bassist, should you go out and buy one?

My advice is unless you are happy to buy up to three instruments through the child’s musical education it is best to invest in a ¾ size double bass for your young teen which will last. For pre-teens consider alternative instruments such as the bass ukulele. Only if your budget will allow should you consider the option of buying multiple scale basses.

If they are tall enough to handle a ¾ double bass, go for it, I’ve outlined lots of benefits to being a double bass player below.  The next question is transport; what are the requirements?  You are going to need to transport this new ‘family member,’ realistically on four wheels.  You can get away with an estate or large hatchback, with the rear passenger seats down.  A little care is needed to load it into the rear especially if we are talking about a hatchback, the neck is going to protrude into the rear passenger area.  In a hatchback, we are talking about one drive and one front passenger only.  For a large estate, we manage bass cabinets, ¾ double bass, a few bags, one rear passenger and a front passenger.  One seat in the estate still needs to be folded down to allow for the bass neck. Let us explore the options for purchase and what are the advantages of playing the double bass.  

What are the Options for Your Aspiring Bassist

I’ll outline the various considerations for future young double bassists. The opinion given here is from a non-classical musicians’ perspective and is aimed at those who are interested in playing non-classical styles. The reason for the distinction here is; being honest I am not a classical musician and their training is often very different.

  • Accept that a pre-teen is likely to find a ¾ bass too big to handle and therefore will be able to opt for a small-sized bass. The child will then need to be given a larger bass when they are old enough. Depending on the size of the child when they start playing this could be as many as three instruments as they grow. Prelude double bass strings are easier to push down on so these could be a good choice.
  • Steer the child to a bass ukulele or bass guitar. These are excellent options, the fingering and tuning on these instruments is the same as a double bass. So they act as a primer for when the child is old enough or big enough to play the double bass.

In case you are wondering, in terms of ‘full size’ double basses, from a non-classical musical perspective there is no musical value in buying a full size double bass. A full size bass is just going to give you greater transport and handling problems.

Consider the Bass Ukulele

bass ukulele

We are big fans of the Ukulele in general in our house. There are tonnes of tutorials for Ukes online, they are great in terms of portability, are fun and relatively inexpensive.  Ukuleles do come in different pitches,  which encompasses the bottom end of the range as in a bass ukulele, or u-bass as they are sometimes called. The U-Bass produces the same pitch as a standard bass instrument and is tuned to traditional bass tuning; E-A-D-G and is available in fretted and fretless models. Fretless is the preferred option for those who have their focus on a double bass in the future, but is much harder to get right for a beginner. The shorter neck on the ukulele means there is less margin for error. A double bass has a much longer neck allowing the player to stretch out more between notes, which is somewhat easier than a short-scale neck. Whilst there are often markers on the neck of the Ukulele to guide the player will still have to check their fingering. Therefore for a new player, a fretted instrument is an excellent choice to get them going. The sound of the instrument is very much dependent on a lot of variables but specifically, the polyurethane strings which can be slapped are likely to give a sound closet to that of a double bass. There are models with a steel string option but this instrument sounds close to a bass guitar, so one has to ask why not just go for a bass guitar in this instance.

Bass ukuleles have been around since 2010 and have become very popular instruments for professionals and non-professionals alike. Many touring double bassists indeed like to use a bass uke to practice their stage setlist in their hotel rooms.  Lugging a double bass into a hotel room is not a popular option. 

A final perhaps overlooked reason to consider a bass ukulele is that they are eligible instruments for any school ukulele orchestra. Check out my other post on bass ukuleles.

What Sizes do Double Basses Come in

If you own a double bass it is like having an extra family member seated in the corner of the room. Double basses do come in a variety of different sizes, however, their relative size to the child is always going to be a consideration.  Other considerations include whether you will need to support the child in moving the bass around, to school or lessons.  Most likely this is going to be the case and in most cases will not be an issue if you own transport.  Whilst early-teens is an excellent age to start younger, children might be best encouraged to consider alternative options. 

Renting or Buying a Used Double Bass

An alternative to purchasing the instrument outright is to rent a double bass or buy a double bass that has been pre-owned.  Additionally, the school or college might have a double bass as part of their instrument stock. 

When renting or borrowing any instrument it might be the case that the instrument set-up cannot be tampered with in any way.  It is important to know what can be done to the instrument when taking out the rental agreement. 

If you have received an instrument from a music teacher who does not know anything about double basses, you might be advised to book an early appointment with a specialist teacher or local double bassist to help ensure the instrument is set up as best as possible.  Having the wrong set-up on a double bass or any instrument is like getting a pushbike that has not been set up correctly. The experience will be much more enjoyable if it has had a check at the start of the journey. 

It is important to find a specialist who is interested in the same type of music as your child, so if you are looking at a classical training for your child, then speak to a classical double bassist.  If you are not interested in classical and struggle to find help locally please feel free to get in touch with us here.   Ideally, you need to find a musician who is interested in the same style of music as your child.

Switching from Bass Guitar to Double Bass

My 14-year-old daughter has started to show interest in the double bass. She is lucky enough to have ready access to a double bass but did not pick it up until the other day.  So far she has learned bass guitar, ukulele, and the kalimba.  All were of her choice and are indeed great options for kids.  When she picked up the double bass she was roughly able to play most of the notes from her favorite Queen track. 

Whilst this might sound rather exciting, and of course, it was, she was able to do this because she had built up muscle memory from playing bass guitar.  Essentially, she had transferred her knowledge of the Queen track that she had learned previously for a school concert to the double bass.  She got instant delight and the reward of quick gratification in terms of the sound.  Unlike other instruments such as the violin, the double bass rewards the player quickly with a satisfying sound. 

What Will It Give My Child

I have seen some rather unkind and frankly uninformed responses in general parenting forums when the topic of their child learning a double bass was brought up. Suggestions that the double bass is a poor cousin, boring or dull.  These people clearly do not understand anything about this instrument.  For a start off they are beautiful to look at and are an obvious draw when you are looking up at the stage.  Whilst singers, guitarists, and even bass guitarists are two a penny, a double bassist whether in an orchestra or band will be welcome and in demand. In terms of musical styles let us consider the options: Classical, Chamber, Jazz, 1950s, Swing, Blues, Rock and Roll, Rockabilly, Psychobilly, Country, Bluegrass, Folk.  Funk, Reggae the list goes on.

The instrument might not have such a learning curve as the piano or some other orchestral instruments, however, the general adage of any good bass player is ‘less is more.’ Any judgment of measuring the importance of something by how complex is missing the point.  A good example of this is the great hit ‘pappa was a rolling stone,’ by the Temptations.  Without the bass line the song would fall apart.  This bass line can of course be played on the double bass or bass guitar.  The important measure is what pleasure the instrument gives.   

The instrument will give your child a sense of uniqueness, pleasure and frankly, the instrument will make a much more beautiful sound giving a lot back, a lot quicker than a child trying to master a decent sound from a violin. 

What is important is of course that the child feels a sense of ownership with their musical enjoyment and with that ownership also a sense of enjoyment. Whether or not their start off with the double bass or wait a few years until they can physically handle one will have little impact on their musical journey. There are plenty of options out there for aspiring bassists

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