As bass players we can influence many aspects of the music in a string section or indeed an orchestra. A bass section building thro a crescendo can push the whole string section sound as if they are a surfer under a rising wave. The same is true in quiet passages - if we resist the temptation to play too loud we can pull the dynamic down.


Music is boring if played in a flat way - dynamics shape the sound and phrasing. Thats what makes it interesting.


Relative vs absolute I have heard it said that being a tutti musician is about rhythm, pitch and dynamics. There is a little more to it than that, but get these three right and a player will go a long way. And the one that tends to be ranked 3rd in importance would be dynamics, probably because that other two are much easier to measure in detail - dynamic levels are relative, not absolute. An A is 440 Hz with most orchestras, metronome markings are added to scores showings say 120 beats per minute - we do not measure dynamic levels in decibels, it is more subjective and relative to other sound levels around us.

I remember my first gig with the Halle in 1980 - I was so impressed with the way the strings made a difference between p and pp. In latter years I have worked out how they did it - by playing the p section a little louder so that it was easier to make the drop to pp. Dynamics are relative not absolute.

The ability to play with a wide dynamic range often indicates that a players is on top of the other aspects of the performance, such as getting round the notes, tricky rhythms etc. All too often in a difficult but quiet passage players who struggle to get round the notes play too loud, as thier brain is being overstretched with just playing the dots. Two good examples of this are the Britten March  and the Otello  solo. This is one of the many sure fire ways of making sure you will be in the coffee shop and not the next round of an audition!

RH technique It is fascinating how many times I have asked a student, "how do you play louder on the bass", that the answer comes back, "press harder"! Teachers who hear that reply could be excused for thinking about how much smaller thier mortgage would be when this students leaves for the big wide world!!

RH technique is covered in right hand technique , but we cannot play with the huge range of dynamics demanded of us by orchestral repertoire without being able to control the bow and having an understanding of the main variables - bow speed, weight and position on the string. Duncan McTier's lessons and Knut Guettler's book Advanced Double Bass technique have etched this onto my soul - I try to pass this on to my students.


© 2016 Stuart Riley, all rights reserved