The double bass — also known as the upright bass, acoustic bass, string bass, contrabass and stand-up bass, among other terms — is loved by many for its big, beautiful shape and its low, warm tone, whether it’s played with a bow (arco) or with fingers (pizz).
While most double bassists understand that it’s not every day the average person sees such an instrument, it can be challenging to dodge some of the strange comments people make.
As a double bassist myself, I’ve noticed that there’s something about the instrument that makes people feel they’ve got a green light to start a conversation about it.
Here are 10 things not to say to the next double bassist you meet.
1. ‘Don’t you wish you played the flute?'
Although it’s true that it would be easier for me to get around with a small instrument like the flute, the simple answer is: no. I would never trade in my beloved (albeit huge) double bass. I did play the flute for two years in elementary school band. It wasn’t a good time. Huffing and puffing into a metal tube isn’t for everyone. Plus, every band needs a bass player. How many bands do you see with a flutist?
2. ‘Let’s see those hands!’
Unsightly calluses and blisters are a fact of life for bass players, making our hands a sort of cult interest. If I don’t know you, however, I may not be amped to have my hands held and examined by a curious stranger. On the bright side, my mother’s concern that nobody will want to hold my rough-and-tough hands has proved unfounded.
3. ‘That’s so hot/It’s so nice to see a woman playing the bass’
Despite the fact that there are significantly more men who play double bass than women, pointing out a woman double bassist as a novelty isn’t appreciated. I just want to be seen as a bass player, not fetishized as a female bass player. As long as being a woman playing this instrument is notable or exoticized, we’re not there yet in terms of equal numbers, and hearing these comments can serve as a reminder of the many inequalities women experience in the music industry.
4. ‘Here, let me get that for you!’
It’s wonderful to offer help to double bassists with their great big instruments, but wait for a “yes.” Grabbing anyone’s instrument without permission is a no-no (I’m looking at you, Uber drivers).
5. ‘You’re really keeping up with the band, back there!’
Bass players tend not to be the shining stars of the show. We plug away, keeping the beat going so the singer can shine, the guitarist can shred and the drummer can bash away and enjoy the glory. We are, however, still an integral part of the band.
6. ‘Slappin’ da bass!’
Paul Rudd’s quote from I Love You, Man is ubiquitous, but only because his imitation of Jamaican patois is painfully embarassing. Don’t be the person who tries to imitate “hip” or “jive” music talk — it will probably not come off as funnily in reality as it does in your imagination, and may be culturally insensitive.
7. ‘Can you play the Seinfeld theme?’
That was played on a synthesizer sampling an electric bass, a.k.a. bass guitar (see photo above), which is not the same instrument. And, whatever. No!
8. ‘I’m all about that bass, 'bout that bass, no treble!’
Meghan Trainor’s hit song talks about a different kind of bass. Let’s leave it at that.
9. ‘That thing is bigger than you!’
I know, I know. You are not the first (or 50th) person to say this, and you will not be the last.
10. ‘Nice cello/guitar!’
When in doubt, remember: cellists generally sit in a chair to play. Bass players stand or sit on a high stool. The cello has a smaller body, is played with a long endpin (metal rod) coming out of the bottom of the instrument, and doesn’t sound as low as the double bass.
If you mistake a double bass for a guitar, I cannot help you.
Here’s a fun string cover of the Weeknd’s "Can’t Feel My Face" to help show the difference in size among the violin, (standing, in this rare case!) cello, and bass:
Here’s another video, demonstrating a cellist (sitting) and double bassist:
More to explore: