The Contrabass

by Saika Aikawa

The contrabass is one of the stringed musical instruments, and it has several names: the string bass, the wood bass, or simply the bass. It is used in many types of music, but mainly in classical orchestra or jazz music. The stringed musical instruments are often compared to the body of a woman. They have well-rounded chests, tightened waists, and wide bottoms, as though they had big hips. Among these instruments, the contrabass is the most human-like because its height is almost same as an average woman’s height. When I hold the bass, I feel my bass like my friend or sister. If I were a man, I would probably feel her like my lover. She even speaks and sings tenderly in a low voice. When I play her, the four bold strings set in the finger board tremble like a wave in a sea, and the wave becomes a sound inside of her empty wooden body. The wooden body softens the sound of the bass warmly. Her voice also changes along with my temper, the weather, and her condition. It is difficult to keep the same tone every time, but this is the most interesting point of playing the bass.

If you want to play the contrabass fluently, the only thing that you can do to become a fluent player is to make efforts. This can be said of any kind of musical instrument. As a first hurdle, it is necessary to build muscle on your arm to hold down the strings in the right place. Your left hand’s fingers will hurt very much at first. After hard practicing, the skins of the fingers become very stiff and used to the aches. In addition, your right hand’s fingers also hurt a lot. This is because the Contrabass is often played by flicking the strings with the fingers, especially in jazz music. The bold strings make some blisters on the forefinger and the middle finger and this aches so much. After overcoming these difficulties, you can accomplish the beautiful posing style of playing the contrabass.

I played the bass for three years in the brass band club when I was a high school student. It is very typical to have a string bass part in the brass band, because the brass band can play both classics and jazz music. However, the sound of the string bass is very thin compared with other brass or woodwind instruments, such as trumpets and clarinets. In fact, the main role of the string bass in the brass band is to provide not only visual aid but also the additional sound effect of the low strings. As naturally and correctly as possible the string bass plays, and the quality of the band itself improves, so the string bass part can be a key to make the band sound rich and professional to the audience.

The most important thing to playing the contrabass is to know about the instrument well and to treat her correctly. A contrabass is very delicate, and she easily falls into an unfavorable condition if taken care of inadequately. If you treat the bass politely, like a lady, she will be kind to you in return.

Saika Aikawa is an international exchange student from Soka University in Tokyo, Japan.  She currently attends Mary Baldwin College in VA, United States.  Her interests include music, especially singing and playing bass.