Sitting vs Standing to Play the Bass

I’ve been on both sides of the fence. I was a strong proponent for sitting in my early years as a bassist up through college, but then later switched to standing. Most orchestral bassists sit, while most jazz bassists stand, but convention shouldn’t be the determining factor.  Setting aside convention, let’s talk about the advantages and disadvantages to each. It doesn’t hurt to try both, but here are some things to consider

Henry Franklin plays sitting

Sitting:

  • No balancing required. Since the bass is held up mostly by your legs and at the bout, there’s no balancing involved. Balancing while playing standing becomes less of a conscious effort as you get used to it, but many years later as a bassist I still notice how taking balancing out of the equation is noticeable.
  • Easier to play in pitch. The pitch location relative to your body stays constant. Because the bass doesn’t move or twist, it’s easier to play in tune than standing. Using the same stool, same length endpin, and anchoring the endpin tip at the same distance, the location of each pitch is virtually the same. This is even more true when playing in thumb position.
  • Puts you at a better angle when bowing. When sitting on the stool, you’re behind the bass rather than to the side of the bass. This makes for a more natural angle for bowing
  • Less Fatigue. I can sit for far longer than I can stand for. This is obvious. Also, there is less fatigue on your arm. When you stand, your hand holds up the bass.

Dave Holland plays standing

Standing:

  • Volume and sound. Less of the mass of the bass is against your body, your bass will resonate more, which results in a louder and more open sound. You can minimize this when sitting to some degree, depending on the angle of the bass and how much weight your body is supporting, but a bass usually sounds better and louder to the listener when you stand.
  • No need for a stool. It’s more of a practical and convenience consideration, but toting around a stool is another thing that you have to carry or go back for. I never assumed that a venue has a stool available, because often they didn’t. When I switched to playing standing, not carrying around a stool was liberating. I tried every type of portable stool in existence. Even the most portable stool is a lot more effort than no stool at all.
  • Freedom to move. When standing, you can boogie if you feel compelled to. Behind a stool, you’re limited to head nodding. That sounds silly, but what/how we play is influenced by how much we get into the music. If moving gets you into it, it will affect your playing.

Rufus Reid with Laborie outfitted bass

Trying to Make Standing Work

I’ve never been able to play with complete comfort on a conventional bass endpin while standing. I like the advantages, especially the improvement in the bass’ response so I looked at ways of making the bass more comfortable standing.

When I switched to standing, I had the basses converted/setup for the Laborie endpin. That made balancing the bass far easier and reduced the amount of weight on my hand. Not too many bassists outside of the orchestral/solo circuit use the Laborie setup. Rufus Reid is likely the most notable. The most basic setup will run about $250 to buy the endpin and have a luthier properly drill a hole to install it. Do NOT do this yourself without proper guidance, tools, and knowledge! If you don’t want to drill, you can spend a lot more and have the KC Strings block installed as I did on the German bass. Part of the logic for me is that I could convert the bass back if some day, I just didn’t want to stay with the Laborie. However to this day, I absolutely have to have it and have a similar setup for my other bass.

I’ve never tried an angled endpin (an endpin bent at an angle), but I’ve known some people who swear by it as a low cost alternative. This is another way to try it, but some people say that you lose some tone and the endpin tends make the bass feel like a pogo stick. It’s more of a transitional solution for those saving up for a Laborie or those just trying to get a feel without committing to it.

Angled Endpin (courtesy of Slava Music)

Conclusion

Never say never. I can’t say with absolute certainty that I’ll never go back to sitting while playing. Right now, I like the Laborie setup a lot which makes standing while playing a lot easier. It’s closest to the best of both worlds for me.

For some beginners that have been having difficulties with intonation and coordination, I actually have recommended that they start off sitting just to take a few variables out of the equation. It actually helped. Some stayed with sitting, while others moved to standing. It’s a personal preference call.

Whichever way you currently play, sitting or standing, I encourage you to experiment with both to see which works best for you.

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