Upright Bass Introduction
In this lesson, students will be able to describe the role of the Upright Bass in New Orleans music. They will explore notable Upright Bass players, the origins of the instrument, and identify and maintain the parts of the instrument.
- Identify the origins of the Upright Bass.
- Identify notable Upright Bass players from New Orleans.
- Describe the role of the Upright Bass within New Orleans music.
- Identify and describe the parts of the instrument.
- Provide proper maintenance for the Upright Bass.
National Core Arts Standards
Music – Harmonizing Instruments, Anchor Standard 1 Generate and conceptualize artistic ideas and work.
Music – Harmonizing Instruments, Anchor Standard 4 Select, analyze, and interpret artistic work for presentation.
Students should have knowledge of an instrument and an understanding of the lines and spaces on the musical staff. Teachers should review the lesson resources, media, and websites prior to launching the lesson.
- Upright Bass, strings, padded Bass Bag, Upright Bass transport wheel, rosin, polish, microfiber cloth
- PRESENTATION: Upright Bass Introduction
- VIDEOS: The Role of the Bass | Bass & Listening | Rhythm & The Role of the Bass
- Introduce the Upright Bass to students by showing them the instrument. Tell students that the Upright Bass has been a significant and vital instrument in the development of New Orleans Jazz. The Upright Bass was developed in 1542 by the Venetian musician Silvestro Ganassi and has several names: Upright Bass, Double Bass, Acoustic Bass, and Contrabass. The Upright Bass is a member of the String Family because it is played by plucking or bowing the strings. It has four strings, E, A, D, G. The strings are made of nylon or steel. Display slide 3 of the presentation, Upright Bass Introduction, to discuss The Role of the Bass in New Orleans Traditional Jazz.
- Display slides 4 and 5 of the presentation, Upright Bass Introduction, to discuss notable Upright Bass players from New Orleans and watch the video, Bass and Listening. Tell students about New Orleans Jazz pioneers like Papa John Joseph, Albert Glenny, Frank Fields, Walter Payton, Richard Payne, Chester Zardis, Sidney Brown, Gerald Adams, George “Pops” Foster, Chuck Badie, August Lenoix, Bill Johnson, and Percy Gabriel. Each had their own style of playing the Upright Bass. Many of New Orleans’ bassists were soloists and sidemen, and then became bandleaders themselves. Studying, analyzing, and transcribing the skills of these Upright Bass Pioneers will help develop your own Bass skills.
- Tell students that the Upright Bass is known as the foundation of the Rhythm Section because it is able to play the lowest tones possible. Display slide 6 of the presentation, Upright Bass Introduction, to discuss the Rhythm & The Role of the Bass in New Orleans Traditional Jazz. The role of the Upright Bass is to maintain a pulse, accompanying the band, playing basslines of the chord progressions, Slap Style, and to be the foundation of the rhythm section. In the late 1800s, Bassist Bill Johnson (a.k.a. “Father of the Slap Style”) and Cornetist Buddy Bolden, were a few of the first to play the Upright Bass in a New Orleans Traditional Jazz Band. The Upright Bass has always been a vital element in New Orleans Jazz.
- Show students the Upright Bass. Ask: Why is the Upright Bass an essential instrument in New Orleans Traditional Jazz and Brassband? Display slide 7 of the presentation, Upright Bass Introduction, to review the anatomy of the Upright Bass. Identify the parts of the instrument with students: scroll, pegbox, tuning mechanisms, nut, neck, fingerboard, strings, upper bout, “C” bout, “F” hole, bridge, soundpost, tailpiece, and endpin.
- Show students how to adjust the height on the peg (endpin). Tell students that the endpin supports the weight of the Upright Bass. Model for students how to adjust the endpin to meet your height. Angle the Upright Bass back corner where the Bass meets the Drift (just above the beltline). Before leaning the Upright Bass, the instrument should be an arms-length away from your body. The combination of your height and the angling of the Upright Bass allows your hands easy access to play notes and build endurance. Facilitate through the room assisting students to adjust their endpin.
- Display slide 8 of the presentation, Upright Bass Introduction, to review the importance of proper Upright Bass Maintenance. Follow up with students about the importance of proper maintenance for the Upright Bass. Tell students that maintenance ensures a long life for the instrument.
- Introduce the Upright Bass maintenance tools: rosin, polish, and a microfiber cloth. Tell students that rosin is made out of sap from pine trees and applied on the hairs of the bow to create a better grip over the strings. Hairs of the Bow are made of horsehair. There are three horsehairs to choose from, black hair, white hair, or salt and pepper hair. Black Hairs are recommended. Dab the microfiber cloth into the polish and rub up and down following the grain of the instrument.
- Assess students’ knowledge of the Upright Bass by having them describe 2-4 parts of the instrument. Ask: What are the proper techniques for Upright Bass maintenance?
Used with permission. Portions of this work are based on the National Core Arts Standards Copyright © 2015 National Coalition for Core Arts Standards/All Rights Reserved – Rights Administered by SEADAE.
© Copyright 2010. National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and Council of Chief State School Officers. All rights reserved.
Louis Ford, Curriculum Developer and Music Artist Liaison
JoDee Scissors, Content Curator