Volume 14, January 2022
Musculoskeletal symptoms of double bassists: a literature synthesis

by Frances Levenderis and Bridget Rennie-Salonen

6. Discussion

The double bass is unique in its large size, which contributes to the many distinctive features of the instrument, and to the athleticism needed to play it. Consequently, the literature suggests that double bassists may experience a particular set of musculoskeletal symptoms. However, there is a scarcity of empirical research studies that thoroughly examine this aspect of double bassists' performance health.

The limited scholarly literature on the topic primarily encompasses either the string instruments in general or the lower strings and does not provide sufficient double bass-specific findings. While string instruments can usefully be studied as a group, it is necessary to consider the vast number of differences in reported MSS between upper and lower strings. Similarly, due to the differences between the double bass and the cello, it is beneficial to study the lower strings independently from each other. Cello and double bass differ in many ways, including instrument size and proportion, playing position, and bow hold. Additionally, the available literature suggests that double bassists experience MSS in more and different locations to cellists. Although the research on musicians' health does provide considerable insight into MSS in string musicians collectively, there is minimal data addressing the specific needs of double bassists.

Articles appearing both in peer-reviewed academic journals and in professional magazines have been published by academics and experienced double bassists with an interest in double bass performance health. These papers provide helpful and valuable insight into the MSS of double bassists. Findings include, for example, that different playing positions do not have as much of an effect on MSS as initially believed; that excess muscle tension can be reduced by technical improvements and corrections; that setup adjustments can be made for players with a smaller physique or small hands; and that somatic methods such as the Alexander Technique may enhance stamina, reduce discomfort, and alleviate excess tension and physical limitations. The few studies that specifically explored the MSS of double bassists found that posture is not a prominent risk factor and that multi-instrumentalism is not a protective factor for MSS in double bass players. Furthermore, work type and primary genre played did have an effect on MSS occurrence, and student double bassists experienced a very high prevalence of MSS. Neither the French nor German bow hold was associated with elevated MSS occurrence (Woldendorp et al., 2016), and findings indicated a difference in the sidedness (Gilbert, 2009; Woldendorp et al., 2016) and severity (Gilbert, 2009) of MSS.

Limitations of the data generated from these studies include the small amount of research conducted and low double bass participant numbers. Additionally, it is critical to consider how the musculoskeletal aspects of performance health function interactively with the numerous psychological, behavioural, and environmental elements (Rennie-Salonen & de Villiers, 2020). In order to more fully explore the MSS of double bassists and collate, corroborate and compare the findings, more research needs to be done, for example, with different sub-populations, larger participant numbers, and the incorporation of psychosocial factors.

The global double bass community is connected via the International Society of Bassists, which creates, supports and provides fundamental double bass resources and networks. This proactive organisation facilitates contributions from many of the best double bass performers, orchestral players, and pedagogues, through publications, events and forums for knowledge exchange. Method books and literature from prominent double bassists provide important information pertaining to the physiological aspects of playing the double bass, postural recommendations and potential risk factors for MSS. In recent years, there has also been an increase in the availability and accessibility of resources due to technological advancements such as YouTube channels, podcasts, and online live events such as masterclasses, seminars and virtual lessons. Double bassists have been able to more easily document their vast experiential knowledge via digital platforms, creating an ever-growing information bank. These resources contribute a significant amount of pedagogical information to support double bassists' performance health.