I was an amateur musician for about 35 years and spent time studying guitar, then piano, sax, and finally viola. As time went on, I became more serious and systematic about it, so that by the time I got to viola I was doing a weekly lesson, working daily on a scale, an etude, and a piece, generally practicing at least an hour every day, although with some days off. I love jazz, but after about 15 years of trying on sax I decided that I was never going to be the kind of jazz improviser that anyone would voluntarily listen to. I've always loved the cello, and especially the Bach cello suites. I did viola instead only because there was no cello teacher locally available. On viola, I got good enough that after practicing for several months I was able to play competently through the Brahms E minor symphony with a community orchestra. That was a huge rush, with a major feeling of accomplishment. However, that group usually only allowed a few weeks to work on material, so when they were like, "OK, we're doing Firebird next month," I just couldn't hack it. I was in a quartet that just played at our own houses, but that group broke up, partly because the first violin was flaky and partly because I wasn't very good. I got discouraged after all these experiences and gave up music completely about five years ago. I would have been happy to have an opportunity to play with other adults in some context that was well matched to my level of ability and aptitude, but those opportunities seemed impossible to find.

Taking stock of all this, I'm now thinking that maybe it would make sense to try double bass. The advantages would be:-- Bassists are always in demand for both jazz and classical, also maybe rockabilly. In a jazz context, playing good solos is not as mandatory for a bass player as for a horn player. I have experience playing viola, so I'm not afraid of strings and am fairly confident of my ability to play in tune.

My big doubt is that I don't have a good feeling for whether my physical size is an issue. I'm 5'6" and my hands are probably about average size for a male of my height. On sax, I was mainly a tenor player, and when I tried bari I found that the instrument was just too big and heavy to be practical for me. On viola, a lot of the left-hand stretches were somewhat difficult for me.

I've never even held a double bass, so I have no clue about what it's like physically. Well, at least you aren't holding the damn thing on a neck strap like a baritone sax! How important are body size and hand size for this instrument? Er, please don't reply with the high-school guidance counselor type of stuff like, "A guy with only one leg climbed Mount Everest." I'm looking to maximize my chances, not make a miracle story suitable for an inspirational speaking tour.

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    Go to a shop & try one. If you've ever played bass guitar, you'll find it's about '2 frets per fret' in comparison, but the technique is different, so you compensate by shifting your thumb even further back & swinging your wrist further. No-one can tell you whether or not you can do that - so go try one. BTW, a rockabilly bass is a 3/4 size. Big enough for most folks.
    – Tetsujin
    Nov 2, 2022 at 18:22
  • @Tetsujin Where do you get ‘2 frets per fret’? Regular scale electric basses are 34” and 3/4 to 4/4 basses are 42”-44”. That’s about a 20-25% difference. Nov 3, 2022 at 7:57
  • @JohnBelzaguy - I got it from this, a couple of years ago - I had to go with guesswork - music.stackexchange.com/q/84979/12556 - because it was a mime for a movie it didn't really matter to anyone but me… but I hate it when I can tell people miming in movies can't really play ;)
    – Tetsujin
    Nov 4, 2022 at 7:42

1 Answer 1


There are size options for basses if you feel like it would be a challenge for you. It 5’6” I believe you would be able to play a 3/4 size instrument, which is one of the standard sizes used by pros. (All of my basses have been 3/4 size). A 1/2 size bass is also an option. Bass size is determined by string length but the body size also increases or decreases based on the size. Like @Tetsujin said, go to a shop and try out a few. Or better yet if you know someone that owns a bass ask if you can check it out.

As far as hand size goes, one of the concessions we make as bass players is we only use 3 fingers in the low positions, 1,2 and 4. This allows people with small to average size hands to navigate fingering on the bass. It does involve more shifting to play lines but enables us to comfortably span 3 notes with our left hand. Another adaptation you will have to make from viola or cello is that the bass is tuned in 4ths, not 5ths in order to make it easier to cross strings because of the large distance between notes.

You can play standing or seated on a high stool. A stool has been my preference for many years. It allows you to balance the body of the bass with your legs which gives your hands and arms more freedom. It also might be easier to get the instrument to a height that feels more comfortable to you.

Bass is the instrument I landed on decades ago and it is a very gratifying feeling to play and fulfill the role of the bass in any type of ensemble.

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