Discover the Double Bass with Classic FM
The double bass or simply the bass (and numerous other names) is the largest and lowest-pitched bowed string instrument in the modern symphony orchestra. It is a transposing instrument and is typically notated one octave higher than sounding to avoid excessive ledger lines below the staff. The double bass is the only modern bowed string instrument that is tuned in fourths, rather than fifths.
The double bass is a standard member of the orchestra's string section, as well as the concert band, and is featured in concertos, solo and chamber music in Western classical music. The bass is used in a range of other genres, such as jazz, 1950s-style blues and rock and roll, rockabilly, traditional country music, bluegrass, tango and many types of folk music.
The double bass is generally regarded as a modern descendant of the string family of instruments that originated in Europe in the 15th century, and as such has been described as a bass Violin. Before the 20th century many double basses had only three strings, in contrast to the five to six strings typical of instruments in the viol family or the four strings of instruments in the violin family. The double bass's proportions are dissimilar to those of the violin and cello; for example, it is deeper (the distance from front to back is proportionally much greater than the violin).
The double bass is the only modern bowed string instrument that is tuned in fourths, like a viol, rather than fifths. The strings usually tuned to E1, A1, D2 and G2, however the double bass can extend downwards to C1 and reach as high as G5.
How to play
- Changing the length of the string by pressing down on it changes the frequency of the vibration - and so makes a different note.
- The double-bass is a much larger version of than a cello, and sounds vastly different as a result.
- The double bass bow comes in two distinct forms. The "French" or "overhand" bow is similar in shape and implementation to the bow used on the other members of the orchestral string instrument family, while the "German" or "Butler" bow is typically broader and shorter, and is held in a "hand shake" (or maybe "hacksaw") position.
- Classical bass students learn all of the different bow articulations used by other string section players (e.g., violin and cello), such as détaché, legato, staccato, sforzato, martelé ("hammered"-style), sul ponticello, sul tasto, tremolo, spiccato and sautillé. Some of these articulations can be combined; for example, the combination of sul ponticello and tremolo can produce eerie, ghostly sounds. Classical bass players do play pizzicato parts in orchestra, but these parts generally require simple notes (quarter notes, half notes, whole notes), rather than rapid passages.
- The tone is deeper and more menacing than that of the cello due to its thicker strings.
Did you know?
The double bass stands around 180 cm (six feet) from scroll to endpin.