The double bass: a comprehensive guide to the orchestra’s largest string instrument, including how it differs from the cello
What is a double bass?
The double bass, or contrabass as it is sometimes called, is the largest and lowest-pitched bowed string instrument in a modern classical symphony orchestra. Together with violins, violas and cellosthe double bass is part of the string section and supports the orchestra with its warm, deep sound – but is also a popular instrument in Jazz, the Bluesrock and roll, country, bluegrass, tango and folk.
Like its smaller cousin, the cello, the bass typically has four strings, which can be played with a bow or plucked. However, the bass is the only stringed instrument tuned in fourths rather than fifths, with the strings usually being tuned (low to high) to E, A, D, and G.
Traditionally used in ensembles, the bass can today also be considered a solo instrument, as playing standards have improved in recent decades, accompanied by more ergonomic instrument designs.
What does the double bass sound like?
A full-size bass is approximately 180cm, although smaller instruments can be made to suit the player’s stature and hand size. It is usually made up of several pieces of wood, including an ebony fingerboard. Like the violin and cello, the bass has a carved wooden bridge to support the strings, two F-holes, a tailpiece, an ornamental scroll and pegbox, and an internal sound rod, which transmits vibrations from the top of the instrument. hollow-bodied instrument.
Although it belongs to the modern violin family, the bass also exhibits characteristics of the ancient viol family (bowed, fretted, stringed instruments), including sloping shoulders, which allow the performer to reach lower down the key to play notes in the upper register. .
Double bass bows come in two forms. The “French” bow is similar in design to the cello bow and is held in the “reversed” position, while the “German” bow tends to be wider and shorter, and is held in the “grip” position. tomorrow “.
Rinat Ibragimov, former principal double bass of the London Symphony Orchestra, performs Bach’s Third Cello Suite arranged for double bass
What is the difference between a cello and a double bass?
At about six feet tall, the double bass is taller than the cello, which is about five feet tall. While both instruments typically have four strings, cello strings are tuned in fifths and double bass strings are tuned in fourths. The bass also has a deeper sound, with a range one octave lower than the cello. While both instruments are typically made from wood and feature a bridge to support the strings, two F-holes, a volute, pegbox, tailpiece, ebony fingerboard, and internal sound rod, the double bass often features sloping rather than rounded shoulders. Cellists usually play their instrument seated on a standard chair while the double bass is played standing up or seated on a high stool.
How do you play the double bass?
The player stands or sits on a high stool and leans the instrument against their body, facing slightly inward to allow them to better reach the strings.
The double bass is most often played with a bow or by plucking the strings with the right hand. Classical bass students learn bowing styles very similar to those used by the rest of the violin family, including legato, staccato, spiccato, and detached. Bassists also use vibrato, a left-hand rocking technique designed to add warmth and expression to sound.
In jazz, blues and folk contexts, the bass is mostly plucked, using a variety of different, sometimes complicated, pizzicato techniques.
When was the double bass invented?
The bass is generally believed to descend from 15th-century European string instruments. Many older basses had only three strings, rather than four or five. The lineage of the instrument, however, is still a matter of debate – while some scholars believe it is a direct descendant of the viol family, others believe it descended from the violin family.
Why is it called the double bass?
The names “double bass” and “double bass” describe the range of the instrument – one octave lower than the cello, thus a “doubling” of the range of the cello. In classical contexts, the double bass may also be referred to as “string bass” to differentiate it from lower brass and woodwind instruments, or simply “the bass”.
In genres outside of classical music, the bass is sometimes referred to as “upright bass”, “standing bass”, or “acoustic bass” to distinguish it from the bass guitar. In folk and bluegrass music, the instrument is also referred to as a “bass fiddle” or “bass fiddle”.
Photo: Jazz musician Caris Hermes with her double bass