double bass


January 26, 2022

The double bass, also called upright bass or simply bass, is the lowest sounding musical instrument of the string instruments.


Remarkably, the double bass is tuned in fourths ('E - 'A - D - G), in contrast to the violin, viola and cello, which are tuned in fifths. There is also an external difference: the double bass has drooping shoulders. These differences have their origin in the origin of the double bass. The double bass, as we know it today, comes from the viola da gamba family, while the violin and cello come from the violin family. The equivalent of the double bass in the violin family is the violone, which is tuned in fifths and has a range one octave lower than the violoncello (the name violone means "big violin", violoncello "little big violin"). The gamba family was tuned in fourths, so also the double bass. Since the tuning in fourths makes it easier to play than in fifths, the double bass has been used more than the violone since the second half of the 19th century. The four-stringed variant of the gamba, the double bass as we know it today, was first built in 1782.


The double bass was also used as an octave lower doubling of the violoncello (hence the English name double-bass). This is the case, for example, with basso continuo playing. Since the lowest string of a cello is a C, there is a need for a low C in that case. Sometimes a fifth string is added to the four strings of the double bass. This is then a low B or a low C. Some four-string double basses have an extension of the fingerboard towards the curl such that the lowest string can be tuned as a C string. This extension is called a 'do-extension' (C-extension). The low C can be played with this without adding a fifth string to the bass. Because the extra long C-string runs over the curl of the English models, tuning is made more difficult. In 'normal' use, a clamp (capo) shortens it to the usual E. Sometimes a high C string is added (with a four-string bass missing the low E string). The ambitus of the double bass for a soloist is around five to six octaves. Especially in solo works, flageolets are often used, which increases the range. In most orchestral parts, a double bass rarely exceeds the three octaves. The double bass is used in many styles of music such as jazz, classical music, pop music, psychobilly, gypsy music and klezmer. The function of the double bass can be fulfilled by a bass guitar if it is mainly about strumming (called picking a double bass) and not about stringing. However, this sounds very different due to the longer tone duration (sustain) of a bass guitar. Based on the chord progression, alternating notes are easy to find by grabbing 'the string next to it' (G chord: g/d and so on). In Hungarian folk music, the lowest string is usually omitted and the usually metal strings replaced by old-fashioned gut strings. The double bass then sounds better and rhythmic effects are possible by clattering the string against the fingerboard. Also in jazz music gut strings are sometimes used because of their distinct (deep but dull) sound.


Many solo works have been written for double bass. Some of the virtuosos on the double bass were Giovanni Bottesini and Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf, who also wrote some of the most famous double bass concertos themselves. In the orchestral parts came a shift in the role of the double bass with the symphonies of Beethoven. Richard Strauss wrote demanding double bass parts in his symphonic poems in the Romantic period, and in the 20th century the double bass was never just an accompaniment instrument. Many double bass concertos have been written in recent decades.

Famous double bass players

Well-known classical double bass players include an

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