The double bass or contrabass is the lowest-pitched of the bowed string family of instruments. It usually has four or five strings and in its four-stringed version is tuned an octave lower than the guitar's four lowest strings, to the pitches E, A, D, G. Five-string basses have one lower string, tuned to a C.
Although it is an integral part of the modern orchestra (a large symphony orchestra will normally have six to eight), its poor projection power precludes solo-playing prospects. In its role as the orchestral foundation, it provides a thick but slow-speaking timbre which lends weight to the bottom end.
It developed from the early baroque “violone”, and by early classical times was more numerous than cellos in orchestral ensembles. Boccherini wrote various quintets with double bass instead of two ‘cellos. It is also included in Schubert’s “Trout” Quintet, his Octet and Dvorak’s String Quintet.
The double bass's origins are still disputed. While generally considered a member of the violinamily, the double bass features several notable differences. Included among these differences is a slimmer design on the top of the instrument, deeper dimensions front to back, and tuning in fourths instead of fifths. Each of these characteristics is more typical of the viol family rather than the violin. However, many still believe that the double bass was an original member of the violin family.
The double bass – called here “the bass” - has come into its own as the rhythm section in many modern bands as plucked instrument. Common styles featuring the bass (also known as an upright bass) include jazz and blues, as well as some rock music.
Playing the Double Bass
The double bass is unique in the violin family that the instrument is played standing (or half-sitting on a tall stool). The double bass is also different from the other string instruments in that the instrument is frequently plucked, rather than bowed. Orchestra music is most often bowed, but styles such as jazz and blues are almost exclusively plucked.
Playing the double bass can be very demanding due to the distance the player must move their hands along the instrument. The larger the string instrument, the larger the spacing between the notes. On a double bass, the spacings can be quite large, requiring the player to move their hands along the neck a great deal.
For the electric instrument, see Bass Guitar