Double Bass

IT: contrabasso – FR: contre basse – GER: Kontrabass

PROPERTIES

A member of the viol family, the double bass may have either a flat or a curved back. Viols have a more gradually sloping upper body than do instruments of the violin family. The tuning pegs are cogwheels, unlike those of other bowed strings. It is tuned in fourths rather than fifths and sounds an octave below the written pitch. The bow is shorter and wider than other string instrument bows. The German bow is widest and facilitates the underhand grip; the French style bow is held overhand like a cello bow.

TUNING AND RANGE

FIGURE 2.18 Double bass tuning                                                Double bass range

This is the true bass voice of the string section. Some European basses have five strings, the lowest tuned down to a CC. On some American basses the fourth string has an extension that enables it to be tuned down to the CC. In most cases the pitch is much clearer and more focused in its mid to upper range than in the lower register. A single double bass does not produce a very heavy sound alone, but a section of basses is quite powerful.

TECHNICAL ABILITIES

This is not an agile instrument, requiring considerable strength to play. Leaps of wide intervals, particularly in the upper range, present technical difficulties. Pizzicato is very effective. A few double stops are possible, but dividing the section is more reasonable. The section frequently doubles the cello voice an octave lower on the bass line and in general should be used relatively sparingly. Only natural harmonics are practical for the double bass.

MUSICAL EXAMPLE

FIGURE 2.19 Double bass line: Beethoven, Symphony No.5, third movement, measures 1-8 and 141-146