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Double bass

For the contrabass voice, see basso profondo; for the


frequency range in general, see sub-bass. For the album
by Niels-Henning rsted Pedersen and Sam Jones, see
Double Bass (album). For other instruments, see double
bass drum, acoustic bass guitar or contrabass violin.

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 be-
low the sta. The double bass is the only modern bowed
string instrument that is tuned in fourths (like a viol),
rather than fths, with strings usually tuned to E1 , A1 ,
D2 and G2 . The instruments exact lineage is still a mat-
ter of some debate, with scholars divided on whether the
bass is derived from the viol or the violin family.
Ellen Andrea Wang performing at the Oslo Jazz Festival.
The double bass is a standard member of the orches-
tras string section,[1] as well as the concert band, and
is featured in concertos, solo and chamber music[2] in olin family instruments, it also embodies features found
Western classical music. The bass is used in a range of in the older viol family.
other genres, such as jazz, 1950s-style blues and rock
and roll, rockabilly, psychobilly, traditional country mu-
sic, bluegrass, tango and many types of folk music.
The double bass is played either with a bow (arco) or by
2 Playing style
plucking the strings (pizzicato). In orchestral repertoire
and tango music, both arco and pizzicato are employed. Like other violin and viol-family string instruments, the
In jazz, blues, and rockabilly, pizzicato is the norm. Clas- double bass is played either with a bow (arco) or by pluck-
sical music uses just the natural sound produced acousti- ing the strings (pizzicato). In orchestral repertoire and
cally by the instrument; so does traditional bluegrass. In tango music, both arco and pizzicato are employed. In
jazz, blues, and related genres, the bass is typically am- jazz, blues, and rockabilly, pizzicato is the norm, ex-
plied with an amplier and speaker. cept for some solos and also occasional written parts in
modern jazz that call for bowing.
In classical pedagogy, almost all of the focus is on per-
forming with the bow and producing a good bowed tone;
1 Description there is little work done on developing signicant pizzi-
cato skills. Bowed notes in the lowest register of the in-
The double bass stands around 180 cm (6 feet) from scroll strument produce a dark, heavy, mighty, or even men-
to endpin.[3] However, other sizes are available, such as a acing eect, when played with a fortissimo dynamic;
1
2 or 3 4 , which serve to accommodate a players height however, the same low pitches played with a delicate
and hand size. These sizes do not reect the size rela- pianissimo can create a sonorous, mellow accompani-
tive to a full size, or 4 4 bass; a 1 2 bass is not half the ment line. Classical bass students learn all of the dier-
size of a bass but is only slightly smaller.[4] It is typically ent bow articulations used by other string section players
constructed from several types of wood, including maple (e.g., violin and cello), such as dtach, legato, staccato,
for the back, spruce for the top, and ebony for the n- sforzato, martel (hammered"-style), sul ponticello, sul
gerboard. It is uncertain whether the instrument is a de- tasto, tremolo, spiccato and sautill. Some of these artic-
scendant of the viola da gamba or of the violin, but it ulations can be combined; for example, the combination
is traditionally aligned with the violin family. While the of sul ponticello and tremolo can produce eerie, ghostly
double bass is nearly identical in construction to other vi- sounds. Classical bass players do play pizzicato parts in

1
2 4 TERMINOLOGY

orchestra, but these parts generally require simple notes


(quarter notes, half notes, whole notes), rather than rapid
passages.
Classical players perform both bowed and pizz notes us-
ing vibrato, an eect created by rocking or quivering the
left hand nger that is contacting the string, which then
transfers an undulation in pitch to the tone. Vibrato is
used to add expression to string playing. In general, very
loud, low-register passages are played with little or no vi-
brato, as the main goal with low pitches is to provide a
clear fundamental bass for the string section. Mid- and
higher-register melodies are typically played with more
vibrato. The speed and intensity of the vibrato is varied
by the performer for an emotional and musical eect.
In jazz, rockabilly and other related genres, much or all
of the focus is on playing pizzicato. In jazz and jump
blues, bassists are required to play extremely rapid pizzi- Some early basses were conversions of existing violones. This
cato walking basslines for extended periods. As well, jazz 1640 painting shows a violone being played.
and rockabilly bassists develop virtuoso pizzicato tech-
niques that enable them to play rapid solos that incorpo-
rate fast-moving triplet and sixteenth note gures. Pizzi- shoulders was closer to instruments of the violin family.
cato basslines performed by leading jazz professionals are The double bass is the only modern bowed string instru-
much more dicult that the pizzicato basslines that Clas- ment that is tuned in fourths (like a viol), rather than fths
sical bassists encounter in the standard orchestral litera- (see Tuning below). The issue of the instruments exact
ture, which are typically whole notes, half notes, quarter lineage is still a matter of some debate, and the supposi-
notes, and occasional eighth note passages. In jazz and tion that the double bass is a direct descendant of the viol
related styles, bassists often add semi-percussive "ghost family is one that has not been entirely resolved.
notes" into basslines, to add to the rhythmic feel and to
add lls to a bassline. In his A New History of the Double Bass, Paul Brun as-
serts, with many references, that the double bass has ori-
The double bass player stands, or sits on a high stool, and gins as the true bass of the violin family. He states that,
leans the instrument against their body, turned slightly in- while the exterior of the double bass may resemble the vi-
ward to put the strings comfortably in reach. This stance ola da gamba, the internal construction of the double bass
is a key reason for the basss sloped shoulders, which mark is nearly identical to instruments in the violin family, and
it apart from the other members of the violin familythe very dierent from the internal structure of viols.[6]
narrower shoulders facilitate playing the strings in their
higher registers.[3] Double bass professor Larry Hurst argues that the mod-
ern double bass is not a true member of either the violin
or viol families. He says that most likely its rst general
shape was that of a violone, the largest member of the
3 History viol family. Some of the earliest basses extant are vio-
lones, (including C-shaped sound holes) that have been
tted with modern trappings.[7] Some existing instru-
The double bass is generally regarded as a modern de-
ments, such as those by Gasparo da Sal, were converted
scendant of the string family of instruments that orig-
from 16th-century six-string contrabass violoni.[8]
inated in Europe in the 15th century, and as such has
been described as a bass Violin.[5] Before the 20th cen-
tury many double basses had only three strings, in con-
trast to the ve to six strings typical of instruments in the 4 Terminology
viol family or the four strings of instruments in the vi-
olin family. The double basss proportions are dissim- A person who plays this instrument is called a bassist,
ilar to those of the violin and cello; for example, it is double bassist, double bass player, contrabassist,
deeper (the distance from front to back is proportionally contrabass player or bass player. The names con-
much greater than the violin). In addition, while the vio- trabass and double bass refer to the instruments range
lin has bulging shoulders, most double basses have shoul- and use in the contra octave below the cello, also called
ders carved with a more acute slope, like members of the the 16' octave relative to the church pipe organ.[9] The
viol family. Many very old double basses have had their terms for the instrument among classical performers are
shoulders cut or sloped to aid playing with modern tech- contrabass (which comes from the instruments Italian
niques. Before these modications, the design of their name, contrabbasso), string bass (to distinguish it from
3

double bass is sometimes called nagy bg, which roughly


translates as big crier, referring to its large voice. In
Brazil, specically the northeast region, it is also called
rabeco, meaning big rabeca". The rabeca (or rabeca
chuleira) is a type of ddle from northeastern Brazil and
northern Portugal used in Brazilian forr music. The
rabeca is descended from the medieval rebec.

5 Design

Jazz bassist Ron Carter pictured playing with his Quartet at Altes
Pfandhaus in Cologne

brass bass instruments in a concert band, such as tubas),


or simply bass.
In jazz, blues, rockabilly and other genres outside of clas-
sical music, this instrument is commonly called the up-
right bass, standup bass or acoustic bass to distinguish
it from the electric bass guitar. In folk and bluegrass mu-
sic, the instrument is also referred to as a bass ddle or
Example of a Busetto-shaped double bass: remake of a Matthias
bass violin (or more rarely as doghouse bass or bull
Klotz (1700) by Rumano Solano
ddle). The upright bass is dierent from the acoustic
bass guitar, which is a guitar-family instrument that is In general, there are two major approaches to the design
built like an acoustic guitar (although the acoustic bassoutline shape of the double bass: the violin form (shown
guitar typically has four strings, tuned EADG and a in the labelled picture to the right); and the viol da gamba
sturdier construction). form (shown in the header picture). A third less common
The double bass is sometimes confusingly called the design, called the busetto shape, can also be found, as can
violone, bass violin or bass viol. Other colourful nick- the even more rare guitar or pear shape. The back of the
names are found in other languages; in Hungarian, the instrument can vary from being a round, carved back sim-
4 5 DESIGN

5.1 Construction

The double bass is closest in construction to violins,


but has some notable similarities to the violone (literally
large viol), the largest and lowest member of the viol
family. Unlike the violone, however, the ngerboard of
the double bass is unfretted, and the double bass has fewer
strings (the violone, like most viols, generally had six
strings, although some specimens had ve or four). The
ngerboard is made of ebony on high-quality instruments;
on less expensive student instruments, other woods may
be used and then painted or stained black (a process called
ebonizing). The ngerboard is radiused using a curve,
for the same reason that the bridge is curved: if the nger-
board and bridge were to be at, then a bassist would not
be able to bow the inner two strings individually. By us-
ing a curved bridge and a curved ngerboard, the bassist
can align the bow with any of the four strings and play
them individually. Unlike the violin and viola, but like
the cello, the bass ngerboard is somewhat attened out
underneath the E string (the C string on cello). The vast
majority of ngerboards cannot be adjusted by the per-
former; any adjustments must be made by a luthier. A
very small number of expensive basses for professionals
have adjustable ngerboards, in which a screw mecha-
Principal parts of the double bass
nism can be used to raise or lower the string height.
An important distinction between the double bass and
other members of the violin family is the construction
ilar to that of the violin, to a at and angled back similar of the pegbox and the tuning mechanism. While the vi-
to the viol family. olin, viola, and cello all use friction pegs for tuning ad-
The double bass features many parts that are similar to justments (tightening and loosening the string tension to
members of the violin family, including a wooden, carved raise or lower the strings pitch), the double bass has metal
bridge to support the strings, f-holes, a tailpiece, a scroll machine heads and gears. One of the challenges with tun-
near the pegbox, and a sound post, which transmits the vi- ing pegs is that the friction between the wood peg and the
brations from the top of the instrument to the hollow body peg hole may become insucient to hold the peg in place,
and supports the pressure of the string tension. Unlike the particularly if the peg hole become worn and enlarged.
rest of the violin family, the double bass still reects in- The key on the tuning machine of a double bass turns
uences from, and can be considered partly derived, from a metal worm, which drives a worm gear that winds the
the viol family of instruments, in particular the violone, string. Turning the key in one direction tightens the string
the lowest-pitched bass member of the viol family. As (thus raising its pitch); turning the key the opposite direc-
with the other violin and viol family instruments that are tion reduces the tension on the string (thus lowering its
played with a bow (and unlike mainly plucked or picked pitch). While this development makes ne tuners on the
instruments like guitar), the double basss bridge has an tailpiece (important for violin, viola and cello players, as
arc-like, curved shape. This is done because with bowed their instruments use friction pegs for major pitch adjust-
instruments, the player must be able to play individual ments) unnecessary, a very small number of bassists use
strings. If the double bass were to have a at bridge, it them nevertheless. One rationale for using ne tuners on
would be impossible to bow the A and D strings individ- bass is that for instruments with the low C extension, the
ually. pulley system for the long string may not eectively trans-
The double bass also diers from members of the violin fer turns of the key into changes of string tension/pitch.
family in that the shoulders are typically sloped, the back At the base of the double bass is a metal rod with a spiked
is often angled (both to allow easier access to the instru- or rubberized end called the endpin, which rests on the
ment, particularly in the upper range). Machine tuners oor. This endpin is generally thicker and more robust
are always tted, in contrast to the rest of the violin fam- than that of a cello, because of the greater mass of the
ily, where traditional wooden friction pegs are still the instrument.
primary means of tuning. Lack of standardization in de- The materials most often used in double bass construc-
sign means that one double bass can sound and look very tion for fully carved basses (the type used by profes-
dierent from another. sional orchestra bassists and soloists) are maple (back,
5.2 Strings 5

neck, ribs), spruce (top), and ebony (ngerboard, tail- out by players.
piece). The tailpiece may be made from other types of
wood or non-wood materials. Exceptions to this include
less-expensive basses that have laminated (plywood) tops, 5.1.1 Travel instruments
backs, and ribs, and some 2010-era lower- to mid-priced
basses made of willow. Fully laminated plywood basses As of 2016, several manufacturers make travel instru-
are resistant to changes in heat and humidity and acciden- ments, which are double basses that have features which
tal droppage or impacts, which can cause cracks in carved reduce the size of the instrument so that the instrument
wood tops and bodies (a crack is most serious on the top). will meet airline travel requirements. Travel basses are
designed for touring musicians. One type of travel bass
Laminated (plywood) basses, which are widely used in has a much smaller body than normal, while still re-
music schools, youth orchestras, and in popular and folk taining all of the features needed for playing. While
music settings (including rockabilly, psychobilly, blues, these smaller-body instruments appear similar to electric
etc.), are very resistant to humidity and heat, as well to upright basses, the dierence is that small-body travel
the physical abuse they are apt to encounter in a school basses still have a fairly large hollow acoustic sound
environment (or, for blues and folk musicians, to the haz- chamber, while many EUBs are solid body, or only have a
ards of touring and performing in bars). Another option small hollow chamber. A second type of travel bass has a
is the hybrid body bass, which has a laminated back and hinged or removable neck and a regular sized body. The
a carved or solid wood top. It is less costly and some- hinged or removable neck makes the instrument smaller
what less fragile (at least regarding its back) than a fully when it is packed for transportation.
carved bass. In 2015, the least expensive entry-level new,
fully carved basses range from $2,750[10] to $4,950[11]
USD, although a higher-end new carved instrument may 5.2 Strings
cost from $9,000 to $24,000 USD.[12] In 2015, bassists
in top professional orchestras may have antique carved
instruments valued at hundreds of thousands of dollars.
In 2015, new fully laminated basses are sold for about
$1,350[10] to $4,500[13] USD. New hybrid basses range
from $3,000[11] to $6,400[13] USD.
The soundpost and bass bar are components of the in-
ternal construction. All the parts of a double bass are
glued together, except the soundpost, bridge, and tail-
piece, which are held in place by string tension (although
the soundpost usually remains in place when the instru-
ments strings are loosened or removed, as long as the bass
is kept on its back. Some luthiers recommend chang-
ing only one string at a time to reduce the risk of the
soundpost falling). Basic bridges are carved from a single
piece of wood, which is customized to match the shape
of the top of each instrument. Professional bassists are
more likely to have adjustable bridges, which have a metal
screw mechanism. This enables the bassist to raise or
lower the height of the strings to accommodate chang-
ing humidity or temperature conditions. The metal tun-
ing machines are attached to the sides of the pegbox with
metal screws. While tuning mechanisms generally dier
from the higher-pitched orchestral stringed instruments,
some basses have non-functional, ornamental tuning pegs
projecting from the side of the pegbox, in imitation of the
tuning pegs on a cello or violin. Detail of the bridge and strings

Famous double bass makers come from around the world The history of the double bass is tightly coupled to the
and often represent varied national characteristics. The development of string technology, as it was the advent[9]
most highly sought (and expensive) instruments come of overwound gut strings, which rst rendered the instru-
from Italy and include basses made by Giovanni Paolo ment more generally practicable, as (over) wound strings
Maggini, Gaspar da Salo, the Testore family (Carlo An- attain low notes within a smaller overall string diameter
tonio, Carlo Giuseppe, Gennaro, Giovanni, Paulo Anto- than non-wound strings.[14] Professor Larry Hurst argues
nio), Celestino Puolotti, and Matteo Gofriller. French that had it not been for the appearance of the overwound
and English basses from famous makers are also sought gut string in the 1650s, the double bass would surely have
6 5 DESIGN

up high over the ngerboard, could not produce clear tone


in these higher positions. However, with modern steel
strings, bassists can play with clear tone in higher posi-
tions on the low E and A strings, particularly when they
use modern lighter-gauge, lower-tension steel strings. For
information on the strings used in regular and solo tuning
and with dierent types of basses, see the section below
on tuning.

5.3 Bows

The double bass bow comes in two distinct forms (shown


below). 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
Gut strings
shorter, and is held in a hand shake (or maybe hack-
saw) position.

become extinct.[7] because thicknesses needed for reg-


ular gut strings made the lower-pitched strings almost
unplayable and hindered the development of uid, rapid
playing in the lower register.
Prior to the mid-20th century, double bass strings were
usually made of gut, but, since that time, steel has largely
replaced it, because steel strings hold their pitch better
and yield more volume when played with the bow.[15] Gut
strings are also more vulnerable to changes of humidity
and temperature, and break more easily than steel strings.
Gut strings are nowadays mostly used by bassists who per-
form in baroque ensembles, rockabilly bands, traditional
blues bands, and bluegrass bands. In some cases, the low French and German bows compared
E and A are wound in silver, to give them added mass.
Gut strings provide the dark, thumpy sound heard on These two bows provide dierent ways of moving the arm
1940s and 1950s recordings. The late Je Sarli, a blues and distributing force on the strings. Proponents of the
upright bassist, said that, Starting in the 1950s, they French bow argue that it is more maneuverable, due to
began to reset the necks on basses for steel strings.[16] the angle at which the player holds the bow. Advocates
Rockabilly and bluegrass bassists also prefer gut because of the German bow claim that it allows the player to apply
it is much easier to perform the "slapping" upright bass more arm weight on the strings. The dierences between
style (in which the strings are percussively slapped and the two, however, are minute for a procient player, and
clicked against the ngerboard) with gut strings than with modern players in major orchestras use both bows.
steel strings. A less expensive alternative to gut strings
is nylon strings; the higher strings are pure nylon, and the
lower strings are nylon wrapped in wire, to add more mass 5.3.1 German bow
to the string, slowing the vibration, and thus facilitating
lower pitches. (For more information on slapping, see the The German bow (sometimes called the Butler bow) is
sections below on Modern playing styles, Double bass in the older of the two designs. The design of the bow and
bluegrass music, Double bass in jazz, and Double bass in the manner of holding it descend from the older viol in-
popular music). strument family. With older viols, before frogs had screw
The change from gut to steel has also aected the in- threads to tighten the bow, players held the bow with two
struments playing technique over the last hundred years. ngers between the stick and the hair to maintain ten-
Steel strings can be set up closer to the ngerboard and, sion of the hair.[17] Proponents of the use of German
additionally, strings can be played in higher positions on bow claim that the German bow is easier to use for heavy
the lower strings and still produce clear tone. The classic strokes that require a lot of power.
19th century Franz Simandl method does not use the low Compared to the French bow, the German bow has a
E string in higher positions because older gut strings, set taller frog, and the player holds it with the palm angled
5.3 Bows 7

frog while the other ngers drape on the other side of the
bow. Various styles dictate the curve of the ngers and
thumb, as do the style of piece; a more pronounced curve
and lighter hold on the bow is used for virtuoso or more
delicate pieces, while a atter curve and sturdier grip on
the bow sacrices some power for easier control in strokes
such as detach, spiccato, and staccato.

German-style bow

upwards, as with the upright members of the viol fam-


ily. When held in the traditionally correct manner, the
thumb applies the necessary power to generate the de-
sired sound. The index nger meets the bow at the point A bassist holding a French bow; note how the thumb rests on the
where the frog meets the stick. The index nger also ap- shaft of the bow next to the frog.
plies an upward torque to the frog when tilting the bow.
The little nger (or pinky) supports the frog from un-
derneath, while the ring nger and middle nger rest in 5.3.3 Bow construction and materials
the space between the hair and the shaft.
Double bass bows vary in length, ranging from 60 to 75
cm (2430 in). In general, a bass bow is shorter and
5.3.2 French bow
heavier than a cello bow. Pernambuco, also known as
Brazilwood, is regarded as an excellent quality stick ma-
terial, but due to its scarcity and expense, other materials
are increasingly being used. Inexpensive student bows
may be constructed of solid berglass, which makes the
bow much lighter than a wooden bow (even too light to
produce a good tone, in some cases). Student bows may
also be made of the less valuable varieties of brazilwood.
Snakewood and carbon ber are also used in bows of a
variety of dierent qualities. The frog of the double bass
bow is usually made out of ebony, although snakewood
and bualo horn are used by some luthiers. The frog is
movable, as it can be tightened or loosened with a knob
(like all violin family bows). The bow is loosened at the
end of a practice session or performance. The bow is
tightened before playing, until it reaches a tautness that
is preferred by the player. The frog on a quality bow is
decorated with mother of pearl inlay.
Bows have a leather wrapping on the wooden part of the
French-style bow bow near the frog. Along with the leather wrapping, there
is also a wire wrapping, made of gold or silver in quality
The French bow was not widely popular until its adoption bows. The hair is usually horsehair. Part of the regular
by 19th-century virtuoso Giovanni Bottesini. This style is maintenance of a bow is having the bow rehaired by
more similar to the traditional bows of the smaller string a luthier with fresh horsehair and having the leather and
family instruments. It is held as if the hand is resting by wire wrapping replaced. The double bass bow is strung
the side of the performer with the palm facing toward the with either white or black horsehair, or a combination
bass. The thumb rests on the shaft of the bow, next to the of the two (known as salt and pepper), as opposed to
8 6 PITCH

the customary white horsehair used on the bows of other


string instruments. Some bassists argue that the slightly
rougher black hair grabs the heavier, lower strings bet-
ter. As well, some bassists and luthiers believe that it is
easier to produce a smoother sound with the white vari-
ety. Red hair (chestnut) is also used by some bassists.
Some of the lowest-quality, lowest cost student bows are
made with synthetic hair. Synthetic hair does not have the
tiny barbs that real horsehair has, so it does not grip
the string well or take rosin well.

5.3.4 Rosin

The bass (or F) clef is used for most orchestral double bass music.

Double bass symphony parts sometimes indicate that the


A variety of rosin types. performer should play harmonics (also called ageolet
tones), in which the bassist lightly touches the string
String players apply rosin to the bow hair so it grips the without pressing it onto the ngerboard in the usual
string and makes it vibrate. Double bass rosin is gen- fashionin the location of a note and then plucks or bows
erally softer and stickier than violin rosin to allow the the note. Bowed harmonics are used in contemporary
hair to grab the thicker strings better, but players use a music for their glassy sound. Both natural harmonics
wide variety of rosins that vary from quite hard (like vi- and articial harmonics, where the thumb stops the note
olin rosin) to quite soft, depending on the weather, the and the octave or other harmonic is activated by lightly
humidity, and the preference of the player. The amount touching the string at the relative node point, extend the
used generally depends on the type of music being per- instruments range considerably. Natural and articial
formed as well as the personal preferences of the player. harmonics are used a great deal in virtuoso concertos for
Bassists may apply more rosin in works for large orches- the double bass.
tra (e.g., Brahms symphonies) than for delicate chamber Orchestral parts from the standard Classical repertoire
works. Some brands of rosin, such as Pops double bass rarely demand the double bass exceed a two-octave and
rosin, are softer and more prone to melting in hot weather. a minor third range, from E1 to G3 , with occasional A3 s
Other brands, such as Carlsson or Nyman Harts double appearing in the standard repertoire (an exception to this
bass rosin, are harder and less prone to melting. rule is Ors Carmina Burana, which calls for three oc-
taves and a perfect fourth). The upper limit of this range
is extended a great deal for 20th- and 21st-century orches-
6 Pitch tral parts (e.g., Prokoev's Lieutenant Kij Suite (c.1933)
bass solo, which calls for notes as high as D4 and E4 ).
The lowest note of a double bass is an E1 (on standard The upper range a virtuoso solo player can achieve us-
four-string basses) at approximately 41 Hz or a C1 (33 ing natural and articial harmonics is hard to dene, as
Hz), or sometimes B0 (31 Hz), when ve strings are it depends on the skill of the particular player. The high
used. This is within about an octave above the lowest harmonic in the range illustration found at the head of this
frequency that the average human ear can perceive as a article may be taken as representative rather than norma-
distinctive pitch. The top of the instruments ngerboard tive.
range is typically near D5 , two octaves and a fth above Five-string instruments have an additional string, typi-
the open pitch of the G string (G2 ), as shown in the range cally tuned to a low B below the E string (B0 ). On rare
illustration found at the head of this article. Playing be- occasions a higher string is added instead, tuned to the C
yond the end of the ngerboard can be accomplished by above the G string (C3 ). Four-string instruments may fea-
pulling the string slightly to the side. ture the C extension extending the range of the E string
7.2 C extension 9

downwards to C1 (sometimes B0 ). sonorous.[18] Many cobla bands in Catalonia still have


Traditionally, the double bass is a transposing instrument. players using
[19]
traditional three-string double basses tuned
Since much of the double basss range lies below the stan- ADG.
dard bass clef, it is notated an octave higher than it sounds Throughout classical repertoire, there are notes that fall
to avoid having to use excessive ledger lines below the below the range of a standard double bass. Notes be-
sta. Thus, when double bass players and cellists are low low E appear regularly in the double bass parts found
playing from a combined bass-cello part, as used in many in later arrangements and interpretations of Baroque mu-
Mozart and Haydn symphonies, they will play in octaves, sic. In the Classical era, the double bass typically doubled
with the basses one octave below the cellos. This transpo- the cello part an octave below, occasionally requiring de-
sition applies even when bass players are reading the tenor scent to C below the E of the four-string double bass. In
and treble clef (which are used in solo playing and some the Romantic era and the 20th century, composers such
orchestral parts). The tenor clef is also used by composers as Wagner, Mahler, Busoni and Prokoev also requested
for cello and low brass parts. The use of tenor or treble notes below the low E.
clef avoids excessive ledger lines above the sta when no- There are several methods for making these notes avail-
tating the instruments upper range. Other notation tradi- able to the player. Players with standard double basses
tions exist. Italian solo music is typically written at the (EADG) may play the notes below E an octave
sounding pitch, and the old German method sounded higher or if this sounds awkward, the entire passage may
an octave below where notation except in the treble clef, be transposed up an octave. The player may tune the low
where the music was written at pitch. E string down to the lowest note required in the piece: D
or C. Four string basses may be tted with a low-C exten-
sion (see below). Or the player may employ a ve-string
7 Tuning instrument, with the additional lower string tuned to C,
or (more commonly in modern times) B, three octaves
7.1 Regular tuning and a semitone below middle C. Several major European
orchestras use basses with a fth string.[20]

7.2 C extension

Double bass player Vivien Garry playing a show in New York A low-C extension with wooden mechanical ngers that stop
City in 1947. the string at C, D, E, or E. For orchestral passages which only
go down to a low E, the nger at the nut is usually closed.
The double bass is generally tuned in fourths, in contrast
to other members of the orchestral string family, which In Britain, the USA and Canada, most professional or-
are tuned in fths. The standard tuning (low to high) is chestral players use four-string double basses with a C ex-
EADG, starting from E below second low C (concert tension. This is an extra section of ngerboard mounted
pitch). This is the same as the standard tuning of a bass on the head of the bass. It extends the ngerboard under
guitar and is one octave lower than the four lowest-pitched the lowest string and gives an additional four semitones
strings of standard guitar tuning. Prior to the 19th- of downward range. The lowest string is typically tuned
century, many double basses had only three strings; Gio- down to C1 , an octave below the lowest note on the cello.
vanni Bottesini (18211889) favored the three-stringed More rarely this string may be tuned to a low B0 , as a
instrument popular in Italy at the time,[7] because the few works in the orchestral repertoire call for such a B,
three-stringed instrument [was viewed as] being more such as Respighi's The Pines of Rome. In rare cases, some
10 7 TUNING

players have a low B extension, which has B as its lowest the bass in the same tuning approach. Fifth tuning pro-
note. There are several varieties of extensions: vides a bassist with a wider range of pitch than a stan-
In the simplest mechanical extensions, there are no me- dard EADG bass, as it ranges (without an extension)
chanical aids attached to the ngerboard extension except from C1 to A2 . Some players who use fths tuning who
a locking nut or gate for the E note. To play the exten- play a ve-string bass use an additional high string (thus,
sion notes, the player reaches back over the area under from lowest to highest: CGDAE). Some fth tun-
the scroll to press the string to the ngerboard. The ad- ing bassists who only have a four string instrument and
vantage of this ngered extension is that the player can who are mainly performing soloistic works use the G
DAE tuning, thus omitting the low C string but gain-
adjust the intonation of all of the stopped notes on the
extension, and there are no mechanical noises from metal ing a high E. Some fth tuning bassists who use a ve-
string use a smaller scale instrument, thus making n-
keys and levers. The disadvantage of the ngered ex-
tension is that it can be hard to perform rapid alternations gering somewhat easier. The BerliozStrauss Treatise on
Instrumentation (rst published in 1844) states that, A
between low notes on the extension and notes on the reg-
ular ngerboard, such as a bassline that quickly alternates good orchestra should have several four-string double-
basses, some of them tuned in fths and thirds. The book
between G and D.
then shows a tuning of (EGDA) from bottom to top
The simplest type of mechanical aid is the use of wooden string. Together with the other double-basses tuned in
ngers or gates that can be closed to press the string fourths, a combination of open strings would be available,
down and fret the C, D, E, or E notes. This system which would greatly increase the sonority of the orches-
is particularly useful for basslines that have a repeating tra.
pedal point such as a low D, because once the note is
locked in place with the mechanical nger the lowest In classical solo playing the double bass is usually tuned
string sounds a dierent note when played open (e.g., a a whole tone higher (FBEA). This higher tuning is
low D). called solo tuning, whereas the regular tuning is known
as orchestral tuning. Solo tuning strings are gener-
The most complicated mechanical aid for use with ex- ally thinner than regular strings. String tension diers so
tensions is the mechanical lever system nicknamed the much between solo and orchestral tuning that a dierent
machine. This lever system, which supercially resem- set of strings is often employed that has a lighter gauge.
bles the keying mechanism of reed instruments such as Strings are always labelled for either solo or orchestral
the bassoon, mounts levers beside the regular ngerboard tuning, and published solo music is arranged for either
(near the nut, on the E-string side), which remotely acti- solo or orchestral tuning. Some popular solos and con-
vate metal ngers on the extension ngerboard. The certi, such as the Koussevitsky Concerto are available in
most expensive metal lever systems also give the player both solo and orchestral tuning arrangements. Solo tun-
the ability to lock down notes on the extension nger- ing strings can be tuned down a tone to play in orchestra
board, as with the wooden nger system. One criticism pitch, but the strings often lack projection in orchestral
of these devices is that they may lead to unwanted metal- tuning and their pitch may be unstable.
lic clicking noises.
Some contemporary composers specify highly special-
Once a mechanical nger of the wooden nger ex- ized scordatura. Berio, for example, asks the player
tension or the metal nger machine extension is locked to tune their strings EGDG in Sequenza XIVb and
down or depressed, it is not easy to make microtonal pitch Scelsi asks for both FADE and FAFE in Nuits. A
adjustments or glissando eects, as is possible with a variant and much less-commonly used form of solo tun-
hand-ngered extension. ing used in some Eastern European countries is (ADG
While the most common type of extension is the C exten- C), which uses three of the strings from orchestral tuning
sion, in rare cases, owners of ve-string basses, in which (ADG) and then adds a high C string. Some bassists
the lowest string is normally a low B, may use either a two with ve-string basses use a high C string as the fth
semitone extension, providing a low A, or the very rare string, instead of a low B string. Adding the high C
low G extension. string facilitates the performance of solo repertoire with
a high tessitura (range). Another option is to utilize both
a low C (or B) extension and a high C string.
7.3 Other tuning variations
7.3.1 Five strings
A small number of bass players tune their strings in fths,
like a cello but an octave lower (CGDA low to high). When choosing a bass with a fth string, the player may
This tuning was used by the jazz player Red Mitchell and decide between adding a higher-pitched string (a high
is used by some classical players, notably the Canadian C string) or a lower-pitched string (typically a low B).
bassist Joel Quarrington. Advocates of tuning the bass Six-stringed instruments are generally regarded as im-
in fths point out that all of the other orchestral strings practical. To accommodate the additional fth string,
are tuned in fths (violin, viola and cello), so this puts the ngerboard is usually slightly widened, and the top
8.2 Physical considerations 11

slightly thicker, to handle the increased tension. Some ing in thumb position, few players use the fourth (lit-
ve-stringed instruments are converted four-string instru- tle) nger, as it is usually too weak to produce reliable
ments. Because these do not have wider ngerboards, tone (this is also true for cellists), although some extreme
some players nd them more dicult to nger and bow. chords or extended techniques, especially in contempo-
Converted four-string basses usually require either a new, rary music, may require its use.
thicker top, or lighter strings to compensate for the in-
creased tension.
8.2 Physical considerations

8 Playing and performance consid-


erations

8.1 Body and hand position

French double-bass player and composer Renaud Garcia-Fons


pictured during a performance.

The upright bass player of the rockabilly band Lucky Dados.


Double bassists either stand or sit to play the instrument. Rockabilly style can be very demanding on the plucking hand,
The instrument height is set by adjusting the endpin such due to rockabillys use of slapping on the ngerboard.
that the player can reach the desired playing zones of the
strings with bow or plucking hand. Bassists who stand
Performing on bass can be physically demanding, be-
and bow sometimes set the endpin by aligning the rst n- cause the strings are large and thick. Also, the space be-
ger in either rst or half position with eye level, although
tween notes on the ngerboard is large, due to scale length
there is little standardization in this regard. Players who and string spacing, so players must hold their ngers apart
sit generally use a stool about the height of the players for the notes in the lower positions and shift positions fre-
pants inseam length. quently to play basslines. As with all non-fretted string
Traditionally, double bassists stood to play solo and sat instruments, performers must learn to place their ngers
to play in the orchestra or opera pit. Now, it is unusual precisely to produce the correct pitch. For bassists with
for a player to be equally procient in both positions, so shorter arms or smaller hands, the large spaces between
some soloists sit (as with Joel Quarrington, Je Bradetich, pitches may present a signicant challenge, especially in
Thierry Barb, and others) and some orchestral bassists the lowest range, where the spaces between notes are
stand. largest. However, the increased use of playing techniques
When playing in the instruments upper range (above G3 , such as thumb position and modications to the bass, such
the G below middle C), the player shifts the hand from as the use of lighter-gauge strings at lower tension, have
behind the neck and attens it out, using the side of the eased the diculty of playing the instrument.
thumb to press down the string. This techniquealso Bass parts have relatively fewer fast passages, double
used on the cellois called thumb position. While play- stops, or large jumps in range. These parts are usually
12 8 PLAYING AND PERFORMANCE CONSIDERATIONS

given to the cello section, since the cello is a smaller in-


strument on which these techniques are more easily per-
formed.
Until the 1990s, child-sized double basses were not
widely available, and the large size of the bass prevented
children from playing the instrument until they grew to a
height and hand size that let them to play a 3 4 -size model
(the most common size). Starting in the 1990s, smaller
1
2 , 1 4 , 1 8 , and even 1 16 -sized instruments became more
widely available, so children could start younger.

8.3 Volume
Despite the size of the instrument, it is not as loud as many
other instruments, due to its low range. In a large orches-
tra, usually between four and eight bassists play in the
same bassline in unison to produce enough volume. In
the largest orchestras, bass sections may have as many
as ten or twelve players, but modern budget constraints
make bass sections this large unusual.
When writing solo passages for the bass in orches-
tral or chamber music, composers typically ensure the
orchestration is light so it does not obscure the bass.
While amplication is rarely used in classical music, in Psychobilly bassist Jimbo Wallace onstage with Reverend Horton
Heat; note his large bass stack consisting of a 1x15 cabinet, a
some cases where a bass soloist performs a concerto with
4x10 cabinet, and an amplier head.
a full orchestra, subtle amplication called acoustic en-
hancement may be used. The use of microphones and
ampliers in a classical setting has led to debate within
the classical community, as "...purists maintain that the
natural acoustic sound of [Classical] voices [or] instru-
ments in a given hall should not be altered.[21]
In many genres, such as jazz and blues, players use am-
plication via a specialized amplier and loudspeakers.
A piezoelectric pickup connects to the amplier with a
1
4 -inch patch cable. Bluegrass and jazz players typi- Double bass is the standard bass instrument in bluegrass. The
cally use less amplication than blues, psychobilly, or Norwegian band Ila Auto, shown here, shows that the bass can
jam band players. In the latter cases, high overall vol- be a head taller than the bassist (Kristoer Iversen).
ume from other ampliers and instruments may cause un-
wanted acoustic feedback, a problem exacerbated by the
basss large surface area and interior volume. The feed- ping sounds). These two signals are blended together us-
back problem has led to technological xes like electronic ing a simple mixer before the signal is sent to the bass
feedback eliminator devices (essentially an automated amp.
notch lter that identies and reduces frequencies where
feedback occurs) and instruments like the electric up-
8.4 Transportation
right bass, which has playing characteristics like the dou-
ble bass but usually little or no soundbox, which makes The double basss large size and relative fragility make it
feedback less likely. Some bassists reduce the problem cumbersome to handle and transport. Most bassists use
of feedback by lowering their onstage volume or playing soft cases, referred to as gig bags, to protect the instru-
further away from their bass amp speakers. ment during transport. These range from inexpensive,
In rockabilly and psychobilly, percussively slapping the thin unpadded cases used by students (which only pro-
strings against the ngerboard is an important part of the tect against scratches and rain) to thickly padded versions
bass playing style. Since piezoelectric pickups are not for professional players, which also protect against bumps
good at reproducing the sounds of strings being slapped and impacts. Some bassists carry their bow in a hard bow
against the ngerboard, bassists in these genres often use case; more expensive bass cases have a large pocket for a
both piezoelectric pickups (for the low bass tone) and a bow case. Players also may use a small cart and end pin-
miniature condenser mic (to pick up the percussive slap- attached wheels to move the bass. Some higher-priced
13

padded cases have wheels attached to the case. Another with a cylindrical metal sleeve which also has a slot on the
option found in higher-priced padded cases are backpack side. The metal cylinder has a screw and a nut that fas-
straps, to make it easier to carry the instrument. tens the device to the string. Dierent placements of the
Hard ight cases have cushioned interiors and tough exte- cylinder along the string inuence or eliminate the fre-
riors of carbon ber, graphite, berglass, or Kevlar. The quency at which the wolf tone occurs. It is essentially
cost of good hard casesseveral thousand US dollarsand an attenuator that slightly shifts the natural frequency
the high airline fees for shipping them tend to limit their of the string (and/or
[22]
instrument body) cutting down on
use to touring professionals. the reverberation. The wolf tone occurs because the
strings below the bridge sometimes resonate at pitches
close to notes on the playing part of the string. When the
intended note makes the below-the-bridge string vibrate
8.5 Accessories sympathetically, a dissonant wolf note or wolf tone
can occur. In some cases, the wolf tone is strong enough
to cause an audible beating sound. The wolf tone often
occurs with the note G on the bass.[23][24]
In orchestra, instruments tune to an A played by the
oboist. Due to the multiple octaves between the oboists
tuning A and the open A string on the bass (for example,
in an orchestra that tunes to 440 Hz, the oboist plays an
A at 440 Hz and the open A of the bass is 55 Hz) it can
be dicult to tune the bass by ear during the short pe-
riod that the oboist plays the tuning note. Violinists, on
the other hand, tune their A string to the same frequency
as the oboists tuning note. To ensure the bass is in tune,
some bassists use an electronic tuner that indicates pitch
on a small display. Bassists who play in styles that use a
bass amp, such as blues, rockabilly, or jazz, may use a
stompbox-format electronic tuner, which mutes the bass
pickup during tuning.
A double bass stand is used to hold the instrument in place
and raise it a few inches o the ground. A wide variety of
stands are available, and there is no one common design.

A wooden mute attached to the bass bridge to make the tone


darker
9 Classical repertoire
Double bass players use various accessories to help them
to perform and rehearse. Three types of mutes are used 9.1 Solo works for double bass
in orchestral music: a wooden mute that slides onto the
bridge, a rubber mute that attaches to the bridge and a 9.1.1 1700s
wire device with brass weights that ts onto the bridge.
The player uses the mute when the Italian instruction The double bass as a solo instrument enjoyed a period
con sordino (with mute) appears in the bass part, and
of popularity during the 18th century and many of the
removes it in response to the instruction senza sordino most popular composers from that era wrote pieces for
(without mute). With the mute on, the tone of the bass the double bass. The double bass, then often referred to
is quieter, darker, and more somber. Bowed bass parts as the Violone, used dierent tunings from region to re-
with a mute can have a nasal tone. Players use a third gion. The Viennese tuning (A1 D2 F2 A2 ) was pop-
type of mute, a heavy rubber practice mute, to practice ular, and in some cases a fth string or even sixth string
quietly without disturbing others (e.g., in a hotel room). was added (F1 A1 D2 F2 A2 ).[25] The popularity of
A quiver is an accessory for holding the bow. It is often the instrument is documented in Leopold Mozart's sec-
made of leather and it attaches to the bridge and tailpiece ond edition of his Violinschule, where he writes One can
with ties or straps. It is used to hold the bow while a player bring forth dicult passages easier with the ve-string vi-
plays pizzicato parts. olone, and I heard unusually beautiful performances of
A wolf tone eliminator is used to lessen unwanted sympa- concertos, trios, solos, etc.
thetic vibrations in the part of a string between the bridge The earliest known concerto for double bass was written
and the tailpiece which can cause tone problems for cer- by Joseph Haydn c.1763, and is presumed lost in a re at
tain notes. It is a rubber tube cut down the side that is used the Eisenstadt library. The earliest known existing con-
14 9 CLASSICAL REPERTOIRE

playing was known all the way from his homeland Italy
to the Tsardom of Russia and he found a prominent place
performing in concerts with the Philharmonic Society
of London. Beethovens friendship with Dragonetti may
have inspired him to write dicult, separate parts for the
double bass in his symphonies, such as the impressive
passages in the third movement of the Fifth Symphony,
the second movement of the Seventh Symphony, and last
movement of the Ninth Symphony. These parts do not
double the cello part.
Dragonetti wrote ten concertos for the double bass and
many solo works for bass and piano. During Rossini's
stay in London in the summer of 1824, he composed
his Duetto for cello and double bass for Dragonetti and
the cellist David Salomons. Dragonetti frequently played
on a three string double bass tuned GDA from top to
bottom. The use of only the top three strings was pop-
ular for bass soloists and principal bassists in orchestras
in the 19th century, because it reduced the pressure on
the wooden top of the bass, which was thought to create
a more resonant sound. As well, the low E-strings used
during the 19th century were thick cords made of gut,
which were dicult to tune and play.

9.1.2 1800s

In the 19th century, the opera conductor, composer, and


The Italian bass virtuoso Domenico Dragonetti helped to encour- bassist Giovanni Bottesini was considered the "Paganini
age composers to give more dicult parts for his instrument. of the double bass of his time, a reference to the vi-
olin virtuoso and composer. Bottesinis bass concertos
were written in the popular Italian opera style of the 19th
certos are by Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf, who composed century, which exploit the double bass in a way that was
two concertos for the double bass and a Sinfonia Concer- not seen beforehand. They require virtuosic runs and
tante for viola and double bass. Other composers that great leaps to the highest registers of the instrument, even
have written concertos from this period include Johann into the realm of natural and articial harmonics. Many
Baptist Wanhal, Franz Anton Homeister (3 concertos), 19th century and early 20th century bassists considered
Leopold Kozeluch, Anton Zimmermann, Antonio Ca- these compositions unplayable, but in the 2000s, they are
puzzi, Wenzel Pichl (2 concertos), and Johannes Matthias frequently performed. During the same time, a promi-
Sperger (18 concertos). While many of these names nent school of bass players in the Czech region arose,
were leading gures to the music public of their time, which included Franz Simandl, Theodore Albin Find-
they are generally unknown by contemporary audiences. eisen, Josef Hrabe, Ludwig Manoly, and Adolf Miek.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's concert aria, Per Questa Simandl and Hrabe were also pedagogues whose method
Bella Mano, K.612 for bass, double bass obbligato, and books and studies remain in use in the 2000s.
orchestra contains impressive writing for solo double bass
of that period. It remains popular among both singers and
9.1.3 1900spresent
double bassists today.
The double bass eventually evolved to t the needs of or- The leading gure of the double bass in the early 20th
chestras that required lower notes and a louder sound. century was Serge Koussevitzky, best known as conduc-
The leading double bassists from the mid-to-late 18th tor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, who popularized
century, such as Josef Kmpfer, Friedrich Pischelberger, the double bass in modern times as a solo instrument.
and Johannes Mathias Sperger employed the Viennese Because of improvements to the double bass with steel
tuning. Bassist Johann Hindle (17921862), who com- strings and better set-ups, the bass is now played at a
posed a concerto for the double bass, pioneered tuning more advanced level than ever before and more and more
the bass in fourths, which marked a turning point for the composers have written works for the double bass. In the
double bass and its role in solo works. Bassist Domenico mid-century and in the following decades, many new con-
Dragonetti was a prominent musical gure and an ac- certi were written for the double bass, including Nikos
quaintance of Haydn and Ludwig van Beethoven. His Skalkottas's Concerto (1942), Eduard Tubin's Concerto
9.1 Solo works for double bass 15

and premiered more than 300 double bass works.

Serge Koussevitzky popularized the double bass in modern times


as a solo instrument
The virtuoso nineteenth-century bassist and composer Giovanni
Bottesini with his 1716 Carlo Antonio Testore bass. In the 1970s, 1980 and 1990s, new concerti included
Nino Rota's Divertimento for Double Bass and Orches-
tra (1973), Alan Ridout's concerto for double bass and
(1948), Lars-Erik Larsson's Concertino (1957), Gunther strings (1974), Jean Franaix's Concerto (1975), Frank
Schuller's Concerto (1962), Hans Werner Henze's Con- Proto's Concerto No. 2, Einojuhani Rautavaara's Angel
certo (1966) and Frank Proto's Concerto No. 1 (1968). Of Dusk (1980), Gian Carlo Menotti's Concerto (1983),
Christopher Rouse's Concerto (1985), Henry Brant's
The Solo For Contrabass is one of the parts of John Cage's
Concert For Piano And Orchestra and can be played as a Ghost Nets (1988) and Frank Proto's Carmen Fantasy
for Double Bass and Orchestra (1991) and Four Scenes
solo, or with any of the other parts both orchestral and/or
piano. Similarly, his solo contrabass parts for the orches- after Picasso Concerto No. 3 (1997). Peter Maxwell
Davies' lyrical Strathclyde Concerto No. 7, for double
tral work Atlas Eclipticalis can also be performed as solos.
Cages indeterminate works such as Variations I, Varia- bass and orchestra, dates from 1992.
tions II, Fontana Mix, Cartridge Music et al. can be ar- In the rst decade of the 21st century, new concerti in-
ranged for a solo contrabassist. His work 26.1.1499 For A clude Frank Proto's Nine Variants on Paganini (2002),
String Player is often realized by a solo contrabass player, Kalevi Aho's Concerto (2005), John Harbison's Concerto
although it can also be played by a violinist, violist, or for Bass Viol (2006), Andr Previn's Double Concerto for
cellist. violin, double bass, and orchestra (2007) and John Wool-
From the 1960s through the end of the century Gary Karr rich's To the Silver Bow, for double bass, viola and strings
was the leading proponent of the double bass as a solo (2014).
instrument and was active in commissioning or having Reinhold Glire wrote an Intermezzo and Tarantella for
hundreds of new works and concerti written especially double bass and piano, Op. 9, No. 1 and No. 2 and a
for him. Karr was given Koussevitzkys famous solo dou- Praeludium and Scherzo for double bass and piano, Op.
ble bass by Olga Koussevitsky and played it in concerts 32 No. 1 and No. 2. Paul Hindemith wrote a rhyth-
around the world for 40 years before, in turn, giving the mically challenging Double Bass Sonata in 1949. Frank
instrument to the International Society of Bassists for tal- Proto wrote his Sonata 1963 for Double Bass and Pi-
ented soloists to use in concert. Another important per- ano. In the Soviet Union, Mieczysaw Weinberg wrote
former in this period, Bertram Turetzky, commissioned his Sonata No. 1 for double bass solo in 1971. Giacinto
16 9 CLASSICAL REPERTOIRE

Scelsi wrote two double bass pieces called Nuits in 1972, sky has a solo bass part that includes many unconven-
and then in 1976, he wrote Maknongan, a piece for any tional methods of playing. The German composer Claus
low-voiced instrument, such as double bass, contrabas- Khnl wrote Oene Weite / Open Expanse (1998) and
soon, or tuba. Vincent Persichetti wrote solo works Nachtschwarzes Meer, ringsum (2005) for double bass
which he called Parablesfor many instruments. He and piano.
wrote Parable XVII for Double Bass, Op. 131 in 1974. In 2004 Italian double bassist and composer Stefano Sco-
Soa Gubaidulina penned a Sonata for double bass and danibbio made a double bass arrangement of Luciano Be-
piano in 1975. In 1976 American minimalist composer rio's 2002 solo cello work Sequenza XIV with the new title
Tom Johnson wrote Failing - a very dicult piece for
Sequenza XIVb.
solo string bass in which the player has to perform an
extremely virtuosic solo on the bass whilst simultaneously
reciting a text which says how very dicult the piece is 9.2 Chamber music with double bass
and how unlikely he or she is to successfully complete the
performance without making a mistake. Since there is no established instrumental ensemble that
In 1977 Dutch-Hungarian composer Geza Frid wrote includes the double bass, its use in chamber music has not
a set of variations on The Elephant from Saint-Sans' been as exhaustive as the literature for ensembles such as
Le Carnaval des Animaux for scordatura Double Bass the string quartet or piano trio. Despite this, there is a
and string orchestra. In 1987 Lowell Liebermann wrote substantial number of chamber works that incorporate the
his Sonata for Contrabass and Piano Op. 24. Fer- double bass in both small and large ensembles.
nando Grillo wrote the Suite No. 1 for double bass There is a small body of works written for piano quin-
(1983/2005). Jacob Druckman wrote a piece for solo tet with the instrumentation of piano, violin, viola, cello,
double bass entitled Valentine. US double bass soloist and and double bass. The most famous is Franz Schubert's
composer Bertram Turetzky (born 1933) has performed Piano Quintet in A major, known as The Trout Quintet"
and recorded more than 300 pieces written by and for for its set of variations in the fourth movement of Schu-
him. He writes chamber music, baroque music, classical, berts Die Forelle. Other works for this instrumentation
jazz, renaissance music, improvisational music and world written from roughly the same period include those by
music Johann Nepomuk Hummel, George Onslow, Jan Ladislav
US minimalist composer Philip Glass wrote a prelude fo- Dussek, Louise Farrenc, Ferdinand Ries, Franz Limmer,
cused on the lower register that he scored for timpani and Johann Baptist Cramer, and Hermann Goetz. Later com-
double bass. Italian composer Sylvano Bussotti, whose posers who wrote chamber works for this quintet include
composing career spans from the 1930s to the rst decade Ralph Vaughan Williams, Colin Matthews, Jon Deak,
of the 21st century, wrote a solo work for bass in 1983 Frank Proto, and John Woolrich. Slightly larger sex-
entitled Naked Angel Face per contrabbasso. Fellow Ital- tets written for piano, string quartet, and double bass
ian composer Franco Donatoni wrote a piece called Lem have been written by Felix Mendelssohn, Mikhail Glinka,
for contrabbasso in the same year. In 1989, French com- Richard Wernick, and Charles Ives.
poser Pascal Dusapin (born 1955) wrote a solo piece In the genre of string quintets, there are a few works
called In et Out for double bass. In 1996, the Sorbonne- for string quartet with double bass. Antonn Dvok's
trained Lebanese composer Karim Haddad composed Ce String Quintet in G major, Op.77 and Wolfgang Amadeus
qui dort dans l'ombre sacre (He who sleeps in the sacred
Mozart's Serenade in G major, K.525 ("Eine kleine
shadows) for Radio Frances Presence Festival. Renaud Nachtmusik") are the most popular pieces in this reper-
Garcia-Fons (born 1962) is a French double bass player toire, along with works by Darius Milhaud, Luigi Boc-
and composer, notable for drawing on jazz, folk, and cherini (3 quintets), Harold Shapero, and Paul Hin-
Asian music for recordings of his pieces like Oriental Bass
demith. Another example is Alistair Hintons String
(1997). Quintet (196977), which also includes a major part for
Two signicant recent works written for solo bass in- solo soprano; at almost 170 minutes in duration, it is al-
clude, Mario Davidovsky's Synchronisms No.11 for dou- most certainly the largest such work in the repertoire.
ble bass and electronic sounds and Elliott Carter's Fig- Slightly smaller string works with the double bass include
ment III, for solo double bass. The German composer six string sonatas by Gioachino Rossini, for two violins,
Gerhard Stbler wrote Co-wie Kobalt (198990), "...a cello, and double bass written at the age of twelve over
music for double bass solo and grand orchestra. Charles the course of three days in 1804. These remain his most
Wuorinen added several important works to the reper- famous instrumental works and have also been adapted
toire, Spino trio for double bass, violin and conga for wind quartet. Franz Anton Homeister wrote four
drums, and Trio for Bass Instruments double bass, tuba String Quartets for Solo Double Bass, Violin, Viola, and
and bass trombone, and in 2007 Synaxis for double Cello in D Major. Frank Proto has written a Trio for Vio-
bass, horn, oboe and clarinet with timpani and strings. lin, Viola and Double Bass (1974), 2 Duos for Violin and
The suite Seven Screen Shots for double bass and pi- Double Bass (1967 and 2005), and The Games of October
ano (2005) by Ukrainian composer Alexander Shchetyn- for Oboe/English Horn and Double Bass (1991).
9.4 Double bass ensembles 17

Larger works that incorporate the double bass include tional cases, bass sections may have as many as ten mem-
Beethoven's Septet in E major, Op. 20, one of his most bers. If some double bassists have low C extensions, and
famous pieces during his lifetime, which consists of clar- some have regular (low E) basses, those with the low C
inet, horn, bassoon, violin, viola, cello, and bass. When extensions may play some passages an octave below the
the clarinetist Ferdinand Troyer commissioned a work regular double basses. Also, some composers write di-
from Franz Schubert for similar forces, he added one vided (divisi) parts for the basses, where upper and lower
more violin for his Octet in F major, D.803. Paul Hin- parts in the music are often assigned to outside (nearer
demith used the same instrumentation as Schubert for his the audience) and inside players. Composers writing
own Octet. In the realm of even larger works, Mozart in- divisi parts for bass often write perfect intervals, such as
cluded the double bass in addition to 12 wind instruments octaves and fths, but in some cases use thirds and sixths.
for his "Gran Partita" Serenade, K.361 and Martin used
The basses play the theme from the fourth movement of
the double bass in his nonet for wind quintet, violin, viola, Beethovens Ninth Symphony.
cello and double bass.
Where a composition calls for a solo bass part, the prin-
Other examples of chamber works that use the double cipal bass invariably plays that part. The section leader
bass in mixed ensembles include Serge Prokoev's Quin- (or principal) also determines the bowings, often based
tet in G minor, Op. 39 for oboe, clarinet, violin, vi- on bowings set out by the concertmaster. In some cases,
ola, and double bass; Erwin Schulho's Concertino for the principal bass may use a slightly dierent bowing than
ute/piccolo, viola, and double bass; Frank Proto's Afro- the concertmaster, to accommodate the requirements of
American Fragments for bass clarinet, cello, double bass playing bass. The principal bass also leads entrances for
and narrator and Sextet for clarinet and strings; Fred Ler- the bass section, typically by lifting the bow or plucking
dahl's Waltzes for violin, viola, cello, and double bass; hand before the entrance or indicating the entrance with
Mohammed Fairouz's Litany for double bass and wind the head, to ensure the section starts together. Major pro-
quartet; Mario Davidovsky's Festino for guitar, viola, fessional orchestras typically have an assistant principal
cello, and double bass; and Iannis Xenakis's Morsima- bass player, who plays solos and leads the bass section if
Amorsima for piano, violin, cello, and double bass. There the principal is absent.
are also new music ensembles that utilize the double bass
such as Time for Three and PROJECT Trio. While orchestral bass solos are somewhat rare, there are
some notable examples. Johannes Brahms, whose father
was a double bass player, wrote many dicult and promi-
9.3 Orchestral passages and solos nent parts for the double bass in his symphonies. Richard
Strauss assigned the double bass daring parts, and his
symphonic poems and operas stretch the instrument to
its limits. The Elephant from Camille Saint-Sans' The
Carnival of the Animals is a satirical portrait of the double
bass, and American virtuoso Gary Karr made his tele-
vised debut playing The Swan (originally written for
The opening of Beethovens Symphony No. 5, third movement is the cello) with the New York Philharmonic conducted
often used as an orchestral excerpt during bass auditions. by Leonard Bernstein. The third movement of Gustav
Mahler's rst symphony features a solo for the double
In the baroque and classical periods, composers typically bass that quotes the childrens song Frere Jacques, trans-
had the double bass double the cello part in orchestral posed into a minor key. Sergei Prokoev's Lieutenant Kij
passages. A notable exception is Haydn, who composed Suite features a dicult and very high double bass solo
solo passages for the double bass in his Symphonies No. in the Romance movement. Benjamin Britten's The
6 Le Matin, No. 7 Le midi, No. 8 Le Soir, No. 31 Young Persons Guide to the Orchestra contains a promi-
Horn Signal, and No. 45 Farewellbut who otherwise nent passage for the double bass section.
grouped bass and cello parts together. Beethoven paved
the way for separate double bass parts, which became
more common in the romantic era. The scherzo and trio 9.4 Double bass ensembles
from Beethovens Fifth Symphony are famous orchestral
excerpts, as is the recitative at the beginning of the fourth
Ensembles made up entirely of double basses, though
movement of Beethovens Ninth Symphony. In many relatively rare, also exist, and several composers have
nineteenth century symphonies and concertos, the typi- written or arranged for such ensembles. Compositions
cal impact of separate bass and cello parts was that bass for four double basses exist by Gunther Schuller, Jacob
parts became simpler and cello parts got the melodic linesDruckman, James Tenney, Claus Khnl, Robert Ceely,
and rapid passage work. Jan Alm, Bernhard Alt, Norman Ludwin, Frank Proto,
A double bass section of a modern orchestra typically Joseph Lauber, Erich Hartmann, Colin Brumby, Miloslav
uses eight double bassists in, usually in unison. Smaller Gajdos and Theodore Albin Findeisen. David A. Jae's
orchestras may have four double basses, and in excep- Whos on First?,[26] commissioned by the Russian Na-
18 10 USE IN JAZZ

tional Orchestra is scored for ve double basses. Bertold etest instrument in a jazz band, many players of the 1920s
Hummel wrote a Sinfonia piccola[27] for eight double and 1930s used the slap style, slapping and pulling the
basses. Larger ensemble works include Galina Ustvol- strings to produce a rhythmic slap sound against the
skaya's Composition No. 2, Dies Irae (1973), for eight ngerboard. The slap style cuts through the sound of a
double basses, piano, and wooden cube, Jose Serebrier's band better than simply plucking the strings, and made
George and Muriel (1986), for solo bass, double bass en- the bass more easily heard on early sound recordings, as
semble, and chorus, and Gerhard Samuels What of my the recording equipment of that time did not favor low
music! (1979), for soprano, percussion, and 30 double frequencies.[39] For more about the slap style, see Mod-
basses. ern playing styles, below.
Double bass ensembles include L'Orchestre de Contre-
basses (6 members),[28] Bass Instinct (6 members),[29]
Bassiona Amorosa (6 members),[30] the Chicago Bass
Ensemble (4+ members),[31] Ludus Gravis founded by
Daniele Roccato and Stefano Scodanibbio, The Bass
Gang (4 members),[32] the London Double Bass Ensem-
ble (6 members) founded by members of the Philharmo-
nia Orchestra of London who produced the LP[33] Music
Interludes by London Double Bass Ensemble on Bruton
Music records, Brno Double Bass Orchestra (14 mem-
bers) founded by the double bass professor at Janek
Academy of Music and Performing Arts and principal
double bass player at Brno Philharmonic Orchestra
Miloslav Jelinek, and the ensembles of Ball State Univer-
sity (12 members), Shenandoah University, and the Hartt
School of Music. The Amarillo Bass Base of Amarillo,
Texas once featured 52 double bassists,[34][35] and The
London Double Bass Sound, who have released a CD on
Cala Records, have 10 players.[36]
In addition, the double bass sections of some orchestras
perform as an ensemble, such as the Chicago Symphony
Orchestra's Lower Wacker Consort.[37] There is an in-
creasing number of published compositions and arrange-
ments for double bass ensembles, and the International
Society of Bassists regularly features double bass ensem-
bles (both smaller ensembles as well as very large mass
bass ensembles) at its conferences, and sponsors the bi-
ennial David Walter Composition Competition, which in-
Jazz bassist Charles Mingus was also an inuential bandleader
cludes a division for double bass ensemble works. and composer whose musical interests spanned from bebop to
free jazz.

10 Use in jazz Jazz bass players are expected to improvise an accompa-


niment line or solo for a given chord progression. They
are also expected to know the rhythmic patterns that
See also: List of jazz bassists are appropriate for dierent styles (e.g., Afro-Cuban).
Bassists playing in a big band must also be able to read
Beginning around 1890, the early New Orleans jazz en- written-out bass lines, as some arrangements have writ-
semble (which played a mixture of marches, ragtime, and ten bass parts.
Dixieland) was initially a marching band with a tuba or Many upright bass players have contributed to the evo-
sousaphone (or occasionally bass saxophone) supplying lution of jazz. Examples include swing era players such
the bass line. As the music moved into bars and broth- as Jimmy Blanton, who played with Duke Ellington, and
els, the upright bass gradually replaced these wind instru- Oscar Pettiford, who pioneered the instruments use in
ments around the 1920s.[38] Many early bassists doubled bebop. Paul Chambers (who worked with Miles Davis
on both the brass bass (tuba) and string bass, as the in- on the famous Kind of Blue album) achieved renown for
struments were then often referred to. Bassists played being one of the rst jazz bassists to play bebop solos
improvised walking bass linesscale- and arpeggio- with the bow. Terry Plumeri furthered the development
based lines that outlined the chord progression. of arco (bowed) solos, achieving horn-like technical free-
Because an unamplied upright bass is generally the qui- dom and a clear, vocal bowed tone, while Charlie Haden,
19

best known for his work with Ornette Coleman, dened size bass, but the full-size and 5 8 size basses are also used.
the role of the bass in Free Jazz.
A number of other bassists, such as Ray Brown, Slam
Stewart and Niels-Henning rsted Pedersen, were cen-
tral to the history of jazz. Stewart, who was popular with
the beboppers, played his solos with a bow combined with
octave humming. Notably, Charles Mingus was a highly
regarded composer as well as a bassist noted for his tech-
nical virtuosity and powerful sound.[40] Scott LaFaro in-
uenced a generation of musicians by liberating the bass
from contrapuntal walking behind soloists instead fa-
voring interactive, conversational melodies.[41] Since the
commercial availability of bass ampliers in the 1950s,
jazz bassists have used amplication to augment the nat-
ural volume of the instrument.
While the electric bass guitar was used intermittently in
jazz as early as 1951, beginning in the 1970s bassist Bob
Cranshaw, playing with saxophonist Sonny Rollins, and
fusion pioneers Jaco Pastorius and Stanley Clarke began
to commonly substitute the bass guitar for the upright
bass. Apart from the jazz styles of jazz fusion and Latin-
inuenced jazz however, the upright bass is still the dom-
inant bass instrument in jazz. The sound and tone of the
plucked upright bass is distinct from that of the fretted
bass guitar. The upright bass produces a dierent sound
than the bass guitar, because its strings are not stopped by
metal frets, instead having a continuous tonal range on the Upright bass used by a bluegrass group; the cable for a piezo-
uninterrupted ngerboard. As well, bass guitars usually electric pickup can be seen extending from the bridge.
have a solid wood body, which means that their sound is
produced by electronic amplication of the vibration of Early pre-bluegrass traditional music was often accompa-
the strings, instead of the upright basss acoustic rever- nied by the cello. The cellist Natalie Haas points out that
beration. in the US, you can nd "...old photographs, and even old
Demonstrative examples of the sound of a solo double recordings, of American string bands with cello. How-
bass and its technical use in jazz can be heard on the ever, The cello dropped out of sight in folk music, and
solo recordings Emerald Tears (1978) by Dave Holland became associated with the orchestra.[42] The cello did
or Emergence (1986) by Miroslav Vitous. Holland also not reappear in bluegrass until the 1990s and rst decade
recorded an album with the representative title Music of the 21st century. Some contemporary bluegrass bands
from Two Basses (1971) on which he plays with Barre favor the electric bass, because it is easier to transport
Phillips while he sometimes switches to cello. than the large and somewhat fragile upright bass. How-
ever, the bass guitar has a dierent musical sound. Many
musicians feel the slower attack and percussive, woody
tone of the upright bass gives it a more earthy or nat-
11 Use in bluegrass and country ural sound than an electric bass, particularly when gut
strings are used.
See also: List of double bassists in popular music Common rhythms in bluegrass bass playing involve (with
some exceptions) plucking on beats 1 and 3 in 4
The string bass is the most commonly used bass instru- 4 time; beats 1 and 2 in 2
ment in bluegrass music and is almost always plucked, 4 time, and on the downbeat in 3
though some modern bluegrass bassists have also used a 4 time (waltz time). Bluegrass bass lines are usually sim-
bow. The bluegrass bassist is part of the rhythm section, ple, typically staying on the root and fth of each chord
and is responsible for keeping a steady beat, whether fast, throughout most of a song. There are two main excep-
slow, in 4 tions to this rule. Bluegrass bassists often do a diatonic
4, 2 walkup or walkdown, in which they play every beat of a
4 or 3 bar for one or two bars, typically when there is a chord
4 time. The Engelhardt-Link (formerly Kay) brands of change. In addition, if a bass player is given a solo, they
plywood laminate basses have long been popular choices may play a walking bass line with a note on every beat or
for bluegrass bassists. Most bluegrass bassists use the 3 4 play a pentatonic scale-inuenced bassline.
20 12 USE IN POPULAR MUSIC

states that he would be "... more likely to use it [slap]


in a live situation than on a recordingfor a solo or
to punctuate a particular place in a song or tune where
I wouldn't be obliterating someones solo.[46] Another
bluegrass method, Learn to Play Bluegrass Bass, by Earl
Gately, also teaches bluegrass slap bass technique. Ger-
man bassist Didi Beck plays rapid triplet slaps, as demon-
strated in this video.[47]

12 Use in popular music


Country music bassist Too Slim (Fred LaBour of Riders in the
Sky) performing in Ponca City, Oklahoma in 2008.
See also: List of double bassists in popular music

An early bluegrass bassist to rise to prominence was In the early 1950s, the upright bass was the standard bass
Howard Watts (also known as Cedric Rainwater), who instrument in the emerging style of rock and roll music,
played with Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys beginning in Marshall Lytle of Bill Haley & His Comets being but one
1944.[43] The classical bassist Edgar Meyer has frequently example. In the 1940s, a new style of dance music called
branched out into newgrass, old-time, jazz, and other gen- rhythm and blues developed, incorporating elements of
res. My all-time favorite is Todd Phillips, proclaimed the earlier styles of blues and swing. Louis Jordan, the
Union Station bassist Barry Bales in April 2005. He rst innovator of this style, featured an upright bass in his
brought a completely dierent way of thinking about and group, the Tympany Five.[48]
playing bluegrass.[44]
The upright bass remained an integral part of pop lineups
An upright bass was the standard bass instrument in tra- throughout the 1950s, as the new genre of rock and roll
ditional country western music. While the upright bass is was built largely upon the model of rhythm and blues,
still occasionally used in country music, the electric bass with strong elements also derived from jazz, country,
has largely replaced its bigger cousin in country music, and bluegrass. However, upright bass players using their
especially in the more pop-infused country styles of the instruments in these contexts faced inherent problems.
1990s and 2000s, such as new country. They were forced to compete with louder horn instru-
ments (and later amplied electric guitars), making bass
parts dicult to hear. The upright bass is dicult to
11.1 Slap-style bass
amplify in loud concert venue settings, because it can be
Slap-style bass is sometimes used in bluegrass bass play- prone to feedback howls. As well, the upright bass is large
ing. When bluegrass bass players slap the string by and awkward to transport, which also created transporta-
tion problems for touring bands. In some groups, the slap
pulling it until it hits the ngerboard or hit the strings
against the ngerboard, it adds the high-pitched percus- bass was utilized as band percussion in lieu of a drum-
mer; such was the case with Bill Haley & His Saddlemen
sive clack or slap sound to the low-pitched bass notes,
sounding much like the clacks of a tap dancer. Slap- (the forerunner group to the Comets), which did not use
drummers on recordings and live performances until late
ping is a subject of minor controversy in the bluegrass
scene. Even slapping experts such as Mike Bub say, 1952; prior to this the slap bass was relied on for percus-
sion, including on recordings such as Haleys versions of
Don't slap on every gig, or in songs where it is not ap-
propriate. As well, bluegrass bassists who play slap-style "Rock the Joint" and "Rocket 88".[49]
on live shows often slap less on records. Bub and his In 1951, Leo Fender released his Precision Bass, the rst
mentor Jerry McCoury rarely do slap bass on recordings. commercially successful electric bass guitar.[50] The elec-
While bassists such as Jack Cook slap bass on the occa- tric bass was easily amplied with its built-in magnetic
sional faster Clinch Mountain Boys song, bassists such pickups, easily portable (less than a foot longer than an
as Gene Libbea, Missy Raines, Jenny Keel, and Barry electric guitar), and easier to play in tune than an upright
Bales [rarely] slap bass.[45] bass, thanks to the metal frets. In the 1960s and 1970s
Bluegrass bassist Mark Schatz, who teaches slap bass in bands were playing at louder volumes and performing in
his Intermediate Bluegrass Bass DVD acknowledges that larger venues. The electric bass was able to provide the
slap bass "...has not been stylistically very predominant huge, highly amplied stadium-lling bass tone that the
in the music I have recorded. He notes that Even in tra- pop and rock music of this era demanded, and the up-
ditional bluegrass slap bass only appears sporadically and right bass receded from the limelight of the popular music
most of what I've done has been on the more contem- scene.
porary side of that (Tony Rice, Tim O'Brien). Schatz Photos of bassist Miroslav Vitous:
21

The upright bass began making a comeback in popu-


lar music in the mid-1980s, in part due to a renewed
interest in earlier forms of folk and country music, as
Jim Creeggan of Barenaked Ladies, pictured at a 2009 show.
part of the roots rock and Americana trends. In the
1990s, improvements in pickups and amplier designs
for electro-acoustic horizontal and upright basses made The late 1970s rockabilly-punk genre of psychobilly con-
it easier for bassists to get a good, clear amplied tone tinued and expanded upon the rockabilly tradition of slap
from an acoustic instrument. Some popular bands de- bass. Bassists such as Kim Nekroman and Geo Kresge
cided to anchor their sound with an upright bass instead have developed the ability to play rapid slap bass that in
of an electric bass, such as the Barenaked Ladies. A trend eect turns the bass into a percussion instrument.
for unplugged performances on MTV, in which rock
bands performed with solely acoustic instruments, further
helped to enhance the publics interest in the upright bass
and acoustic bass guitars. 13 Modern playing styles
Jim Creeggan of Barenaked Ladies primarily plays up-
right bass, although he has increasingly played bass gui- In popular music genres, the instrument is usually played
tar throughout the bands career. Chris Wyse of alterna- with amplication and almost exclusively played with the
tive rock group Owl uses a combination of electric and ngers, pizzicato style. The pizzicato style varies between
double bass. Athol Guy of the Australian folk/pop group dierent players and genres. Some players perform with
The Seekers plays an upright bass. Shannon Birchall, of the sides of one, two, or three ngers, especially for walk-
the Australian folk-rock group The John Butler Trio,[51] ing basslines and slow tempo ballads, because this is pur-
makes extensive use of upright basses, performing ex- ported to create a stronger and more solid tone. Some
tended live solos in songs such as Betterman. On the 2008 players use the more nimble tips of the ngers to play fast-
album In Ear Park by the indie/pop band Department moving solo passages or to pluck lightly for quiet tunes.
of Eagles, a bowed upright bass is featured quite promi- The use of amplication allows the player to have more
nently on the songs Teenagers and In Ear Park. Nor- control over the tone of the instrument, because ampli-
wegian ompa-rock band Kaizers Orchestra use the up- ers have equalization controls that allow the bassist to
right bass exclusively both live and on their recordings.[52] accentuate certain frequencies (often the bass frequen-
French contemporary pop duet What a day uses double cies) while de-accentuating some frequencies (often the
bass extended pizzicato technique with vocals and type high frequencies, so that there is less nger noise).
writer[53] An unamplied acoustic basss tone is limited by the fre-
Hank Williams III's bass players (Jason Brown, Joe Buck quency responsiveness of the instruments hollow body,
and Zach Shedd, most notably) have used upright basses which means that the very low pitches may not be as loud
for recording as well as during the country and Hellbilly as the higher pitches. With an amplier and equaliza-
sets of Hank IIIs live performances before switching to tion devices, a bass player can boost the low frequencies,
electric bass for the Assjack set. which changes the frequency response. In addition, the
22 14 DOUBLE BASSISTS

14 Double bassists

14.1 Historical
Domenico Dragonetti (17631846) Virtuoso, com-
poser, conductor

Giovanni Bottesini (18211889) Virtuoso, com-


poser, conductor

Franz Simandl (18401912) Virtuoso, composer,


pedagogue

Edouard Nanny (18721943) Virtuoso, composer

Serge Koussevitzky (18741951) Virtuoso, com-


poser, conductor

14.2 Modern
Gary Karr (1941 ) Virtuoso

Edgar Meyer (1960 ) Virtuoso, composer, teacher

14.3 Contemporary (1900s)


14.3.1 Classical
A mid-sized bass amp used to amplify a double bass at a small
jazz gig. See also: List of contemporary classical double bass play-
ers
Some of the most inuential contemporary classical dou-

use of an amplier can increase the sustain of the in-


strument, which is particularly useful for accompaniment
during ballads and for melodic solos with held notes.
In traditional jazz, swing, polka, rockabilly, and psy-
chobilly music, it is sometimes played in the slap style.
This is a vigorous version of pizzicato where the strings
are slapped against the ngerboard between the main
notes of the bass line, producing a snare drum-like per-
cussive sound. The main notes are either played normally
or by pulling the string away from the ngerboard and
releasing it so that it bounces o the ngerboard, pro-
ducing a distinctive percussive attack in addition to the
expected pitch. Notable slap style bass players, whose
Double bass soloist Gary Karr
use of the technique was often highly syncopated and vir-
tuosic, sometimes interpolated two, three, four, or more ble bass players are known as much for their contribu-
slaps in between notes of the bass line. tions to pedagogy as for their performing skills, such as
Slap style may have inuenced electric bass guitar play- US bassist Oscar G. Zimmerman (19101987), known
ers who, from the mid-sixties (particularly Larry Gra- for his teaching at the Eastman School of Music and, for
ham of Sly and the Family Stone), developed a technique 44 summers at the Interlochen National Music Camp in
called slap and pop that used the thumb of the plucking Michigan and French bassist Franois Rabbath (b. 1931)
hand to hit the string, making a slapping sound but still who developed a new bass method that divided the en-
letting the note ring, and the index or middle nger of the tire ngerboard into six positions. Bassists noted for their
plucking hand to pull the string back so it hits the fret- virtuoso solo skills include American pedagogue and per-
board, achieving the pop sound described above. former Gary Karr (b. 1941), Finnish composer Teppo
14.3 Contemporary (1900s) 23

Hauta-Aho (b. 1941), Italian composer Fernando Grillo, the upright bass and the electric bass. Terry Plumeri is
and US player-composer Edgar Meyer. For a longer list, noted for his horn-like arco uency and vocal-sounding
see the List of contemporary classical double bass players. tone.
In the 1990s and rst decade of the 21st century, one
14.3.2 Jazz of the new young lions was Christian McBride (born
1972), who has performed with a range of veterans rang-
See also: List of jazz bassists ing from McCoy Tyner to fusion gurus Herbie Hancock
and Chick Corea, and who has released albums such as
2003s Vertical Vision. Another young bassist of note is
Notable jazz bassists from the 1940s to the 1950s in- Esperanza Spalding (born 1984) who, at 27 years of age,
cluded bassist Jimmy Blanton (19181942) whose short had already won a Grammy for Best New Artist. For a
tenure in the Duke Ellington Swing band (cut short by his longer list, see the List of jazz bassists, which includes
death from tuberculosis) introduced new melodic and har- both double bass and electric bass players.
monic solo ideas for the instrument; bassist Ray Brown
(19262002), known for backing Beboppers Dizzy Gille-
spie, Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum and Charlie Parker, and 14.3.3 Other popular genres
forming the Modern Jazz Quartet; hard bop bassist Ron
Carter (born 1937), who has appeared on 3,500 albums
make him one of the most-recorded bassists in jazz his-
tory, including LPs by Thelonious Monk and Wes Mont-
gomery and many Blue Note Records artists; and Paul
Chambers (19351969), a member of the Miles Davis
Quintet (including the landmark modal jazz recording
Kind of Blue) and many other 1950s and 1960s rhythm
sections, was known for his virtuosic improvisations.

Christian McBride (born 1972), one of the new young lions in


Scott Owen, double bass player for Australian rock band The
the jazz scene, has won four Grammy Awards.
Living End.
The experimental post 1960s era, and free jazz and
jazz-rock fusion, produced several inuential bassists. In addition to being a noted classical player, Edgar Meyer
Charles Mingus (19221979), who was also a composer is well known in bluegrass and newgrass circles. Todd
and bandleader, produced music that fused hard bop Phillips is another prominent bluegrass player. Well-
with black gospel music, free jazz, and classical music. known rockabilly bassists include Bill Black, Marshall
Free jazz and post-bop bassist Charlie Haden (1937 Lytle (with Bill Haley & His Comets) and Lee Rocker
2014) is best known for his long association with saxo- (with 1980s-era rockabilly revivalists the Stray Cats).
phonist Ornette Coleman, and for his role in the 1970s- Notable rockabilly revivalists and psychobilly perform-
era Liberation Music Orchestra, an experimental group. ers from the 1990s and rst decade of the 21st century
Eddie Gmez and George Mraz, who played with Bill include Scott Owen (from the Australian band The Liv-
Evans and Oscar Peterson, respectively, and are both ac- ing End), Jimbo Wallace (from the US band Reverend
knowledged to have furthered expectations of pizzicato Horton Heat), Kim Nekroman (Nekromantix), Patricia
uency and melodic phrasing. Fusion virtuoso Stanley Day (HorrorPops), Geo Kresge (Tiger Army, ex-AFI).
Clarke (born 1951) is notable for his dexterity on both Willie Dixon (19151992) was one of the most notable
24 15 PEDAGOGY AND TRAINING

gures in the history of rhythm and blues. In addition to


being an upright bassist, he wrote dozens of R&B hits and
worked as a producer. He also plays bass on numerous
Chuck Berry's rock and roll hits. Many other rockabilly
bands like El Rio Trio (from the Netherlands) also use
this instrument in their work. See also the List of double
bassists in popular music.

15 Pedagogy and training


The pedagogy and training for the double bass varies
widely by genre and country. Classical double bass has a
history of pedagogy dating back several centuries, includ-
ing teaching manuals, studies, and progressive exercises
that help students to develop the endurance and accuracy
of the left hand, and control for the bowing hand. Classi-
cal training methods vary by country: many of the major
European countries are associated with specic methods
(e.g., the Edouard Nanny method in France or the Franz
Simandl method in Germany). In classical training, the
majority of the instruction for the right hand focuses on
the production of bowing tone; little time is spent study-
ing the varieties of pizzicato tone.
In contrast, in genres that mainly or exclusively use pizzi-
cato (plucking), such as jazz and blues, a great deal of
time and eort is focused on learning the varieties of dif-
ferent pizzicato styles used for music of dierent styles
of tempi. For example, in jazz, aspiring bassists have to
learn how to perform a wide range of pizzicato tones, in-
cluding using the sides of the ngers to create a full, deep
sound for ballads, using the tips of the ngers for fast
walking basslines or solos, and performing a variety of
percussive ghost notes by raking muted or partially muted
strings. Jazz singer/bassist Esperanza Spalding performing on 10 Decem-
ber 2009 at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert of 2009

15.1 Formal training

Of all of the genres, classical and jazz have the most es- a wide range of music.
tablished and comprehensive systems of instruction and Bachelors degrees in bass performance (referred to as
training. In the classical milieu, children can begin tak- B.Mus. or B.M.) are four-year programs that include in-
ing private lessons on the instrument and performing in dividual bass lessons, amateur orchestra experience, and
childrens or youth orchestras. Teens who aspire to be- a sequence of courses in music history, music theory,
coming professional classical bassists can continue their and liberal arts courses (e.g., English literature), which
studies in a variety of formal training settings, includinggive the student a more well-rounded education. Usu-
colleges, conservatories, and universities. Colleges oer ally, bass performance students perform several recitals
certicates and diplomas in bass performance. of solo double bass music, such as concertos, sonatas, and
Conservatories, which are the standard musical training Baroque suites.
system in France and in Quebec (Canada) provide lessons Master of music degrees (M.mus.) in double bass per-
and amateur orchestral experience for double bass play- formance consist of private lessons, ensemble experi-
ers. Universities oer a range of double bass programs, ence, coaching in playing orchestral double bass parts,
including bachelors degrees, Master of Music degrees, and graduate courses in music history and music theory,
and Doctor of Musical Arts degrees. As well, there are a along with one or two solo recitals. A Masters degree
variety of other training programs such as classical sum- in music (referred to as an M.Mus. or M.M.) is often
mer camps and orchestral, opera, or chamber music train- a required credential for people who wish to become a
ing festivals, which give students the opportunity to play professor of double bass at a university or conservatory.
15.2 Informal training 25

15.2 Informal training

In other genres, such as blues, rockabilly, and psychobilly,


the pedagogical systems and training sequences are not
as formalized and institutionalized. There are not de-
grees in blues bass performance, or conservatories of-
fering multiple-year diplomas in rockabilly bass. How-
ever, there are a range of books, playing methods, and,
since the 1990s, instructional DVDs (e.g., on how to play
rockabilly-style slap bass). As such, performers in these
other genres tend to come from a variety of routes, in-
cluding informal learning by using bass method books or
DVDs, taking private lessons and coaching, and learning
from records and CDs. In some cases, blues or rockabilly
bassists may have obtained some initial training through
the classical or jazz pedagogy systems (e.g., youth orches-
tra or high school big band). In genres such as tango,
which use a lot of bowed passages and jazz-style pizzi-
Manhattan School of Music professor Timothy Cobb teaching a cato lines, the bassists tend to come from classical or jazz
bass lesson in the late 2000s. His bass has a low C extension training routes.
with a metal machine with buttons for playing the pitches on
the extension.

16 Careers
Careers in double bass vary widely by genre and by region
or country. Most bassists earn their living from a mixture
Doctor of Musical Arts (referred to as D.M.A., DMA,
of performance and teaching jobs. The rst step to get-
D.Mus.A. or A.Mus.D.) degrees in double bass perfor-
ting most performance jobs is by playing at an audition.
mance provide an opportunity for advanced study at the
In some styles of music, such as jazz-oriented stage
highest artistic and pedagogical level, requiring usually
bands, bassists may be asked to sight read printed mu-
an additional 54+ credit hours beyond a masters de-
sic or perform standard pieces (e.g., a jazz standard such
gree (which is about 30+ credits beyond a bachelors
as Nows the Time) with an ensemble. Similarly, in a rock
degree). For this reason, admission is highly selective.
or blues band, auditionees may be asked to play various
Examinations in music history, music theory, ear train-
rock or blues standards. An upright bassist auditioning
ing/dictation, and an entrance examination-recital, are re-
for a blues band might be asked to play in a Swing-style
quired. Students perform a number of recitals (around
walking bassline, a rockabilly-style slapping bassline (in
six), including a lecture-recital with an accompanying
which the strings are percussively struck against the n-
doctoral dissertation, advanced coursework, and a min-
gerboard) and a 1950s ballad with long held notes. A
imum B average are other typical requirements of a
person auditioning for a role as a bassist in some styles
D.M.A. program.
of pop or rock music may be expected to demonstrate
Throughout the early history of jazz, double bass players the ability to perform harmony vocals as a backup singer.
either learned the instrument informally, or from getting In some pop and rock groups, the bassist may be asked
classical training early on, as in the case of Ron Carter to play other instruments from time to time, such as elec-
and Charles Mingus. In the 1980s and 1990s, colleges tric bass, keyboards or acoustic guitar. The ability to play
and universities began to introduce diplomas and degrees electric bass is widely expected in country groups, in case
in jazz performance. Students in jazz diploma or Bach- the band is performing a classic rock or new country song.
elor of Music programs take individual bass lessons, get
experience in small jazz combos with coaching from an
experienced player, and play in jazz big bands. As with 16.1 Classical music
classical training programs, jazz programs also include
classroom courses in music history and music theory. In In classical music, bassists audition for playing jobs in
a jazz program, these courses focus on the dierent eras orchestras and for admission into university or Conserva-
of jazz history. such as Swing, Bebop, and fusion. The tory programs or degrees. At a classical bass audition, the
theory courses focus on the musical skills used in jazz performer typically plays a movement from a J.S. Bach
improvisation and in jazz comping (accompanying) and suite for solo cello or a movement from a bass concerto
the composition of jazz tunes. There are also jazz sum- and a variety of excerpts from the orchestral literature.
mer camps and training festivals/seminars, which oer The excerpts are typically the most technically challeng-
students the chance to learn new skills and styles. ing parts of bass parts and bass solos from the orches-
26 16 CAREERS

women in music stated that double bass sections are


mostly male. The article stated that while "[m]any pres-
tigious orchestras have signicant female membership
women outnumber men in the New York Philharmonic's
violin sectionand several renowned ensembles, includ-
ing the National Symphony Orchestra, the Detroit Sym-
phony, and the Minnesota Symphony, are led by women
violinists, the double bass, brass, and percussion sections
of major orchestras "...are still predominantly male.[55]
A 2014 BBC article stated that the "...introduction of
blind auditions, where a prospective instrumentalist per-
forms behind a screen so that the judging panel can exer-
cise no gender or racial prejudice, has seen the gender bal-
ance of traditionally male-dominated symphony orches-
tras gradually shift.[56]

16.2 Performance and teaching jobs

A German double bass section in 1952. The player to the left is


using a German bow.

tral literature. Some of the most commonly requested


orchestral excerpts at bass auditions are from Beethoven's
In rockabilly and the related genre of psychobilly, the bass is used
Symphonies Nos. 5, 7 and 9; Strauss's Ein Heldenleben for a variety of stage antics.
and Don Juan; Mozart's Symphonies Nos. 35, 39 and
40; Brahms' Symphonies Nos. 1 and 2; Stravinsky's Performance jobs include playing as a freelancer in small
Pulcinella; Shostakovich's Symphony No. 5; Ginastera's groups, large ensembles, or performing solo music, either
Variaciones Concertante; Tchaikovsky's Symphony No.
live onstage or as a session player for radio or TV broad-
4; Mahler's Symphony No. 2; J. S. Bachs Suite No. casts or for recordings; and working as the employee of
2 in B; Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique, Mendelssohn's
an orchestra, big band, or recording studio (as the studios
Symphony No. 4; and the bass solos from Verdi's opera house bassist). Many bass players nd extra work by sub-
Otello, Mahler's Symphony No. 1, Britten's The Young
stituting (subbing) for bassists who are double-booked
Persons Guide to the Orchestra and Prokoev's Lieutenant or ill. It is hard for bass players to nd full-time, full-
Kije Suite.[54]
year work at a single job. About the closest that a bass
Orchestral bass auditions are typically held in front of a player can come to this is in the case of classical bass
panel that includes the conductor, the concertmaster, the players who win an audition at a professional orchestra
principal bass player and possibly other principal players or the tiny number of top session pros that are hired by
such as the principal cellist. The most promising candi- recording studios. Even full-time orchestra jobs do not
dates are invited to return for a second or third round of usually last for the entire year. When the orchestra stops
auditions, which allows the conductor and the panel to playing (which is often in the summer), orchestral bassists
compare the best candidates. Performers may be asked have to nd other work, either as a teacher or coach, or
to sight read orchestral music. The nal stage of the au- in another group. Teaching work for double bassist in-
dition process in some orchestras is a test week, in which cludes giving private lessons in the home or at colleges
the performer plays with the orchestra for a week or two, and universities; coaching bass players who are prepar-
which allows the conductor and principal players to see if ing for recordings or auditions; doing group coaching at
the individual can function well in an actual performance music camps or for youth ensembles; and working as a
setting. high school music teacher.
In 2013, an article in Mother Jones about the role of In jazz, blues, rockabilly and other genres, most bassists
27

cannot earn a living from playing in a single group (with [7] A Brief History of the Double Bass. Oocities.org. Re-
the exception of the small number of bassists in top tour- trieved 2015-12-23.
ing bands or groups with recording contracts), so they
[8] Planyavsky 1998
work in dierent bands and supplement their income with
session playing and teaching. Due to the limited num- [9] A Brief History of the Double Bass, Lawrence Hurst,
ber of full-time orchestral jobs, many classical bassists Professor of Double Bass, School of Music, Indiana Uni-
are similarly not able to nd full-time work with a single versity. Web.archive.org. 27 October 2009. Archived
orchestra. Some bassists increase their employ-ability by from the original on 27 October 2009. Retrieved 21 July
learning several dierent styles, such as classical and jazz 2012.
or rockabilly and bluegrass. [10] Upright Basses and EUBs at Gollihur Music
In some cases, bassists supplement their performing and
teaching income with other related music jobs, such as [11] Upright Basses at Upton Bass
working as a bass repairer (luthier); as a contractor who [12] Upright Basses at Lemur Music
hires musicians for orchestras or big bands, compos-
ing music (e.g., Dave Holland), songwriting, conducting [13] Upright Basses at New Standard Basses
(e.g., David Currie), acting as a bandleader (e.g., Charles [14] Strings, standing waves and harmonics, Prof. Joe Wolfe,
Mingus), or coordinating jam sessions (e.g., John Geg- University of New South Wales
gie). Some regions may not have enough work in music
to provide a living, even if a bassist plays several styles [15] Article on bass strings by the Double Bass Workshop
and does recordings and teaching. As such, in some re- Archived 25 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine.
gions, bassists may have to supplement musical work with
[16] Je Sarli. Je Sarli. Retrieved 21 July 2012.
income from another eld.
[17] Viola da Gamba. musicolog.com. Retrieved 15 July
2012.
17 See also [18] Double bass. Encyclopdia Britannica. 1911 Edi-
tion [en.wikisource.org/wiki/1911_Encyclopdia_
Bach: Unaccompanied Cello Suites Performed on Britannica/Double_bass]
Double Bass
[19] Three-string double bass in the cobla band Website of
Double bass concerto Cobla Baix Llobregat

[20] Bill Bentgen 5 String Basses. Billbentgen.com. Re-


Electric upright bass
trieved 21 July 2012.
List of historical classical double bass players [21] Sound Systems- Why?!". Harada-sound.com. Retrieved
21 July 2012.
Octobass
[22] Freiberg, Sarah. How to Tame Annoying Howling Wolf
Triple contrabass viol Tones / CARE & MAINTENANCE / Instruments / All
Things Strings. Allthingsstrings.com. Retrieved 2015-
Piccolo bass 12-23.
Tololoche [23] Dnnwald, H. (1979). Versuche zur Entstehung des
Wolfs bei Violininstrumenten. Acustica. 41 (4): 238
45.
18 References [24] Firth, Ian M. (1973). The wolf in the cello. The Jour-
nal of the Acoustical Society of America. 53 (2): 457.
[1] The Orchestra: A Users Manual, Andrew Hugill with the doi:10.1121/1.1913343.
Philharmonia Orchestra
[25] David Chapman. Historical and Practical Considerations
[2] Chamber Music in the Vienna Double Bass Archive, Alfred for the Tuning of Double Bass Instruments in Fourths
Planyavsky p.228229, The Galpin Society Journal, Vol. 56, (June
2003), pp. 224233.
[3] Double Bass Sizing FAQ, Bob Gollihur
[26] Whos on First? for ve double-basses. Terra Non
[4] Amro Music http://www.amromusic.com/bass-sizes. Firma Press. Retrieved 22 March 2014.
Missing or empty |title= (help)
[27] Bertold Hummel work commentaries. Bertoldhum-
[5] The Double Bass, Jacob Head mel.de. Retrieved 15 July 2012.

[6] A New History of the Double Bass. Paulbrun.com. Re- [28] Ocial website of L'Orchestre de Contrebasses Archived
trieved 21 July 2012. 11 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine.
28 19 EXTERNAL LINKS

[29] Bass Instinct Live In Vienna by none on DVD. LOVE- [50] The Electric Guitar: How We Got From Andrs Segovia To
FiLM.com. 16 April 2007. Retrieved 21 July 2012. Kurt Cobain, Monica M. Smith

[30] bassiona-amorosa.de. bassiona-amorosa.de. Retrieved [51] In Australia, the John Butler Trio has established itself
21 July 2012. as one of the most successful independent acts in recent
history. Their U.S. debut, Sunrise Over Sea, features gritty
[31] Chicago Bass Ensemble Home. Chicagobassensem- and soulful vocals, elements of hip-hop and Appalachian
ble.com. Retrieved 21 July 2012. folk. The John Butler Trios Fresh Blends

[32] Pighi Andrea. The Bass Gang. Thebassgang.org. Re- [52] Kaizers Orchestra ocial web page. Kaizers.no. Re-
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[33] Music Interludes [53] What a day - Closet http://www.notreble.com/buzz/2015/


08/08/what-a-day-closet/
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[38] Siemers, Bryan. Double bass. Grove Music Online. Ox-


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tionary
[40] Hento, Nat (April 1999). Charles Mingus -A musician
Media related to Double basses at Wikimedia Com-
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mons
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[42] Looming Large: Whats a cello got to do with a famous EarlyBass.com by Jerry Fuller
ddlers tale? By Natalie Haas Archived 3 January 2011
List of chamber music pieces with double bass
at the Wayback Machine.
Polish folk music double basses
[43] Howard Cedric Rainwater Watts, Stewart Evans

[44] Johnston, Richard. Barry Bales Expands The Spectrum


With Alison Krauss & Union Station. Guitar Player.
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[45] The Low End, February-02-2001 2001 iBluegrass.com.


By Kip Martin

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[48] Dallas Bartley Small town Boy: Playing in the bands,


Special Collections and Archives Department, Missouri
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[49] BBC Radio 2, Just Keep on Rockin' , broadcast 17 April


2004. On this radio documentary, host Suzi Quatro ex-
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ing of Rock the Joint.
29

20 Text and image sources, contributors, and licenses

20.1 Text
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File:(Portrait_of_Teddy_Kaye,_Vivien_Garry,_and_Arv(in)_Charles_Garrison,_Dixons,_New_York,_N.Y.,_ca._May_1947)_(LOC)_(4976467461).jp
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