About Double Bass
The Double Bass is the largest orchestral stringed instrument. It is also goes by several other names: String Bass, Contrabass, Bass Fiddle, Upright Bass. It is played either standing up or sitting on a stool. A full-sized bass is 6 ft. tall from the endpin to the top of the scroll. Because of the size, it does require some height and strength to stand, hold and control, however basses are made in a range of sizes to accommodate younger musicians. The strings are large and thick and the space between notes is large, requiring frequent shifting of position, so it can be difficult to play for people with shorter arms and smaller hands. “If chocolate could sing, it would sound like a double bass.” – Gary Karr, famous bass player
Bass players usually pick up the instrument around age 13 or later. Because of this, they often already have some experience playing another instrument. They may pick it up and learn through school orchestra programs or study with a private teacher.
Double Bass Music
Double Basses are used in many types of music, including classical music, jazz, bluegrass, rock, country, tango and folk.
Bass players read music on the bass clef. The double bass range is so low that it has to be notated an octave higher than it sounds in order to fit on the bass clef.
Double Bass players have the opportunity to play in orchestras and chamber music ensembles, as well as in jazz ensembles, country, rock and other bands. There is not a lot of classical solo music performed on string bass, but in classical music, as in jazz and other types, the bass provides a solid foundation for the music.
Different techniques are used in each type of music. When played in an orchestra or in chamber music, a bow is usually used. In earlier orchestral music, the bass often doubles the cello line. When basses began to be used in New Orleans jazz in the 1890s, a style was developed that used “walking” bass lines that walked up and down scales to outline the underlying harmony of the piece. Later, in the 1920s and 30s, jazz players developed a “slap style”, slapping the strings against the fingerboard in order to get more sound. In bluegrass, the string bass is usually plucked as the bassist keeps a steady beat for the group.
Where To Buy a Double Bass
Double Basses can be found at both local or online stores that specialize in stringed instruments.
See “Where To Buy Musical Instruments” for general buying advice on:
- Buying in a Specialty Store vs. “Big Box” Stores
- Buying Online vs. In-Person
- Renting vs. Buying
- Buying Used Instruments
How To Buy A Double Bass
Double Bass Sizes
Double Basses are made in several different sizes to accommodate younger students and different styles of playing. A full-sized Double Bass is 4/4, with smaller sizes ranging from 1/4 to 1/2, 5/8 and 3/4. At a local store, the salesperson can help you determine the right size. Online stores often have videos and other help resources via website or phone to help with this as well. The best option for giving advice on which size to choose, though, can be your own teacher if you have one.
Double Bass Cost
Double Bass prices vary widely, depending on quality and age of the wood and the skill of the makers. Some less expensive basses are made with laminate, which usually doesn’t produce as good a tone, but is more durable, which can be an important factor if it’s being hauled around to gigs. In addition to good workmanship, the quality of the sound, of course, is an important factor. It is also very important to have well-fitting tuning pegs that are easy to turn and then hold the string in tune.
Sample Double Bass Prices
$1,000 – 1,800
$2,000 – 3,000
If you are buying your instrument from a specialty music store, inquire about a trade-in policy. When your student is ready for a larger or higher quality instrument, they will often give you a good portion of the original instrument price back when you trade it in.
Double Bass Accessories
In addition to the double bass itself, a bass player will need a good bow and cases for the bass and bow. A tuner and metronome are also recommended, along with a music stand and a stool to sit on at least while practicing. Some bass players also use a small cart or straps to move the bass and an endpin rest or protector. Lastly, a bass player playing with a bow will need a cake or block of rosin to run on the hair of their bow to enable it to grip the strings and make sound.
Double Bass Bows
There are two types of double bass bows – the “French” or “overhand” bow, which is similar to the bows used with the other orchestral strings, and the broader, shorter “German” or “Butler” bow that is used in a “hand shake” position. Both types are used by orchestral players, depending on their preference. Some feel the German bow gives them more power, while some prefer the French bow, which they feel gives them better control.
Bows can range in cost from approximately $100-200 for a beginner bow, to $300-900 for an intermediate and $1,000+ for an advanced player. In addition to traditional wooden ones, bows made from synthetic materials, ranging from fiberglass to carbon-fiber, are now available. These durable synthetic bows are a good alternative for younger players. Choice of bows becomes more important as the student advances and develops techniques that produce different sounds. Bows vary in weight and flexibility, allowing for differences in dynamics and tone. By the intermediate level, most players notice differences in bows and start to develop personal preferences.
Tuning Your Double Bass
The bass will need tuning every time you play it. From low to high, the strings are E, A, D and G. (Note: Some basses have a fifth string tuned to C or B.) Start by tuning the “A” string to a tuner, accompanying instrument, such as a piano, or designated instrument in an ensemble (usually the oboe in an orchestra). Then tune the other strings by ear in perfect fourths to that (or continue with a tuner if you are using one).
Double Bass Care and Maintenance
Bass players use different types of strings for different types of music; orchestral, jazz and “rock-a-billy” or “slap” strings all have slightly different sounds. Bass strings must be replaced every few months. It is wise to have an extra set of strings on hand at all times, as a string will break on occasion.
The “bridge” of the instrument, the part that raises the strings, should be checked and straightened often so that it stays perpendicular to the bass. Occasional inspection and conditioning by a skilled technician is also recommended.
Stringed instruments are very sensitive to temperature changes and extremes. They should be stored with care to avoid very warm or cold temperatures. They should not, for instance, be left in the direct sun, next to a heater or in a warm or cold car or trunk. When they have by necessity been carried outside in colder temperatures, they should be allowed to warm up to room temperature inside the case.
Stringed instruments are also very sensitive to humidity fluctuations and extremes. Storage at humidity levels of 40-60%, or use of a “Dampit” – a humidifying device that is soaked in water and than inserted into the instrument – is recommended. After playing, wipe the bass carefully with a soft cloth to remove fingerprints and rosin.
The bow also needs good care. Be careful not to leave the bow where it can fall, be knocked down or stepped on. The horsehair on a bow shrinks and stretches with with changes of humidity. To avoid damage, loosen it when not in use and then tighten it before playing. The hairs wear and occasionally break with use, so the bow also needs to be re-haired periodically – usually about twice a year.