Double Bass Facts

15 Interesting Facts About The Double Bass

The Double Bass, also known as the Bass is the largest and lowest-pitch stringed instrument in the modern-day Symphony Orchestra. The Double Bass serves as a standard member of the string section in the orchestra, as well as the concert band. In Western classical music, the Double Bass features in concertos, solo and chamber music. The Double Bass is played with a bow (arco), by plucking the strings (pizzicato), or by a varied extended method of techniques.

Here are 15 interesting facts about this amazing instrument.

Double Bass Facts

1. The first Double Bass

Double Bass Facts

Italian musical instrumentalist Silvestro Ganassi developed a bass Viola da gamba in Venice, in 1542. This is often thought to be the ‘progenitor’ of the Double Bass. The Double Bass’ sloping shoulders, frets and strings suggest that low bowed instruments emerged from the gamba family.

2. The origins of the Double Bass

The Double Bass originated in Western Europe. Sourcing the evolution and history of the Double Bass is a little more tricky than sourcing that of the rest of the Violin family. The Double Bass has been subject to centuries of alterations and distinctions which have affected its design, dimensions and tuning. Different European countries and different Luthiers each had their own style preferences, which means scholars often dispute the exact origins of the modern Double Bass.

Double Bass Facts

3. Where did the name come from?

The origin of the Double Bass’ name stems from the fact that its initial function was to double the bass line of large ensembles by playing an octave lower.

4. The Double Bass’ tuning

Double Bass Facts

A standard Double Bass has four strings, tuned to E1, A1 and D2 and G2. However, some instruments have a fifth string, tuned to a low B.

5. The Double Bass is complex. It is made up of…

Unlike other members of the Violin family, such as; the Violin, Viola and Cello, the Double Bass has not been fully standardized in shape or construction, meaning its appearance and sound is widely irregular. 

The two fundamental outline shapes of the Double Bass can be classified as either Violin form or viol de gamba form. Lesser common busetto or pear-shaped Double Basses also exist. The creation of the Double Bass’s hollow body and the height of its ribs has varied throughout history and is still subjective today.

6. The most expensive Double Bass in the world

One of the most expensive Double Basses in the world can be found in a specialist shop in Cincinnati, Ohio, Eastern Mississippi. This particular Double Bass was built in Brescia in Italy, in 1580 by Gasparo de Salo. Gasparo, who? Gasparo de Salo was one of the earliest Violin makers and Double Bass experts in the world. This magnificent instrument will set you back $335,000 (£251,436)… if you have that sort of money lying around!

7. Small Double Basses

One of the smallest working Double Basses in the world is the SMA ¾ Small Body Double Bass. This was built by Luthier, Roberto Franceschini. At 153cm in length and 38cm in width, amazingly, this tiny Double Bass plays the same characteristic sound as a regular sized Double Bass. Pretty ingenious, right?

8. The world’s largest Double Bass

The world’s largest Double Bass was made by Gigezunft Doppleschwand in Switzerland, and completed on 28th October 2006. This colossal instrument is 18ft 2.7” (5.5m) tall and 7ft (2.13m) in length. Imagine lugging that to band practice!

Double Bass Facts

9. The Double Bass’ impact on music

Double Bass Facts

The Double Bass was the most popular and frequently used bass instrument in the 1950s, despite the introduction of the Bass Guitar during this time. The Double Bass forms an integral aspect in many music genres, such as; classical and symphonic compositions, jazz, bluegrass, country and western and rock. For example, Paul Chambers worked with famous jazz musician Miles Davies on the ‘Kind of Blue’ album and Charlie Haden, best known for his work with Omette Coleman, defined the role of the Double Base in free jazz music.

10. How many strings?

The Double Bass usually has four strings. These four heavy strings are pitched E1-A1-D-G. A fifth string is also occasionally added, in Double Basses for Jazz bands. This means at the top of the register, high notes can be played more easily. In Symphony Orchestra Basses, a fifth string can be added below the E string, tuned to B or C.

11. The Double Bass and the orchestra

In the orchestra, the Double Bass supplies power, weight and the basic rhythmic foundation. The Double Bass is the biggest string instrument in the orchestra. Its low, long, muted tones are known for their impact and fullness. The rest of the orchestra’s sound often resonates around the Double Bass. Double Basses are transported on tour in huge wooden boxes!

12. The Double Bass’ range

A standard Double Bass has a range from the E string, note E1 to the G string, note D5. It can also play a harmonic G6. In English? So… in simpler terms, the Double Bass sounds an Octave lower than written. The Double Bass’ range is altered by its tuning. For example, the C extension extends the Double Bass’ range downwards.

13. Celebrity Double Bassists

Contemporary Celebrity Double Bassists include Ron Carter, Stanley Clarke, Ray Brown (1926-2002), Christian McBride and Charlie Haden (1937-2014).

Historic Celebrity Double Bassists include Giovanni Botteseni (1821-1889), Domenico Dragonetti (1763-1846) and Serge Koussevitzky (1874-1951).

14. Famous film soundtracks the Double Bass features in

The Double Bass features in the soundtracks for ‘Gone with the Wind’, ‘ET’, ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’, Danny Boyle’s ‘Sunshine’ and ‘The Shawshank Redemption’. Its most famous use is in the theme for ‘Jaws’. When you’re next watching these films, listen out for the Double Bass’s rich and distinct tones. 

Double Bass Facts

15. The Double Bass around the world

Double Bass Facts

Around the 1920s, the Double Bass became an integral part of the New Orleans jazz scene in America. Many players around this time used the ‘slap-style’ to play the Bass. They would often share the bass line with a tuba player. To this day, the Double Bass is played across the world, in many different styles of music and in many different orchestras.

That's the end of our Double Bass Facts... So what now?

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