You’re not alone if you aren’t quite sure what this instrument is. For those who are not musicians, and who only vaguely remember high school music class, the double bass might just register as an obscure string instrument, but it’s so much more than that.
What Is a Double Bass?
Otherwise known as the bass, the double bass is the largest and lowest-pitched bowed string instrument in a modern symphony orchestra. Musicians who play the double bass are referred to as bassists. The bass is played with a long bow called an arco, or by plucking the strings.
There are other extended techniques to playing the bass, depending on the genre of music. For instance, ‘silent’ fingering refers to fingering pitches with the left hand, minus the bow or the plucking of strings. This is one of the more common techniques, particularly in Jazz.
How Large Is a Double Bass?
The double bass stands around 180 cm long, or 6 feet. Other sizes are also available, such as 1/2 or 3/4 of the regular size. These other size options accommodate a player’s height and hand size. If you’re a relatively short person, there is no need to fear whether you will be able to handle the bass! It may be a bit of an encumbrance to carry around, but that is expected for an instrument of this size.
Appearance and Types
This instrument is made primarily of wood, with specific parts of the instrument constructed from different types. Double bass’ of orchestral quality are made of maple (back, neck, and ribs); spruce (top); and ebony (fingerboard, tailpiece). Types differ depending on the genre of music most suitable: Dance, Jazz, Orchestral, and Solo.
Sounds of the Double Bass
The sound of the double bass begins with its vibrating strings. Its sounds are determined by the placement of the bow or where it is plucked or struck. Pitch is modified by the thickness, tension, and length of the string, similar to all instruments in the strings category.
Due to its large, hollow body, the bass emits low muted tones, at times rhythmic, and at others long. The double bass issues an incredibly powerful sound and often forms the foundations underlying the more prominent sounds in the orchestra.
Playing the Double Bass
The bass is an upright instrument, placed vertical with its end rested firmly on the ground. Unfortunately, the double bass is not easy to play compared to other instruments. You’re better off starting with a less complex string instrument like the guitar, as you learn music theory and can work up to playing the bass.
How Much Does a Double Cost?
Reasonable pricing for a beginner’s double bass is around $1500 USD. Most people new to the instrument start with a rental. Rental costs are difficult to predict, as many music stores offer discounts to music students. A reasonable estimate would be $22 USD/month for a small version to $74 for the largest model, with costs varying across sizes. These prices were generated for basic double bass models. Buying and rental costs can be much higher for top quality instruments.
Famous Players of the Double Bass
- James Jamerson: He wrote the bible on bass line development and construction, feel, syncopation, tone, touch, and phrasing. Jamerson was Funk Brother #1 in Motown’s “Snake Pit,” and he played with the likes of Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, and the Supremes. Jamerson was active as a bass player from 1956 to 1983.
- Jaco Pastorius: Between 1975 and 1982, he made important contributions to music by Pat Metheny, Joni Mitchell, and Weather Report. As +an exceptional electric bass player, his untimely death shocked the musical community in 1987.
- Paul McCartney: Paul McCartney played electric bass front-and-center as a member of iconic music group, The Beatles. The most notable piece featuring McCartney’s double bass is the 1967 studio album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
- Larry Graham: Legend says that Graham played organ pedals and guitar as a teenager, then switched to the bass when his organ broke. He is known for his “thumping thumb” Jazz beats with Sly & the Family Stone. Graham is a long-standing bassist, having begun to play in 1961 and continues to perform today.
- Stanley Clarke: Clarke is considered the first superstar bassist in music history, and has continued to play since 1996. His bass playing is largely inspired by Coltrane, and he took the acoustic bass to never-before-seen technical and musical heights with the SMV band.
You can find other famous double bass and bass guitar players here.