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The double bass takes the position as the largest bowed string instrument. As the lowest-pitched string instrument the double bass, or upright bass, adds a deep and rich quality to symphony orchestras, chamber music, and even to jazz and bluegrass.
Although the heritage of the double bass is not entirely certain, it is traditionally considered a member of the violin family. However its design varies greatly from the violin or cello in several ways including that the slope of its shoulders is typically less defined. It is also tuned into fourths rather than fifths which also sets it apart. Much music written for the double bass has it doubling the cello and it rarely plays outside of a two-octave range. The double bass is a transposing instrument so its sounds are actually an octave lower than as notated. While the double bass is the largest bowed string instrument, its design and low pitch do not contribute to it being the loudest.
Much of the music written for the double bass from the Classical era to the present consists of it doubling the cello. However, there are some memorable solo pieces for the double bass such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Per Questra Bella Mano, K.612.” A virtuosic double bassist, Domenico Dragonetti, was close friends with both Joseph Haydn and Ludwig van Beethoven. Perhaps due to this friendship, Beethoven wrote several parts for the double bass in his Fifth, Seventh, and Ninth Symphonies and Haydn featured the upright bass in several pieces including Symphonies No. 6, No. 7, and No. 8. Composer Johannes Brahms was the son of a double bassist and wrote many complex pieces for the instrument in his own music. While the double bass is typically played within a two-octave range, Carl Orff’s famous “Carmina Burana” employs the bass in three octaves and a perfect fourth.
Over the years, the double bass has also found a place in jazz and bluegrass music. Both of these musical genres typically pluck the double bass and also may employ slapping techniques. As the quietest member of the jazz ensemble, these techniques allow for the double bass to be heard. In bluegrass, the double bass is considered a part of the rhythm section and is used to keep everyone on track. The electric double bass is also gaining momentum in bluegrass, popular, and rock music.
For young double bass players, advancing musicians, and teachers, the Woodwind and Brasswind offers a range of double basses. Many of the instruments meet the NAfME specifications and make wonderful first instruments for the classroom. Teachers recommend the Bellafina Model 60 Double Bass Outfit and the Florea Recital II Double Bass Outfit among others. Both of these are available in 1/2 sizes so that the young bass player can begin to learn the instrument before they reach their full height and play a standard sized double bass. Bluegrass musicians may prefer an American made Engelhardt instrument like the ES9 Swingmaster Double Bass. There are many other options such as the stunning Florea Midnight Double Bass Outfit for the more experienced bassist. Browse the instrument selection from the Woodwind and Brasswind to find the double bass that is most suited to you or your students’ needs.