Double Bass

Double Bass

The double bass is a descendant of the viola da gamba, which originated in 15thcentury Europe. It is the largest and lowest in pitch of the ‘violin’ family of instruments.The viola da gamba often had five or six strings, and some early double basses had three strings. Modern basses have four strings, and sometimes a fifth string or an attachment to allow for even lower notes.


Facts and Features

  1. The double bass is the only bowed string instrument tuned in fourths (four notes apart). The violin, viola and cello are tuned in fifths. Modern double bass strings are highest to lowest- G-D-A-E – the opposite of the violin.
  2. There are two styles of bow used by bass players: the shorter and narrower French type - held with the hand facing down, and the broader German type, which is held with the hand facing upward. 
  3. Double bass rosin is softer and stickier than violin rosin to help the bow hair to grip the thick strings. 
  4. Many bass players use black (unbleached) or mixed ‘salt and pepper’ (black and white) horsehair on their bows to get a firmer grip on the strings.
  5. In jazz music, the double bass is a solo instrument as well as part of the rhythm section.

Famous Players

Domenico Dragonetti – (1763 – 1846)
Giovanni Bottesini – (1821 – 1889)
Adrian Beers  -  (1916-2004)
Oscar Zimmerman (1910-1987)
Chi-chi Nwanoku OBE (1956 -)

Music to Listen to

Beethoven – Egmont Overture
Franz Keyper – Romance and Rondo for double Bass and Orchestra
Ludvig Hgener – Mazurka de Concert
Giovanni Bottesini – Duo Concertante for Violin, Double Bass and Orchestra
Franz Schubert  - Piano Quintet in A major – ‘The Trout’

Find Out

Who wrote the aria ‘Per questa bella mano’ and why is it important for the double bass?
How did the instrument get the name ‘double’ bass?