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The Double Bass

The double bass is the largest and lowest pitched member of the string family. Originating in 15th-century Europe, it was often described as a violone, over time evolving into the form it takes today. The shape of the double bass differs from other members of the string family in that the shoulders typically slope downwards, allowing players easier access to the strings.

Double basses are made out of different types of wood such as maple for the back, spruce for the front and ebony for the fingerboard. These woods are glued together and the bridge is held in place by the tension of the strings.

The strings of early double basses were made from animal gut and, due to its distinct timbre, this is sometimes still used today for Baroque repertoire. However, these days steel is the preferred material as it is less fragile and affords a higher level of musical control to the player.

Double bassists use a variety of techniques to create different sounds, including drawing the bow across the strings (arco), plucking strings with the fingers (pizzicato), or striking strings with the wooden part of the bow (col legno). Classical double bass players predominantly use the bow, but jazz and blues double bassists generally pluck the strings.

Compared with other string instruments there are relatively few solo works for double bass. One of the earliest known concertos for the instrument was by Haydn, however this work has since been lost and only two bars remain in the Entwurf-Katalog of the composer’s works. Popular works for double bass include Koussevitzky’s Double Bass Concerto, Bottesini’s Concerto No.2 and Passione Amorosa, and Dittersdorf’s Double Bass Concerto. 

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