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Double Bass Confusion

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by bass_player16, May 4, 2005.

  1. Hi all, me and my brother are having an argument. He claims double basses aren't supposed to be plucked, when in fact I'm quite sure they are and can be plucked, he also claims that it HAS to be played with a bow, when in fact i believe it does'nt HAVE to be played with a bow, he also figures that a cello and double bass AREN"T the same thing. Any help on this so i can shut him up would be greatly appreciated.
  2. B. Johnson

    B. Johnson

    Apr 28, 2005
    1) Basses can be plucked, in fact, music often calls for it and Jazz Music is maily plucking.
    2) No it doesn't have to played with a bow, it can be plucked.
    3) Your brother has got you here, a cello is half the size of a double bass. Two different instruments.
  3. It certainly is true that that cello and Double Bass are two different things. For further clarification Cello (actually violoncello) is in a completely different string family than the Bass. Cello is in the Violon family while Bas is from the Viol family. This is mainly seen in the fact that the Bass is tuned in fourths (EADG) and the Cello in tuned in 5ths (CGDA).
  4. Bethelbass

    Actually there is a great deal of confusion and disagreement about the origin of the double bass. As I learned it ,the double bass has very little structurally, or tonally in common with the viol family of instuments, and four strings and 5ths tuning on the double bass go way back.

    However, since the scale length was so long, and the strings so massive, tense and high, the tuning in 5ths was generally, abandoned as impractical. Also, since the lowest string had such a unsatisfactory sound and response, it was dropped.

    The three stringed bass was a response to the difficulty of creating a really useful low string. Eventually, when string technology made it possible to create a useful low string, many three string basses were retrofitted with four.
  5. 5stringDNA

    5stringDNA Supporting Member

    Oct 10, 2002
    Englewood, CO
    Wow... a misinformed pair of brothers eh? What needs to be said is said though... and your brother has obviously never listened to Jazz to any meaningful extent. The cello thing is rather common- it is surprising how many people don't know the difference, but the size difference is pretty obvious. Posts like this scare me.
  6. Right,
    I've been turned around by my Instrumentation teacher. He definetly has a thing or two to learn about the Double Bass. The important thing about my comment really is that It's not a bass Violon.

    As a side note, Isn't the Bass also tuned in 4ths becuase of the inability to transfer the violin fingering to it becuase one's hand would not be large enough. I know there is an adapted cello fingering becuase of this but is tension the only reason for tuning in 4ths?
  7. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    Even Mozart wrote for the Bass to be Plucked. It's called Pizzacato !! Even the Violins and 'Cellos do it.

    Is this a "real" question or did someone just wake up from the 16th century?.. Or not wake up at all??
  8. Bethelbass

    Yes, in a way. That is one of the points I was trying to make. The bass was tuned in 4ths because, when tuned in 5ths, given the long vibrating string length and string quality (or lack thereof) and the difficulty in quickly and adequately stopping the notes on those strings, set up as they were, it was too difficult to to play the required passages, at the required tempos.

    From what I have read, 5ths tuning was tried early on, because the idea was to have all the violin family instruments similar in construction, technique and sound quality, just in different registers.
  9. Although the bass is certainly can be plucked quite masterfully (especially by jazz bassists), I don't think it was originally meant to be plucked, especially when you compare it to instruments like the guitar and lute, which were most definitely meant to be plucked, and were developed at roughly the same time (by that I mean pre-20th century!) as the viol/violin family. Maybe this is what the Bros. were arguing about.

    I ran across something at Max Steinberger's site ages ago that said he was trying to develop an upright-type bass optimized for pizzicato. Looked kinda wash-tubby, IIRC.
  10. M_A_T_T


    Mar 4, 2004
    Is this true?
  11. Reading further, you would find that The Bass' origins are in question. However, the cello is definetly in the violon family.
  12. Matt

    Read my two posts further up this thread for clarification. My main source is a very well researched book, "A New History of the Double Bass" By Paul Brun.


    The cello is a member of the "violin family". If you use the term "violon", someone might confuse it with the "violone" or one of the many terms by which people (especially in Italy) referred to the double bass.
  13. Hector Wolff

    the Italian name for the cello is violoncello, French it is Violoncelle, and German it is Violoncell (Taken from Samuel Adler's "The Study of Orchestration").
    If you are correct in saying that it is not from the Violon family then Mr. Adler and my Instrumentation professor, Dr. Veenker, are terribly wrong. Dr. Veenker explicitly stated in class that the Violin, viola, and cello are surviving members of the Violon family.
  14. BethelBass

    I think you have misunderstood my post.

    I was simply trying to point out that if you wish to refer to the instrument family that includes the violin, viola, cello (or violoncello or "small violone"), and (as some contend) the double bass, then you should use the term "violin family".

    I suggested that if you use the term "violon" it might be confused, by some with the term "violone", which was a popular Italian term for the double bass.
  15. As I understand it there were two major stringed instrument families. The older familly was the "viol" family, very different is construction and sound quality from the later "violin" family, though they coexisted for quite some time.

    The double bass is often thought of as the only surviving member of the "viol" family, though many think it is a proper member of the "violin" family, based in part on similarities in construction and sound qualities to the other "violin" family members. Part of that confusion stems form the fact that many "bass viols or violones" were converted for use in ensembles of the "violin" family members.

    The violin, viola and cello, are certainly not surviving members of the "viol" family, as these "violin family" instruments rather quickly surplanted the "viols" as the needs of the music changed.

    I don't even think you could say that the "viols" gradually developed into the "violins" because the instruments in the two families have always had different construction, and they coexisted for period of time.

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