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pitch of double bass

Discussion in 'Music [DB]' started by bizzaro, Feb 15, 2001.


  1. bizzaro

    bizzaro

    Aug 21, 2000
    Vermont
    I thought I read somewhere that music written for double bass was actually an octave higher than it is played. That is to say the f clef is an octave above what is actually played in pitch on the double bass. If it is true, then are electric basses also an octave lower in pitch than the f clef??
     
  2. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Yes. As are guitars, for which all music is written in treble cleff. Take it to the piano and try it - if you play the low E note (one line below the staff) on the piano, it sounds the same as 2nd string, 2nd fret on a bass. I believe the official reason that the bass is notated the way it is (transposed) was first stated by 16th century music theorist Giovanni Battista Moltomoltobasso, who wrote, "Iffa we don'ta transposa, wea gonna bea lookin ata leger-linea city".

    Wait, that's not quite true...Not all bass notation sounds an octave lower. TAB has no transposition, so if you are reading a transcribed FLEA solo, it sounds at pitch. Likewise with Fieldy.
     
  3. bizzaro

    bizzaro

    Aug 21, 2000
    Vermont
    Are any other Instruments automatically transposed this way?? So true middle C on my bass is on the 17th fret?? On guitar middle C would actually be 2nd string 1st fret, but played on the 5th string 3rd fret????
     
  4. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Two orchestral instruments come to mind: the piccolo, and the contrabassoon. William Christopher Doggihearitt, the Englishman who invented the piccolo, reportedly decided on the transposition for reasons similar to those cited by Moltobasso above. Johannes Langsam Grossreed, the Austrian mastermind behind the contrabassoon, apparently tried to do without the transposition initially, but later added it after being confronted by a number of irate woodwind players that one bystander described as "all peering quite intently through extremely thick spectacles".

    Regarding the questions about middle C on the guitar and the bass, the answers are Yes, and Yes. Oh, and by the way...remember that if you ever see a piccolo or contrabassoon player reading from TAB, they will be sounding at pitch, since TAB has no transposition.
     
  5. bizzaro

    bizzaro

    Aug 21, 2000
    Vermont
    Thanks for the info Chris.
     
  6. The original bass is what we call a cello. The double bass plays an octave lower off the same music. On orchestra parts the bass part go's lower than the low E down to C on the second ledger line below the staff. Cellos can play it true to pitch but the double bass has to play some notes an octave higher unless it is modified to play the lower notes.
     
  7. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY

    While this statement may be true for SOME periods and styles in western music, it should be noted that the Double Bass does NOT always double the cellos. By the time you get to the so-called "Romantic" period, or for that matter even the "Late Classical" period, there are plenty of examples of Double Bass independence. Listen to Beethoven V, or even the last movement of Mozart's "Jupiter" symphony. Neither of these pieces would sound quite the same had the composer simply had the basses play an octave lower off the same music. And by the time you get to Stavinsky and Bartok, you can often even forget about assuming that the parts will resemble each other very closely at all, outside of the fact that they are adjacent voices in the same choir.
     
  8. This is inaccurate. Violoncello literally means "little bass." If it's called little bass it must
    be little in comparison to something: the violone. Violone was the name of the contrabass voice of the viol family. When da Salo invented the violin family, for lack of a better term, the name was used interchangeably between the contrabass instruments of both families, according the Paul Brun. Through the first couple of centuries of the instruments existence it was tuned in fifths an octave below the violoncello. Baroque music, being in large part improvised, the bass improvised basslines and the 'cello improvised ornamentation around it.
    Read _A New History of The Doublebass_ for more.