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What's louder, the cello or the double bass?

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by AleksofCanada, Jan 17, 2013.

  1. AleksofCanada


    Jun 4, 2012
    I'm talking about a standard symphony orchestra. Is it the same deal with the violins? Because it's higher pitched, you can hear it more? Is the cello louder than the double bass? Or is the subject in question different, from orchestra to orchestra.........just something I wanted to know. Thanks so much for any replies :)
  2. atomicdog


    Jun 18, 2011
    In a symphony, the instruments are balanced. None are intrinsically louder or softer; that depends on the individual instrument (not all violins project equally, for instance, and the player can vary the volume through technique). And the sound waves of lower pitched instruments (cello, bass) carry further.
  3. Jazz Ad

    Jazz Ad Mi la ré sol Supporting Member

    The size reflects the need for volume. The bass is big enough so it can compare in loudness with the violin, viola and cello.
    Instruments by themselves have reach a kind of perfection. It's pretty much impossible to make the violin louder than the way it is currently built. The tension of strings on these instruments is very, very high.
  4. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    You need fewer Double Basses to compete with the other strings.

    I have seen a well-balanced chamber orchestra with one DB holding its own very well against maybe 20 or so violins and a dozen other strings. In a large symphony orchestra - you will typically have 8-12 DBs as against maybe 50-60 violins and maybe 10-15 Cellos at a stretch.

    A really top notch DB is much louder than a Cello - but doesn't have the high end definition - I have seen top European and visiting American orchestras in London concert halls - the DB section can be incredibly loud. I saw a Russian orchestra with 5 string basses playing Shostakovich's 4th Symphony (if I remember correctly) and there was a low C pedal on the B string which was clearly heard over a massive orchestra with lots of low brass - Tuba, Trombones , Percussion etc
  5. Depends on if you're measuring it with ears or instruments! Humans don't hear low frequencies that well (at a certain point, we feel them more than hear them), but I bet an elephant would give the prize to the DB hands down!
  6. Humans hear the higher pitches more easily than the lower pitches. With respect to the previous posts, IMHO, the violins and cellos indeed sound louder to us than a double bass when they each play notes in their comfortable register. Perhaps the correct thinking is that we hear their sound more clearly? The high pitches cut through and take less energy to create. (Low notes can sound powerful because of orchestration: DB with tubas, and with cello and trombone an octave above doubling. )

    A good illustration is the solo concerto. A solo violinist can soar clearly above a full size orchestra and be heard. Solo cello not as much, but still doable. Solo double bass? Often a reduced size orchestra is needed and sometimes a soloist may use a microphone.

    An elephant of course would hear this differently. A Double Bass will be producing more sound that their ears and brains can understand.
  7. Jake deVilliers

    Jake deVilliers Commercial User

    May 24, 2006
    Crescent Beach, BC
    Owner of The Bass Spa, String Repairman at Long & McQuade Vancouver
    I'm sorry, but you're completely wrong on two out of three counts.

    The bass is larger because it needs the size to produce/support the low notes, not for volume production. If you made a huge violin (Its been done! ;)) it wouldn't be louder, it would be a double bass!

    Violin string tensions are very low: 10/10/12/17LBS G to E on your typical set of Dominants.

    I do agree that the violin family instruments have come close to achieving perfection! ;)
  8. Q: What's louder, the cello or the double bass?
    A: What?? I can't hear you over the d*** brass section!!
  9. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Not to me - I have been to many, many orchestral concerts
    and it's always been the case that fewer DBs hold their own against much larger number of Cellos and Violins.

    As I was saying - a typical symphony orchestra will have 8 DBs - but many more of the hihger strings - yet sound perfectly balanced.

    Look at this orchestra's website :

    "The typical orchestra has 16 First Violins, 14 Second Violins, 12 Violas, 10 Cellos and 8 Double Basses"


    So - 8 DBs sound as loud as 52 other string instruments!! :eek:
  10. Yes, but take away the cellos and suddenly the "bass section" sounds so much quieter and less defined. ;) The cellos are in the bass section remember? (remember the name of the instrument? double bass = double the bass, contrabass = below the bass. Who's the bass?) In the above, IMHO, you have 42 vs 18. But there is also low end support given by the bassoons, contrabassoons, trombones and tubas. And much orchestra music is not "bass dominated" in the way that we think of now post electric amplification. The bass (string, woodwind, brass) supports the rest, not dominates it. When the string bass has the melody, the rest of the orchestra has to make way for the basses to be heard, more so than vice-versa. Excellent arranging and scoring make it all work together so well.

    Since the OP was asking about classical music, maybe you're right.

    However listening to small groups up close, the high pitched instruments usually sound louder to me. Violin louder than double bass, vihuela much louder than regular guitar, mandolin louder than guitar or bass etc. Walking away, the high pitched instruments fade, and the bass emerges more, but only in a general sense of dull thud, or thump.

    However, a cello played pizzicato usually does not have any power or fullness to the sound. Ditto violins and violas. Could be the setup? But a double bass setup for pizz, and played pizz well, can have a powerful deep sound. Those fat strings and long string length do work wonders there.

    Maybe the deal is that pitches in a certain frequency range sound louder to us, no matter which instrument plays the pitches?

  11. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    No - I have heard chamber orchestras of all strings and as I said - one Double Bass held it's own for volume against dozens of other strings!
  12. drurb

    drurb Oracle, Ancient Order of Rass Hattur; Mem. #1, EPC

    Apr 17, 2004
    Actually, it doesn't really matter at all. Loudness is a psychological quantity. The term, by definition, refers to human perception. It is usually the case that when physical intensity or sound-pressure is increased, loudness increases.

    Take a look here at the equal-loudness contours:

    Each contour represents equal judged loudness. Note that, when loudness is low, it takes far more energy at the lowest and highest frequencies to maintain constant loudness. As loudness increases, the contours flatten such that, at the highest levels, constant loudness is produced by essentially equal physical intensity for any audible frequency.

    So, is the cello louder than the bass? It depends! It depends on what range of frequencies are being discussed (where along the fingerboard one is playing) and how intense is the playing. Of course, stringed instruments don't produce pure tones. For the bass, the second harmonic tends to be the prominent component at any given pitch, so you can get an idea of what frequencies we're talking about by referring to the fundamentals of various notes (e.g., low E at ~41 Hz, second harmonic is ~82 Hz). Then there are room resonances that may end up increasing or decreasing loudness within a given range of frequencies.

    This is all well and good if we consider the instruments alone. What about in an ensemble? Well, now you have to consider the psychoacoustical phenomenon of "upward spread of masking." Low frequencies mask higher frequencies far more effectively than higher frequencies mask lower frequencies. So... it's the lower frequencies that will cut through even when they have the same energy as do the higher frequencies. Then again, instruments that produce higher frequencies (brass, etc.) often generate substantial intensity.

    So, you see... not so simple.
  13. jnel

    jnel Guest

    Dec 19, 2012
    that don't make no sense

    may i propose a more accurate and perhaps a simplier way to determine which is louder the bass or cello

    take each instrument one at a time and grip the neck the way you would grip a golf club
    then swing the bass back over your head and hold it in a back scratching fashion, like when you serve a tennis ball(i will be seated in front of you) now with the power of FFFFFFF and in the manner of sledge hammer ringing the bell, hit me on the top of my head. Okay, I am holding that note-now do the same with the cello

    SOB, they are the same
  14. SBassman


    Jun 8, 2003
    Northeast, US
    Well, that's not true, either. :)

    The low notes are produced by strings tuned low enough to produce the tones. Period. Then things like size and many other factors will enhance tone and yield more volume.

    You can get low bass notes out of a Variety of size instruments.
    You may or may not like the tone and volume, but you can produce the low notes.
  15. nickirado


    Dec 26, 2011
    Actually, Sir, the resonance for high pitched notes is diminished the more you increase the size/volume of an instrument, or, to be more specific, the resonance box.

    Even if you strung low tension/caliber strings (for example, violin strings) on a double bass you would probably not hear a thing other than the sheer vibration on those strings.

    The violin is made small because the spectrum of frequencies it produces is amplified THE MOST with that EXACT size resonance box (or the body of the violin). This exact size has been studied, I must say, for a long long time in order to achieve perfection, as mentioned before. Increase a violin's size and you will loose volume.

    In the same way, IF you could string a violin with double bass strings, you would not be able to hear much, as the resonance box would not be able to comport the big wave lengths low frequencies have (produced by the those bass strings.)

    To maximize the real VOLUME in sound is another subject I honestly do not know about or how its done. What I know is that, over centuries, acoustic instrument sizes generally have remained the same, respectively. And that, for one reason.

    Hope that helps. :smug:
  16. Joedog


    Jan 28, 2010
    Pensacola FL
    Which one is best for metal? My apologies....couldn't resist.
  17. fdeck

    fdeck Supporting Member Commercial User

    Mar 20, 2004
    Madison WI
    HPF Technology LLC
    The only thing I can offer to this thread is based on what little I know about speakers. All other things being equal yadda yadda, the sound pressure produced by a piston moving with a given displacement increases with the square of the frequency. So, higher notes need smaller radiators to produce equal sound pressure. This is without considering the psychological processes that convert sound pressure into volume, but at least it's a start.

    With that said, the kids and I have had volume wars (violin, cello, and bass), and it's a toss up. BRURD will need to research the equal annoyance contours. :D
  18. Adam Attard

    Adam Attard

    Feb 9, 2009
    Another thing to consider is the acoustics of the room- having been in a number of professional orchestra halls, some are more conducive to projecting bass sound compared to others. The hall in Cleveland sounds like a subwoofer with 9 basses, similar to Chicago and Pittsburgh whereas some other places I've been tend to even out the sound more (Detroit, Kennedy Center/NSO, couple others)
    In general, I've found that the higher pitched instruments are easier to hear because the frequency of the sound projects more, but the acoustics of the room can affect everything.
  19. jnel

    jnel Guest

    Dec 19, 2012
    Yes, that's exactly what I was thinking the last time I played with the NY Phil

    Well, to the delight of many this will be my last post. Dad says to get the hell off of here because I am spending too much time a talkin and a guessin. And, to get the car keys this week-end, I would have to apologize. So, if some took me seriously and were offended-I'm sorry. Bye

    oh, i did want to say that i am very impressed with drurb- he or she really knows his or her stuff
  20. Roger Davis

    Roger Davis

    May 24, 2006
    Does it matter?