Cello – Unison With Double Basses

Cellos need not always play octaves with the basses. A very powerful sound can be achieved by doubling the instruments in unison. In most classical scores, double basses in cellos get a single line, and are expected to play that line as written – which means that the basses will be playing an octave below …

Double Basses – Bowing and Articulation

The orchestrator needs to understand how difficult it is to make the double bass speak well, and to what lengths players go to get the ideal sound. There are a number of different considerations, but I’ll touch on the three most important here. The first is what choice of bow. The most common bow that …

Double Basses – Acoustical Compromises

The double bass body is an acoustic compromise, smaller than optimum for its range. This also affects the tone. The Wikipedia double bass article contains a charming bit of misinformation: “Despite the size of the instrument, it is not as loud as many other instruments due to its low range.” Actually, BECAUSE of the (smaller …

Double Basses – “The Vivaldi Problem”

A resonant low note on the basses can reinforce the upper partials of a major harmonic, with good and bad results. This is especially true if the bass is playing an open string a little too loudly. What will happen most often is that the major third+2 octaves will sound out strongly. If the composer …

Double Basses – C-Extension Problems

The C-extension on the double bass’s lowest string is not needed most of the time, even uncharacteristic to the instrument in a way. It’s a common tendency for beginning orchestrators to fall in love with the basement-scraping abilities of the double bass, and score much of their early efforts with that instrument playing almost exclusively …

Double Basses – Limitations of Range

The double bass has a phenomenal range due to the length of its strings, but there are some limitations. The strongest register, of course, is the first octave and a 5th – the instrument was essentially built specifically to access those notes. The next octave is not so strong – the effort involved in playing …

Double Basses – Carrying the Bass Line Alone

Double basses can carry the bass part alone, but the tone of their part will be different from cellos alone, or doubling with cellos. One of the great boons of orchestration since Beethoven is the liberation of the double basses from doubling the cellos exclusively. Basses can easily hold down the bottom end while the …