Tuesday October 27, 2020
Silvio Dalla Torre
Chameleon Double Bass Double Bass as Solo Instrument? Tunings Playing Techniques I Playing Techniques II New Dutch School

Chameleon Double Bass

The double bass chameleon,
a very rare beast!
OK, the double bass doesn´t change colour like
a chameleon
, but it has been through more
in the course of its development
than any other instrument. The different meth-
ods of tuning, the number of strings – and thus
the compass of the instrument – its size and the
nature of its construction, and the different tech-
niques for playing it. And last but not least, its
many names: all of this indicates how the term
"double bass" describes more a family of instru-
ments than a single specific member.

Names used for the largest of the bowed string
include both those such as Bass Viol de Braccio, Bass-Geig de braccio, Grossbass-
and Groß-Quint-Baß, which in the opinion
of some experts point to kinship with the violin,
and others which seem to speak more of mem-
bership of the viol family: Viola grande, Subbass, Violone grosso, Contrabasso di viola, Contraviolon, Basse de viole, Violone grande, to list but a few of those that derive from the early history of the instrument. All of these designated thoroughly different instruments that nevertheless, because of their common features, belong to the category "double bass".

In addition to the variety of its forms, the double bass may also be the most universally used instrument, appearing as it does in almost all the genres and styles of European and North and South American musical culture.

It is to be found in the classical symphony orchestra and in the rockabilly band,
in the palm court orchestra and in the avant garde ensemble, in pop groups and in the Baroque orchestra, in chamber music groups and in Tango ensembles, in Alpine and in bluegrass, in Klezmer and in the blues band.

An indispensable member of the jazz band, where it has in America been known since the 30s by the affectionately mocking name "doghouse". There, it has written musical history with the "walking bass", those bass note sequences, almost exclusively plucked – or slapped - which are in essence nothing other than the "basso continuo" of jazz, and with the swing rhythm without which modern musical life is unthinkable.

The double bass is needed in almost all types of music – and is nevertheless tolerated rather than welcomed. You can read about the reasons for this in the section Double Bass as Solo Instrument?