The Bass, Contrabass and Double Bass
The upright bass, contra bass and double bass are in the chordophone general classification of musical instruments. They are also in the sub-classification of stringed instruments. The bass is the underlying soulful foundation of the symphony, the string ensemble, the string orchestra and both the string quartet and quintet. Sometimes when a cello is not used in a string quartet the bass is often used in its place. It provides the dark, rich textures, deep sonic tonal characteristics and it serves as the soulful under lament of sound so necessary to fill the concert halls throughout the world. The sheer size of this instrument is in itself somewhat intimidating to most however concert bassists and avid concert goers who find much comfort in the sounds arising from it.
Popularity for the bass as a lead instrument is increasing. Bassist, vocalist and composer Esperanza Spalding recently received the high honor of a Grammy Award during the 53rd Annual Grammy Awards for Best New Artist and Casey Abrams, who showcased the double bass in this years (2011) acclaimed American Idol contest. Maybe somewhat inadvertently, none the less, these two items have helped expand the general public’s interest and awareness of the bass, at least in America.
It comes to no surprise then that the bass plays its rolls as a member of the string orchestra, string ensemble and the symphony orchestra. It faithfully fulfills its roll not only as a rhythmic foundation when supporting higher octave instruments, it also has that unique ability to act when required by the music to act as a solo stringed instrument as well. Its sound is significant, it resonates meaningfully and it is deeply felt by the active listeners of excellently performed music.
The following video is an excellent example of what we are saying here. This performance of Ditters von Dittersdorf: Concerto for Double Bass No. 2 in E Major: Mvt. II Adagio molto by Hungarian bassist Laszlo Bence and accompanied on piano by Andras Barath certainly reflects the more somber sound however its beauty is obvious and the performance is a wonderful interpretation of this composition.
We wish to thank Laszlo Bence for his performance and YouTube for hosting the video and making it available through its embed rules for non-commercial educational use.
Two additional points to make are first, the bass is played typically where the left hand fingers are used on the fretboard for playing specific notes and the right hand uses either a bow or the fingers to produce sound. Secondly, between the two, bow and fingers, this instrument is capable of producing many articulations making it very versatile. Whether the composition calls for muted sounds or specialized bowing techniques such as pizzicato, legato, staccato, detache, marcato or martele, etal., the bass is quite capable of producing these sounds dependent upon the performers skills and what desired effect the composer is seeking for a given note, a phrase or section of the composition.
Whether your interest is to play as a solo performer, in a symphony orchestra, a string ensemble or quartet the bass opens up many doors for you as a performer of this fine musical instrument. We hope this brief introduction provides for you some incentive to seek out more information about the bass instruments. Maybe your interest is strong enough to pursue it as your instrument of choice.