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Double bass: an introduction

The double bass lying on its side

The double bass is the lowest-sounding instrument in the Western classical string family, and has a slightly different history from its fellow strings. It hasn’t developed an extensive solo repertory, nor a consistent number of strings (most basses have four strings, but some have five).

Jazz bass-player Larry Bartley

However, the bass is used in a wider range of musical styles than any other stringed instrument (including the guitar), and is just as important in jazz as in Western classical music. There have been quite a number of blends of classical and jazz in the 20th century. A good example comes from Milhaud’s La Création du Monde. The double bass announces the opening melody of a fugue (a complex section where melodies enter one after another), that is clearly jazz-inspired in its rhythmic angularity.

Sometimes the double bass is referred to as the ‘bull fiddle'. A good example of its use in dance and popular music can be found in the brilliant film Some Like It Hot with Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe.

One problem with the double bass, especially for young players, is its size. The distance between notes is large and agility is difficult to attain. Steve Williams explains some of the preparatory exercises needed to get in shape to play the double bass.

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