What is an Upright Bass? Exploring the Depths of this Mighty String Instrument

Uncover the essence of an upright bass, also known as a double bass in music. Learn about its history, characteristics, and musical significance.

Have you ever wondered about the backbone of the modern orchestra? What mysterious depths lie within the commanding presence of an upright bass? Join me on a journey as we unravel the mysterious world of this mighty double bass, exploring its rich history, unique construction, and captivating playing styles. Get ready to dive into the depths of sound and discover the secrets behind this cherished member of the violin family.

What is an upright bass? An upright bass, a double bass, or bass fiddle, is the lowest-pitched string instrument in modern orchestras, contributing a deep and resonant foundation to the ensemble. It is a commanding presence and versatile playing styles make it an essential component of the violin family, captivating audiences with its rich, resonant tones.

History of the upright bass

The history of the upright bass is as captivating as its deep, rumbling tones. So, where did it all begin? Scholars have been debating its exact origins, but one thing’s for sure: the bass has undergone centuries of alterations and distinctions that have shaped its design and dimensions. Early examples of the bass were like funky experiments, tuned in various ways and rocking different numbers of strings.

Image of a woman wearing a red dress playing an upright bass.
Image of a woman wearing a red dress playing an upright bass.

The earliest illustration in the history of the string bass dates from 1516, but written accounts record instances of “viols” as large as a person, and the deep register tuning is notably found first among the viol family. These early instruments were tuned in various ways. It’s either using fourths (unlike many stringed instruments that tune by fifths) or a combination of third and fourth tuning, depending on the instrument itself.

Research has revealed that as many as 50 different tunings
were used during the string bass’s history.

However, research has revealed that as many as 50 different tunings were used during the string bass’s history. In fact, until the tuning of the early 20th century basically solidified the E-A-D-G (lowest to highest), many composers and musicians specifically requested notes lower than the low E. Modern tuning is typically either for “solo” playing (which is a whole tone higher: F#-B-E-A), or those mentioned above in “orchestral” tuning.

Early double bass instruments also typically featured various numbers of strings, with some rare examples using up to six, before they were slowly adapted to three or the more commonly used four-string modern instrument. In addition, many early examples included a type of gut fretting created by wrapping gut strings horizontally at various intervals along the fingerboard to generate frets at each semitone.

My favorite MIDI keyboard (at the moment):

AKAI Professional MPK Mini MK3

What is an upright bass? Exploring the depths of this mighty string instrument | 717qmgla7zl. Ac sl1500 | audio apartment
My favorite MIDI keyboard (at the moment):

AKAI Professional MPK Mini MK3

I’m loving the AKAI MPK Mini MK3 for its compact design and the range of controls. It’s one of my essential tools. The velocity-sensitive keys and MPC-style pads are great for making beats, while the thumbstick and knobs give me precise control.

Classification and creation of upright bass

One of the coolest things about the upright bass is that it refuses to conform. It’s like the rebel of the string instrument world, not bound by a standardized shape or construction. The bass can be classified into two main forms: violin and viol de gamba. Each form has its own unique characteristics, giving the bass a diverse range of appearances and sounds. It’s like having different flavors of ice cream, each with its own distinct taste and texture.

Combining these two forms allows for a great deal of personalization when creating this instrument, as well as varied playing advantages. The appearance of the upright bass actually affects its sound. The violin form’s arched back and higher bridge contribute to a brighter and more focused sound, making it perfect for classical and orchestral music.

Meanwhile, the viol de gamba form’s larger body and lower bridge result in a deeper and more resonant sound, which is often favored in jazz and solo performances. It’s like different fashion styles influencing your mood and vibe.

Here is a data table comparing the forms of upright basses, specifically the violin and viol de gamba:

FeatureViolin Upright BassViol de Gamba
ShapeViolin cornersCurved sloping shoulders, no corners
Number of StringsTypically fourVaries, commonly six strings
TuningTuned in fourths (E-A-D-G) or fifths (A-D-G-C)Held between the legs, played with the bow (arco), or plucked
Fretted NeckFretlessFretted
Playing PositionHeld between the legs or on a stand, played with the bow (arco) or pluckedHeld between the legs, played with the bow (arco) or plucked
SoundBright, focused soundSofter, less brilliant sound
Historical UsageDeveloped by the violin family, used in orchestras, jazz, and popular musicPart of the viol family, used in Renaissance and Baroque chamber music, solo repertoire, and ensemble playing
A data table comparing the forms of upright basses.

Playing styles of the upright bass

The upright bass can be played in various styles, including the following:

  • Arco (Bow): One of the primary playing styles for the upright bass is using a bow, known as arco. With the bow, the player draws it across the strings to produce sustained and expressive tones. This technique is commonly used in classical music, orchestral settings, and certain jazz styles.
  • Pizzicato (Plucking): Another common playing style is plucking the strings with the fingers, known as pizzicato. In this technique, the player uses their fingers to pluck and release the strings, creating a percussive and rhythmic sound. Pizzicato is widely used in jazz, blues, rockabilly, and various contemporary music genres.
  • Slap Bass: Slap bass is a distinctive playing technique where the strings are struck with the thumb or the thumb and other fingers, creating a percussive “slap” sound. This technique is commonly associated with styles like rockabilly, slap-pop funk, and some forms of jazz and blues.
  • Fingerstyle: Fingerstyle playing involves using the fingers, typically the index and middle fingers, to individually pluck the strings. This technique allows for more intricate and melodic playing, and it is commonly used in jazz, folk, and certain styles of acoustic bass playing.

It’s worth noting that different musical genres may have their own variations and adaptations of these playing styles. Additionally, each player may develop their unique approach and techniques based on their musical preferences and personal style.

Image of two men playing musical instruments
Image of two men playing musical instruments.

Advantages and Disadvantages

When it comes to the upright bass, like any other instrument, there are both advantages and disadvantages to consider. Let’s take a closer look:


  • A versatile instrument suitable for various musical genres.
  • Produces rich, deep tones that provide a solid foundation for the music.
  • Offers a wide range of playing techniques and expressive possibilities.
  • Adds a captivating visual presence to live performances.
  • Provides opportunities for solo performances and ensemble playing.


  • The large physical size makes it less portable compared to smaller instruments.
  • Requires significant physical strength and endurance to play for extended periods.
  • Can be challenging to learn and master due to its unique tuning and playing techniques.
  • Higher maintenance requirements, including regular string changes and adjustments.
  • Costly investment for high-quality instruments and accessories.

If you want great tips and more information about upright bass, check out the video below titled: BASS BASICS: Double Bass Technique for Beginners from CADME Calgary Youtube Channel.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Curious minds want to know! Here are some frequently asked questions about the upright bass:

How heavy is an upright bass?

The weight of an upright bass can vary, but on average, it typically ranges from 15 to 25 pounds. The weight is influenced by factors such as the size of the instrument, the materials used, and the presence of additional accessories. It may take some muscle to carry around, but the deep, resonant sounds it produces are definitely worth it!

Can an upright bass be played standing up?

Absolutely! Many upright bass players perform while standing. To do so comfortably, they use a shoulder rest or strap to support the bass’s weight. Standing allows for greater mobility on stage and adds a dynamic visual element to the performance. So, stand tall, rock those grooves, and let the music flow!

Can the upright bass be used in genres other than classical music?

Absolutely! While the upright bass is often associated with classical music and orchestras, it has also found its place in various other genres. From jazz and blues to rock and pop, the upright bass adds depth and character to the music.

It can be a versatile instrument, adapting to different playing styles and genres with its deep, resonant tones. So, go ahead and explore the diverse musical possibilities of the upright bass!


We’ve taken a deep dive into the world of the upright bass, uncovering its history, classification, playing styles, and more. From its mysterious origins to its rebellious nature in design, the upright bass has charmed its way into our hearts and ears. It has shaped the sounds of classical masterpieces, groovy jazz tunes, and even modern pop hits. It’s like the rockstar of the orchestra, making waves with every resounding note! Did I cover everything you wanted to know? Let me know in the comments section below—I read and reply to every comment.

If you found this article helpful, share it with a friend, and check out my full blog for more tips and tricks on mastering the world of music production and audio engineering. Thanks for reading, and keep on grooving to the beat!

This article covered the fascinating world of the upright bass, highlighting key points such as:

Key Takeaways

  • The upright bass is the lowest-pitched string instrument in modern orchestras.
  • Its history is filled with alterations, varied tunings, and unique design elements.
  • The instrument can be classified as violin form or viol de gamba form, with distinct appearances and sounds.
  • Playing styles have adapted over time, with techniques like pizzicato and bowing.
  • The upright bass is versatile and used in genres beyond classical music.

Helpful Resources

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Written by Andrew Ash, Staff Writer

Hey there! My name is Andrew, and I'm relatively new to music production, but I've been learning a ton, and documenting my journey along the way. That's why I started this blog. If you want to improve your home studio setup and learn more along with me, this is the place for you!

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