contrabass vs double bass

Contrabass vs Double Bass: Exploring the Differences

The world of stringed instruments is rich and diverse, with a wide range of sizes and variations. One common source of confusion for many music enthusiasts is the distinction between the contrabass and the double bass. While these terms are often used interchangeably, they do have subtle differences. In this article, we’ll delve into the contrasting characteristics of the contrabass and the double bass.


The term “contrabass” is a generic term used to describe the lowest-pitched instruments in an orchestra or ensemble. It encompasses a variety of instruments, including the double bass, contrabassoon, contrabass clarinet, and contrabass saxophone. The contrabass is typically characterized by its deep, resonant sound and large physical size.

When it comes to the double bass, it is the most common instrument referred to as the contrabass. However, it’s essential to note that the term “contrabass” can be used more broadly to describe other instruments as well.

Double Bass

The double bass, also known as the upright bass or bass violin, is a large stringed instrument played with a bow or plucked with the fingers. It is the largest and lowest-pitched member of the string family in the modern symphony orchestra.

One of the primary distinctions between the double bass and other contrabass instruments is its construction. The double bass typically features a hollow wooden body, a long neck, and four strings. It is played in an upright position, resting on a metal endpin that extends from the bottom of the instrument.

The double bass produces a rich, deep sound that serves as the foundation of the orchestra’s low end. Its versatility allows it to be played in various musical genres, including classical, jazz, and popular music.

Differences in Terminology

While the terms “contrabass” and “double bass” are often used interchangeably, the choice of terminology can vary depending on the context and geographical location. In Europe, the instrument is commonly referred to as the double bass, whereas in the United States, it is often called the contrabass.

It’s worth mentioning that the term “bass” alone can also be used to describe the instrument, especially in jazz and popular music settings. This further adds to the confusion surrounding the nomenclature of the instrument.


In summary, the contrabass is a broad term encompassing various low-pitched instruments, including the double bass. The double bass, on the other hand, is a specific type of contrabass characterized by its large size, deep sound, and four-stringed construction. While the terminology can be confusing, understanding the differences between these terms can help clarify discussions and enhance your knowledge of stringed instruments.

Playing Techniques and Repertoire

Both the contrabass and the double bass share similar playing techniques and repertoire due to their similar construction and pitch range. They are typically played with a bow, using techniques such as arco (bowing) and pizzicato (plucking). However, it’s worth noting that the double bass is more commonly played with the bow, while pizzicato is often used as a stylistic choice in certain genres.

The repertoire for contrabass and double bass spans a wide range of musical genres. In classical music, the double bass holds a crucial role in the symphony orchestra, providing a solid foundation in the bass section. It is often featured in solo passages, chamber music, and concertos.

In jazz, the double bass is an essential component of the rhythm section, providing a deep and resonant sound that anchors the ensemble. It is also commonly used in various styles of popular music, including rock, blues, and folk.

Physical Differences

While the contrabass and double bass share similarities, there can be slight physical differences between them. The term “contrabass” can refer to instruments other than the double bass, such as the contrabassoon or contrabass saxophone, which have different shapes and playing techniques.

The double bass, however, has a distinct physical appearance. It typically has a large, rounded body made of wood, with two f-shaped soundholes on the front. The neck is long and extends upward from the body, culminating in a scroll at the top. The instrument is played in an upright position, with the player standing or sitting on a stool.

Evolution and Historical Significance

The double bass has a rich history that dates back several centuries. It evolved from earlier bass instruments such as the viola da gamba and the violone. Over time, the size and shape of the instrument were modified to enhance its sound and projection.

The double bass became an integral part of the symphony orchestra during the 18th and 19th centuries, contributing to the development of orchestral music. It played a significant role in the compositions of renowned composers such as Mozart, Beethoven, and Mahler.


While the terms “contrabass” and “double bass” are often used interchangeably, it’s important to recognize the subtle differences between them. The double bass, as a specific type of contrabass, holds a prominent place in the music world, providing a deep and resonant foundation in various musical genres.

Technical Specifications and Variations

When it comes to technical specifications, the contrabass and double bass share some similarities but also have variations. The double bass typically has a scale length of around 41-43 inches, although variations exist. It is traditionally tuned in fourths, with the strings tuned to E1, A1, D2, and G2. However, alternative tunings and string setups are not uncommon, depending on the player’s preference and musical style.

There are also variations in the construction of the double bass. While the standard orchestral double bass features a hollow wooden body, there are also electric double basses available that utilize pickups and amplification for a different sound and increased versatility in modern genres.

On the other hand, the term “contrabass” can refer to other instruments with different specifications. For example, the contrabassoon is a double-reed woodwind instrument that is significantly larger than the bassoon. It produces a deep, resonant sound and is used primarily in orchestral and wind ensemble settings.

Playing Position and Technique

The playing position and technique for both the contrabass and double bass are similar. Players typically stand or sit on a stool while supporting the instrument with a strap or resting it on their legs. The bow is used for playing long, sustained notes and melodic passages, while pizzicato is employed for rhythmic and percussive effects.

Playing the double bass requires physical strength and dexterity due to its size and string tension. The left hand is used to press the strings against the fingerboard to produce different pitches, while the right hand controls the bow or plucks the strings. Players employ various techniques such as vibrato, harmonics, and double stops to add expressiveness to their playing.

Usage in Different Musical Genres

Both the contrabass and double bass find their place in a wide range of musical genres. In classical music, the double bass is an indispensable part of the orchestra, providing the essential bassline and anchoring the ensemble. It is also featured in chamber music, solo performances, and concertos.

In jazz, the double bass is a staple of the rhythm section, along with the drums and piano. Jazz bassists often employ techniques such as walking basslines, improvisation, and syncopated rhythms to create a dynamic and interactive foundation for the music.

Furthermore, the double bass is widely used in various popular music genres, including rock, blues, country, and folk. It provides a deep, resonant tone that adds richness and depth to the overall sound.


The contrabass and double bass, while often used interchangeably, have their own distinct characteristics and variations. The double bass, as the most common type of contrabass, is a versatile instrument with a rich history and a wide range of applications in different musical genres.

Whether you encounter the contrabass or the double bass in orchestral performances, jazz clubs, or popular music recordings, their deep, resonant sound and unique playing techniques are sure to captivate and enhance the musical experience.

Notable Players and Famous Works

Throughout history, numerous acclaimed musicians have showcased the beauty and versatility of the contrabass and double bass. Their contributions have left an indelible mark on the world of music.

One of the most renowned double bassists is Giovanni Bottesini (1821-1889), an Italian composer and virtuoso player. Bottesini’s compositions for the double bass, such as his Concerto No. 2 in B minor, have become staples in the repertoire. His technical prowess and melodic sensibility elevated the status of the double bass as a solo instrument.

Another prominent figure in the double bass world is Gary Karr, an American double bassist known for his expressive playing and dedication to expanding the instrument’s repertoire. Karr’s performances and recordings have showcased the double bass’s versatility across various genres, from classical to jazz.

In the jazz realm, Charles Mingus (1922-1979) stands out as a pioneering bassist, composer, and bandleader. His innovative approach to bass playing, characterized by complex harmonies and rhythmic intensity, revolutionized the role of the bass in jazz. Mingus’s compositions, such as “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” and “Haitian Fight Song,” have become jazz standards.

When it comes to the contrabassoon, one notable player is Lewis Lipnick, who served as the principal contrabassoonist of the National Symphony Orchestra in the United States. His virtuosic performances and dedication to expanding the contrabassoon’s repertoire have contributed to its recognition as a solo instrument.

Continued Evolution and Exploration

The contrabass and double bass continue to evolve and inspire musicians to push boundaries and explore new possibilities. Contemporary composers are increasingly incorporating the double bass and contrabass into their compositions, creating innovative sounds and textures.

Moreover, advancements in technology have expanded the sonic capabilities of these instruments. Electric double basses, for example, offer players the ability to experiment with amplified sound and effects, opening up new avenues for creative expression in various genres.

Final Thoughts

The contrabass and double bass, although often used interchangeably, have their own unique characteristics, repertoire, and notable players. Whether you appreciate the deep resonance of the double bass in a symphony orchestra or the rhythmic groove of the bass in a jazz ensemble, these instruments play an integral role in shaping the musical landscape.


Whether you’re a fan of classical symphonies, jazz ensembles, or popular music, the contrabass or double bass will continue to captivate listeners with its powerful and soulful sound. Its versatility and historical significance make it an instrument worth exploring and appreciating for its unique qualities.

oboe vs clarinet

goblincore vs cottagecore