The "French" or "overhand" bow is similar in shape and implementation to the bow used on the other members of the orchestral string instrument family, while the "German" or "Butler" bow is typically broader and shorter, and is held in a "hand shake" or "hacksaw" position. These two bows provide different ways of moving the arm and distributing force and weight on the strings.
Proponents of the French bow argue that it is more maneuverable, due to the angle at which the player holds the bow. Advocates of the German bow claim that it allows the player to apply more arm weight on the strings. The differences between the two, however, are minute for a proficient player, and modern players in major orchestras use both bows.
The German bow sometimes called the Butler bow is the older of the two designs. The design of the bow and the manner of holding it descend from the older viol instrument family. With older viols, before frogs had screw threads to tighten the bow, players held the bow with two fingers between the stick and the hair to maintain tension of the hair.
Compared to the French bow, the German bow has a taller frog, and the player holds it with the palm angled upwards, as with the upright members of the viol family. When held in the traditionally correct manner, the thumb applies the necessary power to generate the desired sound. The index finger meets the bow at the point where the frog meets the stick. The index finger also applies an upward torque to the frog when tilting the bow.
The little finger or "pinky" supports the frog from underneath, while the ring finger and middle finger rest in the space between the hair and the shaft. The French bow was not widely popular until its adoption by 19th-century virtuoso Giovanni Bottesini. This style is more similar to the traditional bows of the smaller string family instruments. It is held as if the hand is resting by the side of the performer with the palm facing toward the bass.
The thumb rests on the shaft of the bow, next to the frog while the other fingers drape on the other side of the bow. In general, a bass bow is shorter and heavier than a cello bow. Pernambuco , also known as Brazilwood, is regarded as an excellent quality stick material, but due to its scarcity and expense, other materials are increasingly being used. Inexpensive student bows may be constructed of solid fiberglass , which makes the bow much lighter than a wooden bow even too light to produce a good tone, in some cases.
Student bows may also be made of the less valuable varieties of brazilwood. Snakewood and carbon fiber are also used in bows of a variety of different qualities. The frog of the double bass bow is usually made out of ebony , although snakewood and buffalo horn are used by some luthiers.
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The frog is movable, as it can be tightened or loosened with a knob like all violin family bows. The bow is loosened at the end of a practice session or performance. The bow is tightened before playing, until it reaches a tautness that is preferred by the player. The frog on a quality bow is decorated with mother of pearl inlay. Bows have a leather wrapping on the wooden part of the bow near the frog.
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Along with the leather wrapping, there is also a wire wrapping, made of gold [ citation needed ] or silver in quality bows. The hair is usually horsehair. Part of the regular maintenance of a bow is having the bow "rehaired" by a luthier with fresh horsehair and having the leather and wire wrapping replaced. The double bass bow is strung with either white or black horsehair, or a combination of the two known as "salt and pepper" , as opposed to the customary white horsehair used on the bows of other string instruments. Some bassists argue that the slightly rougher black hair "grabs" the heavier, lower strings better.
Synthetic hair does not have the tiny "barbs" that real horsehair has, so it does not "grip" the string well or take rosin well.
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String players apply rosin to the bow hair so it "grips" the string and makes it vibrate. Double bass rosin is generally softer and stickier than violin rosin to allow the hair to grab the thicker strings better, but players use a wide variety of rosins that vary from quite hard like violin rosin to quite soft, depending on the weather, the humidity, and the preference of the player. The amount used generally depends on the type of music being performed as well as the personal preferences of the player.
Bassists may apply more rosin in works for large orchestra e. Other brands, such as Carlsson or Nyman Harts double bass rosin, are harder and less prone to melting. Owing to their relatively small diameters, the strings themselves do not move much air and therefore cannot produce much sound on their own. The vibrational energy of the strings must somehow be transferred to the surrounding air. To do this, the strings vibrate the bridge and this in turn vibrates the top surface.
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Very small amplitude but relatively large force variations due to the cyclically varying tension in the vibrating string at the bridge are transformed to larger amplitude ones by combination of bridge and body of the bass. The bridge transforms the high force, small amplitude vibrations to lower force higher amplitude vibrations on the top of the bass body.
The top is connected to the back by means of a sound post. So the back vibrates also. Both the front and back transmit the vibrations to the air and act to match the impedance of the vibrating string to the acoustic impedance of the air. This is within about an octave above the lowest frequency that the average human ear can perceive as a distinctive pitch. The top of the instrument's fingerboard range is typically near D 5 , two octaves and a fifth above the open pitch of the G string G 2 , as shown in the range illustration found at the head of this article. Playing beyond the end of the fingerboard can be accomplished by pulling the string slightly to the side.
Double bass symphony parts sometimes indicate that the performer should play harmonics also called flageolet tones , in which the bassist lightly touches the string—without pressing it onto the fingerboard in the usual fashion—in the location of a note and then plucks or bows the note. Bowed harmonics are used in contemporary music for their "glassy" sound. Both natural harmonics and artificial harmonics , where the thumb stops the note and the octave or other harmonic is activated by lightly touching the string at the relative node point, extend the instrument's range considerably.
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Natural and artificial harmonics are used in plenty of virtuoso concertos for the double bass. Orchestral parts from the standard Classical repertoire rarely demand the double bass exceed a two-octave and a minor third range, from E 1 to G 3 , with occasional A 3 s appearing in the standard repertoire an exception to this rule is Orff's Carmina Burana , which calls for three octaves and a perfect fourth.
The upper limit of this range is extended a great deal for 20th- and 21st-century orchestral parts e.
The upper range a virtuoso solo player can achieve using natural and artificial harmonics is hard to define, as it depends on the skill of the particular player. The high harmonic in the range illustration found at the head of this article may be taken as representative rather than normative. Five-string instruments have an additional string, typically tuned to a low B below the E string B 0. On rare occasions, a higher string is added instead, tuned to the C above the G string C 3.
Four-string instruments may feature the C extension extending the range of the E string downwards to C 1 sometimes B 0. Traditionally, the double bass is a transposing instrument. Since much of the double bass's range lies below the standard bass clef , it is notated an octave higher than it sounds to avoid having to use excessive ledger lines below the staff.
Thus, when double bass players and cellists are playing from a combined bass-cello part, as used in many Mozart and Haydn symphonies, they will play in octaves, with the basses one octave below the cellos.
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This transposition applies even when bass players are reading the tenor and treble clef which are used in solo playing and some orchestral parts. The tenor clef is also used by composers for cello and low brass parts. The use of tenor or treble clef avoids excessive ledger lines above the staff when notating the instrument's upper range.
Other notation traditions exist. Italian solo music is typically written at the sounding pitch, and the "old" German method sounded an octave below where notation except in the treble clef, where the music was written at pitch. The double bass is generally tuned in fourths , in contrast to other members of the orchestral string family , which are tuned in fifths for example, the violin's four strings are, from lowest-pitched to highest-pitched: G-D-A-E. The standard tuning lowest-pitched to highest-pitched for bass is E—A—D—G, starting from E below second low C concert pitch.
This is the same as the standard tuning of a bass guitar and is one octave lower than the four lowest-pitched strings of standard guitar tuning. Prior to the 19th-century, many double basses had only three strings; "Giovanni Bottesini — favored the three-stringed instrument popular in Italy at the time",  because "the three-stringed instrument [was viewed as] being more sonorous". Throughout classical repertoire, there are notes that fall below the range of a standard double bass. Notes below low E appear regularly in the double bass parts found in later arrangements and interpretations of Baroque music.
In the Classical era, the double bass typically doubled the cello part an octave below, occasionally requiring descent to C below the E of the four-string double bass. In the Romantic era and the 20th century, composers such as Wagner , Mahler , Busoni and Prokofiev also requested notes below the low E. There are several methods for making these notes available to the player. Players with standard double basses E—A—D—G may play the notes below "E" an octave higher or if this sounds awkward, the entire passage may be transposed up an octave.
The player may tune the low E string down to the lowest note required in the piece: D or C. Four-string basses may be fitted with a "low-C extension" see below. Or the player may employ a five-string instrument, with the additional lower string tuned to C, or more commonly in modern times B, three octaves and a semitone below middle C.
Several major European orchestras use basses with a fifth string. In Britain, the US and Canada, most professional orchestral players use four-string double basses with a C extension. This is an extra section of fingerboard mounted on the head of the bass. It extends the fingerboard under the lowest string and gives an additional four semitones of downward range.
The lowest string is typically tuned down to C 1 , an octave below the lowest note on the cello. More rarely this string may be tuned to a low B 0 , as a few works in the orchestral repertoire call for such a B, such as Respighi 's The Pines of Rome.