double bass

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double bass

double bass, bowed stringed musical instrument, the contrabass of the modern orchestral string section. It originated as a double-bass viol, an instrument described as early as 1566. A true double-bass violin appeared during the 18th cent. but was rejected as unwieldy and of poor tonal quality. The present double bass is tuned in fourths and usually has a flat back and sloping shoulders but has never attained a definitive form. The bow, the last to give up its convex shape, was long held palm upward like the viol bow, but the violin style is now customary. Indispensable in the orchestra, it also has a place in the dance band and jazz.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Double Bass


(contrabass), a bowed stringed instrument. It is the largest (nearly 2 m long) and lowest-pitched instrument in the string family. It has four strings tuned in fourths and sounds an octave lower than it is notated. There are also three- and five-string double basses. The player normally stands. Primarily an orchestral and ensemble instrument, the double bass is sometimes played as a solo instrument (outstanding virtuosos include G. Bottesini, Italy, 19th century; S. Koussevitzky, Russia, 20th century; and F. Gertovich, USSR).

The variety of a musical instrument that plays in the lowest registers is also known as a contrabass—for example, the contrabass trombone, contrabass tuba, and contrabass balalaika.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

double bass

1. a stringed instrument, the largest and lowest member of the violin family. Range: almost three octaves upwards from E in the space between the fourth and fifth leger lines below the bass staff. It is normally bowed in classical music, but it is very common in a jazz or dance band, where it is practically always played pizzicato
2. of or relating to an instrument whose pitch lies below that regarded as the bass; contrabass
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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The context heavily suggests reference to the double bass, about which American Heritage Dictionary IV observes, in part, "The largest bowed stringed instrument in the modern orchestra, also used frequently in jazz ensembles, especially played pizzicato..."
The Amsterdam District Court has agreed to block publication of 'The Magic Double Bass' by Dmitry Yemets.
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The sonic textures are evocative: Sounds from the past (a churchy harmonium, a bowed double bass, a florid, cascading harp) surge and fade amid burbling electro-beats, taped and looped vocals, and computer-manipulated guitar and keyboard riffs.