The string bass (pronounced like base) is the largest member of the string family. Other names for this instrument include the bass viol, the stand-up bass or frequently simply the bass. Like the other string instruments, sound is produced by drawing a bow across the strings or by plucking the strings. Since the bass is the largest of the string instruments, it is also the lowest.
A small amount of maintenance and cleaning of the bass is needed. It is important to clean the instrument with a soft rag and occasionally change the strings. The most time consuming activity other than playing the instrument is tuning. The bass should be tuned every day or every time it is taken out of the case. In the beginning, teachers tune the string instruments for each student. Eventually, students will learn to tune their own instrument.
Like other string instruments the bass comes in just two pieces, the instrument and the bow. The bow uses horsehair or a synthetic material to vibrate the strings as it is drawn over the instrument. The bow should be tightened to just the right tension before it is used and loosened before it is put away.
The string bass is played in an upright position with the left hand resting on the back of the neck and the right either plucks the strings or holds the bow. The correct hand position for both hands as well as posture and arm positions are critical at the beginning stages. Beginners should not practice extensively without guidance from a teacher. Developing bad habits at the beginning stages may be very difficult to break.
The bass is a very old instrument. It has been basically unchanged for hundreds of years. A popular new version of the string bass is the electric bass guitar. A bass guitar is tuned the same and has a similar sound to a plucked string bass. The electric guitar sound is amplified electronically rather than from the body of the instrument. Many players of the string bass also double on the electric bass for some occasions.
The string bass comes in various sizes. The correct size for each student depends on the overall size of the student. Generally speaking, by the time students reach 8th or 9th grade, most will require a 3/4 size instrument which is also used by most adults. Before that age, students should really be measured by a music teacher to determine the correct instrument. Its also important to know that the sizes of 1/2 or 3/4 are not meant to be literal measurements. A 1/2 size bass isnt half the length of a full size instrument. These fractions are used as arbitrary labels for smaller instruments.
The bass is not as popular as a violin for beginners. This means that a good bass player will always be a very valuable member of the orchestra since the number of bass players is so small. However, the bass is still used in virtually all styles of music throughout the world. It is well known for its use in symphony orchestras as well as rock and roll, country and bluegrass bands and other popular groups. Most jazz groups include a string bass or at the very least an electric bass guitar.
There are several good choices for purchasing a beginning string bass. A good beginning bass from Giardinelli includes the Engelhardt EM3 1/4 Junior Bass. For larger students the Engelhardt EM3 3/4 Bass is a good student bass. Since basses are more expensive than most instruments, most schools have basses available to lend to students. Before you buy, it would be worth asking your orchestra director if school basses are available. Purchasing a used bass can be a good option if it is purchased with caution. Older basses or basses that have not been well maintained can easily be in need of repair. A lack of humidity, temperature changes or just time can cause damage to the instrument. Small cracks in the wood develop which can be very costly to repair. Buying a used instrument is only recommended if you know an advanced violinist or orchestra teacher who can test a used instrument before you buy.