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Do you want to play a low string instrument but can’t choose one? Consider having the double bass vs. cello explained to you.
When you know more about each instrument, you may find you like one more than the other. Or you can at least figure out which instrument will better support your musical goals.
The Main Differences Between Double Basses vs Cellos
The main differences between double basses and cellos are:
- Double basses have a low bass range, whereas cellos have a tenor range
- Double basses sound an octave lower than written, whereas cellos sound exactly as written
- Double basses are part of jazz bands, whereas cellos are part of string quartets
- Double bass strings are tuned a fourth apart, whereas cello strings are tuned a fifth apart
- Double bass players stand or use a stool, whereas cello players sit
Here’s why these differences are important to understand for players and listeners.
The most significant difference between the double bass and cello is the range. A lot of this comes from the difference in size since the bass is much bigger than the cello.
Cellos play from two octaves below middle C (C2) to two octaves above middle C (C6). However, the double bass’s range is from the E below the cello’s low C (E1) to sounding middle C (written one octave higher).
Because of the range, the double bass exclusively uses bass clef. While the cello primarily uses the same clef, some higher parts may use tenor or even treble clef.
Speaking of the range, the cello is a non-transposing instrument. That means the notes you see on a page of cello music are the same as the notes you hear.
However, the double bass is a transposing instrument because it sounds an octave lower than written. You could look at cello and double bass music, and the parts may look quite similar.
The ranges and transpositions of the instruments mean that they won’t sound the same. So be sure you have the correct part in front of you when playing either instrument.
Another thing that separates the double bass from the cello is the ensembles they’re in. Both instruments are standard members of the symphony orchestra.
However, you may find the double bass in a jazz band as well as smaller jazz combos. I’ve also played in wind ensembles that use a double bass to help fill out the lower section of the group.
On the other hand, the cello is a standard part of the string quartet, along with a viola and two violins. Cellos are also members of chamber orchestras, and they can play the continuo part in Baroque music.
Like the violin and viola, the cello’s strings are each a fifth apart. The cello strings play the notes C, G, D, and A when they’re open.
However, the double bass strings are all a fourth apart, and they have different open pitches. When you play open strings on a double bass, you’ll hear the notes E, A, D, and G.
This may not sound like a huge deal, but it can affect your playing technique. Because the bass is so big, it’s nice to have the strings at smaller intervals because you don’t have to stretch your left hand as much.
If you go to an orchestra concert, you can often differentiate the double basses and cellos by how the players position themselves. Cellists almost always sit on regular chairs like much of the orchestra.
Double bassists may choose to stand or use a slightly higher stool than the average chair. That way, they can be comfortable and do what allows them to play their instrument well.
Occasionally, you may see a cellist stand, but it’s very rare. Meanwhile, bassists have more choice regarding how they play the bass alone or in a group.
Benefits Of Playing The Double Bass
If you want to learn more about the double bass, you should consider the specific benefits it offers players. Then, you can decide if you want to play the largest string instrument in the orchestra.
Here are some of the best advantages of choosing the double bass over the cello.
Spans Multiple Genres
I don’t know about you, but I like a lot of types of music. Classical music is great, but it’s fun to be able to play something a bit jazzier or with a pop or rock feel.
If you play the double bass, you’ll have more opportunities to play music outside of the classical tradition. The bass is a member of many jazz groups.
Plus, you can learn to play the electric bass, which has the same range and string layout. Then, you’ll be able to join or form a rock or pop group.
Going back to the classical double bass specifically, it’s not as competitive as the cello. I’ve played in a few orchestras, and the cello section usually has about six to eight players.
However, the same groups only had three to six bass players. So if you want to stand out as a musician, the double bass may be the way to do that.
You won’t have to worry about fighting for a spot in a community or school orchestra. In some cases, people may come to you and ask you to play because they don’t have a bassist.
Sit Or Stand
Sometimes, you may feel more comfortable standing to play your instrument. But if you’ve been on your feet, you can also take a break when you play the double bass.
Having that flexibility is super nice, so you can make sure you don’t hurt yourself as you practice. Whether you want to sit or stand, playing the double bass will work out.
And you can provide your own stool for rehearsals, so you can choose a stool you love. Then, you don’t have to deal with a cheap, uncomfortable chair.
Best Double Basses
If you’re leaning towards playing the double bass, you should compare a few models. I looked for the more affordable options on the market, and I stuck with student-level basses.
In my search, I made sure to find basses of different sizes. That way, you can choose a model that meets your needs.
Here are some of the models I found.
Cecilio CDB Upright Bass
The Cecilio CDB Upright Bass is an excellent option for beginners on a tight budget. Oak and ebony make up the body and fittings, so you can get a decent sound as you start learning.
This model is a 4/4 double bass, so it’s best for adults or taller teenagers. If you’re on the shorter side, you may find it hard to reach between certain notes on the fingerboard.
You should get this model if you want something to practice at home or alone. However, the white color might keep you from being able to play it in an orchestra.
- Easy to play
- Good for beginners
- Decent sound
- Looks nice
- Not a standard color
Another excellent instrument to check out is the Strobel MB-80. This double bass uses spruce and maple to make up the body to get a rich sound.
Meanwhile, the ebony fingerboard, tailpiece, and fittings help the instrument look and sound great. Plus, you can choose from sizes as small as 1/8 and as large as 4/4.
This model is great for schools that need a double bass. But individual students can also benefit from having the bass to use for practice at home.
- Rich sound
- Great materials
- Looks good
- Different sizes
- Suitable for students
- Not on Amazon
- A bit expensive
The Cremona SB-3 is yet another one of the best double basses for beginners. Flamed maple makes up the back and sides of the body, while the top is spruce.
It follows Cremona standards, making it a great choice for students. And it comes in different sizes to help you get the most comfortable instrument.
Ebony fittings make the instrument look good and are easy to use. Unfortunately, you’ll need to pay extra to obtain a double bass bow, so it’s not the cheapest beginner model.
- Easy to play
- Fantastic materials
- Great sound
- Nice for students
- Various sizes
- Doesn’t come with a bow
- Not on Amazon
Benefits Of Playing The Cello
If you find that the double bass is big or you don’t like a lot of its music, the cello might be a better fit. The cello comes with a lot of benefits.
So even if the double bass interests you, it can help to check out the cello. Then, you can figure out which benefits you find more attractive, and you can choose the better instrument for you.
Here are some of the best reasons to play the cello over the double bass.
If you want to stand out in an orchestra or become a soloist, play the cello. While double bassists can have solos, those parts aren’t as common as solo parts for the cello.
When you play the cello, you can play a ton of music from Bach, Brahms, and every composer in between. You can play unaccompanied music, chamber music, or concertos.
While the cello is a low instrument, it can play high. The cello’s tone makes it a great candidate for solo performances, so consider what type of music you want to play and if the cello will be better.
Of course, I can’t ignore the fact that the double bass is massive. I’ve seen many players struggle to carry the bass around, but the cello is easier to manage.
It’s still not as small as the violin or viola, but it’s manageable for many players. That makes it the better choice for kids and shorter adults.
Now, traveling with a cello can be more complicated than traveling with a violin. But it’s not as difficult as taking your double bass on the road or on a plane.
Easier To Learn
Because of its smaller size, the cello is a bit easier for beginners to learn. If you can’t buy a cello, you’ll have an easier time finding one to borrow or rent, while double basses aren’t often available for rent.
You also won’t have to practice stretching your fingers as far to press down the strings. That can make it easier to start playing more technical music.
I’ll admit, though, if you prefer the sound of the bass, you might find it’s easier to learn. The desire to play can do wonders when it comes to motivating you to practice and improve.
If you decide that playing the cello is the right decision, you need to get the best cello for you. I looked for cellos that are great for beginners since odds are you’re new to the instrument if you’re comparing it to the bass.
In my search, I tried to find models that weren’t too expensive. And I looked for cellos that you can get ahold of easily so that you can start learning the instrument sooner.
Here are some of the best cellos I found.
D Z Strad 101
The D Z Strad 101 is an excellent choice for new cello players. It’s easy to get a sound on, so you can start playing and learning as soon as you receive the cello.
This model offers a round, warm sound, which is great for motivating you to practice as a beginner. Spruce and maple help offer that resonance, and the ebony fittings look good and are comfortable to touch and adjust.
You can choose from sizes as small as 1/8 and as large as 4/4, which is great for students of all ages. While it’s not super cheap, it’s also not too expensive.
- Easy to play
- Looks and sounds good
- Nice materials
- Various sizes
- A bit expensive
If you can’t quite afford the D Z Strad, the Cremona SC-130 is worth testing. The model uses solid spruce and maple to help you get a warm sound as you play.
Meanwhile, the ebony fittings look good, and the ebony fingerboard is smooth against your fingers and the strings. The company follows national music education standards to make sure this cello will last a while in the hands of students.
And you can choose from sizes as small as 1/4 or as large as 4/4. That makes it a fantastic model for kids as well as adults looking to learn an instrument.
- Easy to play
- Good for all ages
- Comes in different sizes
- Meets music education standards
- The bridge may not be the right size
The Yamaha AVC5 is an excellent choice, especially for beginners who know they want to play cello for a while. It uses solid spruce and maple, and makers at Yamaha hand-carve those woods to help produce a good instrument.
Makers also hand-apply oil varnish to protect the wood and make the cello look great. Rosewood fittings also make the instrument look and feel good as you play.
Unfortunately, it is a bit more expensive than other beginner cellos. But you can choose any size ranging from 1/4 up to 4/4 to get a comfortable feel.
- Good sound
- Various sizes
- Easy to play
FAQs About The Double Bass vs Cello Explained
Answer: You should consider if one instrument interests you more than the other. If they’re equally appealing, you can look at the type of music you want to play or the role you want to fill in an ensemble.
For example, if you love the bass line, the double bass is great. On the other hand, you may want to play the cello if you like switching things up between the bass line, melody, and inner harmonies.
Answer: In general, the double bass is harder because of its size. The cello is also easier to learn if you’ve learned to play the viola because the strings are the same pitches, just an octave apart.
However, if you prefer the sound of the bass, you may find it’s easier to learn. Having the motivation to practice can make progressing more enjoyable, so it may seem easier.
Answer: You can play both the double bass and the cello, but you should start with one. If you know you want to learn both eventually, I’d start with the cello since it’s smaller and more affordable.
Once you master the basics of the cello, you can look at getting a double bass. Then, you follow the same steps to learn it and be able to switch between instruments.
Answer: You can play cello music on the bass, but you may have to make some alterations. For example, the bass only goes down to an E, while the cello can reach the written C below that.
If the music has a lot of low Cs and Ds, you’ll need to leave those out or play them up an octave. You should also consider that the bass will sound lower, so some pieces may not sound as good on the lower instrument.
Final Note On The Double Bass Vs. Cello Explained
Having the double bass vs. cello explained to you can help you select the right instrument. Then, you’ll know which one will allow you to play more of the music you love.
Be sure to test out both instruments to see if one suits you more. While I may prefer the cello, you might like the double bass, so it’s a very personal decision.
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