- The four strings on the bass are tuned in fourths to the following notes: E, A, D, G
(unlike the violin, viola and cello which are tuned in fifths).
- An electronic tuner, "A 440" tuning fork, or a piano may be used to assist with tuning. Some bassists find it helpful to use a digital tuner with pitch recognition (a needle/meter moves until the note being tuned matches the reference pitch). Visit our Music Store - Rosin & Accessories page for a sampling of tuners.
- The bass is tuned to the following notated pitches (click on the note to hear the pitch):
- The bass is a transposing instrument, meaning the note played sounds an octave below the notated pitch. Although the notated notes above are typically used to tune the bass, the actual pitch of the bass open strings will sound like the following notes: E1, A1, D2 and G2
- Although early basses used wooden pegs like other stringed instruments, most basses today use machine pegs with a geared tuning mechanism to adjust the strings (called tuning machines). If the pitch of the open string sounds lower than the correct pitch, gently turn the tuning key (machine peg) to the right until it reaches the correct pitch. If the pitch of the open string sounds higher than the correct pitch, gently turn the tuning key (machine peg) to the left.
- Some bassists find it helpful to use harmonics when they tune. To tune using natural harmonics, touch each string lightly at the middle point of your string that divides your string in half (halfway between the nut and the bridge), and pull your bow across each string. The resulting pitches will sound one octave above the open strings. Consult your teacher to see if they have a different preference in using harmonics to tune (some bassists prefer using harmonics that divide the string in one-fourth or one-third).
- Some professional bassists use a “C extension” which extends the range of the lowest string’s pitch E1, down to the pitch C1.
- Bass players in European orchestras often play a bass with a fifth string which extends the range of the bass down to the note B1.
- Some bass players use additional tunings (solo tuning, tuning in fifths etc.), varied extensions (such as mechanical levers) and other variations in the number of strings, pitch range, tuning and construction of the bass. It is interesting to note that music scholars have discovered over 50 different different tuning systems have been used throughout the history of the double bass, and composers and bassists continue to experiment with varied tuning systems today (see Siemers, Brian John. The history and development of the double bass. D.M.A., University of Cincinnati, 2001; and Slatford, Rodney, “History of the Double Bass,” The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 5: 585-589. 1980.).
- Visit our Music Store - Rosin & Accessories page for a sampling of tuners. For violin, cello or viola tuning assistance, click here: Violin Tuning, Cello Tuning, Viola Tuning.
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