Bass (instrument)

A bass (/ˈbs/ BAYSS) musical instrument produces tones in the low-pitched range C4- C2.[1] Basses belong to different families of instruments and can cover a wide range of musical roles. Since producing low pitches usually requires a long air column or string, the string and wind bass instruments are usually the largest instruments in their families or instrument classes.

As seen in the musical instrument classification article, categorizing instruments can be difficult. For example, some instruments fall into more than one category. The cello is considered a tenor instrument in some orchestral settings, but in a string quartet it is the bass instrument.

Examples grouped by general form and playing technique include:

  • Double bass from the viol or violin family (usually the instrument referred to as a "bass" in European classical music and jazz. Sometimes called a "string bass" to differentiate it from a "brass bass" or "bass horn", or an "upright bass" to differentiate it from a "bass guitar"). It was first developed in 16th century Europe.[2]
  • Bass guitar and acoustic bass guitar, instruments shaped, constructed and held (or worn) like guitars, that play in the bass range. The electric bass guitar is usually the instrument referred to as a "bass" in pop and rock music. The electric bass guitar was first developed by Leo Fender in 1951 and quickly replaced the more unwieldy double bass among non-classical musicians.[3]
  • A bass horn, such as a tuba, serpent, and sousaphone from the wind family and low-tuned versions of specific types of brass and woodwind instruments, such as bassoon, bass clarinet, bass trombone and bass saxophone, etc. (less common usage). The serpent was invented around the end of the 15th century, with lower instruments, such as the bass-tuba appearing over subsequent centuries.[4]
  • Keyboard bass, a keyboard alternative to the bass guitar or double bass (e.g. the Fender Rhodes piano bass in the 1960s or 13-note MIDI keyboard controllers in the 2000s). This instrument peaked in popularity during the late 1970s and early 1980s, being particularly associated with the synth pop genre.[5]
  • Washtub bass, a simple folk instrument. Also known as a "gutbucket", it is generally believed to have derived from the African ground bow.[6]

A musician playing one of these instruments is often known as a bassist. Other more specific terms such as 'bass guitarist', 'double bassist', 'bass player', etc. may also be used.

Further reading

  • Media related to Bass instruments at Wikimedia Commons
  • Apel, Willi (2000) [1969]. Harvard Dictionary of Music (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-37501-7. Retrieved 12 February 2011.


  1. Walker, James S.; Don, Gary (2013). Mathematics and Music: Composition, Perception, and Performance. Boca Raton, London and New York: CRC Press. p. 35. ISBN 978-1-4822-0850-4.
  2. Nardolillo, Jo (2014). All Things Strings: An Illustrated Dictionary. Lanham, MA: Scarecrow Press. p. 35. ISBN 978-0-8108-8444-1.
  3. Davis, John S. (2012). Historical Dictionary of Jazz. Lanham, MA, Toronto, Plymouth, UK: Scarecrow Press. p. 105. ISBN 978-0-8108-7898-3.
  4. Bevan, Clifford (1997). "The Low Brass". In Herbert, Trevor; Wallace, John; Cross, Jonathan (eds.). The Cambridge Companion to Brass Instruments. Cambridge, UK and New York: Cambridge University Press. pp. 143–148. ISBN 978-0-521-56522-6.
  5. Drabløs, Per Elias (2016) [2015]. The Quest for the Melodic Electric Bass: From Jamerson to Spenner. London and New York: Routledge. pp. 74–75. ISBN 978-1-317-01837-7.
  6. Evans, David (1983). "Afro-American One-Stringed Instruments". In Ferris, William R. (ed.). Afro-American Folk Art and Crafts. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi. p. 181. ISBN 978-1-61703-343-8.
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