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The double bass

A Minute with Miles
Mary Noble Ours
SC Public Radio

The double bass is the one member of the modern violin family whose roots are in the viola da gamba, or viol family. The next time you see a double bass, notice that its back is flat, like a viol’s, not arched, like a violin’s, and it has the steeply-sloped shoulders of a viol.

Even its name comes from the viol family: its immediate predecessor was the double-bass viol, the largest of the viols. And the double bass is still sometimes called the bass viol, although it’s known by other names, too, including simply the “bass,” which is how musicians usually refer to it, as well as string bass, contrabass, stand-up bass, bass fiddle, and even bull fiddle. Contra, and double, I should point out, are both terms that when applied to an instrument mean “lower octave.” Historically, the function of the double bass was often to play the same notes as the cello, but an octave lower.

A Minute with Miles is a production of South Carolina Public Radio, made possible by the J.M. Smith Corporation.

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Miles Hoffman is the founder and violist of the American Chamber Players, with whom he regularly tours the United States, and the Virginia I. Norman Distinguished Visiting Professor of Chamber Music at the Schwob School of Music, in Columbus, Georgia. He has appeared as viola soloist with orchestras across the country, and his solo performances on YouTube have received well over 700,000 views.