Instrument Exploration: Double Bass

CN Instrument Thumbnails
Samuele Schirò/Pixabay

Age Range: Elementary

Learning Objective: Students will learn to identify the double bass by sight and sound.

Free Download: Printable Lesson Plan: Double Bass

ENGAGE students

EXPLAIN. Show students this picture of the double bass. “The double bass (also called the string bass, or just bass) has the same basic shape as the violin, viola, and cello, it is just a lot bigger. It's about six feet tall, and bass players need to stand or sit on a special stool to play it. Because it's so big, it can make really low sounds. Bigger instruments make lower sounds.”

EXPLORE sounds

WATCH. Watch and listen to the beginning of this movement from Gustav Mahler's first symphony. “About fourteen seconds in, you will see and hear the double bass play a solo. It is a sort of sad and mysterious version of the folk song Frère Jacques (English translation: Are You Sleeping, Brother John?)

LISTEN. “When the composer Camille Saint-Saens decided to write a piece of music called ‘The Elephant,’ he chose the double bass to capture the spirit of that big and playful animal. Listen to the music while you look at some cute elephant pictures.” Option to have students stand and move like elephants - they can clasp they hands and sway their arms to create a trunk.

WATCH. “Like the other members of the string family, the strings of the double bass can be bowed or plucked. When the strings are plucked, it's called pizzicato. The double bass is often used in jazz music. In jazz, the pizzicato double bass sound is very common. Here is a well-known jazz song, ‘On the Sunny Side of the Street,’ played and sung by Esperanza Spalding and her band!” (Look out for Spalding’s bass solo at the 2:49 mark!)

EXTEND learning

WATCH. Here is one more example of pizzicato double bass – look/listen out for drumming on the bass, and for one player to use a bow partway through!

REFLECT. Write down or tell someone three things you learned about the double bass.

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This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.

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