The “bass” is the common name for an instrument more formally called double bass, along with such synonyms as bass violin and contrabass. It is the largest and lowest-pitched of the bowed stringed instruments in the modern orchestra ensemble.
The bass is generally associated with the “violin family,” composed of the violin, viola, and violoncello. The violin, viola, and violoncello share much in common in terms of design and construction. All three descend from the viola da braccio, or “viol for the arm.” The bass, however, has its differences from these three. The proportions of the bass – both historical and modern – are quite distinct from the violin and its siblings. Historical basses often had three strings, as opposed to the four strings of the other three.
The bass would therefore seem to be the product of a different evolution. Some aspects of its design and construction are like those of the violin family, while other aspects reveal a possible connection to the viola da gamba, or “viol for the leg.” The viola da gamba and the viola da braccio were important instruments during the Renaissance era, with the viola da gamba being viewed as the more significant. During the early baroque period, the descendents of the viola da braccio took precedence.
Nevertheless, the bass provided a valuable contribution to the orchestra. It first enjoyed popularity among composers during the late baroque and classical periods – when the instrument’s abilities to produce lower notes and a louder sound were increasingly put to use.