Contrabass/Double bass range

• Aug 25, 2016 - 21:27

Anything below an E1 is marked in red, as if it's out of range. It's not. The instrument should go down to a C. Music that calls for this is very common, and most players have an extension. If they don't have an extension, they have a five string bass.

By very common, I mean you need to to play standard orchestral repertoire - Beethoven, Wagner, Prokofiev, and many others call for it.

So, it should be yellow, not red.

It might actually be better to allow it to go down to a B, as Pines of Rome calls for it and a few others ask for it, and those extensions exist, though they are much less common.


The range settings for the contrabass are based upon the standard orchestral instrument, which is a four-string viol with the bottom string tuned to E-1. If you are writing a part which requires those lower notes, the score (and part) should have either a text note at the beginning, or a 'Performance Note' mention in the front-matter for the edition, specifying that a low-C extension, five-string viol, or a scordatura tuning is required.

If the colouring of those notes bothers you while you are working on your score, you can modify the range of the instrument by right-clicking on the staff, selecting 'Staff Properties', and then changing the usable range to suit your needs.

The extensions you refer to might be in common use among some professional orchestra players, probably more so for jazz players, but they are definitely not standard enough to be worth changing the defaults in MuseScore, in my opinion. The vast majority of bassists in the world do *not* have any such extension, and most composers would be well advised to avoid using those notes unless they know for an absoilute fact that all musicians who will ever play their scores will have that extension. Those few composers who have the luxury of knowing this for a fact can simply change the range in their Staff Properties, or just turn off the warnings completely. But it would be doing a disservice to most composers to let them be fooled into thinking a low "C" is playable by most bassists.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

It's much more common in orchestral bassists - you can get away with not having it in jazz, but the repertoire absolutely demands one in orchestra, whether you are a professional or not.


University audition

How exactly are you supposed to play orchestral music when you can't play Beethoven? Wagner? Mahler? And not a single one of them bother to note that an extension is required, because it is expected.

Youth orchestras and high schoolers probably won't have it, which is why I said it should be yellow.

Wiki- Throughout classical repertoire, there are notes that fall below the range of a standard double bass. Notes below low E appear regularly in the double bass parts found in later arrangements and interpretations of Baroque music. In the Classical era, the double bass typically doubled the cello part an octave below, occasionally requiring descent to C below the E of the four-string double bass. In the Romantic era and the 20th century, composers such as Wagner, Mahler, Busoni and Prokofiev also requested notes below the low E.

In reply to by Laurelin

You can argue abiut what the "repetoire demands", but the simple fact is that only a minority of basses in the world - probably a *very* small minority, percentage-wise - are outfitted with such an extension. Those composers who know they are writing for only people who have this extension are welcome to make the change themselves as I said, but composers with that type of experience mostly don't need these warnings in the first place. Beginner composers - the people for whom these warnings are mostly intended - should not be encouraged to think of these as a valid note for the bass, because under very many normal circumstances, they aren't.

The same is true of other instruments where some minority of instruments are outfitted specially to allow notes not otherwise possible. Experienced composers - the folks who don't need to rely on MuseScore's warnings to know what is playable - know what these instruments are and how likely it is that their performers will have one. But beginning composers - the folks who rely on MuseScore's wanrings much more than expwerienced composers do - should not be encouraged to think they can write these notes without knowing for sure their players can play them.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

  1. Why should one accept your criteria for determining the range: "a majority of bassists"? (And where is the data?)
    Will composers be denied tools if it is determined that "a mority" of players and listeners don't like atonal music?
    Let's have a "constitutional democracy" where majority rule is balanced by rules. Rather than me add to the more or less anonymous bloggers here and just tell you the range is lower than E, let me add to the list of authorities we should look to:
Rimsky's orchestration text!:

  1. Someone suggested the range can be changed in "Staff Properties" Please tell me if that is possible in Finale 27. Here's what I found:

Keep it in mind that not all bassists have a C-extention or low B-string. You know you can actually change the ranges right?

Yikes! I know this is a while back, but as a bassist myself (high school). Even half of our school instruments have it down to the low B. When I played at Jones hall with the Houston Symphony, EVERY bassist had it. Most of my friends have it on their personal bass (not me for cost reasons). Bass extensions are extremely common. It's really common in orchestral music to find it. Take Mahler 2 for example.
I think this issue has been fixed though :P. So YES this was a good fix.

In reply to by Jojo-Schmitz

To me this shows the limitation of our amateur vs professional distinction. As with a few other cases (eg, low note on flute or baritone saxophone), it has nothing to do with skill - it's just a difference in design of the instrument. Really we should have a third category to reflect this, so we could have threw colors to flag notes.

Anyhow. Among amateur and professional jazz bassists I know - several dozen at least - extensions are quite uncommon, probably no more than 10% of pros use them. But also among the amateur classical musicians I know- also quite a few / they are not very common either. And of course every orchestration text will tell you not to go below E. So I would strongly recommend against changing the amateur range. If the range scheme is to have any value at all, people do need to be informed that notes below E may not be playable.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

I agree with you Marc. As to needing a third category? I'm not sure that is really necessary.

I believe that in the case of the Bari Sax and Double Bass and instruments that have different designs, the professional vs amateur should show the distinction between instruments' designs. For example, nearly every Bari Sax is now made with a low A key, but many amateurs play older instruments that do not have one, so this should be indicated by the difference in amateur and professional ranges. This will indicate to the new music writer that some people will not be able to play the note and perhaps they will ask themselves why is it different and should I really write the note.

In reply to by mike320

I believe that in the case of the Bari Sax and Double Bass and instruments that have different designs, the professional vs amateur should show the distinction between instruments' designs.

I disagree. As you say, most new baris contain the low A...but that includes student models too. The problem is that an amateur bari player who might have a low A would be able to play low A just fine, yet still should not be expected to be able to play the altissimo register (which is legitimately only covered by pro range).

I see two solutions: as Marc says Have a third category to reflect this, or as Jojo says add instruments, e.g. "Double Bass (w. Bass Extension)" or "Contrabass (5 Strings)" or Bari with(out) low A.

In reply to by ericfontainejazz

To me, the main point of a third category would be try to head off future questions like this about other instruments. Maybe all we really "need" is to reword the existing categories. Something more like "safe range" and "extended range". As I have pointed out before, these range indications are really intended for people who *don't* understand the issues involved, and more categories might just confuse them further. Let them know what notes they can write that *anyone* can play, and which notes they can write that may or may not be playable. If they are sufficiently curious they can always then look up for themselves what the issues with the extended range might be and decide for themselves if they want to write those notes or not. Hmm, we could even even add a comment field to the instrument definition that gives a one-sentence explanation of *why* the notes might not be safe to write.

The more I think about it, the more I think that's the way to go. Rename the categories (at least in the UI, but maybe in the XML file as well, keeping the old names as synonyms for compatibility). Add a comment field where we could write things like "Notes below E possible on instruments with an extension" (for bass), or "High F# possible on instruments with the appropriate key; notes above that possible using advanced techniques" (for tenor saxophone), etc. The comment could be displayed in the staff properties.

Brainstorming further, this info could be presented in the instrument list as well, along with opportunity to edit those values right then and there when creating the score. While we're at it, we could include a way to change the default clef, maybe even a button to press to play a sound sample (an occasional request), etc.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

First of all, I think changing professional to extended range is an excellent idea. It describes the notes much better. I know amateurs who can play trumpet notes higher than the professional range included in MuseScore. (I'm not asking the range to be changed).


A way to change the definition of an instrument in the instrument dialog is an excellent idea. It would help with situations such as [| "Only one Bagpipe (Key D)?" ]

I''m currently transcribing a classical piece from the 1940's, written by an American that has a G Bass Flute (which I'm not familiar with) an F Alto Saxophone (which I've never heard of before) a C Bass Clef Bari Sax (also never heard of it before but I have played Tuba music on a Bari Sax) and Bb Bass Clarinet written in Bass Clef (which I've seen many times). I had to manually define each of these instruments and I wouldn't expect any but the bass clarinet to be added.

My ideal situation for editing the definition of an instrument would be to show 2 staffs, 1 in concert pitch and 1 in transposed pitch. The user would change (or simply select) the note for the bottom of the range in the concert pitch staff, then click the bottom note in the transposed staff. The user would then do something similar for the top of the range. There would of course need to be error checking to make sure both ends are transposed the same way. I'm not sure how to implement that.

At any point the user would be able to change either or both staves' clefs to indicate how the note plays and is written. MuseScore would then do its calculation to change the offset both by octave and smaller transposition. You can allow the user to change the offset in the current manor and the notes would be changed on the transposed staff automatically. There would be a check box to identify the instrument as a stringed instrument and give the user the option of defining the strings and frets. This would help with the large number of variations in the urdu and mandolin family of instruments among others.

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