If your cello sounds a little fishy, it might be a bass. Terrible puns aside, it can be easy to confuse the two lowest and largest members of the violin family. But are the cello and bass really all that different?
In this article, we’ll break down the difference between a cello and a bass and explain why the bass that’s a member of the violin family is also known as a double bass or upright bass.
cello vs. bass
The cello, whose name is short for violoncello, is a musical instrument that is one of the four members of the violin family (along with the violin, viola, and the other instrument we’ll be discussing, the bass). The cello is the second largest member and is typically played sitting down while holding the instrument between the knees. The cello has a wide range, capable of playing within the range that spans from C2 to A7.
In music, the word bass most generally refers to the lowest possible pitch or range. The name bass is variously applied to instruments or singers capable of hitting the lowest notes or pitches. Some instruments with bass in their name include the bass guitar, bass drum, bass trombone, bass oboe, and bass clarinet.
In this article, we are referring to the bass that is a member of the violin family. This bass is a very large instrument—at around 6 feet in length, it’s even larger than the cello. The bass is so large that it is typically played standing up. The range of the bass spans from B0 to a G4. The cello has a wider range than the bass does, but the bass is capable of notes even lower than those that can be achieved with a cello.
In addition to being referred to as a bass, this instrument also goes by some other names.
double bass vs. cello
In addition to the name bass, the lowest member of the violin family is often referred to as a double bass. In fact, its low range is often said to be the reason behind the name: it is capable of playing one octave lower than the cello, meaning it can “double the bass (lowest note)” of the cello.
upright bass vs. cello
Another common name for the largest member of the violin family is the upright bass. This name relates to the fact that the instrument is so big that both it and its player must remain standing upright as it is played. In contrast, the player of a cello typically remains seated.