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A.S.
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   Posted 5/14/2007 8:13 AM (GMT -5)    Quote This PostAlert An Admin About This Post.
A little question for you native speaking englishmen (or americans, australians etc..)

What does "double" in Double Bass come from? I assume there is some kind of historical explanation. But I can't find it.

And why does Finale prefer "Double Bass" instead of "Contrabass" ("Contrabass" is for example the only term used in "Instrumentation and Orchestration" by Alfred Blatter)

Is it connected with musical style? (jazz/classical?)

This would be really interesting to know!

/Albert

(In italian it's "Contrabasso", "Contrafagotto etc, in German "Kontrafagott", "Kontrabaß", in Swedish "Kontrafagott", "Kontrabas" ..... So why the "double"...?)


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Post Edited (Albert Schnelzer) : 5/14/2007 7:27:19 AM (GMT-5)

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Bill Stevens
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   Posted 5/14/2007 8:42 AM (GMT -5)    Quote This PostAlert An Admin About This Post.
There are several different theories on this, including the fact that the bass used to double the cello and that it is about twice the size of a cello.

Bill
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Michel R. E.
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   Posted 5/14/2007 8:48 AM (GMT -5)    Quote This PostAlert An Admin About This Post.
in origin it could also be related to the fact that the contrabass is not actually in the same family as the violin through cello.
The contrabass is in origin the bass of the viol, and as such originates with a dfferent instrument. Notice how its shoulders slope differently from those of its cousins in the string group (as they are not brothers/sisters).


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A.S.
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   Posted 5/14/2007 8:59 AM (GMT -5)    Quote This PostAlert An Admin About This Post.
I just looked at the first page of the score "Veni, Veni, Emmanuel" by contemporary composer James MacMillan. There you can find a "Double Bassoon"(!). Is this common practice as well?

And what is the most common word for string basses in a contemporary score today? "Double Bass" or "Contrabass"?

Albert


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jasako
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   Posted 5/14/2007 10:10 AM (GMT -5)    Quote This PostAlert An Admin About This Post.
QcCowboy said...
in origin it could also be related to the fact that the contrabass is not actually in the same family as the violin through cello.
The contrabass is in origin the bass of the viol, and as such originates with a dfferent instrument. Notice how its shoulders slope differently from those of its cousins in the string group (as they are not brothers/sisters).


This is true: note also that while violins, violas and cellos ('celli?) have a rounded underside (a 'belly') the double bass the flat back of viols. Also the traditional method of holding the bow is underhand like a viol, although overhand bowing is also widely used today.

As to why 'double bass' as opposed to 'contra bass' (why not 'double bassoon' indeed?) perhaps Normal Del Mar in his wonderful book 'The Anatomy of the Orchestra' may have an answer - I must check.


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Peter Thomsen
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   Posted 5/14/2007 10:17 AM (GMT -5)    Quote This PostAlert An Admin About This Post.
Albert Schnelzer said...
...(In italian it's "Contrabasso",...

Actually, it's "Contrabbasso" - with two 'b's.
Yes, that's surprising, I know.
The explanation is that the italians pronounce the word with a strong 'b' sound, and italian words are spelled as they are pronounced.

Peter


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Peter West
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   Posted 5/14/2007 10:17 AM (GMT -5)    Quote This PostAlert An Admin About This Post.
English: Double Bass, Double Bassoon
Italian: Contrabasso, Contrafagotto

Contrabassoon is a bastardised form that is in common use. Contra bass is also used. Grammaticaly similar to words that have a part latin and part greek source.


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A.S.
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   Posted 5/14/2007 10:30 AM (GMT -5)    Quote This PostAlert An Admin About This Post.
Peter Thomsen said...
Actually, it's "Contrabbasso" - with two 'b's.


Of course, I knew that! (just forgot it this time, forgive me!)

jasako said...
(why not 'double bassoon' indeed?)


This is also interesting. MacMillan has written "Contrabassoon" in his handwritten(!) score "The Confession of Isobell Gowdie". This score is also published by Boosey & Hawkes. But the engraver B & H hired for "Veni, Veni" apparently liked "double bassoon" better... Hmm, I wonder if Mr MacMillan is aware of this... :-)


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Zuill
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   Posted 5/14/2007 11:49 AM (GMT -5)    Quote This PostAlert An Admin About This Post.

Interesting article: http://www.earlybass.com/dbsession.htm

Zuill


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Ebony Ivory
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   Posted 5/14/2007 12:55 PM (GMT -5)    Quote This PostAlert An Admin About This Post.
Albert Schnelzer said...
A little question for you native speaking englishmen (or americans, australians etc..)

What does "double" in Double Bass come from? I assume there is some kind of historical explanation. But I can't find it.

And why does Finale prefer "Double Bass" instead of "Contrabass" ("Contrabass" is for example the only term used in "Instrumentation and Orchestration" by Alfred Blatter)

Is it connected with musical style? (jazz/classical?)

This would be really interesting to know!

/Albert

(In italian it's "Contrabasso", "Contrafagotto etc, in German "Kontrafagott", "Kontrabaß", in Swedish "Kontrafagott", "Kontrabas" ..... So why the "double"...?)

"Double" is a widely used English term to indicate an instrument designed an octave lower than than its (non-doubled) counterpart. In Organ terms, it refers to a set of pipes which are literally double the normal length, hence sounding an octave lower. "Contra-", a prefix which literally means "against", is equally widely used, and in many senses, the terms are interchangeable.

Brian


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A.S.
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   Posted 5/14/2007 1:14 PM (GMT -5)    Quote This PostAlert An Admin About This Post.
Ebony Ivory said...
"Double" is a widely used English term to indicate an instrument designed an octave lower than than its (non-doubled) counterpart.... "Contra-", a prefix which literally means "against", is equally widely used, and in many senses, the terms are interchangeable.


If you use the Setup Wizard in Finale to setup an orchestral score, Finale will choose the instrument names: Contrabassoon and Double Bass.
Why not: Double Bassoon and Double Bass
or: Contrabassoon and Contrabass

Why this inconsistency? It seems to me (though enghlish is not my native tongue, so I might be wrong!) that Contrabasson and Double Bass are the most common used? Am I right?


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N. Grossingink
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   Posted 5/14/2007 1:39 PM (GMT -5)    Quote This PostAlert An Admin About This Post.
More interesting reading:

www.hutchinsconsort.org/

My high school band director used to call a Bassoon the "Bedpost". So I guess here we have the "Double Bedpost" - "Contra Bedpost"…

By the way, the big London orchestras (LPO, LSO, Philharmonia) use either "Contra-Bassoon" or "Contra Bassoon" in their personnel listings.

How about Tuba, Bass Tuba, Kontrabass Tuba…

N.


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Peter West
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   Posted 5/14/2007 3:05 PM (GMT -5)    Quote This PostAlert An Admin About This Post.
"Double" because an octave lower requires a double length string or double length pipe


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Michel R. E.
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   Posted 5/14/2007 3:48 PM (GMT -5)    Quote This PostAlert An Admin About This Post.
Ebony Ivory said...
Albert Schnelzer said...
A little question for you native speaking englishmen (or americans, australians etc..)

What does "double" in Double Bass come from? I assume there is some kind of historical explanation. But I can't find it.

And why does Finale prefer "Double Bass" instead of "Contrabass" ("Contrabass" is for example the only term used in "Instrumentation and Orchestration" by Alfred Blatter)

Is it connected with musical style? (jazz/classical?)

This would be really interesting to know!

/Albert

(In italian it's "Contrabasso", "Contrafagotto etc, in German "Kontrafagott", "Kontrabaß", in Swedish "Kontrafagott", "Kontrabas" ..... So why the "double"...?)

"Double" is a widely used English term to indicate an instrument designed an octave lower than than its (non-doubled) counterpart. In Organ terms, it refers to a set of pipes which are literally double the normal length, hence sounding an octave lower. "Contra-", a prefix which literally means "against", is equally widely used, and in many senses, the terms are interchangeable.

Brian


hehehe, would that make the piccolo a Semi-flute?


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Mike Rosen
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   Posted 5/14/2007 3:50 PM (GMT -5)    Quote This PostAlert An Admin About This Post.
And a police whistle, a hemi-demi-semi flute?


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Ebony Ivory
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   Posted 5/14/2007 8:09 PM (GMT -5)    Quote This PostAlert An Admin About This Post.
QcCowboy said...
Ebony Ivory said...
Albert Schnelzer said...
A little question for you native speaking englishmen (or americans, australians etc..)

What does "double" in Double Bass come from? I assume there is some kind of historical explanation. But I can't find it.

And why does Finale prefer "Double Bass" instead of "Contrabass" ("Contrabass" is for example the only term used in "Instrumentation and Orchestration" by Alfred Blatter)

Is it connected with musical style? (jazz/classical?)

This would be really interesting to know!

/Albert

(In italian it's "Contrabasso", "Contrafagotto etc, in German "Kontrafagott", "Kontrabaß", in Swedish "Kontrafagott", "Kontrabas" ..... So why the "double"...?)

"Double" is a widely used English term to indicate an instrument designed an octave lower than than its (non-doubled) counterpart. In Organ terms, it refers to a set of pipes which are literally double the normal length, hence sounding an octave lower. "Contra-", a prefix which literally means "against", is equally widely used, and in many senses, the terms are interchangeable.

Brian


hehehe, would that make the piccolo a Semi-flute?

Why not? Although I think the Italian word for "small" is quite descriptive anyway!

Brian


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Ebony Ivory
On Ebony And Ivory I'll Tinkle All Day Long



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   Posted 5/14/2007 8:14 PM (GMT -5)    Quote This PostAlert An Admin About This Post.
Albert Schnelzer said...
Ebony Ivory said...
"Double" is a widely used English term to indicate an instrument designed an octave lower than than its (non-doubled) counterpart.... "Contra-", a prefix which literally means "against", is equally widely used, and in many senses, the terms are interchangeable.


If you use the Setup Wizard in Finale to setup an orchestral score, Finale will choose the instrument names: Contrabassoon and Double Bass.
Why not: Double Bassoon and Double Bass
or: Contrabassoon and Contrabass

Why this inconsistency? It seems to me (though enghlish is not my native tongue, so I might be wrong!) that Contrabasson and Double Bass are the most common used? Am I right?

Doesn't explain the inconsistency, but I suppose this illustrates why it's there: most of my wind playing colleagues know the word "Contra" (by itself, not as a prefix), to mean "Double Bassoon", just as "Bari" and "Soprano" refer to types of saxophone. Bearing in mind all these players "double" multiple instruments in most shows, perhaps that's the reason for dropping this word from the description of any individual instrument!

Brian


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A.S.
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   Posted 5/15/2007 3:09 AM (GMT -5)    Quote This PostAlert An Admin About This Post.
Ebony Ivory said...
Bearing in mind all these players "double" multiple instruments in most shows, perhaps that's the reason for dropping this word from the description of any individual instrument!


Aha, this could be the explanation! That would give us an instrument list like: 2 Bassoons (2nd doubling Double Bassoon) .... (that's a lot of "double")

Albert


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Ebony Ivory
On Ebony And Ivory I'll Tinkle All Day Long



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   Posted 5/15/2007 4:52 AM (GMT -5)    Quote This PostAlert An Admin About This Post.
Albert Schnelzer said...
Ebony Ivory said...
Bearing in mind all these players "double" multiple instruments in most shows, perhaps that's the reason for dropping this word from the description of any individual instrument!


Aha, this could be the explanation! That would give us an instrument list like: 2 Bassoons (2nd doubling Double Bassoon) .... (that's a lot of "double")

Albert

Especially since the Double Bassoon is (like the rest of its family) a double-reed instrument! :-)

Brian


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Frederick_Charlton
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   Posted 5/31/2012 4:19 PM (GMT -5)    Quote This PostAlert An Admin About This Post.
‘Contrabass’, ‘Double Bass’ or just plain-old ‘Bass’
(An attempt to further confuse the issue)
By Frederick Charlton

English is the only language where ‘that big violin looking thing’ that one sees at the back-right in orchestras or in jazz bands and in many blue-grass groups, etc. is called by so many different names: ‘Bass’, ‘Double Bass’, ‘Contrabass’, ‘String Bass’, ‘Upright Bass’, ‘Stand-up Bass’, ‘Plucked Bass’, ‘Bowed Bass’, ‘Acoustic bass’, ‘Bass-fiddle’
‘Bull-fiddle’, ‘Dog-house’, ‘Tree’, ‘Portable-bar’, and ‘That Big Violin Looking Thing’.
Well, I’m going to mostly talk about the three more commonly used terms: ‘Bass’, ‘Double Bass’ and ‘Contrabass’.
One thing to make perfectly clear is that in English the terms ‘double bass’ and ‘contrabass’ are synonyms (i.e. they mean the same thing). ‘Double bass’ is perhaps a little more British (in England they often call the contrabassoon the ‘double bassoon’). Where as the term ‘contrabass’ is more international (in many places on this planet you could say the word ‘contrabass’ -but pronounce it like ‘contra-boss’ to a six year old and he or she will know exactly what you’re talking about!). In other languages, the instrument I play has only one name (depending on the language) such as in Spanish it’s called ‘contrabajo, in Italian ‘contrabbasso’, in French ‘contrabasse’, (anyone notice a pattern?), in Portuguese ‘contrabaixo’, in Danish ‘kontrabas’, in German ‘Kontrabaß’, in Russian ‘с. Контрабас’ and in Chinese ‘作曲’ or 低音.
When looking at various bass blogs and forums on the internet, I’ve noticed some massive confusion about the term ‘double bass’. One thing that became apparent to me from the outset is the amount of people who just…make-up-stuff…without doing any research. The most outlandish falsehood spreading-around is that the word ‘double’ in ‘double bass’ is somehow a reference to its’ doubling another instrument in an orchestra. That is simply NOT true – never has been and never will be! Who ever started that rumor should not be shot, but perhaps grazed a little. It reminds me of comedian Steve Martin’s stand-up routine from a few decades ago when out-of-the-blue he suddenly says, “Always have REALLY strong opinions about things you NOTHING about!” The term ‘double bass’ in this usage means an octave lower than the usual bass register (by the way, the term ‘double bass’ is also used in reference to a pop-drummer using two bass drums). And what is the usual bass register? It’s the range of a bass singer. Soprano, alto, tenor and bass are singer’s ranges. Violin, flute and oboe are considered soprano instruments because they mimic the range of a soprano singer. Viola and English horn have similar ranges to altos. Jumping to a bass singer’s range, although they both go lower than you would write for the basses in a choir, the bassoon and cello are considered bass instruments. But wait, the bassoon and cello are more than just bass instruments. You see, the ranges of singers are more limited than the range of most instruments. The range of singers is around one-and-a-half to two octaves. In able hands, the French horn can get all the way down to the third lowest note on the piano (low ‘B’). And there are players who can squeak-out an high ‘A’ (concert pitch) one ledger-line above the staff (treble clef). Folks, that’s a range of one-step shy of five octaves! So, classifying instruments as soprano, alto, tenor, bass or contra- (double) bass is an oversimplification. But I’m going to do just that anyway to expedite the point I am trying to make. The orchestral strings: Violin=soprano, viola=alto, cello=bass and ‘that big violin looking thing’=contrabass.
There is a misnomer in (mainly) the U.S. that the musical word ‘bass’ means the lowest of the registers (perhaps because it’s pronounced like base…I dunno). It is not the lowest. Contrabass is the lowest register in music. The prefix ‘contra’ usually means ‘an octave lower than’ but not always. The exception is with the saxophones. The contrabass sax is a fifth lower than the bass sax. In the clarinet family there are two instruments lower than the bass clarinet, the contra-alto (yes, it’s an octave lower than the alto clarinet) AND the contrabass clarinet.
Getting back to singers, a bass is a singer with a relatively low range – but not the lowest. There are many male singers that can sing well below the standard bass range. And they are called (as singers)…contrabasses. So, the violin, viola and cello are instruments with their own names, but the term ‘contrabass’ can mean ‘that big violin looking thing’ or a male singer with a very low range. In other words, the bowed contrabass doesn’t have its own name or, its name is also means the register it in which it plays.
Before I go on, let me say that have I called my instrument a bass and I have called myself a bassist. But I also call my instrument a ‘contrabass’ or a ‘double bass’ (just to stir-up trouble).
The bottom-line is that in English, what many people call a ‘bass’ is NOT a bass instrument. It’s a CONTRABASS instrument! Bass-clef, bass instruments like the cello and bassoon, read at-pitch (lower members of the sax and clarinet families are considered bass or contrabass instruments but they are all transposing treble-clef instruments). Where as bass-clef, contrabass instruments – the contrabass and contrabassoon – are transposing instruments, they are written an octave higher than they sound – or – they sound an octave lower than they are written. By the way, the CC tuba is also considered a contrabass instrument but because the first tubas were smaller, higher pitched instruments, all tubas read at-pitch (which means that tuba players read parts that can go many ledger-lines beneath the staff).
In my life, way too often I have come across contrabassists who don’t realize that their instrument sounds an octave lower than written. If the double bass is not a transposing instrument, then the cello goes lower than the four string contrabass (without an extension). Does the cello go lower than the double bass?!

Epilogue

In researching and writing this article, I have made a life-altering decision: I will no longer be calling the instrument I play a ‘bass’ (I DO like ‘dog-house, bull-fiddle and tree, however). Why would you call an instrument a ‘bass’ when it’s not a bass instrument. Yes, in expert hands it can easily cover a bass singer’s register, but even a four string contrabass without an extension, can play down to a full octave below a bass’s range. That makes it a contrabass. While there does seem to be a penchant in American-English to shorten some words and phrases to their lowest-common-denominator, I think it is simply wrong to do so in this case. To shorten ‘contrabass’ to ‘bass’ is tantamount to shortening ‘contrabassoon’ to ‘bassoon’.
Now, while I will continue to love, support, participate and join contra- and double bass sites, clubs and organizations, I do wish they would call the instrument by the correct name (and some do). But as they say: ‘People in hell want ice water’.

Frederick Charlton is a solo
Contrabassist, composer/arranger
And a very opinionated guy
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OCTO.
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   Posted 5/31/2012 4:58 PM (GMT -5)    Quote This PostAlert An Admin About This Post.
Would be great when you install Finale it asks you: What language do you prefer for the insturmen names?
Choose:

Italian
German
French
English
Spanish
Russian
Chinese
....

I must confess that I slightly disslike English terms...
I mean.. Basoon! - go to Danmark and they will take trombone instead!


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Saffron
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   Posted 5/31/2012 5:57 PM (GMT -5)    Quote This PostAlert An Admin About This Post.
Ebony Ivory said...
Albert Schnelzer said...
Ebony Ivory said...
Bearing in mind all these players "double" multiple instruments in most shows, perhaps that's the reason for dropping this word from the description of any individual instrument!


Aha, this could be the explanation! That would give us an instrument list like: 2 Bassoons (2nd doubling Double Bassoon) .... (that's a lot of "double")

Albert

Especially since the Double Bassoon is (like the rest of its family) a double-reed instrument! :-)

Brian

Wow - been a few months since I saw some of Ebony Ivory's posts!

Brian


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Motet
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   Posted 5/31/2012 10:16 PM (GMT -5)    Quote This PostAlert An Admin About This Post.
I've always put "contrabass" on my parts--thanks for confirming, Frederick!


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David Ward
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   Posted 6/1/2012 3:05 AM (GMT -5)    Quote This PostAlert An Admin About This Post.
The older Italian name for a double bass is 'violone' ie 'large viol', hence violoncello ie 'little large viol'.

I prefer 'double bass' and 'double bassoon' as being specifically British (I think of 'contrabassoon' as being American), but I do use 'contrabass clarinet' because 'double bass clarinet' seems to have become a bit dated. Mind you, in his heavily marked score of a piece of mine, in the 1980s conductor (and horn player) Norman Del Mar 'corrected' my C B Clar. several times to D B Clar., but then he changed Trbns. to Pos. (ie abbrreviation for German Posaune)!

As long as the performers understand, I think it's just a matter of personal taste.

EDIT: Finding the score I mentioned above, I see what Norman actually wrote in blue crayon over my 'C B Clar.' was 'Pedal Clar.' - that's definitely dated!


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Post Edited (David Ward) : 6/1/2012 3:04:53 AM (GMT-5)

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Ronwass
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   Posted 6/1/2012 10:54 AM (GMT -5)    Quote This PostAlert An Admin About This Post.
Wow Frederick, great article. Might I suggest you put a line of space between paragraphs to make it easier to read? What made you revive this five year old thread? "Bass" has always worked for me though.

If I need a distinction I will say string bass.

Unfortunately the ISB probably isn't going to change their name to the International Society of (Contra)Bassists.

BTW: How about an article about the distinction between the Electric Bass and the Bass Guitar?


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