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Cello vs. Bass

There are a lot of stringed instruments that sound similar, making it hard for some to distinguish which one is being played upon first hearing. The cello and double bass are two commonly confused instruments due to their physical similarities and the lower tones produced by both instruments.

Both the cello and the bass are part of the violin family, and some even consider them siblings. Though the two instruments might seem similar to the untrained eye, there are some notable differences that can help you decide whether you’re looking at a bass or a cello.

Everything you need to know

double bass head and scroll

The most obvious difference between a cello and a double bass is the size. A full size double bass will be noticeably larger than a cello, standing at about 6 or 7 feet, while a full size cello usually tops out at 5 feet in height. Because of its height, most bass players need to use a stool while playing.

The size difference makes it easy to tell a cello from a bass by looking at it, but there are also ways to distinguish the two instruments by their sound, structure, and tuning. The note range between the two instruments is similar, but the bass can go six diatonic notes lower than the cello. However, though the bass can go one octave deeper, the cello has a wider sound range at 6 octaves while the bass can reach only 4.

The tuning process for each instrument is also different. While a cello is tuned in perfect fifths, the bass is tuned in fourths, making it the only modern bowed string instrument to be tuned that way. Furthermore, a cello uses tuning pegs on the side of its scroll, whereas the bass uses tuning “machines” mounted on the side of the scroll (see image).

What to do with your new knowledge

Understanding the differences between a violin vs viola vs cello vs bass can help you determine which instrument is right for you. For example, certain genres of music are more likely to incorporate the double bass than others, so knowing what type of music you like to play can influence what instrument you choose.

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