Here is what I’ve learned so far about how to tune the double bass.
Watch The Video Lesson
About Tuning the Bass
This is lesson DB-6, “How to Tune a Double Bass” and is a continuation of my journal of things I have learned as a beginning adult double bass student. Be sure to check out my Double Bass Lessons page for a complete list of all of my lessons!
- The strings on the bass are tuned in fourths: E1, A1, D1, G2 Note: The other orchestral string instruments, the violin, viola and cello are tuned in fifths. Also some bassists use an “extension” on the E string to drop the tuning down to a C1 and some bassist use a 5 string bass with the lowest string tuned to a B0. I will be experimenting with the Hipshot BT11 FreeRange Upright Double Bass Xtender/Detuner, also available at Gollihur Music, which appears to be an ingenious device to allow you to quickly lower the tuning of a string, such as taking the E string down to a C without the need to permanently modify your bass with a C extension. I’ll probably do a review of the FreeRange Xtender down the road.
- I also use an electronic tuner during tuning since having unilateral deafness makes it very hard for me in a group setting to hear myself and the tuning note due to all of the other instruments playing.
How to Tune
- I have been taught to use harmonics when I tune. This is because the pitches of the open string notes are so low on the double bass that it is often difficult to hear the preciseness of the tuning accurately. With harmonics, the note sounds an octave higher making it easier to hear. I have found this to be a problem even with the electronic tuner….my Korg tuner seems to be more responsive and accurate when I tune the harmonics way.
- To tune using natural harmonics, begin with the A string. Play an A major scale up to the note D in the 3rd position. At this location touch the string lightly with your first finger and pull the bow across the string. The pitch will sound one octave above the open A. While the string is still ringing, reach up with your left hand and adjust the tuning machine so the note comes into tune, either matching it against the electronic tuner indicator or by using your ear to match it to a A440 reference pitch.
- Next continue to lightly touch the A string and play the harmonic in the D note position and at the same time reach over and lightly touch the D string with your 4th finger where you would normally finger an A and draw the bow across the D string and then the A string. Reach up with your left hand while both strings are still ringing and adjust the D string’s tuning machine until the pitches match.
- Continue this process with the G string and then finally the E string.
- Once all strings have been tuned, repeat the process once more to verify the tuning of all strings. Sometimes a string will drift out of tune even though you tuned it accurately as you tune the other strings due to the change in tension applied to the neck, bridge and tailpiece.