When writing the bass voice part for an SATB arrangement, what should be done so that the bass singers voice is not "swallowed" by the other 3 voices - being the lowest of all? (Also most choirs in my country are church based, and they tend to have fewer bass singers compared to the sopranos and altos).

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    Mike the basses? Tell the dang sopranos to sing more quietly? Redesign the hall so its acoustics are more accommodating of lower frequencies? You can see that there's a lot of ways to go here. – Carl Witthoft Jan 24 '15 at 13:48
  • Sounds good.. and to support these efforts by the choir leader, is there anything the composer/arranger can do with the score sheet? – mey Jan 24 '15 at 15:47

Write higher. People commonly write the tenor part too low, which then forces the bass even lower, into a quieter part of their range (it doesn't help that usually most of the members of the bass section are not true basses, but rather baritones without good control of their upper range).

  • What about writing a baritone part then - I typically have to switch tenor/bass depending on the song! – Mr. Boy Jan 26 '15 at 17:39
  • @Mr.Boy: Do you mean the tenor and bass singers take turns in singing? – mey Jan 26 '15 at 17:54
  • No I mean my range can't reach the high tenor notes or the low bass notes so I have to figure out on each song which part I can actually sing :) – Mr. Boy Jan 26 '15 at 17:56
  • i see. I think most male singers are baritones, and interestingly the baritone part rarely comes up in choral song sheets..not sure why.. – mey Jan 26 '15 at 23:11

If you look at standard SATB arrangements of hymns, you will notice that the bass often moves in contrary motion to the melody, and often in rhythmic intervals in the middle of phrases when no one else is moving. This really makes the bass part pop in a way that does not distract from the song itself.

Also pick up and study some of Bach's chorales, and you will see what I mean, I think.

  • Sounds interesting, i think that strategy is effective in making the bass stand out at some occasion. I also heard that the "canon" style (not sure what the English term is) also works - here the bass singers start the line 3-4 beats after the other 3 voice parts, and consequently finish at 3-4 beats after the other 3 parts so they still stand out a little bit. Probably something like a reciprocal "question and response" style. Hope this makes sense :) – mey Jan 27 '15 at 3:03
  • Well, as I was writing my response, I realized you could say the same about all three of the supporting voices.. – memphisslim Jan 27 '15 at 4:06
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    But I have always liked how it worked for the bass. And as for canonical writing, you are starting to get into the fugue, where each voice - numbering three, four, six, and more, has its own independent legitimacy. – memphisslim Jan 27 '15 at 4:08

Use a well spaced writing technique. Especially between Bass and Tenor.

Remember that in a modern SATB choir, Soprano and Tenor are the brighter voices and Alto and Bass the darker.

So you have not a timbral continuum from Bass to Soprano.

This is very important when you want to write a transparent texture.

  • Just to make sure i understood you correctly- did you mean the distance between tenor and bass should be large enough? – mey Jan 24 '15 at 19:48
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    Between Bass and Tenor you can reach a (max) 10th interval without any serious problems. – Andrea Riderelli Jan 24 '15 at 20:30
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    Andrea is right. It also helps if the interval between the tenor and bass reinforces the bass (i.e., try to arrange that they meet at the octave or fifth at important points in the bass line; try to maintain a separation of at least a fifth). – user16935 Jan 24 '15 at 21:06

As you mentioned a church choir, you can cheat. Double the sung bass line with a quiet 16' organ stop!

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