Okay, I asked somebody else for advice on my orchestration and he went a bit into lower interval limits. He did however give me advice on orchestration for the first chord. Here is what he gave me:

Low C: Half of the Double basses and the Contrabassoon

Low Eb: Bassoon by itself

Low G: Half of the Double basses and the Bass Clarinet

Octave C: Cellos

Just to clarify I'm talking about this chord: enter image description here

Now, double basses with a C extension and with a 5th string are getting increasingly common. So it is likely that the double bassists will be able to play that low C with no problems. And I have seen a way that double bassists get an extremely low note to project out by flicking the string before bowing. But I'm wondering what I should do because here is what the lowest register of the double bass looks like in Musescore:

enter image description here

As you can see in the picture, anything below E natural is colored green. In Musescore, green means that the note can't be played by an amateur and red means that the note isn't even in the professional range. More specific to double bass, these low notes being green means that they can only be played if the double bass has either a 5th string or a C extension.

So I'm thinking of perhaps notating the double bass and contrabassoon an octave above the note I want, taking advantage of that built in octave transposition. So in other words I would notate it as a higher C(like the one at the top of the chord in the first image) and then because of the built in octave transposition, it would sound like the bottom note of the chord, C2. But then this raises the question of whether or not I should raise the notes in the other instruments by an octave as well to avoid muddiness in the sound(which is the reason why the person that gave me advice suggested the instrumentation above for the C minor chord).

So, should I raise the entire chord by an octave or just the low C in the double basses and Contrabassoon or should I leave it as is?

  • 1
    yes, you should raise it an octave. you can just adapt the law of the overtones to your orchestration and arrangements: root, octava 5th, 8th, 3rd, 7th, 9th, why? look at the triad in your example in this low position: the overtone of the 3rd will be interferring with the overtones of the root. We find actually but very seldom triads in not quite as low position by Beethoven or Bruckner and others. Apr 8, 2019 at 14:23
  • As has been said in an answer below: Contrabasses should be notated one octave higher than they sound. As for the deep E flat. You don't need that in the orchestra. Have in mind that on a piano you can not double any notes, so in order to give a good forte sound with "body" you can have such a low E flat in the chord. But in an orchestra you can double any note in different instruments which means you don't have to include the very low E flat. Apr 8, 2019 at 19:54
  • @LarsPeterSchultz But the Eb is the note that differentiates the C chord as being C minor. Without it, it would sound like a C major chord suddenly lead to a C minor melody within 2 beats of the chord. Thus in order for it to sound like a C minor chord as in the original piano piece, I have to include the Eb somewhere.
    – Caters
    Apr 12, 2019 at 17:48
  • @Caters I did NOT say that you shouldn't include an Eb. I only said you can exclude that very low Eb. The Eb appears two places in the piano chord since it also appears in the right hand. That Eb (in the right hand) can be doubled with more than one instrument playing it. That is impossible on a piano. The very low Eb gives "body" or volume to the sound on a piano. In an orchestra you can get such "body" or volume with instrumentation. Apr 12, 2019 at 21:07
  • @Caters An addition to my comment above. Just be careful with chords in a close position in a very deep register. I am not saying you should never do it, but it can easily be very muddy, so do it with caution. You could study the scores of some of Beethoven's symphonies and see what he does himself when writing orchestral music. Apr 12, 2019 at 22:21

2 Answers 2


You seem to be getting very confused about written and sounding pitch.

If you want to play a double bass and contrabassoon to play Beethoven's two lowest notes, you write the notes an octave higher. Playing that is no problem at all for either instrument.

If you write the same notes as the original piano music, they will sound an octave lower, and the combination of the low C and Eb will just be an unpleasant noise.

FWIW three trombones and a tuba would make a much better (i.e. more homogeneous) sound from that chord than a mixture of strings and wind, and are more likely to be all in tune with each other than a mix of different instrument families as well.

You might also consider who you are really writing for here. On the one hand you are worries about "amateurs" whose double basses don't have a low C extension, and on the other you are scoring for contrabassoon which certainly isn't an "amateur" instrument. Half decent contrabassoons cost more than many new cars - and this is sometimes what they sound like on a bad day:


Do you really need it this low. If so, then write it down there with an ossia an octave higher. Consider your target ensemble; if you expect an fifth (low) string, go ahead and write down there. If you are writing for high school or other ensemble which should not be expected to have 5-string basses, then re-design the whole passage (or however far you need to keep things smooth.) (I spend lots of time trying out different keys or voicings to match instrument ranges.)

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