I'm arranging a lot of music at the moment, and I find it difficult to combine tuba and electric bass. For most parts, I just make them equal with very few exceptions. For example, I do make them different when I want to reach a very low note that are impossible on the electric bass, or if a part simply becomes to difficult on one of the instruments.

Keeping them exactly equal has some pros and cons. For instance, if one of them cannot show up to a gig, it's very good to have redundancy. But if they are not perfectly in tune and tight in rhythm, it sounds a bit muddy.

So if we consider the case where we have both of them. Can you give any general guidelines for how to combine these two? I don't really know how to think here, because one of them will be forced to play in a way that is not really typical.

I might add that the full setting includes trombones, trumpets, saxes, clarinets, flutes, banjo and drums.


We do not have a bass trombone. Just regular ones.


Tuba and electric bass are the only bass instruments, and we only have one of each. The music is primarily jazz.

  • As is, it's not a fair question. If you motive is to have the parts covered is one misses a gig, the always double up. Really this depends on the music being arranged. Are there multiple bass parts? Or other low pitch instruments? If classical you may have different parts for different bass chairs. Or you may have tuba score too. Too little information imo to really help.
    – user50691
    Commented Aug 22, 2019 at 13:59
  • @ggcg I added some info
    – klutt
    Commented Aug 22, 2019 at 14:01

4 Answers 4


Possibly ask or find out if your bass guitarist has a five or six string bass (ie one with a low B string). That means you won't necessarily have to write notes below an E one ledger line below bass clef up an octave.

As someone who has played a lot as an upright or electric bassist in unison with low brass instruments I personally have to remember to focus on phrasing, as if string players are inexperienced or self taught they may hold on to notes across rests whilst brass players are taking a breath. This lack of unison phrasing is probably the number one cause of the 'muddiness' you describe.

Also maybe try to have your bass instruments close to each other, if possible. It's nicer for the players in my opinion if you're not trying to phrase and blend with someone on the other side of the room/stage.

  • He has a 5 string, but sometimes there are notes lower than the B-string for the tuba.
    – klutt
    Commented Aug 23, 2019 at 8:27
  • 1
    The range of a concert Tuba starts from D1. This is easily playable at the 3rd fret of a B string on a 5 string bass, or a double bass with an extension. (Remember that string bass sounds an octave lower than written) Commented Aug 23, 2019 at 9:05

I realize this is long after the question, and potentially after the need. This may not be new information for you, since you have some experience by now with your decisions.

  1. The String Bass and Electric Bass (which I'll just call Bass) sounds an octave lower than its notation, while the Tuba plays at pitch with no octave transposition. That means that Bb on the second line up on the String Bass's staff is the same pitch as that Bb that lies a on the space below the second ledgerline under the staff for the Tuba. That also means that the E natural of the four-string bass is the same pitch as the E underneath the fourth ledger line for the Tuba. String bass players who have not been playing off of raw Tuba parts for quite a while are likely to panic at notation more than one or two ledger lines under the staff (even the B string under the E string is under the second ledger line below, so four ledger lines is cause for panic!)
  1. The partial structure for a stringed instrument is different than that of a brass. Having a Bass and a Tuba play the same pitch (not notation) means that those partials overlay each other, so it's good when arranging to be aware of what that means: First, Tubas tend to be inherently a bit weaker in second harmonic strength than the Fundamental and higher harmonics. The electric bass tends to be somewhat weaker in the fundamental and third harmonic (although, with an amplifier with tone controls, that really is a variable). Having both the electric bass and tuba on the same fundamental pitch allows the present harmonics and partials to reinforce, giving a fatter bottom (if you will). But having the Bass an octave lower than the Tuba really does something quite different: The bass harmonics will sit on and between the Tuba's partials, and by reducing the frequency difference (by the added bass harmonics) can trick the mind into perceiving more fundamental power than is there. (Look up "lost fundamental theory", but keep in mind that the bass fundamental will be half the frequency of the tuba frequency when they are playing octaves with the Bass on the bottom.) This can be even more fun with a bowed bass (Electric Upright Bass/EUB):

  2. An EUB can provide a constant-volume sound, as well as varieties of plucked sounds, some of which will be like the Electric Bass's characteristic sound. When this happens and the Tuba is playing legato, the characteristic sound of bowed bass and legato tuba combine to change the attack/release characteristics. Mixed with the artificially closer partials, the overall sound is richer in higher frequency power, but also perceived as smoother, making those ostinato notes really blossom!

It is best, at some point to get your bass and tuba together, and give them some example passages, with the two in unison, octaves, etc, and to see how different articulations combine as well, make sure they have the same vocabulary that you do, so that when you ask for specific combinations of sound, they understand what they are to do.

And always, best of luck!


Keeping them exactly equal has some pros and cons. For instance, if one of them cannot show up to a gig, it's very good to have redundancy. But if they are not perfectly in tune and tight in rhythm, it sounds a bit muddy.

To be sure you will always have the needed part I would print a copy for both of the other part. (but that's not the point you're asking.

So if we consider the case where we have both of them:

Assuming that you have a bass trombone ... you give the same parts as to the tuba, and if you don't have ... handle the tuba like the bass trombone. That means: let it play together with the trombones.

Another aspect is the drumset: Assuming you have a drum set, handle the e-bass rather as a part of the rhythm section and the tuba giving the bottom of the sound - or vice versa:

One of both is playing more the rhythm part (e.g. bass licks) and the other supports the harmony: root tones and other notes that give the fundament for the harmony.


The fundamental question is to understand the the effect that one is trying to achieve in terms of the of sound quality of the different instruments. A wind instrument such as the tuba produces a sustained tone that can also be altered in amplitude during its duration. A string instrument that is plucked such as a bass guitar is inherently percussive in nature in that the amplitude of the tone depends upon the manner in which the string is initially struck. The amplitude of the tone degenerates geometrically after the initial tone.

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