I am currently playing a song for orchestra that requires me to play a d below the bass clef staff. Is there any reason why I should not just jump the note up an octave rather than tune the e string down? Are there other alternatives that I am not considering that do not require spending the money to buy a new bass.

Thanks in advance!

  • Is it a solo piece, a bass concerto, or part of an orchestra arrangement?
    – user50691
    Commented Sep 23, 2019 at 17:49
  • why not build a 5 string bass or transpose the whole composition a whole tone higher? Commented Sep 23, 2019 at 17:51
  • 3
    @AlbrechtHügli Such schenanigans are often impractical for an orchestral setting, using an upright bass.
    – user45266
    Commented Sep 23, 2019 at 23:06
  • 1
    Please clarify: are you writing this song, or are you playing it in an orchestra? Commented Sep 24, 2019 at 12:11
  • 1
    I am playing it in orchestra I've edited for future clarity
    – JIMMYPlay
    Commented Sep 24, 2019 at 17:21

3 Answers 3


Since the standard 4 string double bass only goes down to E, and the cello down to C, this has been an issue for centuries. Many 4 string basses these days have an extension device fitted to the E string which enables Eb, D, Db and C when needed. This might be a cheaper option for you. Also, plenty of 4 string players are quite happy to tune down to a D for a whole piece, as they are flexible in fingering those notes.
It is quite common for composers to jump up the octave when necessary if the line goes below the standard E (with the cellos continuing down). You can lose something in doing that (depending on the shape of the passage) but it's not a big issue.

  • FWIW, here's one bass store that will build-to-fit an extension "starting at $1500" uptonbass.com/?s=extension Commented Sep 24, 2019 at 12:17
  • 2
    Yes to both. Many players jump the octave and leave the low note for those who have an extension. Many existing basses can be fitted with an extension by a good luthier. It does cost quite a bit but much less than getting a new bass. BTW, we had Upton build a bass for our son. He is quite happy with it.
    – Heather S.
    Commented Sep 24, 2019 at 20:51

A five string bass has been my answer for many years now - albeit an electric bass guitar. That won't help you as you don't want to spend lots of money, even for a string bass.

The option of de-tuning is not a bad one, but will jeopardise the rest of the piece as far as fingering is concerned.Were you using an electric bass guitar, then I'd recommend a 'Detuna', which with a flick, takes E down to D.

The option of playing that D note is a possibility, but it must fit in with the rest of the phrase(s). You can't really be playing a line of music downwards towards that D, only to jump nearly an octave when the D is required.

EDIT: another idea I've used on bass guitars - but would work on string basses is to move the strings up, so there is space where the lowest was for a heavier grade string, which gets tuned to B. So, B E A D. Obviously, this works until higher notes are required, but that's not in every piece.

EXTRA EDIT: there's always the 5ths tuning, which is an octave beow ceollo tuning, as in C G D A, so takes the lowest note down far enough, but needs practice to get used to different fingering. That's probably the best option!

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    Interesting but not really applicable to an acoustic orchestra. Commented Sep 24, 2019 at 12:09
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    @CarlWitthoft - have you not come across 5 string double basses? That is an alternative - which is what OP asks about. Although there is cost involved. Tuning down is an obvious solution. Undoubtedly your dv?
    – Tim
    Commented Sep 24, 2019 at 12:46
  • @CarlWitthoft see the picture in Albrecht Hügli's answer. Low C extensions do appear to be more common, but 5-string basses can certainly be seen in classical orchestras. The problem with this solution is only that it is out of scope for the OP.
    – phoog
    Commented Sep 24, 2019 at 13:02
  • @CarlWitthoft - the answer is now stil interesting, but also totally applicable to an acoustic orchetra...
    – Tim
    Commented Sep 24, 2019 at 13:10
  • @tim - ok, adjusted vote Commented Sep 24, 2019 at 14:15

Just take a 5 strings double Bass:

It looks like this instrument already exists:

enter image description here

I don’t mean you have to buy another instrument. You might lease or rent one.

Or you could tune the E-string in D and put a movable bridge near the f-hole (only for the D string of course) or single “fret” near the nut which you can keep there (like a capo) when needing the E-tuned string and take away when you use the D ...

  • 2
    OP specifically says he doesn’t want to buy a new bass. Don’t think this is an answer.
    – b3ko
    Commented Sep 23, 2019 at 20:03
  • you'd wonder what people all did and invented as the didn't have the money to buy something. Especially instruments. Well, in this case I would try to fix a 5th string that is tuned on a D on the 4-string Bass. Many instruments have been invented in a problem situation. Commented Sep 23, 2019 at 20:35
  • @AlbrechtHügli adding a string is a major alteration that would cost a good deal of money.
    – phoog
    Commented Sep 24, 2019 at 0:39
  • The neck on a five string bass is wider. This is both for strength and to accomodate the extra string. There have been 5 string basses on a 4 string neck, but the spacing isn't good. And the bridge will need replacing. Then where does the tuning peg go?
    – Tim
    Commented Sep 24, 2019 at 9:37
  • @phoog you cannot "just add" a string to an acoustic bowed instrument. None of the mechanics will work. Commented Sep 24, 2019 at 12:10

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