Bass

This page is about the musical term. For the fish, see bass (fish) (unrelated to sea bass).

Bass (SAMPA: [beIs], rhyming with "face"), when used as an adjective, describes tones of low frequency. Played in an ensemble/orchestra such notes are frequently used to provide a counterpoint or counter-melody, in an harmonic context either to outline or juxtapose the progression of the chordss, or with percussion to underline the rhythm. In popular music the bass part usually provides harmonic and rhythmic support, usually playing the root or fifth of the chord and stressing the onbeats.

As a noun, a bass is a musical instrument or singer with a low range. As an instrument, it can be:

  • an abbreviated name for double bass (this is usually the instrument referred to as a "bass" in Classical music and jazz. Sometimes called a "string bass" to differentiate it from a "bass horn".)
  • an abbreviated name for bass guitar (this is usually the instrument referred to as a "bass" in rock & roll)
  • a bass horn, such as a tuba or sousaphone-- a wind instrument that fulfills a role similar to a string bass
  • an abbreviated name for bass clarinet, bass trombone, bass saxophone, etc (less common usage)

As a male singer, a bass is capable of covering the lowest range of the human voice. A typical bass will have a range extended from around the F one and a half octaves below middle C (the note at the bottom of the bass clef) to the E above middle C (on the first line of the treble clef).

In classical music, and particularly in opera, there are sometimes distinctions made between different kinds of basses:

  • a basso profondo (or basse noble) is a singer with a particularly deep voice; they may be able to get as low as the B below the bass clef
  • by contrast, a basso cantate (or basse chantate) is a singer with a lighter, more lyrical voice, perhaps with a slightly higher range
  • Basso buffo is a term used for a comic bass
  • sometimes the term bass-baritone is used to mean a singer with a range and tone somewhere between a bass and a baritone (a male voice somewhat higher than a bass)

Some famous bass singers include Feodor Chaliapin, Boris Christoff, Nicolai Ghiaurov, Ivan Rebroff, Paul Robeson and Willard White.

See also: Miami bass (booty bass), figured bass, basso continuo

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