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What’s the Difference Between a Cello and Double Bass

Many people who want to start playing a string instrument ask if a Cello and Double Bass are harder to play than the Violin. Well, they are if you try and put them under your chin.

Don’t worry, that’s it for bad jokes for a while, now to business… The Double Bass was first used in the early 1500s. It was so named because it was viewed as an instrument to “double-up” on the lower notes of orchestras to give them depth. The Cello appeared about one hundred years later. 

Its exact origins are uncertain, but it certainly came from Cremona in Northern Italy. It is likely to have been created by one of the Amati family. They were great Violin makers and ran the Violin manufacturing school and who taught Stradivari and others. They are clearly not the same instrument. But what’s the difference between a Cello and Double Bass?


The String Family

The String Family

There is a certain feeling of belonging to a very unique family when you play a stringed instrument. The four instruments that we consider to be members of this family are the Violin, Viola, Cello, and Double Bass.

They all relate to each other either in the orchestra or in a string quartet. And to a certain extent, they rely on each other to create a full sound. 

It is not dissimilar to the relationship that exists in a modern rock band. The guitars rely on the bass to give the sound depth. It is nothing without it. The orchestra and its string section are the same. The Cellos and the Double Basses provide the foundation of the sound.

Is Playing the Double Bass Easier than Playing the Cello?

It is fair to say that the techniques for playing the Cello are probably more demanding than they are for the Double Bass. Also, the standards of the repertoire of what you play could be argued to be more challenging for the Cello player.

It is not hard to assume the Cello to be the harder instrument to learn. But that is only part of the story. They both have their challenges, and they are quite different. From the physical size to how they are tuned and the sound that they produce, they are different instruments. 

So, let’s take a closer look at the differences between a Double Bass and a Cello.

The Playing Position

Even though the Double Bass is the larger instrument, it is usually played standing up. Although you can play it seated if required. The Cello, of course, is played seated. They both utilize an endpin to assist in the balance of the instrument.

Double Bass playing position

As I said, standing is the most common way of playing the Double Bass. The seated option does take a slightly different format, but I will deal with the standing option here.

The first thing to get right is the height of the bass. The endpin is adjustable, so you can raise or lower the Double Bass a few inches in either direction. Raise the bass until the top of the fingerboard, or the nut, is at the same height as your eyes.

Get in a comfortable standing position… 

With your feet about shoulder-width apart. Turn the Double Bass inwards towards your body and lean it back until it can rest comfortably on your hip.

Alternatively, you can take a step back and rest it on your shoulder. However, this is a position that can cause shoulder tenseness and subsequent injury. You will need to learn to play in a completely relaxed position to use your shoulder.

Cello playing position

You will need a comfortable and stable chair. For the right-handed player, the neck needs to be to the left of your head. Ideally, with the tuning pegs next to your ear. 

Adjust the endpin so you get the correct height, and then let it rest on your chest. Sitting on the edge of the chair will help your posture and prevent the urge to slouch. Angle the Cello so you can use the bow comfortably and reach all the strings. Use your knees to keep it stable.

The Size 

The Size 

The Double Bass and the Cello are the largest stringed instruments. But the Double Bass is considerably larger than the Cello. The Double Bass is about six feet in height; the Cello is much smaller. The Cello is the only stringed instrument that must be played seated.

The size is particularly relevant if you need to travel with your instrument. The Cello will be much easier to fit in most vehicles. The Double Bass may not be so easy.

The Tuning

This is one of the areas where the cello and double bass differ

Double Bass tuning

This is tuned in fourths. Starting on low E, this would then include A, D, and G. The same as a guitar and a Bass guitar. You can use alternate tunings, but they are rarely used. You can achieve up to four octaves with this standard tuning. It is played using the Bass Clef.

Cello tuning

The Cello is usually tuned in fifths. From the lowest string, that would be C, G, D, and A. The lowest string on the Double bass, the E, is lower than the C on the cello. 

The Cello can also use the Bass Clef, but it’s an octave higher than the Double Bass. It can also play in the Tenor Clef, especially in solos or with some orchestral pieces. The Cello will give you five octaves with standard tuning.

The Sound

The Cello is often referred to as having a Tenor voice. The tone is much deeper and richer than a Violin or Viola. It is a popular instrument in orchestras and often takes on some of the bass registers. You will find up to twelve Cellos in the major symphony orchestras.

The Double bass can produce a much deeper sound and fits the role of the orchestral bass parts perfectly. Due to its extra octave down, the depth of the sound is deep, very rich, and warm sounding.


You will not find many Cellos playing outside of the orchestral setting. They operate almost exclusively within classical music genres in either orchestra or string quartets.

The Double Bass, however, is found in a range of modern music settings. From Jazz to Folk and even early Rock ‘n’ Roll. It wouldn’t be wrong to say you can find it in just about every musical setting.

One Final Difference

One Final Difference

The double Bass will require some strength and stamina to be able to play it. It is not lightweight. And like the Cello, it will demand precise technique. 

But it is the sheer size and the weight that you will need to consider. It stands out when asking, “What’s the Difference Between a Cello and Double Bass?” That and the cost, of course. The Double Bass will usually be more expensive than the Cello, in the same way, that the Cello is more expensive than the Viola or Violin.

Some Interesting Options 

It has to be said that the available range of the Double Bass is quite limited when compared with the Cello. However, there are some basic instruments to be found. An example is the Cecilio CDB Upright Double Bass.

Likewise, this Cecilio CCO-500 Ebony Fitted Flamed Solid Wood Cello package contains all you need. And if you are thinking about the Double Bass, the Double Bass Buggie will come in handy.

Looking to Make Some Strings Sing?

We can help with that. Check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Electric Cellos, the Best Beginner Bass Guitars, the Best Short Scale Bass Guitar, the Best Left-Handed Bass Guitar, the Best Bass Guitars, the Best Acoustic Bass Guitars, and the Best 5-String Bass Guitars you can buy in 2023.

And don’t miss our handy guides on How to Tune Your CelloDifferences Between 4 & 5 String Bass ExplainedTips For Buying A CelloBest Apps for Learning to Play the Cello, and Do’s And Don’ts For Beginning Cellists for more useful information.

What’s the Difference Between a Cello and Double Bass – Final Thoughts

We have been highlighting the differences here between these two great instruments. But there is one thing they have in common other than the standard four strings. 

They are both great instruments that make a fabulous sound and a great contribution to music. Whichever you choose to learn, you will not be disappointed.

Until next time, let your music play.

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About Corey Hoffman

Corey is a multi-instrumentalist who has played in numerous bands over the years, some good, some not so good. He has also written countless songs and recorded five albums in professional studios across America. Today he is a hobby musician but still loves the guitar after over 15 years of playing.

He considers his writing as a way to share what he has learned over the decades with younger generations ad always can't wait to get his hands on the latest gear.

He lives just outside New York with his wife Barbara and their two German Shepherds, Ziggy and Iggy.

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