The instrument's exact lineage is still a matter of some debate, with scholars divided on whether the bass is derived from the viol or the violin family. However the body shape especially where it curves into the neck matches the viol family whereas in the rest of the violin family, the body meets the neck with no blending curve.
The double bass is played with a bow (arco) or by plucking the strings (pizzicato). In orchestral repertoire and tango music, both arco and pizzicato are employed. In jazz, blues, and rockabilly, pizzicato is the norm. Classical music uses the natural sound produced acoustically by the instrument, as does traditional bluegrass. In jazz, blues, and related genres, the bass is frequently amplified.
Ellen Andrea Wang performing at the Oslo Jazz Festival.
The double bass stands around 180 cm (6 feet) from scroll to endpin. However, other sizes are available, such as a 1⁄2 or 3⁄4, which serve to accommodate a player's height and hand size. These sizes do not reflect the size relative to a full size, or 4⁄4 bass; a 1⁄2 bass is not half the length of a bass but is only slightly smaller. It is typically constructed from several types of wood, including maple for the back, spruce for the top, and ebony for the fingerboard. It is uncertain whether the instrument is a descendant of the viola da gamba or of the violin, but it is traditionally aligned with the violin family. While the double bass is nearly identical in construction to other violin family instruments, it also embodies features found in the older viol family.