wording of instruction for string bass players

I need help deciding how to word an instruction in an orchestral string bass part.

First, some background. I know that traditionally the string bass (contrabass, double bass, etc., whatever you want to call it) tunes the lowest string to E. I also know that a lot of professional orchestral players use instruments with C extensions (or even B extensions) on that lowest string. I also know that some players use 5-string instruments, where the lowest string is tuned to C (or B) and the next string up is tuned to the old-fashioned lowest E note.

Here’s the situation I need help describing in the string bass part: I want a non-vibrato lowest E as the last note (held for several measures with staggered bowing) in the string bass part. In other words, if the instrument has a lowest E, I want the note played on the open string. However, if it has a C or B extension, then I want it played non-vibrato. If I just say ‘non vibrato’ in the part, the players who have a ‘normal’ instrument are going to think I’m an idiot. “Of course it’s non vibrato, duh, it’s an open string and HAS to be non vibrato.” Whereas the players with extensions will understand what I want, and the players with five strings will, hopefully, figure out what I’m after.

Someone who has faced this situation before, or, better yet, someone who actually plays the instrument, please help me find a succinct way to say this in the part. NOT, obviously, as convoluted as the above explanation is!


I used to play bass but not professionally. I think if you just say “non vib., staggered bowing” they will get it! You might not even need to say staggered bowing.

IMVHO you don’t need to specify anything - the chance of you getting it with noticeable vibration. on a 5th string is zero. Writing anything else is fussy.

Any bassist who has ever seen a D below the staff knows that lower basses exist, and therefore that E can be playable with vibrato. I’m a novice double bass player (taking lessons and playing in a community orchestra!), and I’m quite aware of my bass’s lack of extension.

I’d probably put “(non vib.)” in parentheses. Like a courtesy accidental, this removes all doubt while simultaneously recognizing that it may be redundant.

I’m not saying that extended basses don’t exist. I’m saying that any pro bassist has a default understanding of a long held low E as open.