Bow weight, speed, contact, etc (+regimen question)
I've been doing a lot of reading on bow technique and have learned way more than I expected to. However, this is one topic that I'm hoping I can find more of an analysis for.
If you change the weight of the bow on the string to increase your volume, you also have to slow down (or speed up?) the bow proportionately in order to maintain a good tone. What are the other aspects in bowing in this category (so to speak)?
I also want to ask about my current practice regimen. I have been playing bass for a year now, but only pizz (bluegrass, jazz, celtic etcetc). I begin lessons this tuesday for classical/orchestral bass and am wanting to get a little headstart. My current practice regimen is doing all 12 scales 1 or 2 octaves (I can only do E-B 2 octaves right now) at qn = 63bpm. I do half notes and then quarter notes with the scale and then the standard 1,3,5,7,8 arpeggio (all of this with a drone). This takes me 30-40 minutes (and I will soon begin incorporating natural minors). After that I take a short break, and start practicing bowing. I do down and up bows, going the full length of the bow for approximately 4 beats (qn = 63bpm), fully focused on my hand staying relaxed and keeping a straight bow (I use a mirror). I do this several times on all four strings, for as long as I can stand it, stopping to shake out my thumb every 5-10 minutes (I just started so my thumb is a little weak). After that I work on the stroke start (I got this from Andrew Anderson's videos). I put the bow on the string, focus on relaxing my hand and allowing the weight of my arm to do all the work. Then, I cock the string back a few times, ensuring the bow has a good hold on the string and then I release the string and bow for the full length of the bow. Again, I do this several times on each string. After I feel comfortable with this I will start doing the same exercise but with up bows. I do these two exercises for about 20 minutes before I take a short break, to keep from getting too bored/disinterested.
Do you guys think this is pretty solid for a beginner? Anything you would change? Add or subtract?
Thanks for your feedback. I've been able to find a huge amount of very helpful information here.
Speed controls volume. Faster bow speed means that each "pull" by the bow will be longer, hence make the string vibrate more. Faster speed also requires more pressure, to avoid "loosing" the string. But also, closer to the bridge will yield more volume, without the same need for bow speed. This is because the same effect as faster speed is achieved, as the strings' vibrations are proportionally smaller closer to the pridge - this also changes the overtones spectrum, tone, of the note. Also, the higher the note, the higher the frequency, hence faster vribrations, which gives higher bow speed required.
Naturally, within reasonable limits. As fast as possible is not as fast as you can physically move the bow across the strings; we humans are able to move the bow much faster than ever nessecary.
When to do what? I don't know. I just do, and make sure I do it nicely.
In general (assuming we are staying in a single position on the bass and assuming we are trying to keep an even volume and similar good tone throughout) the thicker the string the slower you have to move the bow and the more pressure is used. As you go to the higher strings (thinner strings) you speed up the bow and use less pressure. This means that for a given tempo and note length you may be using the whole bow on the open G string for instance, but only half or two-thirds of the bow on the open E.
Within narrow limits a change in volume can be achieved by either an increase in bow speed or an increase in pressure - but you will rapidly reach a point where on the E string you can't increase just the bow speed without a loss of tone quality, similarly, you can only increase the pressure on the G string a small amount before it too starts to act up.
So obviously the greatest increase in volume while maintaining good tone would come with an increase in both speed and pressure. It is certainly true that to get a G harmonic to sound as full and loud as the stopped G you will need to not only be at the proper distance from the bridge, but you will need to move the bow faster.
Now as you stop notes further and further up the string you must also move your bow closer and closer toward the bridge in order to maintain good tone quality. There is a proportion you are trying to maintain between contact point of the bow and the vibrating string length (which is constantly changing as you shift up and down the strings).
As you move that bow closer to the bridge you need to slow it down and apply more pressure to maintain even volume and good tone quality.
Just try playing a one octave G scale up the G string, keeping your bow two inches below the end of the fingerboard (where you should be able to get a nice full tone). By the time you get to the octave G, the tone is not so full and resonant. Now do it again, gradually moving the bow closer to the bridge and applying more pressure as you shift up the string (these changes are subtle - the whole movement of the bow might be at most about three inches - you should not end up right near the bridge). I think you will notice a change for the better in projection and tone.
I think you will also find that just as with thinner strings you used more bow (faster bow) you will need to use a faster bow as the notes get higher. This is certainly true that in order to get the G harmonic (octave on the G string) to sound as full and resonant as the stopped G you have to bow not only at the proper distance from the bridge, but at a faster speed.
In my opinion all of these changes are subtle, they shouldn't be overdone, and they must become second nature to be really useful.
So when you are changing the position of the bow, do you have to stop the note in order to move the bow? Or do you move the bow closer to the bridge while still bowing the string?
You move the bow while still playing, if that's what the situation calls for.
While it is possible to move the bow while you are actually bowing a single note, you are trying to move the bow on or with the change of notes, certainly with every shift.
You will need to practice moving the bow towards or away from the bridge smoothly, without a change in volume, and without bow noise. I usually practice this on open strings, during my usual bowing practice. Of course if practicing this way, you will notice the normal change in tone that comes from bowing closer to the bridge. Then I practice this slowly with all my up-the-string scales and arpeggios.
Here's a good one: http://youtu.be/QVUQTw-7ysM
By far the best explanation of the interrelationship between bow speed, contact point, pressure, and volume that I have ever read is in the book Cello Technique by Gerhard Mantel. After I read that, what had seemed obscure and complex became simple and transparently clear.
Thanks folks. Any comments on the practice routine?
Hector and Martin describe the combination of three main variables of bowing (bow speed, bow weight and contact point) well.
Best tone, we are told, comes from drawing the bow hair at 90 degrees to each string. If the angle of direction of movement becomes much greater or less we quickly hear the sound start to distort. BUT there is a trick that enables you to move the contact point up and down as you play without loss of tone or control of the strings. The bow can be angled and move up and down so long as the ENERGY is directed across the string at 90 degrees. In other words the BOW HAND is moved at 90 degrees while the BOW HOLD angles the point of the bow towards the floor. This is especially useful in scales and arpeggios, and when you are anticipating big jumps. At any time you stop moving the contact point you simply square up the bow movement and continue as normal. With practice it works!!
Concerning you practice routine I would turn it round the other way. Begin with note starts, stops and the idea of "release" to end notes musically. Work on timing and co-ordination between hands to ensure clean string crossings and bow changes. Then maintain a high standard of clarity of articulation as you progressively shorten repeated notes. For example, while keeping the volume, sound quality and articulation constant move from long slow whole bows to very short fast movements that contract towards the balance point (or any other designated place). You can bow "hard on the string" (no release at each end) and still produce musical sounds if you judge the weight, length and speed of movement carefully. Too short and the notes grunt, too long and the note slithers. In between there is a narrow window of success where each note sounds cleanly with a very even bite of attack.
Now carry all this quality preparation forward into the way you practice scales and arpeggios.
I always look forward to your technique posts, because they are so detailed and clear. It seems like I always take away something from your posts, even if it is not new knowledge, it is often a new approach or perspective. It has been very helpful to me.
I've always been fascinated by the angle of bowing the Vienna Phil use - I wonder if this is the technique David was talking about:
So, I went to my first lesson today, and the only thing he corrected was the angle of the bow to the strings (I've been practicing that with a mirror, but apparently it's not so easy to carry over). Other than that, he said I was doing really well. I expressed to him that I didn't quite understand using the weight of the arm to put weight on the string, particularly when you get towards the tip of the bow, but after I played he said I understand it a lot better than I think I do. So, I figured, okay. Even after that, I feel like I should be working on a relaxed hand and arm weight alone.
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