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Getting an even, consistent tone while bowing quickly

Discussion in 'Orchestral Technique [DB]' started by Portphilia, Nov 12, 2012.

  1. Portphilia

    Portphilia

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    Hello all. My teacher has vastly improved my bowing technique compared to how it used to be. I can now produce an nice, even sound when playing long notes. My problem is that I still have trouble bowing quickly, i.e. playing eighth or sixteenth notes. When I bow with my metronome at higher tempos playing eighths or sixteenths I'm getting a scratchy and very unclear tone. Does anybody have any tips on this matter? Very much appreciated.
  2. eerbrev

    eerbrev

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    first things that come to mind for me (I am not an expert):
    1.) work on cleaning up your bow changes
    2.) use less bow for faster notes than you do for slower ones

    both of these are simple concepts, but require a lot of time in the practice room to get them as good as you want them.
  3. DC Bass

    DC Bass Supporting Member

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    This is best addressed in person with your regular teacher, as there are many possible things- but most importantly is knowing that you will still have to put in time sawing. Kudos on working with your teacher and taking it slow, that is the best way- you'll never get it fast if you can't do it slow.

    That said, what errbrev suggests is a great place to start, but also make sure you have fresh hair and good rosin.

    Is there any chance that you are squeezing or tightening your bow hold when you are trying to speed things up? Stay relaxed in your hold.

    Are you playing in the string or off?

    Are you being mindful of the balance point of your bow?

    Also, make sure that you are cleanly stopping the notes with your left hand, using your finger tips please! Sometimes too much focus on one hand allows the other to get sloppy!

    I hope some of this helps you, but you may find that the cake simply has to spend more time in the oven, so to speak! :)

    Good luck!

    Joe
  4. eerbrev

    eerbrev

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    +1 to all of this.
  5. Portphilia

    Portphilia

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    Great advice! Thank you. And the cake in the oven analogy I've found to be true while learning electric bass (my principal). I did "learn" double bass junior year in high school, but I never took lessons, and my orchestra teacher never taught me anything about playing bass, I was simply adapting what I knew from electric bass to upright (doesn't work at all)... So now I'm literally having to relearn the whole instrument (which I actually don't mind at all). Anyway I'm playing on the string when I'm practicing playing fast repeated notes. Is it easier to obtain a cleaner tone practicing off the string?
  6. DC Bass

    DC Bass Supporting Member

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    It's not that it's easier to get a clean sound playing off the string, it's just that it's a different technique and requires a different approach, and some concepts go with one and not necessarily the other. Like errbrev said, a little less hair is probably better with in the string, but more hair might work better for off the string.

    Do you bow French or German? There is a little "shock absorber move" that is really hard to explain, but really easy to show- for German bow you sort of give the bow a little start with your hand and fingers in the direction you are about to go in- a little pull for a down bow, and a little push for an up bow- (not sure of how to describe it with French bow)- that might help too...but don't over do it, it's really subtle.

    The best advice I can offer without seeing you play is to move up in small increments with the metronome and see as best you can where things start to break down. It could well be that you are doing everything right but you just need more time to develop the touch.

    Ask your teacher to demonstrate on your bass with your bow, just to make sure that there are no issues with the equipment.

    Another thing to try is to see how you do with off the string fast playing. I'll see if I can find a link to a really cool vid about developing off the string speed- I think it's a Gary Karr video.

    So in the mean time just keep at it! It sounds like you have a good teacher that is giving you great advice- so maybe ask what he or she thinks about your progress, you might just be a little too impatient! :)

    Best wishes!

    Joe
  7. Portphilia

    Portphilia

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    I bow French. I think I kind of have an idea of the "shock absorber move" and I do that sometimes. The metronome certainly has become one of my most used tools only recently. I never took experienced players all too seriously when they stressed how important metronomes are, but I know better now! Again, thanks for the advice, I'll post on my progress after much practice and studying!
  8. Anonymatt

    Anonymatt

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    I've only read a couple times where somebody's mentioned something like this. My teacher has me do a "similar" thing, BUT he has me do it backwards from what you describe. So you "pinch" a little bit on an up bow and and "extend the pinch" on a down bow. All I know is my sound is much better when this is happening. I always figured it was for countering the excess speed at the beginning of a stroke. And perhaps it's just that the movement increases the bow pressure for the instant the note begins to cut.
  9. DC Bass

    DC Bass Supporting Member

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    Like I said, it's tough (for me) to explain, but we are talking about the same thing I think, except that to me, "pinch" would seem to imply that you are clenching or tightening rather than pushing or pulling- the hold on the bow should stay relaxed- but it's all good if the point gets across. :)

    Thanks for helping clarify the idea!

    Joe
  10. David Potts

    David Potts

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    There is a very close relationship between your length of stroke, bow weight, bow speed and contact point. Your bow will give you feedback as to where best to bow and what style. For me off the string is the least successful bowing style because it is the hardest to control and produces the least tone and narrowest range of dynamics. It doesn't sound chunky and warm enough to be suitable for much of our music.

    Start with repeated single notes in !st. Position and on different strings and notes. I would experiment first with on the string bowing at or near the balance point and about 6 inches from the bridge. Still your mind and play fairly slowly, choosing the length of the bow stroke, amount of arm weight and bow contact point to give you a succession of clear even musical sounds without any "release" at each end. No need to be loud and make just simple flat strokes with no backing off the weight (pick up the back three fingers of your bow hold to ensure this). Both look at the string and listen for success. Be gentle, with a flexible sensitive bow hold but NO fancy wrist or finger movements at each end. Be careful with your timing and coordination and feel the bow hair grab the string each time the bow changes direction. What stops the bow change sounding unmusical is the echo of the last note still vibrating in the body of the bass.

    Later, when this approach is comfortable, gradually speed up, add weight and contract towards the bow's balance point. Maintain the good clear sounds by gradually shortening the bow strokes so that the bow continues to "bite" the string (catch it into life) evenly in each direction but not crush the tone. Look for ease of timing and coordinating the bow strokes with string crossings so that each note starts evenly and receives the same length of stroke.

    Test for success by choosing any note. Start with whole-bow slow strokes on the string that make and connect good even quality sounds as described above then keep the same level sound as you speed up the notes and progressively shorten the bow strokes. Too much bow with too little weight will lose the hair's grip on the string and make sliding, rather false sounds. Conversely, too short with too much weight will crush the string vibrations and make ugly sounds. In between there is a narrow window that gives good control of articulation and clean musical sounds.

    Bow hair tension is important because you want the hair to bend around the string and make the note starts "bite". If the hair is too slack or too stiff the bite is lost and sound quality suffers. Start with a tension that just presses down three strings at once when the hair touches the stick. This is the maximum bow weight you will ever use. From here go up or down in tension by quarter turns to experiment for best possible note starts and connections.

    Also important to experiment with is varying the bow contact point. The thicker strings, A and especially E, need to be bowed closer to the end of the fingerboard than D and G strings as notes get faster.

    To sum all this up, don't do things that the bow and strings won't respond to. It IS possible to produce fast loud hard-on-the-string quality sounds if you judge and balance the variables correctly.

    Good hunting!!

    DP
  11. Anonymatt

    Anonymatt

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    Oh yeah, I mean, pinch in terms of the general shape of your hand w/ the thumb being separated from the opposing digits by the bow itself. Trying to stay as relaxed as possible over here!!!


    EDIT:
    Oh, okay, so D.Potts is saying "NO fancy" wrist/finger movements. Huh.
  12. David Potts

    David Potts

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    Anonymatt, don't write me off yet. For the purposes of this experiment give the "simple" approach a try. If your bow hold and fingers are relaxed and flexible you will be able to produce a good bow change without any fancy dancing of your wrist and fingers or need for weight relief at each end of the bow. Trust the bow and string to tell you what they need and you will feel the hair grab (or tug at) the start of each new note. It is that grab that I try to keep feeling (and hearing) as the notes get faster and the bow shortens or vice versa. All your timing and coordination of your hands, both separately or together, rely heavily on controlling that exquisite moment in time when the note starts.

    I should add that as the faster movements become shorter and contract towards the balance point I rely on producing them more from the elbow, with the upper arm becoming a shock absorber. By twitching my biceps and triceps to move my forearm in the same direction as the bow points and allowing a relaxed but springy wrist to amplify the movement I can keep the movements flat across the string. You might be producing them with a lower elbow by flexing the wrist and fingers, using the forearm muscles more, which was the way I was first taught. It is harder to keep the movements flat this way.

    DP
  13. Anonymatt

    Anonymatt

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    Don't worry, wasn't writing you off, I was awaiting your answer, thank you!

    I read your post a few times and I'll focus on this stuff during my practice tomorrow.

    Do you have any thoughts about counteracting string vibration on the quick stuff? Is there anything to think about at all? Sometimes when I'm doing the up-down-up-down I sense that I am working against the vibration, kinda like hitting a cymbal that's swinging the other way.
  14. David Potts

    David Potts

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    If you shorten the bow movement and adjust weight, contact point and hair tension until you feel control over the note start each way then the strings should go with you, not fight you. Do your first experiments with slow short movements while watching and listening to sensitize yourself. You can see the way the string should vibrate strongly and evenly with each new movement.

    I am down to bow lengths of an inch or less for 16ths. at MM 1/4note = 120. How about you?

    DP
  15. MostlyBass

    MostlyBass Supporting Member

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  16. Anonymatt

    Anonymatt

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    Not that short.

    So I was sawin' around today and was thinking about what you said; looking closely at what I'm doing. I think I see what you're saying. Maybe there is no need for digital movement. I can sense that more of the execution can come from the greater part of the arm. I must say, the movements I was describing are very minimal. Maybe only a couple mm of travel when the "pinching" joints move, I don't even know how to say that there are very few geometry-kinda degrees of movement in the joints. It is more like the movement that is telegraphed through a chain by wiggling it? I don't know. Is it standard method to eliminate digital movement? (while not producing tension)

    Joe, do you think we are all talking about the same thing still?
  17. David Potts

    David Potts

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    If your bow hold and fingers are relaxed but springy the drag of the bow across the strings will always move your fingers to take up some slack before the bow stick changes direction. To try and eliminate this movement would IMO be counter-productive. Then again I am not a great believer in deliberately making florid finger and wrist movements at each end of the bow stroke.

    Think of the strings, stick and hair being springs. Your bow hold and fingers need to tie in carefully with these for the connection to feel natural and for articulation to be very clear. If the chain of events in the greater bow arm movements are in the right order then the bow stick and finger ends will be the last to change direction. You can more accurately predict and control that moment in time if your finger and wrist movements are not over exaggerated.

    So, Best Wishes and keep experimenting !

    DP
  18. chicagodoubler

    chicagodoubler

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    Endorsing Artist: Lakland, Genz Benz
    Practice playing short, detached bow strokes with a strong fundamental. Maestro Kurt Maroki wrote something on this approach recently here. Do a search. He explains it better than I will attempt to do so.

    The articulate fast stroke is not just a faster legato stroke. It is an entirely different beast, to be practiced independently.

    Also be aware this doesn't magically appear overnight. Playing a fast articulate stroke, especially on the bottom of the bass is one of the greatest challenges of the instrument.
  19. Anonymatt

    Anonymatt

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    I think this is what I'll be thinking about in the future. This does make pretty good sense to me.

    Hey, are you callin' my finger movements florid!?
  20. David Potts

    David Potts

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    Best way to answer that is to suggest you make us a video.

    And compare Youtube clips of Guy Tuneh with those of Renaud Garcia - Fons (Tiny Desk Concert, NPR Music), Alberto Bocini (Bottesini's Carnevale de Venezia variations) and Rinat Ibragimov (Koussevitsky Cto) to compare degrees of exaggeration !!! There are lots of other fine examples of not needing to over exaggerate (and some shockers) on Youtube.

    DP

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