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Match (or not) bow size to instrument size

Discussion in 'Bows and Rosin [DB]' started by SteveFreides, Nov 18, 2013.

  1. SteveFreides

    SteveFreides

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    Should one try to match bow size to instrument size?

    If you play larger than the 3/4 instrument I play, do you play a longer bow? (I happened to just switch bows - new bow has a playing length that's 1/2" shorter and I didn't notice it at all until I measured just now.)

    If you play a smaller instrument or, like me, teach, do you think it's important for a 1/4 size instrument player to use a shorter bow? A 1/4 sized bass has about 6 inches shorter scale length than a 3/4.

    Thanks in advance.

    -S-
  2. RSBBass

    RSBBass

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    I am not great at bowing by any means but I am pretty sure it is the distance between the strings and the length of sustained notes rather than the scale length that determines bow size.
  3. MikeCanada

    MikeCanada

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    For "full size" instruments, in the 5/8-5/4 range, regardless of string length etc. a "normal" full sized bow should be used. There are some makers that make longer/shorter or heavier/lighter bows within the spectrum of "normal". Length is usually measured from the wood at the tip to the end of the wood (not the button) and doesn't vary much more than 1/2". Typically speaking, French bows are around 64-68 cm, German bows are a bit longer at 67-70 cm. The length of the hair can be problematic, as it varies depending on where the frog is in the mortise. Weight tends to be between 120-150 grams, but I have seen a very light Prochownik German bow that was 115 grams, and the New Dutch School plays on bows heavier than my station wagon. There are definitely outliers, but that comes down to the maker's and the player's preferences more than anything.

    For young students a smaller bow might be in order. Chances are if they are playing a 1/4 size bass, they are a young and growing child/youth/adolescent/tween/teen/current PC term. As such, the muscles in their arms and hands haven't developed completely, and a full size bow might be too much. Weight could be a problem, as a bow that is too heavy could cause injury. Length could also be a factor. Can they play to the tip of the bow without significantly compromising their technique? If not, a shorter bow would make sense.

    Just like basses, most adults regardless to their size can play full sized bows. Some might be more comfortable on a lighter bow, but there are plenty of smaller people using big basses, and plenty of bigger people using smaller basses. Find what works for you.
  4. Mark Gollihur

    Mark Gollihur Supporting Member

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    Beautifully stated, Mike!
  5. Mark Gollihur

    Mark Gollihur Supporting Member

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    Hi Steve - we don't stock them, but I can certainly get them, and usually pretty quick (especially the Glasser student bows; they're usually pretty available.)
  6. SteveFreides

    SteveFreides

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    Can you get your wooden bow that sells for around $150 in a shorter size? I might be interested in that - pretty soon, actually, and I'd probably get one in German and one in French if you have them.

    I guess we can continue this in email ...

    -S-
  7. Mark Gollihur

    Mark Gollihur Supporting Member

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    Yep - drop me a note. You probably have my email, but it's my first name AT our domain, pretty easy...
  8. Nordic Groover

    Nordic Groover Supporting Member

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    Mark,

    I'm curious about what you think of lighter, or even cello bows, for playing the NS Omnibass and/or something like Toby Chennell's Arco ABG (34 inch scale acoustic upright)?

    Cheers,
    Chris
  9. Mark Gollihur

    Mark Gollihur Supporting Member

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    When the OmniBass first came out (and was called the BassCello) the first bunch actually came with a cello bow (a fairly inexpensive CF bow, but decent) as a "gimme." For the smaller dimensions, one could certainly argue that the smaller bow might help get around the instrument a little more deftly. Seemed to work okay to me - while I'm no "Joe Arco," even though it was still tuned to standard bass notes, I could get the strings going pretty well, thanks to the shorter scale.
  10. Nordic Groover

    Nordic Groover Supporting Member

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    Now someone just needs to make a carbon fibre cello bow with a German grip... ;-)
  11. MostlyBass

    MostlyBass Supporting Member

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    Interesting! Especially as recently one of my cello students was having such a difficult time holding his bow I had him try German style on it... Heresy? Perhaps but it was a common grip for gambas back in the day... And his hand became relaxed and fluid, creating a great tone.... I think it will much easier to transition him to the traditional hold now.
  12. MikeCanada

    MikeCanada

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    I have considered the challenge of the "German" cello bow, and it has been done. I read an article ages ago about a player that had an injury and commissioned an underhand bow because playing overhand was no longer an option. I forget who the maker was, but I would definitely seek them out and pick their brain for a while before attempting it myself.

    Just like the French bass bow is in many ways a larger version of a cello bow, the changes in the proportions would be similar for a German bow. The head size/shape wouldn't be that hard to figure out, but the big issue would be the frog. It would need to maintain most of its height so it would still comfortably fit in the hand, but be thin enough to accommodate a thinner stick and ferrule. The stick would also be significantly lighter, so the frog would have to be as well in order to balance properly. I would be most concerned about maintaining enough strength in the narrowest part of the frog.

    I'm sure that it would also meet resistance in "traditional" classical music settings, but that's a whole separate can of worms.

    Sorry for thinking "out loud". I guess the short version is that it could definitely be done, but the maker would have to experiment a bit to get all of the measurements/proportions correct. Not currently something in my wheelhouse, but down the road if I've got some extra wood and time, I might give it a go.
  13. Nordic Groover

    Nordic Groover Supporting Member

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    Thanks for that additional information. Interesting!

    Stupid newbie (ie bass guitarist transitioning to upright) question: Can one buy fractionally sized German bass bows in the same way that one can have a fractionally sized bass?

    Chris
  14. Mark Gollihur

    Mark Gollihur Supporting Member

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    Simply, yes you can. For most shops, all but the cheapest Glasser Fiberglas bows would likely be a special order, but it should be no big deal.
  15. mtb777

    mtb777 Supporting Member

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    I'm a new DB player(I too coming from EBG ) with an NS and the occasional use of a friends old Epiphone B-4 upright. Funny what was mentioned above. I have an old thumb injury that really fatigues my hand with French grip and I tried using German grip on a French bow and it felt more comfortable but I neeitcwaswrong and didn't want to start using really bad technique so I picked up a nicer German now and felt ok but I really preferred the French grip.... And then I tried French grip on the German bow which strangely is the most comfortable but again I know it's wrong technique. I know I will never be in an orchestra and I mainly play Worship music. I have this strong desire to develop my skills of Arco playing. Any suggestions. Sorry for a side rail here.
  16. MikeCanada

    MikeCanada

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    Find a teacher. Chances are if you're still in the experimenting stage, some of that fatigue and discomfort is coming from bad technique. Some of it will also be because you are new to the bow and doing things with your hand/arm that you didn't in the past, need to develop muscles etc. However, if you already have injury issues, you want to be doing everything you can to not worsen your previous injury, or create a new one.

    There is a chance that could mean playing French or German, playing on a lighter bow, using a rubber tubing thumb grip, or something else. There are plenty of existing ways to work around an injury without playing a German bow French or a French bow German. A good teacher should be able to evaluate your bow hold(s) and make suggestions. The closer you can stay to conventional technique, the easier it will be down the road as your playing develops to do the things we demand of the bow.

    If you do exhaust the possibilities of conventional technique there are still options, but I would start there.
  17. SteveFreides

    SteveFreides

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    I second Mike's suggestion of finding a teacher.

    My own experience - draw what conclusions you like - has been that I learned enough about German bowing to make do within a few minutes. German bowing is, I think many people, perhaps most people, will agree - easier to get to the point where you can function with it. Or I'll put it another way - it's easier to become a bad German player than it is to become a bad French player, but the journey from there is, I think, requires the same amount of diligence thereafter.

    As to holding a bow made for one grip with the other grip, I have a friend (who'll be here in a few minutes, as it happens) who uses a German grip on a French bow that happens to have enough room for her hand. And she does this very well, too.

    In your place, I'd bow German and be done with it, I think.

    -S-
  18. Amin

    Amin

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    Hello.
    in my honest opinion I believe that the most interesting relationship is between arm length / bow length instead of instrument length / bow length.
    obviously I'll never tell one of my students to play a 3/4 bass with a 1/2 bow..!! But I think that the bow length should be in proportion to one's arm length in order to have a proper conduction of the bow, parallel to the bridge, with a fair control even at the point.
    just my 2 cents..
  19. MostlyBass

    MostlyBass Supporting Member

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    About German or French: I've found that German tends to work better for about 70% of my students and the remaining use French. I was personally started on French and not given a choice. I switched to German after graduate school. I have all my students try both to see which works better for them. Either bow hand should be natural - let your right arm just hang at your side. That's a perfect bow hand. Rotate your right hand counterclockwise and there's your French hold.
  20. MostlyBass

    MostlyBass Supporting Member

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    There was an article years ago ( I think by Daniel Swaim) that talked about which bow would be better for shorter or longer arms.

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