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20+ years and I can't decide which bow to use! (long post)

Discussion in 'Bows and Rosin [DB]' started by Steve Bassman, Mar 4, 2006.


  1. Steve Bassman

    Steve Bassman Supporting Member

    Dec 3, 2003
    Tampa Bay, FL
    I started playing and electric bass and double bass (mostly electric) when I was in high school. I graduated in 1985 and after a twelve year period where I played strictly electric, I took up the double bass again and now it's my main axe (this was about eight years ago). Yet despite this, I can't seem to decide whether the French or German bow is the right bow for me. I started on French, but found that I'd have problems with fatigue, cramping and a sore right thumb after a performance or long practice session. I studied with three different teachers, but I couldn't seem to completely overcome this problem (due to my ingrained bad habits than any lack of teaching ability, I'm sure). I eventually switched to German bow and while this was easier on my right hand, I've never been able to get as smooth or expressive a sound with this bow, despite spending quite a bit of time with it. I find string crossings and certain types of bowings a real challenge with this bow as compared to the French. So, I switch back to the French and my sound and articulation improve, accompanied by the aforementioned physical problems. I've been switching back and forth like this for years, and while I know some people use both bows, I feel that the lack of commitment to one type hampers my progress. Sometimes I really obsess about this issue and even though I'm mainly a jazz player, I don't feel like a complete bassist unless I can use the bow effectively, plus I enjoy playing classical pieces and bowed jazz solos, not to mention the occasional semi-pro orchestra or theatre work that comes my way. Anyway, enough whining :crying: . Anyone ever deal with these problems or have any suggestions? If I only liked bluegrass more I wouldn't have to worry about this ;) .

    - Steve

    My web page
     
  2. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    Maybe you need another French bow? Maybe this one is the wrong weight for you, or balanced funny or something.
     
  3. Perhaps you need to seek out someone specific to work on your bow technique with you, even if you have to travel a bit. Or, maybe find a person outside the music community to evaluate what's going on with your hand and offer some suggestions, like a body worker or specialist doctor.
     
  4. Anon2962

    Anon2962

    Aug 4, 2004
    have you tried changing the angle of the bass? i had alot of the same problems, and for me changing to sitting quite low (both feet on the ground), which moves the bass to a less vertical position freed up my playing in many ways. it took about 3 months to 'get it', but when i did it was amazing..suddenly everything became easier. at the same time i also changed my bow grip to the 'italian' bow hold (i play french bow): holding the bow with my thumbon the 'c' curve of the frog, and i bought a nice bow that i'm happy with. these changes have improved my technique immesurably. of course, it's all thanks to a great teacher. maybe a bow teacher with a different approach to technique could be the answer?
     
  5. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    Many players have been down your road with the French Bow. Having played French Bow for over 40 years I can tell you it is not easy with the average Bow. Also, taking lessons with a Symphony professional is the only way to go. The higher up the ladder, the better.

    I was lucky to be in NY and have great teachers while I was a young professional. I also owned fairly good Bows even in the beginning. A good Bow takes alot of work out of your playing. Having a not-so-good Bow forces you to press more to get the sound out and over work your wrist, fingers and arm. This is BAD!

    Recently at an Orchestra rehearsal two other pro Bassists wanted to try my Bultitude Bow. One player had a Morizot and the other had a DeLuccia. These are great and expensive Bows running from 4-10k depending on the condition and individual Bow. They were just short of shocked how good my Bow was and commented how it pulls the sound out like a maching with almost no effort at all.

    I used to own a Sartory Bow and it too was a monster. What a difference it was from a Seifert shop Bow or even the other Bows I had owned by Morizot, Bisch, Vitale, G.Villuame and Lucci. A good bow makes you play better in 10 seconds or less. All the lessons you had become easier to execute.

    Two weeks ago, I got a Lipkins Bow. It does things the Bultitude can't even do and the Bultitude is about 2k more. The Bultitude does have a mature individual sound though but is different.

    The Italian Bow hold is the stronger of the two with the French being more commonly taught in schools. This is mainly because it's easier to teach but harder to get power from. String teachers are rarely bass majors. Pain is ok as long as it is less every few months. I spent almost 2 years re-training with the Bow to break bad Habits between 1972 and 1974. It's worth every penny to study and play with a good Bow. Even after 40 years, a Bultitude, Lipkins, Sartory or Lamy puts a smile on my face when it feels like my hand is almost empty and the sound flows easily as the Bow does whatever I tell it to do.

    Now, if I only knew what to tell it I would be in much better shape..lol
     
  6. jallenbass

    jallenbass Supporting Member Commercial User

    May 17, 2005
    Bend, Oregon
    It sounds like you already know the problem. I'm guessing that your ingrained habits are 1) squeezing the bow 2) using muscle to put pressure on the string 3) which is often caused from trying to play too loud.

    IMO:

    1. Use a sticky rosin such as Carlsson or Nymans
    2. Play close to the frog
    3. Play closer to the fingerboard especially on the E string
    4. Play quietly
    5. Use the weight of the bow only - No pressure
    6. Hold the bow as if it were as fragile as an egg

    Even with a crappy bow these goals are attainable. Good luck.
     
  7. I've heard that Edgar Meyer will play with those really crappy student figerglass bows, so how does he get a monsterous sound and have amazing agility with something like that? He also doesn't seem to have a problem with producing sound without cramping.
     
  8. jallenbass

    jallenbass Supporting Member Commercial User

    May 17, 2005
    Bend, Oregon
    His acoustic sound is not very big. He usually uses some amplification. As far as agility goes he's a freak of nature.
     
  9. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    Well, and in danger of stirring up and old semantic argument, his acoustic sound is huge, but not terribly loud. When I heard him give a master class all of the students were a bit louder than he, but his sound and pitch were so 'on' that his sound rang like a bell through the hall. Also, I doubt that the cheap bows that he reported to play are fiberglass.

    One thing that I do when I start having right hand fatigue issues is to practice some alternating tremolo/long tones/eighth-note stuff in front of the mirror. Watch your right hand and make sure that your hold and your wrist look nice and loose, as they should.
     
  10. jallenbass

    jallenbass Supporting Member Commercial User

    May 17, 2005
    Bend, Oregon
    Well said, as usual.
     
  11. Studying with a pro is all well and good, but not all pros can teach. There's more to being a good bass teacher than just being a killer player; it doesn't matter how good a guy is if he can't teach you're not going to learn much. I'd be more inclined to find a teacher who maybe didn't have the hottest gig in town, but had a lot of teaching experience and had produced plenty of good players over the years.
     
  12. LouisF

    LouisF Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2003
    Los Angeles, CA
    You wrote - "I started on French, but found that I'd have problems with fatigue, cramping and a sore right thumb after a performance or long practice session. I studied with three different teachers, but I couldn't seem to completely overcome this problem (due to my ingrained bad habits than any lack of teaching ability, I'm sure)."

    I had exactly these problems 40 years ago ( I think that ties me with Ken) when I started playing French bow. My teacher was Leslie Martin of the Boston Symphony, who had a unique way of holding the French bow - However, in so many words he said "use a German bow if the other isn't comfortable" and I did and have never looked back.

    Having said that, to quote Dennis Trembly here in LA (with whom I occasionally have a lesson) my relationship with the German bow is always "evolving" - and maybe that's why I like that bow - despite the dirty looks it sometimes gets here!! :))

    Louis
     
  13. Steve

    Every day! My story mirrors yours exactly - started on french, put the instrument down for years, had hand tension problems and wanted a bigger sound so switched to German. I found out like the German better (so I thought) until recently when I've grown fond of the french bow. The sound is way different with the two bows but I can usually play anthything with either of them. It really comes down to the sound I'm going for. For me, quiet fast bows are better sounding with the french, but you can't beat the spicatto of German for heavier things. I resigned myself that I will have to maintain both until I can decide. It's kind of like fretted vs. fretless or something like that. At some point you either choose one or use both. No biggie IMO. One very practical matter concerns basses with limited clearance at the upper corner on the bass side. I'ts very difficult to play at the frog on the E string without hitting the corner with your wrist with German bow. This isn't as much of a problem with gamba shaped basses.

    -Jon
     
  14. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    When my problem was pointed out to me it was obvious I was never really well trained on the bow hold/grip but rather just basically trained. They never really tried to enforce any particular grip but rather just taught me Bass. The person bringing my problem to light was the late Victor Venegas who was a pupil of John Schaeffer, Principal Bass of the New York Philarmonic. When I called Shaeffer he referred me to one of his top students as he was too busy at the time to accept me. That was Bill Blossom whom within a few years made it into the NY Phil. Bill worked mostly on Bow hand and Bow work with me to break my old habits and build new and better ones. Within less than 2 years Bill took an Orchestra Job. When I called Schaeffer again he still was too busy and referred me to Shelly Saxon, a member of the Orchestra and Pupil of Schaeffer as well. I had to go down to Lincoln Center and audition for her. After I played we discussed my career plans and upon discovery of me playing Jazz, B'way Shows, Jingles and Pop Concerts already she said I should call Lew Norton because he likes Jazz and would be better for me. If I wasn't going to train for an Orchestra career, she wasn't interested. I called Lew Norton, a current member of the NY Phil then (about 1974-5) and we met and hit if off right away. After not studying for almost a year in Bill's absence I asked 'how's my Bow grip and arm' and he replied, "Fine, what would you like to work on". At that moment I knew Bill had fixed my problem. I worked on and off with Lew for a few years. At one point he offered to trade lessons if I would teach him Jazz. I knew of no way to teach feel and that's what Jazz was to me. Around that time Lew said 'unless I teach you orchestra repertoire, I couldnt teach me any thing else'. We had done the Dragonetti, the Eccles and several other drills, training and other things to just be able to play better. I told him the same thing I told Shelly Saxon a few years earlier that I didn't want to play in an orchestra!

    That was the end of my formal lessons which ended around 1978-1979. I can say this, if not for Victor Venegas telling me I needed help I would have continued on as-is. Lou and I parted as friends but I made a huge mistake. When I started playing again a few years ago and entered my first of 3 Orchestras, I realized how much there was to learn about playing Bass from the repertoire. The first Orchestra was actually a Concert Band but played a few Classical pieces each concert. I asked the conductor if this was considered hard for a bass player in the orchestra or just standard repertoire. He replied firmly and friendly "Standard"! I thought at that moment to myself.. "OOPS".. I told Lew Norton 25 years ago that I wasn't interested and here I am now killing myself trying to figure this stuff out.

    Shortly after I went and joined a Regional Orchestra that required an Audition. I didn't have any of the required music but gave a brief resume of my past and offered to do a Rehearsal at sight as my Audition and the Conductor agreed. I was more than accepted and named Associate Principal within the season. I was doing the bowing and fingerings as well for some of the harder passages so we would all be playing it the same way. I played Principal when ever there was a Solo for the Bass. I took Principal position when the other Principal retired after 26 years there.

    I did all this because I hunted down the best teacher I could find when I was younger. Recently I went to see Hal Robinson play in a Chamber Orch who is the Principal of the Philly Orch. After the concert we talked and discovered that he studied with the same teacher as Lew Norton. His left hand and Bow hand was very similar but his own. If I wanted to study now, the first person I would call would be Robinson from the Philly Orch. If he couldn't take me and suggested another teacher, I would follow his lead.

    Sorry for the long post but I have a point to make here and I was hoping a story of my past would help to support that. By the way, the two other teachers I had studied with privately before 1972 were former pupils of Fred Zimmerman and Stuart Sankey. Left hand was the main focus with them and not the bow. I don't know why, it just was......
     
  15. frank_chan1219

    frank_chan1219

    Apr 5, 2005
    Maybe your problem is due to the wrong holding method of the bow. I have seen friends holding the bow with much force from the thumb but for me, i do not use my thumb much for holding the bow. My thumb is just holding the bow preventing it from falling.

    -Frank
     
  16. Steve Bassman

    Steve Bassman Supporting Member

    Dec 3, 2003
    Tampa Bay, FL
    This is great! :) I knew I'd check back to find lots of suggestions and stories. Thanks everyone for your input . It's interesting that most respondants suggested sticking with the French bow and working through the "bad habits" as opposed to trying to improve my sound and articulation with the German bow. Here are my thoughts regarding the comments so far:

    1) Better bow: I'll admit that none of the three French bows I've owned over the years were very expensive, and while I'm sure a better bow would make things easier I can't see how any bad habits wouldn't be transfered over if I were to obtain a top quality French bow (I won't even mention the fact that my bass is a Kay :bag: ).

    2) Symphonic teacher: Roger Funk, the teacher I worked with most recently has been a member of the Florida Orchestra for over 21 years. He studied with Lucas Drew, Hal Robinson and Paul Ellison and has placed students in professional orchestras. Two other teachers I studied with before studied with Barry Green and Stuart Sankey respectively. There are other teachers in my area including Dee Moses, the principal of the Florida Orchestra who teaches at USF and plays French bow like most of the Florida Orchestra bass section does (I believe there are two German players). Maybe taking some more lessons from Roger or somone else from the orchestra is a good route to take.

    3) Sitting while playing: I come to accept that I simply cannot play the bass while seated for very long without experiencing lower back pain, probably due to bad posture and scoliosis (curviture of the spine). I've tried both low and high stools, one and two feet on the floor and even worked with a teacher on this, but I still have back pain when I sit to play the double bass for any length of time. If I stand and keep my weight evenly distrubuted while playing I don't have this problem, so I stand. Intrestingly enough, Roger Funk and Lloyd Goldstein of the Florida Orchestra stand when they play while ther rest of the section sits on special stools the orchestra bought for the bass section.

    4) Stickier rosin: I use Pops. And I live in Florida. What else can I say?

    5) Italian bow hold: I actually posted a question about this on talkbass after I read about this grip in the Bille method and Double Bassist magazine. It's an interesting approach, but the problems I mentioned in my original post are still presnt when I play with my thumb on the curve of the frog as opposed to the usual location.

    6) Learn to hold the French bow with less tension/force: Exactly! This is the key. I do tend to squeeze the bow and press too hard just as jallenbass and frank_chan1219 suspected. In fact, the muscle between my right thumb and forefinger looks and feels hard as a rock when I tighten it. This is from years of playing French bow in community and semi-pro orchestras. I've tried imagining the bow were made of glass to loosen my grip or trying to use only the weight of the bow as is often suggested, but while this may work in the practice room, I just can't seem to transfer this to "real world" playing. Roger Funk made some changes to my bow hold that seemed to help (including bending my thumb more and using a latex rubber grip like he does), but I've made so many alterations to my French bow hold that nothing really feels natural anymore. Maybe I need to start from scratch somehow (no pun intended).

    7) Play German bow: This may be the route I take. I'm not sure. I've never spent a lot of time with a teacher on German bow, so that may be in order if I choose to return to this bow. Maybe I can achieve a better sound and overcome some of the challenges this bow presents with professional guidance.

    8) Play both: Somehow I feel I'll never improve my arco playing unless I focus on one bow, simply because it's going to take a lot of time and effort to improve, no matter which bow I choose (if I ever do choose:rolleyes: ). I don't think I have the time or ambition to learn to use both bows as well as I'd like to. It's hard enough maintaining my technique on both double bass and fretted and fretless electric basses, especially for some like me who is a part-time pro with a day job and kids.

    Apparently I am not alone in my bow dichotomy. Any further advice/suggestions/anecdotes would be greatly appreciated

    - Steve

    My web page
     
  17. Freddels

    Freddels Musical Anarchist

    Apr 7, 2005
    Sutton, MA
    I have a french bow and many times my hand starts to ache also. Sometimes I hold the french bow with an underhand grip (like German) and it feels more relaxed. I too have been contemplating whether or not to switch to German.
     
  18. LouisF

    LouisF Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2003
    Los Angeles, CA
    Re: if you ever do decide...

    As the French existentialist philosopher Albert Camus said -

    "Not to decide is to decide."

    Louis
     
  19. Anon2962

    Anon2962

    Aug 4, 2004
    One exercise that really helped me for this is to play a long slow note, and stop right at the tip. when you're stopped, relax the thumb as much as possible. you'll probably be surprised at how much extra tension you putting there. make sure you shoulder and especially your elbow are 'dropped'.

    now repeat the exercise from the top of the bow to the frog, stopping there and repeating. you can the try stopping at different places in the bow. reapeat on all strings.

    The first few exercises from the SEVCIK book are EXCELLENT for this.
     
  20. LouisF

    LouisF Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2003
    Los Angeles, CA
    The Sunday LA Times arts section had a feature story on the double bass (!) which I've posted in its entirety in the MISC Forum. The relevant paragraphs on FR/GER bowing issues are below:


    Another problem for bass players is that buying a string instrument and bow is not like buying a pair of shoes. They don't come in matching sets, and finding the right bow can often be the more difficult task. Plus, choosing a bass bow has an extra twist. There are two types, French and German, and they require two distinctly different bow holds. Gripping a French bow is similar to holding a cello bow. The thumb is underneath the bow stick, the fingers lean over from above. But the German bow, descended from the Baroque bow, is held with the palm facing the ceiling — in other words, underhanded.

    Gass remarks that sometimes "people with hand problems who play French come in to get a German bow, or vice versa. You can't just switch — you have to work at it. Personally, I can't keep a German bow on the strings." Conversely, Trembly confesses that when he briefly tried a French bow, "I had grooves in my thumb, was black and blue on the side of my index finger from pressing, pinching, bad friction, and had no power in my stroke. I even dropped the bow a couple of times." Is it possible to hear the difference? According to Trembly, "One has suspicions."