Arco technique

Discussion in 'Orchestral Technique [DB]' started by Skumbas, Jan 5, 2015.

  1. Skumbas


    Oct 7, 2014
    Hi everyone!

    I'm trying to break the code about arco playing. I'm using a french bow and I just wanted to get some tips about how I could think and how it will feel when the technique is right. I have the newbie problem by getting squeek noise every now and then and I can't figure out what I'm doing right when it sounds good and vice verse.

    How will the right thumb feel? As loose as possible or relaxed but still support the grip of the bow and kind of help the bow to grip the string? I understand that the weight gonna come from your shoulder and arm when it's relaxed but how much does the index finger controls the weight? When playing up and down strokes is the wrist mostly control the motion when playing down strokes when the whole arm mostly controls the motion when playing up strokes? Is it the same when playing fast or staccato notes? Are you suppose to add weight when playing fast or staccato and less weight when playing long strokes?

    A lot of question! :) I'm really grateful for all tips!
  2. bejoyous


    Oct 23, 2005
    London, Ontario
    Well, it took several years of training and experience studying with many professionals to answer those questions for myself.

    But the short answer, to use sport analogy is this:

    Like archery, without the bow, grip a string with the index finger and let the weight of your arm pull the string sideways so that your arm is hanging. When the string is fully loaded, let it go to allow the string to vibrate and your arm naturally swings away.

    Like curling, with the bow, do the same thing - grip the string, hang the arm, let it go. The bow, now with no input from the arm, continues the initial sound at the same volume level.

    Up bow should feel exactly the same way except the bow is going in the opposite direction.

    Repeat until 2nd nature and send me $10 000 by Paypal. ;)
  3. Skumbas


    Oct 7, 2014
    Thanks for your reply! Have you got your money yet? :)

    I understand that you can experiment with the amount of weight applied to get different sounds but is it like this that you should be able to get a sound by relaxing everything and just use the natural weight of the arm, both long and staccato notes?
  4. I like to think about it in two aspects: 1) Locomotion, and 2) Articulation.

    Locomotion: Think about the motion for the strokes originating in the entire right side of your upper body (including upper back and pectoral) in a state of relaxation (i.e. not 'forcing' the motion or tensing any muscles, but rather the feeling you'd have if you swing your arm freely like a pendulum from the shoulder).

    Articulation: This is provided by the joints in your fingers, wrist, elbow and shoulder, working in mechanical synchrony with the bow hair and string. Think of every joint (and also the string and bow hair) as a spring that flexes to shape the interaction between the bow and the string. Andy Anderson (a student of my former teacher, Larry Hurst) has a very good series of videos on YouTube that are well worth watching. He's an extraordinarily gifted teacher of technical fundamentals. Here is part 2 of the series, where he begins discussing the bow:

    Hope this is helpful. (There is no substitute, however, for being in the same room with a good teacher.)
  5. Skumbas


    Oct 7, 2014
    Thank you "csrund". I think your tips are really helpful.

    I've been practicing for a couple of hours and used an aspect I haven't actually done before. I think I have thought about the weight of my relaxed arm mostly downwards and have mostly made the motion by using my wrist I think. To be aware of the weight of my relaxed arm and shoulder in the bow direction really gave immediate result. Not forcing the motion as you mentioned but just make it happen by the "relaxed force" or what to say? (I'm swedish!)
    I'm gonna try to work and experiment with your aspects. I like the idea of feeling the motion in your whole relaxed upper body and to try to be aware of all joints and their interaction.

    I'm gonna take some lessons for a teacher but want to have a little better skills before but just a little.

    I've been watching these video lessons of Andrew before but should do it again for sure.
    csrund likes this.
  6. Andy Mopley

    Andy Mopley

    Sep 24, 2011
    The thing I always find puzzling with French bow - and maybe someone here can enlighten me on this - is the position of the palm/wrist of the bowing hand. If I use an analogy seen before, from AA, you can relax the hand using the bow in a horizontal position by pretending you are pulling on it like you'd open a draw. That's fine, I get that. In this instance, the palm of my hand is parallel to the floor. When I grab the bow, though, it is hard to have the palm of the hand the same way. I have to "twist" my wrist inward slightly (I am guessing 5-10 degrees or less) on the D and G strings - and it feels that where the wrist is pronating, that's where the motion is felt the most - is this incorrect? I would like to be able to eventually be reasonably capable on French even though I am sticking to German.

    Thank you!
  7. Andy,

    Yes...the wrist does need to move laterally throughout the range of the stroke. When Anderson talks about pulling a drawer, he's only referring to the position of the fingers for the bow hold. There are more mechanics involved, of course, when the bow starts moving. While your arm moves in an arc, like a pendulum, the wrist flexes laterally to keep the bow hair perpendicular to the string. Here's a pretty decent good video demonstration; start at 2:35...

    With the German bow, the arm is rotated 90°, so you achieve a similar effect by flexing the wrist and fingers up-and-down, rather than laterally. Like painting vertical strokes on a fence or wall. (Reminds me of Mr. Miyagi from the movie Karate Kid.)
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2015
  8. Andy Mopley

    Andy Mopley

    Sep 24, 2011
    Thanks - I'll see if I can post a video of me doing it, sensei!
    Skumbas likes this.
  9. I highly recommend purchasing "Art of the Bow" a instructional dvd by Francois Rabbath. It helped me as a supplement when my Teacher went out of town. My teacher was blown away with my progress when he got back. Best to you.
  10. Andy Mopley

    Andy Mopley

    Sep 24, 2011
    Thanks Matty, I bought this when it was on special last year. It is a good reference source although I am not quite as enthusiastic about it as many(better informed) people here are.
  11. Skumbas


    Oct 7, 2014
    Yeah, thanks Matty. I'm gonna look it up. It sure looks and sounds effortless and easy when Rabbath is playing.
  12. bejoyous


    Oct 23, 2005
    London, Ontario
    Also, the standard Talkbass answer to these types of questions: 1) What does your teacher say? and 2) Get a teacher.
    csrund likes this.
  13. neilG


    Jun 15, 2003
    Ventura, CA
    Go with your instincts. People who like the video are not necessarily better informed. It's a matter of taste. I may be in the minority on this forum but I do NOT want to sound like him, so I would not expect too much in the video that is useful for ME. Besides the whole French bow thing. :)
  14. Jeff Bonny

    Jeff Bonny Inactive

    Nov 20, 2000
    Harrison Mills
    I don't want to sound like him either but he has such unique and passionate perspective and such deep technical mastery of the path he's forged. Lots of what was in that vid gave me serious food for thought even being primarily a German bow player. I find anything that causes me to genuinely question my sacred beliefs is worthwhile in some way or another. I'd highly recommend it to anyone who hasn't seen it if for no other reason but to be exposed to someone who really did teach himself.
  15. Tom Lane

    Tom Lane Gold Supporting Member

    Andy, I've spent the past 18 months or so concentrating on my arco technique. I was getting there before, but I think I've refined my control and articulation much further during the past year and a half. I love the arco sound on the bass, especially for playing melodies or soloing because it's so expressive.

    During that time, I had 3 pieces of advice that I found very helpful. The first was from Lynn Seaton, who recommended that I sing a phrase and recreate it with the bow with all of the articulations I could do with my voice. He also mentioned the weight, speed, and location of string and location of bow aspects. Taking that further, record your vocal rendition and arco rendition and critique.

    The 2nd was from my teacher, Christoph Luty, who taught me to apply as much weight on the bow to the string as possible - a ridiculous amount of weight, the entire relaxed weight of my arm - and then back off the weight, and, as I get closer to the bridge with my left hand, to do the same with the bow, move it towards the bridge in the 3rd octave, and to practice my scales at 60 bpm, full bow, with good tone from tip to frog.

    3rd, was getting John Goldsby's book on jazz arco.

    Christoph's lesson on arm-weight and bow position relative to the bridge remedied my squeeks and also helped me produce a tone worth listening to. Somewhere along the way, I've developed the ability to separate my playing from my listening so that I can listen objectively to the tone and articulation being produced and decide if changes need to be made. Almost as if someone else is playing and another person is listening/evaluating. I think the last part has to do with obsessively recording and critiquing previously.

    John's book is targeted towards jazzers, as it says in the title, but I found his exercises to be an order of magnitude better than just full bows at 30 bpm. Doing entire scales and arps at 30 bpm up and down with a single bow stroke has taught me serious control of my bow and made vocal-like articulation much easier. I really appreciated his book but recommend that you follow it to the letter. Set the metronome, start at the beginning, and work forward slowly.

    Last thing, I have found that a good bow makes the tone and articulation easier. In my opinion, it takes a fair amount of trial and error to find a bow that works best for you and your bass, and it's not necessarily the most expensive option, it's the bow that sounds the best from nut to bridge, E to G, when you use it on your bass.
    Jeff Bonny likes this.
  16. Andy Mopley

    Andy Mopley

    Sep 24, 2011
    Thanks Tom, some good suggestions there irrespective of French or German bowing. I have been doing some recording and, to your point, it pays to sit back and listen to your own playing. One question for you on this, how do you know when you are getting better, do you rely on your own judgment or that of others (teacher, fellow players), and it is more of a journey than a destination?
  17. Tom Lane

    Tom Lane Gold Supporting Member

    I think that's a very insightful question, and one that too many amateurs, IME, don't ask themselves. Some things are easy - no more squeaks are no more squeaks and I consider that a good outcome. Next, I listen to my teacher play something and then decide if I'm comparable. At my best, I'd say we still have a slightly different but similarly rich tone and when I think that's more about equipment than technique, I think I'm in the ballpark. I mean my teacher has decades more dedicated experience than me and I expect his playing will sound more nuanced, with better time-feel, and intonation than me for some time to come. Next, listening, up close, same-small-room-close, informs me how good a tune with good tone can sound and provides me with a peak to aspire to. I listen really carefully to a lot of recordings and I still find an unamplified instrument in the same room to provide a lot more information about good tone.
    After all of that, and recording and listening back critically, I'm learning to listen to myself while I'm playing, and leverage that to produce better tone.
    Finally, Goldsby commented, I can't remember if it's in his book or here on TB, that to some extent, in jazz, anyway, tone is a personal thing and it's good to develop your own voice, so some of it comes down to what sounds good to you. As an example of that, recently I was playing with one of my teachers, comparing bows, and on his bass, his tone is more violin-like, brighter, louder, more punchy, while my tone on my bass was darker and I thought fuller than his. Both were pleasing but I liked my more cello-like tone for me.
    Hope that helps.
  18. Andy Mopley

    Andy Mopley

    Sep 24, 2011
    Good discussion, appreciate the input, Tom, thank you!
  19. In regards to "The Art of the Bow", It really helped me and I still go back to it from time to time, for new bowing technique's. That being said, If you play german, it may not as beneficial. Personally, I also got a lot out of the companion dvd "The Art of the Left Hand."
    Rabbath's techniques (the pivot, crab, lower thumb positions, alternate fingering and positions in higher registers, minimizing shifting etc..) just to name a few, showed me that there was more than one way to skin a cat. It really opened up the fingerboard for me. Which in turn allowed me to focus more on my bow hand, because I gained so much confidence in the left. Best,
  20. Tom Lane

    Tom Lane Gold Supporting Member

    I notice that many of my teachers employ some Rabbath technique, from Ray Brown, Rufus Reid, on forward. I definitely think that pre-Rabbath is short-changing your facility.
    MattyBass likes this.