Bow Direction..

Discussion in 'Orchestral Technique [DB]' started by davegr8house, Apr 9, 2002.

  1. Ok, I`m new to the DB world "one year" and I`m taking lessons and enjoy them much. Arco is coming easier with each lesson but.... I`m working on a new song that is giving me fits.."Hunters Chase". The problem is Bow direction. My teacher is on me every week about Bow direction. I understand that you want down Bow on the down beat but at times lifting the Bow does not make sence. Am I just being a Anal or is it that needed to get the Bow direction perfect. I mean is some of it "showmanship" during preformance or what? I know this my seem stupid to some of you but it is a issue with my practice time. Thank you for your time..

    P.S. I play with a German Bow

    If the world didn`t suck we would all fall off....
  2. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    The down bow is naturally more powerful a stroke and so you can make the music 'swing' more easily if you have down bows happen on notes that require more umph. At least that's what I've been told...
  3. Joe Taylor

    Joe Taylor

    Dec 20, 2001
    Tracy CA
    What Ray says is true, the reason is that there are little barbs, for lack of a better term, the bow hair so on a down bow it grabs the string more, There is a difference in sound also. Some times I find that I'm too close to the bass to hear exactly what it sounds like so you got to record your practice from time to time and listen to your self from a different angle. After you have been playing awhile you will be able to tell up bows from down bows by listening to the way it sounds AND select your own bowing to make the music yours. selecting your bow direction can add a lot of expression to your playing.

    That said you have to bow it the way the section leader says or you will look like a dork bowing different from everyone else. Same with fingering.

  4. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    I'd draw the line at fingering. But you can see how famous I this has made me :)
  5. What makes the down bow more powerful is that the stroke starts at the end of the bow where your hand is, where there is naturally more pressure.
  6. Phil Smith

    Phil Smith Mr Sumisu 2 U

    May 30, 2000
    Peoples Republic of Brooklyn
    Creator of: iGigBook for Android/iOS
    Would that be that same as saying that the attack isn't as "sharp" on a up bow as it is on a down bow?
  7. jaybo

    jaybo Guest

    Sep 5, 2001
    Richmond, KY
    A down bow allows you to follow with the laws of gravity so it is naturally more powerful sounding than an up bow. If you had an egg and you wanted to break it would it be easier to throw it up against the ceiling or drop it on the ground?

    I think it would be just rude for a section leader to want everyone to use the same fingerings. Everyone's hands and experience aren't the same.
  8. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    If the bow is moving right-to-left, then gravity has nothing to do with it unless you have the bass laying way back like a cello, and then this would only be true for the E and A strings.
  9. jaybo

    jaybo Guest

    Sep 5, 2001
    Richmond, KY
    Depends on how you play. You have more power pulling the bow across the string as opposed to pushing with a French bow, would be the other way around for German bowing.
  10. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    But where does gravity play any part in any of that?
  11. How so? Both bows are held at the frog. Regardless of which bow the hand is away from the starting point on up bows and nearer on down bows.
  12. Take an etude or some other short piece you know pretty well, record your self, then try to relearn it with ALL the bowings upsidedown. Record yourself again, and try to get the upsidedown bowed version to sound just like the original. In otherwords, try to make upbows sound like downbows, and vice versa.

    Practice it measure by measure or phrase by phrase, alternating bowing version on each repeated bar or passage, with a rest between repeats to retake your bow if need be. Concentrate on the sound.

    Maddening, insane, but really effective.
  13. The direction of the barbs on the bow hair may be a factor -I have no opinion on this. But I think the main source of ready power on a downbow (and relative weakness on upbow) owes more to the physiology of the arm and hand, and the kinesthetics of the bowing movements.

    Recall that the pressure on the string is transferred through the bow (on either French or German) by an rotation pressure (torque) of the forearm through the hand, in an anti-clockwise direction.

    Swing your arm left to right across in front of you, rather like on a downbow. If desired, it is quite easy and natural for the thumb to lead this movement, adding a bit of anti-clockwise rotation of the hand to the overall movement, which is what we want when bringing the power of the stroke to the string through the bow.

    Now try the right-to-left swing, as in an upbow. Most people will find that the fourth finger wants to lead this sweep, implying a bit of clockwise rotation at the hand. Try to reverse this tendency, that is to add some of the anti-clockwise torque needed when bowing a bass string, and it just seems to go a bit against the natural mechanics of our arms and hands, and thus requires more effort. Add to this the unfortunate coincidence, mentioned by someone in a previous post, that upbow strokes begin further away from the frog. This means more torque at the grip is needed to produce a given pressure on the string. One can begin to see why the upbow tends naturally to have a relatively weaker character.

    Obviously, the inherent difference in the sound of the up versus the down bow is frequently musically pleasing, imparting a kind of Bum bum, Bum bum twoness to musical phrasing. However, I think its better to be the master of this rather than a slave to it. Hence, practice ideas like mine above.
  14. The notion that bow hair has "barbs" is pervasive and, according to Norman Pickering, wrong. So who's he? He played viola (and French horn) with the Metropolitan Opera for 15 years. He's also a physicist, and also an engineer, and he has made at least 50 violins and violas. He operates a laboratory and is a consultant on musical acoustics.
    His presentation to the Southern California Association of Violin Makers on how the bow produces sound from a string can be found at
    There you will read that as a consequence of the rosin's coefficient of friction, you momentarily glue the bowhair to the string, it breaks free, and the process repeats. There's much more to it, of course, but barbs have no part in it as they don't exist, according to him. If somebody wants to put out another authority with equal credentials, I'll read what he/she says.
    As for the ability to discern bow direction simply from sound, count me as a skeptic.
  15. If so, I'd add one more thought for your consideration. If your teacher has been starting to sound like a nag on bow direction, hang in there, 'cause (s)he's right. In fact, it goes a lot further. What you should be striving for is to reach a state where all aspects of your bowing (direction, speed, sounding point, angle, pressure, etc.) are not accidents but highly controlled.

    To be overbrief, the choices you make for bowing parameters for a given note are partially determined by the sound you want for that note, and partially by where you want to end up for the next note or notes. Its sort of an unbroken chain, and usually you have to work out your bowings by working forward and backwards, phrase by phrase. I remember my first year or so with a bow, just sawing away, never really knowing where I was or how I got there. There's nothing worse than running out of bow, or ending up in the wrong place when you want a certain stroke that's best done from a different part of the bow, and no time to retake. It all should be very deliberate and controlled.

    Of course, like anything else, when you're first trying to learn this, it is very hard, and you have to try to control things consciously. Eventually, it becomes mostly subconscious. But anytime I look at a new piece of written music, the first thing I do before playing is think through the bowings, and work out and notate any tricky patches. (Actually the second thing. First I sing it.)

    Think also about the true greats on our instrument (at least on the classical side). I think their greatness is probably 65-70% in their right hand. Most method books are all about the left hand, you have to get the right hand from your teachers, your own ears and conception, and lots of practice.

    Even if you think your future playing is more left hand intensive, nothing helps your left hand more than having your bow under very good control.

    To Don Higdon - I agree in one sense: if you took a section out of an extended tone from a down bow and one from an up bow, and listened to them in isolation, with all but the worst player you would hear no difference.

    But suppose I'm sawing away, say quarter notes at 60bpm, down, up, down, up, usually it will be very clear which are down and which up. Most players (often with a degree of deliberateness) will have on the downbow a slightly louder sound (owing to more pressure, especially at the outset), and an earlier start (relative to the over all tempo, owing to a faster change up to down), plus probably some other subtle differences such as note length.

    I have done a few lessons in the past by way of mailed tapes, and my teacher could always tell me when my bowings were reversed, just by listening. (Not to mention which string I was on, and hence my fingerings.) This is partly what led me to try my torture upsidedown bowing exercise, above.

  16. Thank you. If both were the same we'd all start the beginning of the 3rd movement of Beeth. 5th with a down bow and the beginning of the 9th's recit with an up.
  17. In the 9th, are you referring to the A natural in bar 8? I do play it up bow. What am I missing here? I haven't played 5th.
  18. Thanks Myrick,
    I am still reading the threads along with all the rest. The Bow direction problems I`m having is getting better. It has become a big part of my practice time....well....was....A few days ago while putting up new Wall Paper in the Kitchen I mananged to Cut my left index finger at the tip that resulted in seven stitches. Soo, I have had to cancel my lessons and two playing engagements for at least two weeks for it to heal and my Teacher told me not try anything on the Bass till they come out..10 days. The one true blessing I can be thankful for is I did not have any nerve damage.
    So my fellow DB buddies...when cutting Wall Paper with a razor blade.....stop...think...and go get some Scissors:rolleyes:
    As for the Etude Myrick, my Teacher has had me doing this for the past few weeks and we both have seen great results. Sluring a measure and down down up up the next and so on. I have always memorized all my lessons and this forces me to read the music so as to see what Bow direction. I`m starting to see more and more that the written notation on the paper is a small part of the over all piece of Music....Hummm. Thanks again guys for the advice. I do take it;)


    If the world didn`t suck we would all fall off..
  19. I think any musician winces even thinking about finger or hand injuries. My sympathies. Be sure to press your doctor hard to make sure everything is being done to avoid any lasting problem.

    A few years back, after a big Christmas feast and more than a couple of glasses of wine, I thought I'd carve the rest of the meat off the goose we'd cooked. A small slip and I had a gash in the crease of the distal joint of my left pinkie. Two quick stiches in the emergency room put it right, or so I thought. But later the fingertip went numb for six weeks or so. Eventually the nerve regenerated and normal sensation was restored, but to this day, once or twice a year over-practice or aggressive performance without sufficient caution to hand position and force can bring on sharp pain and/or numbness which requires me to lay off for a week or so. (or restricts me to certain fingerings. Hard to do.)

    Doctors now say it could have been fixed with some micro-surgery at the time, but that now internal scarification would make it difficult to fix.

    Anyway, just trading horror stories here. Watch your hands, mates.
  20. My horror story is that in one accident, among other locations, I fractured my right wrist in two places, my left wrist and forearm in four places. Overall, I was pretty broken up by it.