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Bow grip issue

Discussion in 'Bows and Rosin [DB]' started by brutal bassist, Apr 26, 2010.

  1. I've been playing upright for a year and a half now, and have progressed a decent amount on the instrument. I've been bowing for a year, and I started out french bowing, but it started to hurt my hand. No matter which new grip I tried, my hand always hurt, but when I switched to German bows, not only did it not hurt and feel great, but I got so much better. I don't know why this is. It may be important to know that I play bass right handed, but I write with my left hand, I also have the tiniest hands i've come across for an 18 year old male. Could either one of those things be attributed to my inability to play French?
  2. Join the club... I can't deal with French bow either. Do you have short thumbs or a limited range of motion in any of your thumb joints? Either of those can make it tough to play French bow without hurting yourself.

    At least bass players have the option of German bow, this often stops people playing 'cello.
  3. I have compared my hands to tiny little freshman girls, and their hands are bigger, to give you a comparison..... I feel like the guy who can't eat the big whopper.....
  4. Well, that won't stop you playing bass. My hands are pretty small too... and some pretty small women play.

    One thing I have seen done with French bow is to move the thumb to the bottom of the frog... and before anyone pipes up and calls that barbaric, this was recommended to me by one of the NZ Symphony players, and I saw her doing it on stage in a concert last week, with Hilary Hahn as soloist... so that's no low-end orchestra.

    My solution was just to play German and be happy.
  5. Andrew Hamilton

    Andrew Hamilton Guest

    Apr 18, 2010
    I don't mean to be critical or cynical, but in the past year of taking lessons with teachers on the East Coast 8/10 of them have made a comment about how advantageous my big hands will be. I'm on the opposite end of the spectrum. I've never met someone with bigger hands.

    It's obviously not impossible to play the bass with small hands, but in the same way that I wouldn't play violin I'm sure that your hands will present some issues.
  6. Well, I've never had an issue. I think 'cello actually needs bigger hands than the bass; pivoting across 4 semitones on the bass is less distance than extending over 5 on the 'cello.
  7. ekspain


    Feb 22, 2008
    Well, thought I'd add my 2 cents. I've been playing French for about 14 years. It took me about 13 to be able to hold the bow "correctly" and I'm finally making some other adjustments that really seem comfortable and correct. I like playing French and I believe it has many great plusses, and what is more, it has qualities that German may not have- though I'm not going to get into it here. BUT, I've recently started German, about 2 months ago, and I've discovered that I can, all of a sudden, play much better. Why this is, is hard to say. It could be psychological-
    though, I believe playing French is much more of an art. To be a really good French bow player requires many years, in my opinion, and it is something that I still seek-
    my example being Francois Rabbath, who himself, devoted many decades in mastering the French. German bow seems considerably easier in that sense. But ease aside, it has a different sound, asthetic- I think its really valuable to know both.

    About holding the bow- the thumb should be bent and not tense, the hand relaxed-
    but very importantly, don't think of the bow as your hand, but the arm and body. The moment comes from your root or feet, travels up causes the weight to shift the arm moves, causing the wrist and hand (if flexible) do pull or push the bow, like a chain reaction. Hair of bow should be flat. If you think of the bow as your arm, maybe that will help you relax?
    Hope that helps.
    I understand your french bow issues. Seek a great french bow master and they can help you. Patrick Neher, Joe Carver, Paul Ellison, Francois Rabbath, Hal Robinson, Nick Walker.

    Good luck!
  8. MDEbass


    Dec 15, 2008
    Your first problem is that you are referring to it as your bow "grip." This implies that you are actually gripping it. That's your problem. No matter what bow you play, french or german, the bow is just gently resting in your hand, no matter what dynamic, whether you're playing pp or ffffff. Any gripping of the bow will get in the way of the natural feel and as a result, the natural sound.
  9. Fatty Boom Boom

    Fatty Boom Boom

    May 12, 2009
    I've been playing French bow for 20 years. In the beginning I used a long and tip-heavy bow. The muscle between my index finger and thumb would just kill me even after 10 minutes of playing. This kept me from improving my arco playing for a long time. Then I was able to afford a new bow that was much less tip-heavy and shorter than my old bow. Now I have no pain, and no trouble practicing for hours. I recommend you have a bow repair person put some heavier winding on your bow to make it more frog-heavy and see if that helps.
  10. Fatty Boom Boom

    Fatty Boom Boom

    May 12, 2009
    you also might try using a little rubber latex, or soft silicone tubing, to pad the grip area either for your index finger, or thumb, or both. Rabbath's got one on his bow. Thierry Barbe uses one too. It will add a little weight (2-5 grams depending on how much tubing you use) to the frog end of the stick and provide an extra cushion. I find it also let's me find my grip faster if I'm transitioning from pizz to arco very quickly.
  11. I used a commercial rubber sheath on my wooden bow, which seemed to be a bit too thick. But it did allow me to relax my grip. I'm experimenting with cut-off fingers from latex or rubber gloves. My thought is that the finger cut-outs will be thinner, lighter, and contoured to the natural shape of the bow.
  12. ahsbass6


    Apr 13, 2004
    I started Double Bass using a German bow but was switched to French by my teacher as an undergraduate.Some suggest that the French bow allows you to play with a more lyrical "style" as in the Neopolitan style, which you will use longer bow strokes and is more legato. But when I listen to players like Gary Karr et al, it really boils down to what "school" of thought you subscribe to. Enjoy!
  13. LouisF

    LouisF Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2003
    Los Angeles, CA
    What my distinguished colleagues above over-look is that the good lord simply intended the double bass to be played with a German bow! :)

    Seriously, as someone with relatively small hands and hand problems (arthritis etc -- I'm way past high school), I have at times tried to "go French" and have always returned to the other side.

    There are a variety of German bow holds online somewhere, and I frankly use a variety of "grips" depending on how bad the hand is or is not that day (including the Streicher hold).

    But I do think there is something to the bass being a member of the gamba family originally that does facilitate (especially when playing seated) an underhand "grip" - but that may just be an impression and not have any basis in fact.

    Whatever it is you're doing, playing in pain is a sign that you - or anyone else - is doing it wrong, and the event needs to be examined and analyzed before permanent damage is done. It looks like you have done that.

  14. ouija


    Jan 18, 2009
    And I can spend years learning to play the bass, but that doesn't mean playing the violin is easy...

    Anyway, OP, seems pretty straightforward. Just play German :D

    FYI I have small hands and play French
  15. ouija


    Jan 18, 2009
    You should try rubber bands, you can adjust how many you put on and adjust them to where your first finger usually sits. I've liked it anyway
  16. MDEbass


    Dec 15, 2008
    The whole French/German bow thing is irrelvant. Even if you ask all those great bassists that you listed, most of whom did study with Rabbath, I'm sure they would agree that the bow is not the stick - it is the arm. To say that one type of bow being "much more of an art" than the other is ridiculous. Rabbath didn't title his film "Art of the French Bow" - he titled it "Art of the Bow" - the bow being your ARM. Regardless of which style of bow you use, it will take many many years to mastering the bow - again, the bow being your ARM. Rabbath did not spend decades mastering the French bow; he spent many decades studying the mechanics of the arm and developing an appopriate technique. I recall watching a video of a Rabbath masterclass where he talked about how people regard him as the best German bow teacher while he doesn't even play German. This is because he has such a grasp over the concept of mechanics of the way the right arm works, that it doesn't matter what type of bow you use. I'm not sure what your experience is with learning French and German, but perhaps you started on and learned French and started learning German later on. Of course, it would take less time to pick up on German because you already have an idea of how the right arm works from your experiences with French. And it would be the same vice versa.
  17. agaetis.byrjun


    May 17, 2010
    You know what they say about bass players with small hands... They have smaller basses!

    Lol, I play a half size and have pretty small hands. I started off with German, went to French, and came back to my beloved German. It's hard for the hand to adjust, but German's totally worth it.
  18. In-person lessons would help us all deal with these issues best.

    I think that for beginners playing French and getting hand cramps, it's very possible that there is simply not enough rosin on the hair to allow one to sound long notes on the E string without pressing down on the strings with the bow. Without enough hair grip, we'd press down to sound notes and then hand cramps will come within 20 minutes. In the German grip we can hide this fact of inadequate stickiness because it's easier to apply more pressure to the string with less muscle effort. But the issue is the same in either case, not enough stickiness and hair to grip the string to get good sound. This causes us to use muscle effort to create the grip via pressure to get the sound. This extra muscling is what can causes some common cramps.

    Without pressing the bow down on the strings, we should be able to sound long quiet stopped notes on the E string. If we have to press down, then the hair grip is not enough, and the easiest remedy is more rosin. We need, how much we need. Swipe counts are irrelevant. Other factors come in play too, but they can be addressed best in private lessons.

    I started with French, then went German and now am trying out French again because of a new bow purchase. At first, hand cramps. Then I realized that without pressing down on the bow, I could not get the hairs to grip the string. My solution path: More rosin, play, more rosin, play, more rosin, play... repeated; until I could sound the notes without applying pressure. Since my hand is no longer muscling down the bow+string, I'm not getting cramps. What worked for me, was more rosin.
  19. mdwallace


    Apr 1, 2010
    New York City
    Rubbers are a great way to protect your health. You can relax your hand and get away from the urge to squeeze. Always use a rubber :)
  20. mdwallace


    Apr 1, 2010
    New York City
    Brutal Bassist, one thing I thought about having read your post is that if you are on the smaller side, be careful of your body positioning while transitioning to German bow. You lose about an inch-and-a-half distance from the bridge going from over-hand to under-hand, so the most obvious solution is to lean your body a bit further to the right as you get close to the bridge. This can cause all sorts of problems with your back/shoulder, so watch your posture and listen to your body.

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