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Bow technique/setup question

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [DB]' started by Chris Fitzgerald, Apr 9, 2009.


  1. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    I'm around a few great arco players and a lot of classical bass students on a regular basis. I notice that the strings du jour these days seem to be either Bel Cantos or Permanents. I also notice that the string heights of these players seems to be a fair bit lower than what I use with stiff strings (Dominants/Spiro starks at 7-10mm G --> E). On my bass, with my newbie arco technique, I seem to get better "grabability" with the bow when I keep it on the loose side. On some of the basses with the lighter/softer strings that are set lower, I seem to get better results with a somewhat tighter bow (don't get me wrong - I'm still a rank amateur, but relatively speaking...).

    So, in short:

    Tighter/higher strings = looser bow adjustment
    Softer/lower strings = Tighter bow adjustement

    My question: is there some sort of universal "looseness quotient" at play here as part of the equation, or is it just me not having my chops together?
     
  2. bassist14

    bassist14

    Oct 17, 2005
    Germany
    get a teacher

    :bag:
     
  3. bassist14

    bassist14

    Oct 17, 2005
    Germany
    you canĀ“t generalize this. it depends (as usual) on all components: bass, setup, strings, bow, bowhair-quality, rosin, music, wheather, player
     
  4. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Fair enough. :D

    My closest colleague and friend here at the U is the "classical" bass teacher, and he has given me a standing offer for free lessons whenever I need one, and I've taken him up on this more than once (we trade these kinds of lessons back and forth, as we each have different skill sets that can benefit the other). I've asked him this question before, and he says something along the lines of "maybe, but I just don't think that way", which is also fair and honest. I was just curious what a larger number of players might say about it.
     
  5. bassist14

    bassist14

    Oct 17, 2005
    Germany
    so lets wait for the others...
     
  6. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    NYC
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    DURRRL - I do think it gets back to physical approach; the thing a looser bow does for you is give you a little assistance with getting the hair to "grab" the string, without actually getting the string to hold the bow up. This is hard to type about (teacher), because it really becomes a visceral thing. Instead of developing the technique to NOT grip the bow, but just hold it in a loose and relaxed manner, this approximates the sound. By that I mean, it allows you to play the bow on top of the string rather than letting the bow "sink" into the string, but you end up pushing down on the bow to get it to do so. This, in the long run, does not do you any good.

    Next time you're doing this, keep an eye (if you can, if not maybe get Kate or somebody to watch?) on your fingernails on your right hand. You're hip to capillary refill, right? If the flesh under your fingernails blanch (go from pink to white), you've got too much pressure on the bow and you end up pushing or pulling the bow across the top of the string. And what that slackness in the bow hair does for you is give you an approximation of immediate attack.
    The thing a good physical approach will do is make the string seem less tense, seem to "absorb" the bow. Your right hand is just what keeps the back of the bow up, the "groove" in the string keeps the whole bow up and your shoulder and forearm are what drives the bow through the string.

    from another arco newbie...
     
  7. It's a feel thing, but in my experience a bow has a tension under which it performs best and the strings and action are irrelevent.

    Out of curiosity, why do you bother measuring the action?
     
  8. jallenbass

    jallenbass Supporting Member Commercial User

    May 17, 2005
    Bend, Oregon
    I equate bow tension with how different cars ride. I like the bow to feel more like a Cadillac (loose) than a Miata (tight).
     
  9. Phil Smith

    Phil Smith Mr Sumisu 2 U

    May 30, 2000
    Peoples Republic of Brooklyn
    Creator of: iGigBook for Android/iOS
    Chris, personally I don't think about all of the factors that you have described. I usually tighten the bow just enough so that the hair doesn't contact the stick using the maximum arm weight I think I'm going to use. After that I don't think string height is going to make much of a difference in my ability to catch the string. You just need more "chops", if I were you in addition to lessons I would seek out a community band/orchestra that would have you where you are right now and use that to help further develop your technique.
     
  10. Gornick

    Gornick

    Jun 23, 2006
    Bay Area, CA
    I personally have found there are two different approaches:

    Tight bow, a lot of rosin, a lot of bow movement, with very loose right hand that simply guides the bow across the strings. This from a legit teacher where we spent many lessons on.

    Loose bow, just enough rosin to get the job done. This was shown to me by a predominantly jazz guy.

    I don't mention the hand or motion with the loose bow, because it seems less important to get a decent sound out the gate. the lower bow tension tends to demand more tension from the right hand, and less actual movement, thus it seems easier. The resulting sound is mellower and quieter. When starting out with the higher tension it is difficult to get the right hand loose enough to avoid the squeekies that keep folks from picking up the bow in the first place. there is much less of an error for margin and requires everyday attention to cultivate the technique.

    I don't think string height has anything to do with it, but the string type might. Spiros are harder to get a mellow tone out of and might require the lower tension, for example.


    I prefer the higher tension. you can do much more with the bow, you get a lot more dynamic range, and the sound is beautiful when done right... getting the bass to sing with looooong tones at the beginning of a practice session is a thing of absolute beauty... It is a meditative process I can't believe sometimes skip out of impatience. to be honest, I can't imagine why anyone wouldn't at least use a bow for this reason alone. The difference in the sound of the bass after a week or two of bow work is amazing... something I am just now starting to realize.
     
  11. jallenbass

    jallenbass Supporting Member Commercial User

    May 17, 2005
    Bend, Oregon
    I studied with a John Schaeffer student in the Cleveland Orchestra and was taught to use relatively loose bow hair, ample rosin and a loose bow hand with plenty of motion.
     
  12. Gornick

    Gornick

    Jun 23, 2006
    Bay Area, CA
    I don't think the emphasis on loose right hand is different with loose hair, just that in my experience it was easier to get away with less attention to it.
     
  13. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Thank you for this - this is just the kind of thing I was looking for. :) Great replies all around as well. I do begin practice sessions with long tones on the bow these days. It's when I try to make them shorter and more articulate that my cats give me evil looks and leave the room (and make me wish I could join them....).
     
  14. PocketGroove82

    PocketGroove82

    Oct 18, 2006
    Chicago
    I'm working on the same (short and fast) stroke right now (think 16th notes from the Eckles sonata, second movement). My teachers have me isolating the stroke from the elbow, rather than using the whole arm/shoulder, while maintaining a fluid wrist.

    For me, it actually feels natural and sounds good that way. Thank god, after 7 years off and on, one thing finally comes naturally. lol

    Matt
     
  15. Gornick

    Gornick

    Jun 23, 2006
    Bay Area, CA
    Chris, and pocket... just curious if we are speaking french or german with the bass. I would be interested how much difference the bow type makes in approach to technique. I have always been a french player, but some Germans like to talk about how much more power they get out of it.
     
  16. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    I am a German "bow holder". :)
     
  17. bassist14

    bassist14

    Oct 17, 2005
    Germany
    hey, thats funny - me too!
     

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