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Bowing Sweet Spot

Discussion in 'Orchestral Technique [DB]' started by Seanto, Jan 29, 2017.

  1. Seanto


    Dec 29, 2005

    I've been playing bass for a few years now, but have not had any bow instruction. The frustration of bowing has been so much for me, that it is the one thing that is driving me to finally get a teacher, with whom i should start with in 6-8 weeks.

    In the meantime i am having moderate success with my new brazilwood french bow, helicore hybrid strings(light), and pops rosin.

    One newb question i have is about the spot on the string to bow on, between the bridge and fingerboard. Most recommendations say to start somewhere in the middle, between these two land marks. I am really having trouble getting a pleasing tone on open strings, especially on the E and A strings, when bowing here. Alternatively i am having much more success when bowing just under the fingerboard, likely due to decreased string tension since i am bowing farther up the string. While i tend to get a cleaner start to the note, i have observed that there may not be as much power/volume when bowing there.

    Looking for general observations about bow placement on the string from those with more experience. Is the sweet spot different depending on the bass? Is bowing farther up the string acceptable? What am i missing?
  2. jallenbass

    jallenbass Supporting Member Commercial User

    May 17, 2005
    Bend, Oregon
    In a nutshell, the lower strings bow better a little closer to the fingerboard and the higher strings a little closer to the bridge. As you play notes on one string the higher notes work better a little closer to the bridge. Yes, different basses can bow differently from one another. There's a lot more to it but this should get you pointed in the right direction.
    Seanto likes this.
  3. JKincaid


    Nov 11, 2007
    Denver, CO
    You're on the right track. Also, think about bow speed with the placement of the bow. To get the best sound, the bow will need to be drawn faster when you're closer to the fingerboard and slower when you're closer to the bridge.
    Until you get a teacher, keep listening to the bow. It will tell you what it likes.
    Seanto likes this.
  4. Also consider your bow speed in relation to the thickness and weight of the strings as well as left hand positions. The D string is usually the most forgiving on most basses where I would be bowing about 1/3 the distance between the end of the fingerboard and the bridge when in lower positions. The same placement on the G string would require a slightly faster bow speed to support the faster, narrower string vibrations. The A and E strings need less and less bow and you maybe most comfortable with only 1/2 the bow playing 1/4 notes on the E at moderate speeds. Trust your eyes as well as your ears by also looking at the string vibrations to gauge success.
    Seanto likes this.
  5. Relaxation of the arm is a big factor. The tone production problems caused by holding tension in the arm would be more pronounced on the lower strings, which have more mass. The key is not to deliberately apply pressure to the string through muscle tension, but rather relax and let the natural weight of the arm work to give traction and transfer energy to the string.

    Bow placement has a lot to do with dynamics and color of the sound, too. If you need to bow loud, very long, sustained notes, moving the bow closer to the bridge will help you do that. Moving the bow up over the end of the fingerboard will reduce volume and produce a lighter, more feathery or flute-like timbre.

    Also keep in mind that the "sweet spot" for bow placement moves closer to the bridge as you finger notes higher on the fingerboard (in other words, as the string length decreases). For playing very loud, sustained notes in higher thumb position, you'll see soloists drawing the bow very close to the bridge.

    Watch these two videos of Gary Karr and notice how the placement of the bow is constantly changing, depending on the range, dynamic level, phrasing and coloring of the notes:

    The variables that you'll see Mr. Karr constantly blending and adjusting are 1) Weight into the string; 2) Bow speed; and 3) Bow placement on the string. Mastering those only takes a few decades. ;)

    Have fun with the bow... it will be like playing another instrument and will give you a whole new musical vocabulary to work with!
    Seanto likes this.
  6. damonsmith


    May 10, 2006
    Quincy, MA
    There is an easier spot for each pitch, but ultimately you want to get a clean tone from sul tasto (near the fingerboard) to sul ponticello (near the bridge - this often refers to the noisy sound natural to that placement).
    Bow speed is going to help you more. Don't push the bow, start the note and let the vibration pull it across.
    Seanto likes this.
  7. Seanto


    Dec 29, 2005
    Thanks all for the feedback, very enlightening and has given me more variables to consider. I have been starting to "allow" my arm weight to naturally produce pressure on the string and it has greatly helped me relax my hand hold on the bow. I am now trying to fine tune how much pressure to allow for a pleasing result, and will also be considering bow speed on a deeper level among other things.

    Damon, i like your comment about not forcing the bow across the string and allowing the vibration to do the work. Will be considering this factor as well.

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