difficultly bowing A string cleanly

Discussion in 'Orchestral Technique [DB]' started by yor123, Jul 21, 2003.

  1. yor123


    Mar 29, 2001
    New Orleans
    Hi all,

    I am having difficultly bowing my A string cleanly. I tend to hit the E or D string especially if playing long bows. My instructor plays my bass with no problem but does comment that my setup is a compromise so as to make it playable for both pizz and arco. Strings are spirocores with the red windings at both ends.
    Is this a common problem? I wonder if I have not developed a habit of being weak on that string. It has been a problem since I started six months ago, and while I have improved my sound on the other strings, I still am inconsistent on the A. I tend to "expect" a poor sound or to hit an adjacent string. I find myself tensing up whenever I see a note coming up that requires the A string. (The problem is worse when I am reading rather than just noodling or playing scales)
    My instructor says it just takes practice which I no doubt agree with, but I fear I will always fear the A string.

    Any comments?
  2. Aroneng

    Aroneng Supporting Member

    Sep 7, 2001
    Ft. Lauderdale, FL
    It seems like the curvature of your bridge may need to be adjusted. If you were to make a template of your bridge curvature, does the shape match the curvature at the end of the fingerboard or does the bridge seem to be more "flat"?

    If you are having difficulty with only the A string, then most likely the A string is too low, or the D and E strings are too high in relationship to the A string on your bridge.

    If your teacher doesn't have a problem, maybe it is more your technique. How long have you been playing?
  3. Don Higdon

    Don Higdon In Memoriam

    Dec 11, 1999
    Princeton Junction, NJ
    My first reaction was to question the arc of the bridge, but reading further that you tense up in anticipation makes me think it's a correctible problem with technique.
    Try a few things:
    1. Put a straight edge touching the underside of the A and the G. Check the elevation of the D. Then put the edge touching D and E, and check the elevation of the A, comparing it to the D.
    You could do the same thing with your teacher's bass and see how they compare. By the way, do you have the problem when you play your teacher's bass?
    2. Practice bow angles, and bow angles only: bow long tones on open strings. Keep your left hand out of this - no fingered notes. Don't look down at the bow. Do this both in a lighted room and in the dark. The goal is to gradually put the feel of the correct angle in your subconscious.

    Let us know what you find.
  4. Johnny L

    Johnny L

    Feb 14, 2002
    New Jersey
    Your comment here really throws me off. When he plays your bass again, ask him to use your bow and see what he does. Maybe he'll do something like tighten your bowhair up some. I can't offer anything easier than that for you.

    I've had a similar experience with unwanted strings getting brushed, and I have been able to clear it up with practice. Now I like to play around with double stops and drone while I run a scale up and down. Can't win for losing...
  5. yor123


    Mar 29, 2001
    New Orleans
    Thanks for the replys.

    To answer some of your questions:

    I have been playing double bass for about 6 months. I am working with Simandl, book 1 Edited by Lucas Drew.

    My instructor is a professional bass player in New Orleans and earns his living 75% on string bass and 25% on electric. His string bass gigs are probably all jazz. He never mentions playing orchestrial settings nor does he use his bow much. However he spent many years in the bass chair of a local symphony where he played arco almost exclusivly. He is one of those guys who can play just about anything, read just about anything, and explain everything right over my head! I work with him about once a month. Lately, all of our sessions have been jazz related. (theory and improv...2 5 1 lines up the whazoo.) When I have played his bass, I also drag the E or D strings when playing the A.

    I measured the distances of my strings. A straight edge on the bottom of E to D gave a distance of 4/32nds (1/8inch) of the A string to the straight edge. Likewise, A to G gave a reading of 4/32nds for the D string.
    My bass was set up by the only luthier in town, and guy named Sal. My instructor is happy with the setup and always comments how well the bass sounds given that it was inexpensive and plywood.

    I am certain that the problem is technique and will be solved with practice. I was just curious if others also had this problem and what was their solution.

    Thanks again
  6. I dont know if you're playing french or german bow, or if it would matter, but you might try checking out the angle that your bow is meeting the strings at, (should be close to 90 degrees) and how close to/ far from the bridge you're playing. I used to have a bad habit of pulling the frog end of my (german) bow up when crossing to the lower strings, which really screwed things up. I ended up needing to fix my wrist position, which took a lot of time and concentration, and I also re-evaluated my stance and made some changes there. I found that having the bass closer to vertical and a bit lower helped me get a straighter pull and also relax my whole right arm/ wrist/ hand combo as well as put less stress on my left hand muscles with my rather large bass. I also like to check out my techique in a full length mirror when I'm having problems with something; I usually find that I'm doing something that looks really goofy and that if I fix it it helps correct the problem. Same goes with having other people check out your technique; playing for as many people as possible and having them critique all aspects of your playing is a really great way to improve your playing all the way around.
  7. try long bows on one string, combined (i.e. two notes sounding together, bowing two strings at the same time) with shorter notes (say, quarter note, rest, quarter note, rest, etc.) on an adjacent string. So for example, you could do a long, sustained open D, and and combine quarters notes (A, rest, A, rest) on the open A string.

    Try to pay attention (simultaneously!) to

    1) the tone quality on the sustained note, both when the other sring is sounding and when its not)

    2) a clean attack on the second string

    3) a clean note end on the second string

    4) the path your bow arm must take to make this work well, upbows and down

    5) all the other normal bowing parameters - speed, pressure, angle, soundpoint, etc.

    6) relax !!!

    Get so you can do this eyes-up, with a good sound and a confident, relaxed motion.

    Try a variety of permutations. Long note on the D or E string, intermitent on A; or long note on A, intermitent D or E. Use a metronome and do it slowly, real slowly, until its gets real easy; only then speed it up a little. Later, try fingering something; instead of open strings, say a fifth interval with 1 and 4 in some position, or even something with harmonics, because this will require a different bowing feel.

    Do this for a few weeks and mix it up with more conventional string crossing exercises (such as repetitive patterns back and forth between notes on the E, A, E, A strings or D, A, D, A strings). I guarantee you'll know eactly where that A string is and how to approach it with the bow.
  8. yor123


    Mar 29, 2001
    New Orleans
    Toman and Myrick,

    Thanks for the tips. I'll give them a try and let you know how things worked out.

  9. several weeks have passed since the foregoing exchange.

    interested to hear how you've been getting along with that A string, yor123?
  10. yor123


    Mar 29, 2001
    New Orleans
    Hello Myrick,

    Thanks for the follow up. I have been using your technique that you posted along with exercises in Simandl. I noticed that I do much better with your exercises than when reading from Simandl. No doubt that I have more trouble getting clean bowings while reading as opposed to just winging it. I have trouble playing period while reading!
    I do okay when I do not have to shift far, but on those pieces that move up the register quickly then back down, I get off beat. I am having to look at my neck too often. There is no easy answer except practice. But there is hope--I sound much better today than I did a six months ago.