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French bow grip question. Opinions please

Discussion in 'Orchestral Technique [DB]' started by glink, Apr 9, 2012.

  1. glink


    Feb 16, 2007
    Hi- I am a jazz player but I am practicing with and trying to master arco. I originally used a German grip because of my teacher but now many years later I have been trying to develop the use of an overhand grip with a french bow. When I use the classical french grip form, I notice that the bow tip wants to dive towards the floor and I must use much more effort to hold the bow and keep it perpendicular to the strings than when I bend my pinky and position it on the "back" of the frog as shown in the attached photo. In this position, the bow tip does not want to dive toward the floor because it is stopped by the knucke of my pinky. Logic tells me that the standard french grip works fine with a violin because gravity is pulling the hair into the strings but my little modification works well with a bass because the bow is oriented differently to gravity than with a violin. My mirror shows me that my bowing is much more consistently perpendicular to the strings, my hand and arm are relaxed, and my tone production seems quite good.

    Am I on to something here or are there reasons why I should avoid this hold. I would appreciate the opinions of folks who have far more experience and expertise in this subject and because I live in a very rural area, I don't have access to much advice about this subject. Thank you all in advance for your comments.

    P.S. I am an orthopedic physical therapist and my expertise tells me there should be no pain or injury caused as a result of this modification but I am curious if anyone can think of one or if musically there would be some downside to this technique.

    Attached Files:

  2. Haven't seen this one before. If you find the bow tip heavy it is often due to the fact that your arm weight isn't focused into the string properly. I play with a bow that is balanced in such a way that the tip seems heavier. When my arm weight is focused into the string properly, you don't notice it at all. My fingers are relaxed and the bow grabs well and produces a big sound. Your first finger is crucial for transfering weight into the string. Where is your thumb (on the stick, in the frog)? If your thumb is positioned too far forward, you will feel as though the tip is heavier. Your grip may become awkward and problematic for spiccato (and then, perhaps not). Do you find your elbow sticking out to the right when you play? Try keeping your elbow down and relaxed; This should help you get your weight into the string more effectively. The bottom line is, if it works well and doesn't risk any injury or pain, then, run with it!
  3. I think that it might cause a stiffer hold, since you cannot freely move your hand, as normally the bow kind of pivots on your thumb a little. The, as I've learned it, is that you should hold your thumb a little crooked inwards (all fingers in fact, as you probably know, this is their strongest position). I would reccomend using your index finger to kind of grab the stick, and use your thumb and second finger in conjuction with your index finger (and to a lesser and more variable extent, your other two fingers) to hold the bow. when playing, the effect is somehwat reversed, as your index finger presses down and your other fingers "lift" to swing the bow downwards on the string.

    Bit of a gobbledeygook perhaps.
  4. powerbass


    Nov 2, 2006
    western MA
    I started out learning French Bow with the same grip - pinky tucked behind, my teacher got me out of this habit. A couple of issues may be happening. If your bow is on the heavy side you may be having a hard time controlling it. I have two bows, one is lighter than the other. I used the lighter bow for many months, now I'm using the heavier bow. Initially I used the heavier bow intermittently as a weight training device. I also did exercises with the heavier bow - supination/pronation and ulnar deviation, in the beginning of my practice sessions. The other issue is you may need to spread your fingers out. From the picture it looks like your fingers are close together, spreading them creates a bigger fulcrum.
  5. That hold makes sense if you're just holding the bow in the air away from the bass. The bow's weight should be supported by the string, not your hand or fingers. Adjustments to your hold should be made with the bow already on the string, or with your left hand holding the stick. If you find the bow is slipping away, it may be that your bass is too vertical to use gravity effectively.

    You may find a little more control of the tip if the pad of your small finger is in contact with the frog.
  6. Also, if you're playing sitting down, this concept will be far easier to get hold of, as you can let the string support your arm and bow weight to 100%.
  7. DaveAceofBass

    DaveAceofBass Supporting Member

    Feb 20, 2004
    Charlotte, NC
    Man, your grip is whacked out and not correct at all. I'm not a pro arco guy, I'm more of a jazzer, but I studied with great teachers and now I'm a teacher too. The Rabbath grip is THE way to hold the French bow. You can disagree with many of his other methods like the endpin and the left hand, but for French bow grip it is the solution you seek.

    I can give you advice to control the tip without the pinky modification. But your other fingers need correction too.

    First, your thumb must touch the frog stick where they meet, near the upper side. You must keep your first knuckle bent to avoid cramping. Use a latex rubber bow grip (available through Lemur for like $4) to help the thumb to be comfortable. Your middle finger should touch the side of the ring. Your ring finger and pinky should cradle the underside of the frog. You might keep your ring finger on the eye of the frog for a point of reference.

    Once you have all of that you must do the following to control the tip: extend your index finger to the leather grip of the stick. You must cradle the stick in your first knuckle. Now use the index finger to get power from the tip. Rotate your forearm to get a good powerful tone. This is key to controlling the tip.

    I will try to post pics or videos if I can find the time. In the meantime, look for clips from "Art of the Bow" on YouTube or look up the website. A teacher taught me all that was in the video but then the video has really reinforced this. Good luck!
  8. DC Bass

    DC Bass Supporting Member

    Mar 28, 2010
    Washington DC
  9. DaveAceofBass

    DaveAceofBass Supporting Member

    Feb 20, 2004
    Charlotte, NC

    Here you go. Like this.
  10. There are numerous variations on what we call a French bow hold. There are a number of factors that dictate what will work for a particular player. Check out some of Edgar Meyer's different holds. I myself play with a Neapolitan grip (thumb inside of the frog rather than on the side of the stick). This was Petracchi's grip which was passed onto my teacher who studied with him years ago. What works fo one won't necessarily work for all. Forcing yourself to work with a given model can do more harm than good.
  11. John Burgess

    John Burgess

    Nov 28, 2011
    Rabbath is one way but not the only way. Hand and arm techniques such as extending the index finger laterally, and raising or twisting the forearm for more bow pressure should be explored but not taken as a golden rule.
  12. DaveAceofBass

    DaveAceofBass Supporting Member

    Feb 20, 2004
    Charlotte, NC
    Okay, but I've studied with teachers of other methods and the general consensus is more or less the same. Don't forget the OP asked about controlling the tip, and my response was geared at helping him do just that.
  13. Andy Mopley

    Andy Mopley

    Sep 24, 2011
    Interesting how you "seem" to use the first finger as a hook...leaving a wide gap between it and the rest of the fingers...This is more like what I try to do:

    String Pedagogy Notebook

    Must be general preference, I guess
  14. glink


    Feb 16, 2007
    I really want to thank all of you who have taken the time to post replies to my question. There is a wealth of information here for me to explore now and I now see that I probably came to the wrong conclusion on my own. Two (paraphrased) proverbs come to mind here: "a conclusion usually is where you got tired of thinking" and "he who is their own professor has a fool for a teacher". That's why I so appreciate the expertise and experience shared here on this site!
  15. DaveAceofBass

    DaveAceofBass Supporting Member

    Feb 20, 2004
    Charlotte, NC
    Rabbath says you can move the finger in or out for power at the tip when needed.
  16. Ron Plichta

    Ron Plichta Supporting Member

    May 19, 2007
    Fairfax, VA
    This is another timely post for me since I develop pain in my right thumb when I try using my French bow. The French bow allows better access to the E string for me and I generally prefer it overall, but German allows for pain-free bowing. Mind you, I've only been at this a couple weeks and realize that I need to spend more time refining my technique.
  17. BioDriver

    BioDriver A Cinderella story

    Aug 29, 2008
    Austin, TX
    This was why I switched to German - I broke my thumb when I was in middle school and it was too uncomfortable for me to hold a French bow. However, I never really had much of a problem accessing the E with a German, but in any case I'd rather put up with that problem over 2 hours of my thumb being in pain.
  18. Ron Plichta

    Ron Plichta Supporting Member

    May 19, 2007
    Fairfax, VA
    I watched the Anderson videos tonight and then tried his ideas on my French bow. I'm still feeling more comfortable with my German bow and so I think I'm going to go in that direction.
  19. chicagodoubler


    Aug 7, 2007
    Chicago, that toddling town
    Endorsing Artist: Lakland, Genz Benz
    That the tip feels heavy when the bow is not in contact with the string is *exactly* what you want to feel!

    Look at the picture of the maestro-
    Radio Me la Sudas: Giovanni Bottesini - Fantasia 'Lucia di Lammermoor' & Fantasia 'Beatrice di Tenda'

    The double bass bow is heavy, so it can start the big, heavy strings without effort. We should always feel the weight of the bow. If you are trying to create weight and power without using the natural weight of bow, you absolutely will get pain and frustration. It's like trying to bounce a basketball by throwing the ball at the floor with great force, rather than just encouraging it do do what it was made for.

    BTW Rabbath certainly is not the *only* way, but his devotees tend to have fantastic bow arms. As always... do what your teacher says!