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French Bow Technique

Discussion in 'Orchestral Technique [DB]' started by David Abrams, Aug 14, 2003.

  1. I am wondering about the best approach for the right wrist action in French bow technique. I believe the German bow approach has minimal - to - no right wrist action. However, what is the best way to obtain a smoother, sligthly bending right wrist action in French bow technique?
  2. Johnny L

    Johnny L

    Feb 14, 2002
    Victoria, TX
    I did a lot of practicing to free my wrist up with the German bow at my teacher's request...a whole lot of practicing to get comfortable and stop gripping the bow so hard with my thumb.

    For me it was a paradox - how can the thumb transfer weight from the arm without tightening up and tightening up the wrist too? For the French bow I saw pretty much the same issue - how can the index finger transfer that same weight efficiently without a constant herculean grip, a tight wrist?

    Strange, cause I don't have any wrist problems at all when I grab that French bow like a club and act out beating it to pieces against the wall. I get a nice, smooth, slightly bending wrist action there, and I'm sure the bow would draw a good-quality pop in the sheetrock register were it to make contact.
  3. Dondi


    May 3, 2003
    I was taught that the energy to draw the bow comes from the forearm, not by applying pressure in the hand or wrist. The fingers curl slightly around the bow; just enough to keep it from dropping out of your hand. I used to practice flipping the bow in the arch of my fingers over my couch because while learning this technique you tend to drop the bow a lot. The wrist is the pivot joint only. If you use your hand muscles to hold the bow too tightly you will cramp your thumb muscle (metacarpal, I believe), which will cause enought pain to stop your playing. Its the same pain that you get in your left hand if you don't arch your fingers slightly. Always keep in mind the graceful power of the arch form. If you do this you will never get hand cramps.
  4. Try this:

    Find a round railing, lay your bow hand lightly over it, with the thumb on the inside and the other fingers opposite. Don't grip at all. Now move your arm up and down the railing, using the forearm only. Your wrist will move first, leading your hand in either direction. That's the loosness in the wrist. Now grip the railing lightly, and do it again. Your wrist still leads in both directions.

    DO you get the feeling?
  5. What is the correct or preferable angle of the fingers in French bow technique? I see some have the fingers fairly perpendicular to the thumb, while others have the fingers more at a 45 degree angle holding the bow. Does a 45 degree angle help the wrist to be looser?
  6. Chandra


    Jul 1, 2003
    Athens, GA
    I am still a newbie to DB, but my teacher has had me working on the wrist flexibility thing recently. her suggestion is to choose 2 notes (she likes C and E) and practice crossing between them using a variety of bowings. First doing just the two notes (c-e then e-c), then in groups of 4 using slurs - starting with both up and down bows. The goal is to keep the intensity of sound and the length of the notes equal. I have found that it helps me when I use a metronome for this exercise - slowly turning the dial faster and faster until my brain can't keep up (which, unfortunately isn't very fast yet). It's tedious, but I think it's a worthwhile activity.
  7. Johnny L

    Johnny L

    Feb 14, 2002
    Victoria, TX
    Just recently went through the Rabbath CD. That's a great CD to look at and scrutinize wrist flexibility with the French bow, not to mention what he does with his whole body. You'd be much better off working with a teacher face-to-face, especially with bowing issues, but that may help you see how someone uses their fingers.

    I can only mimic what Rabbath does by keeping my fingers relaxed and flexible too. My teacher showed me similar ideas with the German bow (still my favorite) a while back, so it wasn't something totally alien for me.
  8. olivier


    Dec 17, 1999
    Paris, France
    Perpendicular is the answer otherwise you won't bow the E string properly. I can see that you're working on it: 45° is where you end up when your hand get tired. Rest a bit, reajust and do it again.

    I am wondering if, at the begining, it could be more productive the concentrate on proper bow trajectory rather than wrist flexibility...
  9. completely relax hand , limp wrist , insert bow , place finger tips lightly on stick , go to town , that was the process i was tought....it worked wonders for me ....it has also helped teacher-less friends of mine too...
  10. Bubbabass


    May 5, 2004
    Dondi and Hector are on the money.

    What worked for me was to learn to draw a 20 second (or longer) bow pianissimo with only the weight of the bow into the string. This taught me the sweet spot for each string at that weight as well as a relaxed bow hold (not grip) and your fingers will find their comfortable position. Adding arm weight increases the volume and causes you to find a different sweet spot for that level while maintaining a relaxed hold. Ultimately, you learn the sweet spot for each dynamic level using only the minimal force required to overcome the string's resistance. The upper arm leads the hand, which stays relatively relaxed, and the wrist moves minimally only as a reaction to the arm. BTW, this produces a very nice tone when you get back to a more common bow speed.
  11. Heifetzbass

    Heifetzbass Commercial User

    Feb 6, 2004
    Upstate, SC
    Owner, Gencarelli Bass Works and Fine String Instruments, LLC.
    Most times this is a symptom of being taught in a public school program with a violinist for a teacher. Also, you see students rolling their bows back towards them instead of placing the hair flat on the string. I know, I am a public school teacher, but a bass player first. I know that I probably do bad things to my violins and violas. (Muwahhahahaaaaa!!!)

  12. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    I got a question about the thumb with the french grip. Looking at some online sites that tell you that the thumb is straight or slightly bent. However, I find it's hard for me to hold the bow this way. Naturally I want to press the pad of my thumb against the corner of the frog and bent away from my palm. It creates a little more tension in the hand, but I try to relax pretty well and don't have any problems keeping my wrist loose. The sound I get is fine by my ears, and my teacher didn't make a big fuss about it last I showed it to him.

    Anything wrong with having an outward bent thumb?
    Thanks guys.
  13. Heifetzbass -

    I was taught by my (private) teacher to slightly tilt the french bow towards me (or the fingerboard). At least two books I have also recomend the tilt, at least under certain circumstances.

    Why do you feel it is wrong, and what is the advantage to keeping it flat? I have never come upon a truely satisfactory explaination.

    hdiddy -

    There is nothing wrong with bending your thumb, if you od bend it, it will help keep your thumb from becoming tense and cramping.
  14. before my private teahcer moved to south carolina, we worked on wat he called th "press and pop" technique. in which u use the weight of your entire arm to achieve good string contact along with sound. once you get that u could work on flexability such as wrist/arm articulation
  15. Adrian Cho

    Adrian Cho Supporting Member

    Sep 17, 2001
    Ottawa, Canada
    Lead with the wrist.

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