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French bow - upper arm ache

Discussion in 'Bows and Rosin [DB]' started by jmears, Jun 20, 2007.

  1. jmears


    Jan 26, 2007
    Hi. I find that when I have been playing on the G string for a few minutes my upper right arm starts to ache. There is no problem with playing on the other strings. Generally I think I am relaxed, and my bowing generally works quite well other than this ache. I sit fairly well round the bass to be able to reach the G string.

    This isn't really a problem for playing orchestral parts, which use all the strings, but for playing solos which are mainly on the G string, it becomes an issue.

    Any ideas anyone?

  2. jfv


    May 5, 2003
    Portland, OR
    Given your informative profile its a bit hard to help.
    How long have you been playing, and how long on
    the bow? It takes YEARS to develop the strength
    and endurance of a pro.

    No one should develop bow skill without an expert
    teacher to work with, it takes a person standing
    right there with you to diagnose if its a problem
    with your technique or just a 'build endurance'
    kinda thing.

    Good luck,
  3. jmears


    Jan 26, 2007
    I've added a bit to my profile.

    I've been playing bass fairly intensively for about 4.5 years, having switched from trombone. I have had a good teacher all along, but she is a German bow player. We are both puzzled by my arm aches.
  4. jbenner913


    Mar 3, 2007
    Dayton, OH
    Hey John,
    The reason you're probably getting aches is because you are using muscles that you haven't used before. When using proper technique, you should be using muscles in your shoulder area. And when you are playing solos on the G string, it's kind of like doing pushups. It's exercise.
    I hope this helps,
    Jon B.
  5. jfv


    May 5, 2003
    Portland, OR
    Then you aren't doing what I said, having an expert
    teacher of just any description doesn't count, that
    would almost be like working on French Bow with a
    trumpet teacher :)

    When I took up french I actually switched to a teacher
    who was a student of Rabbath, but at the least you
    should find an expert at french, might be someone
    who plays both, many great players do.

    Good luck,
  6. GriffithLea


    Aug 29, 2006
    Cypress, TX
    You might want to see another teacher or two. I'm not saying that you should quit the one you have, but it might help to get another set of eyes on the problem.

    I am not formally trained as a teacher, but: my first thought was that you are too tense. I did see you say that you are "generally ... relaxed" but you might not be as relaxed as you think.

    Pick something that you can play on the G string with your head removed (actual removal of head optional), like a G major half scale (G A B C D C B A G) . While you play that over and over, concentrate on the area where the pain usually starts (I guess you'd better keep your head on after all). Try to keep it as relaxed as you can, but of course not so relaxed that you drop the bow or something.

    The idea is to free up mental capacity normally used for playing actual music, so that it can be directed at maintaining the correct amount of muscle tension in the affected area. If you find that your problem does not occur, or takes significantly longer to occur, while doing this then I would say that you have a problem with being overly tense while playing real music. The cure, I think, would be to alternate between this exercise and actual music. Over time, the proper muscle tension "setting" should become ingrained.
  7. sibass89


    Jan 29, 2006
    Cincinnati, OH
    My first though is that you are not getting over the bass. Your arm should feel the same on every string, and the way you work this as you go to the higher pitched strings, is by getting your body over the bass. This is why it is important to have perfect posture. You don't want to lift your arm, that is why you are getting pain, as far as I can think.
  8. I've been having the same problem for about 9 months. I've been to the chiropractor monthly for the problem. I think I've finally figured it out for me..

    It's tension in my right hand and right elbow angle.

    I've had a poor Fr. grip with my fourth finger floating. This resulted in tension with my thumb to keep the bow in place. I was also raising my elbow to increase pressure on the string.

    I've found if I:
    1. Anchor my first and fourth fingers on the stick my grip is both stronger and more relaxed.
    2. Keep my elbow down. The angle difference is slight, maybe only 10 or 15 degrees. It seems to use different muscles to get volume out of the bass.

    Now I have to make it a habit.
  9. jmears


    Jan 26, 2007
    Perhaps that is my problem too then. I certainly have quite a loose hold on the bow with my fingers. I'll experiment next time I practise.

    Thanks for all the feeback everyone.

  10. Not sure if I should take that literally but I couldn't help but notice you used the word "SIT".

    Perhaps you should be standing when you play? There is no safe ergonomic way of playing the bass in a sitting position. And by bending limbs you are restricting the flow of energy through your body.
  11. jallenbass

    jallenbass Supporting Member Commercial User

    May 17, 2005
    Bend, Oregon

  12. jmears


    Jan 26, 2007
    I have no intention of standing for the entire length of Die Frau Ohne Schatten! Ideally I would lie down and go to sleep, but sitting seems a reasonable compromise ;-)

    Experimenting last night with various suggestions I discovered couple of things.

    The first is that the problem is eased if I angle the bow slightly more so that I am playing more on the top edge of hair. A little bow weight brings the entire width of the hair into contact. Previously I had been playing with the bow more square onto the stirng.

    The second is that I have a vibrato exercise where I place my left middle on my shoulder and rotate as far as possible either way. Attempting this with my right arm I find it quite difficult so perhaps I need to work on loosening my right shoulder.

    Again thanks for all feedback.

  13. Good point. I'm admittedly not a classical guy and hadn't considered that. I've never had to stand through the Ring of the Nibelung.
  14. bopeuph


    Jul 3, 2007
    Orlando, FL
    Author of "Soul Fingers." I'm the Duck Dunn expert.
    Pain can usually mean tension, or that you're wasting energy in ways you don't need to. One thing that I thought that might be bugging you is maybe the height of your bass. If it's just a tad too high, you might be bending your right arm to place the bow in the sweet spot. I'm not much of a bowing player, but I spoke with the classical bass professor at FSU a few times while I was attending there, and she was a big proponent of using gravity to your advantage. Try to keep your arm close to tonus. To know where tonus is, stand straight up, and let your arms fall to your sides. That slight bend is tonus.

    This may be an off comparison, but maybe not: I'm a practitioner of wing chun, which is a sensitivity based art. I find when I'm drilling or sparring, my right arm will start getting tired when it's meeting a lot of punches. I find when I put it back in tonus, the pain goes away.

  15. Jmears, the problem that you are having probably has to do with your bow hold. If you are using your ring finger and pinky, stop that and have them at most just barely touching the bow if not, completely off of the bow stick. That will allow you to roll into the bow further with your index finger and take more of the pressure off of your forearm and put it onto your shoulder.
  16. Over the last week, I've also noticed tension in my right shoulder. I'm finally able to control it by relaxing and letting it drop while I play.

    I was able to practice for much longer yesterday while relaxing and dropping my shoulder.
  17. anonymous12251111

    anonymous12251111 Inactive

    Apr 6, 2007
    That's the exact opposite of what I would suggest. I had the same problem as you, especially since I'm short.


    1) Drop your elbow so it is facing directly down, yet keep your forearm up (mimic a good cellist)
    2) Pronate the elbow SLIGHTLY to the right but still keep your shoulder firmly down/relaxed and INTO the D string.
    3) Roll the bow and play on the side of the hair on the G-strong, slightly pronate your wrist. Your wring and pinky finger are just touching the stick, no weight is being applied.
    4) The contact/weight is coming from your shoulder as it is relaxed, make sure your elbow feels like it is very heavy.
    5) Rock the bow across all the string, up and down.
  18. Eric Swanson

    Eric Swanson

    Oct 8, 2007
    Boston, MA
    Priceless candor :p.

    I agree with the idea of at least a few lessons with a professional French bow player, e.g. a working orchestral bassist in a local symphony.

    My teachers saved me years of pointless struggle. How can one place a value on that? Time is, after all, the one resource that seems to be finite.

    I see no reason not to stay with your current teacher, as well, if it is a good relationship. Can she recommend a teaching peer who plays French, professionally, has a great sound, and admirable facility?
  19. jallenbass

    jallenbass Supporting Member Commercial User

    May 17, 2005
    Bend, Oregon
    You found the secret to eternal youth and haven't shared with us? :)
  20. mheintz


    Nov 18, 2004
    My two cents: you may be placing the bass too close to your body. Some people can sit right behind the bass, but I find that, with French bow, I raise my arm too high when doing so. Try moving the bass a bit further out on your knee. You should be able to hold the bow quite comfortably at the tip and frog with full hair on the G-string. Your mileage may vary.
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