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German bow; unwanted bounce

Discussion in 'Orchestral Technique [DB]' started by Richard Simon, May 6, 2010.

  1. Richard Simon

    Richard Simon Supporting Member

    Dec 6, 2003
    Los Angeles, CA
    As a jazz bassist, I occasionally take arco solos with my very average German bow. Any issues tend to be with intonation, not with bowing.

    This week I am a hired 'ringer' in a youth orchestra, and suddenly the bow is bouncing. Of course it's embarrassing - I'm guessing that the kids are thinking oh, my grandpa has Parkinson's disease, too - but it's also strange in that it doesn't happen during a jazz arco solo or while practicing one of the first couple of Bach suites.

    Typically the bow starts to dribble from the midpoint to the tip.
    In the two days left before the concert, I plan to try a few 'mechanical' fixes - more rosin, tighter bow hair tension, raising the endpin - though I fear it's more likely that the bounce is merely exposing my lousy bow technique.

    Can anyone recommend a way to eliminate the unwanted bounce?
  2. futurebass77


    Aug 2, 2007
    Well, first of all, tightening the bow will actually help the bow bounce, so don't do that. Make sure you are using your arm weight to keep the bow on the string throughout the entire stroke. If you still get the bounce, you might want to tilt the bow slightly towards you, but that is a dangerous way to create bad habits if you persistently do it when unnecessary(my problem). If all else fails, its probably the bow.

    Just my .02 cents.
  3. Richard Simon

    Richard Simon Supporting Member

    Dec 6, 2003
    Los Angeles, CA

    Just now during warm-ups, the bow stayed obediently on the strings.

    I was more mindful of using the weight of the arm, as you suggested.

    It's always nice to hear that the problem might be with the gear and not the player. I would guess that a better bow would make a difference.

    I think when I was sight-reading the orchestral material, my bow technique was hijacked by my determination to play the right notes.

    "Canting" the bow with the edge of the hair against the string is a topic of some dispute, I gather: both Abe Luboff (LA Phil) and John Clayton advocated it, but I read where others recommend flat, full hair on string. Different strokes. The objective is to have no bow constrictor, eh?
  4. LouisF

    LouisF Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2003
    Los Angeles, CA
    "I think when I was sight-reading the orchestral material, my bow technique was hijacked by my determination to play the right notes."

    As some one who plays in a couple of community orchestra, let me say that you are not alone in this. I focus on solving one problem at home, then get thrown a half a dozen in rehearsal and it really takes some concentration (for me), and breathing and focus to keep all the components going at the same time in the same direction. I'm getting better -- after 40 yrs!! -- but I'm still an amateur. It's the four or five hours a day of practice (that I never did) as a teen-ager or college student, building up muscle memory etc -- that's lacking now. Oh well, I did other things in my youth!!

  5. Canting the bow is just another tool. It does things to your sound, and you do not want to be doing it without being aware of that, but it is a perfectly valid way of avoiding bounce and making the control easier when playing quietly; playing loud, you need all the hair you have.

    In any case, the bow is all about the weight transfer through your arm and keeping your hand relaxed; a relaxed hand will tend to absorb any tendency to bounce. There should be a slight feeling of turning your wrist inwards as you get toward the tip, this improves the weight transfer, and is actually the natural motion anyway. You shouldn't ever feel like you're trying to hold the tip of the bow up while it is on the string, not unless the passage is really extremely quiet (at which point you won't have a bounce problem).

    Hair tension should be just enough to prevent the hair touching the stick under the most weight you're going to apply, and no more.
  6. fdeck

    fdeck Supporting Member Commercial User

    Mar 20, 2004
    Madison WI
    HPF Technology LLC
    How about French? Same basic principles?
  7. As I understand it, more or less the same, yes. I'm no expert on French bow however.
  8. Two observations.

    A weak bow stick may involuntarily start to jiggle on the string about halfway out, perhaps made worse by tension in your bow hold and bow arm movements that can cause "rust spots" in the freedom of movement.

    To help break up any tension in your body through nerves also examine the way you are breathing. There was a thread on 03 11 2010 started by p mad called Having Trouble Breathing that you should visit. In it I suggested the Son File ( son filay) approach. Try this, holding your bow overhand with the stick held in your fingertips. When it says go back to normal bow hold drop back to German again.

    Best wishes

  9. eerbrev


    Dec 6, 2009
    Ottawa, ON, CAN
    It sounds as though you've got the problem under control, at least for this concert.

    one thing I could suggest (as someone who's still learning, but had a similar problem) is to do long tones on an open string (or a single stopped note), focusing on the sound from bow to another, and making sure that you've got your arm weight in (as you had success with earlier).

    It sounds like the most simple thing in the world, but if you include it in whatever warmup you do before your rehearsals and show, short or long, you'll reap the benefits.


  10. Richard Simon

    Richard Simon Supporting Member

    Dec 6, 2003
    Los Angeles, CA
    Thanks for all of your helpful replies and empathetic suggestions.

    It all seems to come down to one thing:

    - mindfulness - of the hand, the arm, the string tension, the player's tension...and of the need to some day acquire a better bow.

    I've never paid more than $250 for a bow. I know that the good ones run into the thousands, which always seemed like an extravagance. An increase in my bow investment to even the third or fourth power might pay off down the road if a better bow - and better bowing - meant I could accept some of the community orchestra work I've been turning down.

    So - and this is a question for another TB thread - are there any good, 3-figure German bows out there looking for a new home?
  11. eyvindwa

    eyvindwa Supporting Member

    Aug 1, 2007
    Oslo, Norway
    I've been wondering about this lately; is this advice the general consensus around here, or just one of many opinions on this?
  12. LouisF

    LouisF Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2003
    Los Angeles, CA
    The "usual" suspects in the under $1K are bows like the Finale (really well balanced for what you're looking for I think), Tom Owen, Gage Metropolitan, Ary (at Lemur), maybe Ken Smith's bows from China, and Water Violet. Also, I think "bass baterie" (who is a very good player) is selling some bows in that price range that are listed in the want ads here.

  13. I want to ask about the angle at which you hold your bass and the area that you tend to place the bow. Sometimes I will let the bass lay back a little when I am playing pizz. It's a bad habit, but it doesn't affect my sound too much. When I do it when playing arco, my bow moves up toward the fingerboard, and it bounces much easier. If you are not in front of a mirror, look at the rosin residue on the strings to check your bow placement.

    I am also a German bow player, so I have to bring up the issue of grip. I look at this page rather frequently.

    If I support the weight of the bow by gripping tightly or curling the thumb around the stick, then I have problems with jumping and falsing.

    What about other German bow players? Next time you feel like you have the sound and control that you want, think about what you feel with your right hand. Where do you feel the weight? I feel it on the index and middle finger tips, with a little pressure from the frog on the annular finger, pinkie finger and the palm. The thumb is relatively straight. I'm not gripping so much as balancing.
  14. mjt0229

    mjt0229 Supporting Member

    Aug 8, 2007
    Bellingham, WA
    If you look around, I'm sure you can find a dissenting opinion. I think that this is a general consensus, although you should take it with a grain of salt - that is, listen to your teacher but also try it yourself. Start with this advice, and try adding a little more and see what happens. Take a little off and see what happens. You definitely don't want to deviate by too much, though.

    A warning, though: if you overtighten your bow, you can ruin its camber, potentially permanently (by this I mean, tighten it to the point where the bow has little or no curve left, or worse).
  15. Eliminating damage from overtightening is one good reason for carbon fiber bows. The other is that they tend to be better value for money. My own is a Gage Metropolitan, but you don't have to spend quite that much to get a decent bow.

    So, I don't see anything quite like my bow hold on that web page; imagine doing #9 with the fingers, but with the screw crossing the hand more like #10 (not so far out). Having the frog touch the palm is bad except at the extreme ends of your range of motion; normally there should be little contact there.

    If I was going to be playing something that involved a lot of spiccato I might use more hair tension, but ordinarily I like it just at the minimum.

    And finally... yes, mindfulness is exactly the right concept. Every part of playing should at some time have been mindfully examined (not all at once, you can't really do that). By the time you get to performing something, your awareness should ideally be of the performance, not of any of the technical details.
  16. Richard Simon

    Richard Simon Supporting Member

    Dec 6, 2003
    Los Angeles, CA
    I prepared for last Saturday's performance 'armed' with some of the sound advice from this bass brotherhood:
    - From the great photos of various German hand grips, I picked Paul's favorite, #11, and gave it some hours of practice.
    - Having noticed some rosin buildup toward the end of the fingerboard, I realized the bow placement was too high, so I raised the endpin. Right away, this gave me a beefier sound.
    - With the bow now passing closer to the bridge, I found I needed more rosin on the bow.
    - I kept the bow hair tension looser than I usually do.
    - I imagined seeing Gary Karr advocate pushing the bass forward toward the bow in a video, but concluded that it must have been another of my hallucinations.

    The program opened with the final movement of Beethoven's Fifth. (This being a youth orch., the kids were not equipped to down the entire Fifth.)

    Alas, the bow bounced.

    We moved on to Bizet's Farandole. I loosened my hand's grip, trying to relax as in the practice room, and the results were somewhat better.

    The finale was three movements of John Williams sturm and drang. Somewhere during "The Revenge of the Sith" the bow and the bass made peace, but as soon as I blessed their union, that old bounce came back.

    A major part of the ordeal was still from Tension, I'm sure:
    I confess that during the program's many ff passages, the frog often found its way against the palm; and my young stand mate had his own interpretations of Up and Down bow markings - plus a penchant for playing Arco when the score said Pizz! - so there were those concerns as well.

    Still, I can't help thinking that a better bow would have compensated for some of my technique's shortcomings.

    I might end up paying $375 for a Finale, but for now will entertain the fantasy of meeting a kindly bass widow who is willing to part with her late husband's exquisitely balanced pernambucco German bow for a song.
  17. One thing a better bow can do is make it easier to learn the technique.
  18. neilG


    Jun 15, 2003
    Ventura, CA
    It's almost all technique, IMO. Why not seek out a teacher and take lesson before you start throwing money at the issue? At the very least, have a more accomplished player use your bow and give you some idea of what might be going on. It might indeed be the bow, but I play my students' bows and even the worst POS can be controlled with good technique.
  19. ouija


    Jan 18, 2009
    I'm not sure if anyone said this, but maybe try messing with the angle of the hair relative to the string? IE, more or less hair making contact with the string...in general I've found more flat hair=more elasticity=more bounce.
  20. red_on_red


    Dec 11, 2008
    Vancouver, BC
    You didn't imagine it. Though I'm pretty sure he wouldn't say 'pushing' the bass forward, more like balancing it upright and letting its weight drop toward both the bow and the LH.

    You can get a huge solo tone that way, but I think it compromises agility in the meat-and-potatoes range of the bass and doesn't really work for orchestral playing. Strictly IMHO.

    +1 on 'mindfulness.' As one of my beginning teachers used to say, think about the motion of the bow and the whole arm - if you have smooth motions, the hand is just along for the ride. One of his tips was to think about playing a 'downbow side' and 'upbow side' of each string, so that the hand is always travelling in a slightly oval path rather than linear start-and-stops. There was a Double Bassist article sometime (really helpful I know) that described a similar thing, with diagrams of ovals and figure-8s.

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