German Bow Vs French Bow.

Discussion in 'Ask Lynn Seaton' started by Anton Avis, Dec 15, 2016.

  1. Anton Avis

    Anton Avis

    Dec 13, 2016
    My double bass teacher taught me to use a French bow with the correct bow hold to play the double bass. However, I have seen German bows on the internet and I believe they seem quite good. That said, I have never used a German bow and my teacher hasn't even mentioned that there are German bows. What I'm wondering is this; What are the positives and drawbacks of French and German bows, do you think it is worth trying to play with a German bow and which bow do you believe is more effective?
  2. csrund

    csrund Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2011
    Bloomington, Ind.
    I enjoy playing both bows, but have been leaning toward German lately. Each bow has its strengths and weaknesses. I started in a public school program, which commonly teach French bow, since most bass students previously learned violin, viola or cello. I didn't study German bow until I was a junior in college, but I really loved it. For me personally, the issues come down to:
    • I find German bow more effective at transferring arm weight into the string, but more challenging when it comes to string crossings, especially on the low side of the bass.
    • I find French bow far easier for string crossings, but it produces more hand fatigue for me, especially at the thumb joint. (The older I get, the more I notice it.)
    You'll find that the effects of both bows are the same, but produced with a different set of muscle mechanics. Whichever bow you play, learning the other will help you become better at your "native" style. If you're serious about playing the bass, I'd strongly encourage you to learn both.

    Hope this helps! Here's a well done video that illustrates both bows:

  3. Gravedigger Dav

    Gravedigger Dav Supporting Member

    Mar 13, 2014
    Springtown, Texas
    French bow:
    German bow:
    the_Ryan and Winoman like this.
  4. salcott

    salcott Supporting Member

    Aug 22, 2007
    NYC, Inwood.
  5. CSRUND and SALCOTT are both offering good advice. I was fortunate enough to Study under David Walter for a while, and he played both with equally impressive aplomb. His basic general overall statement was this---"When I play in Orchestra I use The French Bow because it is much easier for string crossings, and plays very well in the finesse passages where a conductor is going to want to hear the difference between a genuine bouncing spicatto vs. a brushed detache. Though I can play a French bow loudly, The German Bow generates volume more easily. The volume factor doesn't matter as much when you are in an orchestra because you are a member of an entire bass section. When I play solo I prefer the German Bow because its ability to transfer arm weight more easily allows me to hit Forte passages with levels of volume I cannot achieve with the French Bow. Because I am playing "Solo" I need that extra volume."
    I personally play French Bow because up until my time with David Walter, that was the only style I had ever played. I have yet to ever see anyone who could play both styles so amazingly well, and switch effortlessly between the two as well as he could. He would sometimes do it during lessons just to prove a point.
    Last edited: Feb 1, 2017
  6. Anton Avis

    Anton Avis

    Dec 13, 2016
    Thank you all for the wonderful advice- i appreciate it. Just because i've posted this doesn't mean i want the flow of tips to stop.
  7. Lynn Seaton

    Lynn Seaton Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 3, 2006
    Denton, TX
    Sorry for the delayed reply. The technical issues where I have been unable to post have been resolved.
    There are wonderful players from both camps. Most people play whatever bow their teacher started them on. I think it does not matter in the jazz world. Some orchestras prefer all members of the section to play one or the other. I was raised on French and am a big fan of Francois Rabbath who also plays it.
  8. Neil Pye

    Neil Pye

    Apr 13, 2016
    Horsham, UK
    I play both, although I learned French and prefer it. German is easier to become "competent", especially for fast orchestral music, and can give more power. French is easier to play subtle phrasing and spiccato, and feels more natural to me. My bass playing heroes (and heroines) are pretty evenly split between the two
  9. wathaet


    May 27, 2007
    It does not matter. Pick one, preferrably the one you can find the best teacher for and stick with it. I have never worked with anyone who is equally good at both. While it does not hurt to learn the basics, it is better to focus your time on one.

    The only exception to the above is that if you want to study and work in France or italy, switch to French and conversely if you want to work in Germany or Austria, you need to switch and preferrably study there unless you are the only bass like Munich chamber or the contemporary ensemble.

    As for volume, I have worked with a good number of players of either grip that max out the volume of their given instrument.
  10. Tim Hays

    Tim Hays

    May 13, 2018
  11. Tim Hays

    Tim Hays

    May 13, 2018
    Having studied both, and used each in an orchestra, I prefer German because it seems to be easier to get the lower strings to sound, and to my ears, it's louder and darker.
  12. Primary

    Primary TB Assistant

    Here are some related products that TB members are talking about. Clicking on a product will take you to TB’s partner, Primary, where you can find links to TB discussions about these products.

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