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German or French?

Discussion in 'Bows and Rosin [DB]' started by dirk, Apr 14, 2000.

  1. dirk


    Apr 6, 2000
    Memphis, TN
    I'm about to start taking double bass lessons. While talking to my teacher, he informed me that there are two types of bows. French and German. He said he used German. Is there in any difference once you learn to play, is any one better than the other for a beginner?
  2. Don Higdon

    Don Higdon In Memoriam

    Dec 11, 1999
    Princeton Junction, NJ
    Yes, there are differences, and there are plenty of people ready to lecture you on why their choice is the "best". However, the true "best" is which one allows you to reach your full potential. That involves learning about both. In fact, Gary Karr requires his students to become familiar with both. Only then can you make your own decision as to which is best. I think it makes sense to start with whatever your teacher uses. There's tons to learn about the instrument and how to play it. If you're using the same bow, it will facilitate communication between you as you tackle each new concept.
    Congratulations, and welcome to the club. Good luck!
  3. john turner

    john turner You don't want to do that. Trust me. Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2000
    atlanta ga
    please excuse my ignorance, but what are the differences between french and german bows?
  4. I'll try to keep this unbiased,Don (I play mostly French) The difference is in the way you hold it. The german grip is an underhand grip where your fingers are under the frog.
    French grip is an overhand grip, much like a violin or a cello bow. Both have advantages and disadvatages. German is easier for most beginners because you don't put as much strain on the muscles in your hand that you need to develope for the overhand grip. I'm not saying that German is only for beginners, Gary Karr plays German (mostly), along with a long list of other famous players. French bow is also called the Bottesini bow,because he made it famous, while german is also called the Dragonetti bow for the same reason (although Dragonetti was also Italian.)I would recommend using the Bow that your teacher uses,and if you decide to switch later on, fine. The advantages and disadvantages as I see them are:

    French: More Control over the sound and direction.Difficult for beginners to exude enough pressure for a good sound.

    German: Greater power,Comfortable to play,Bow control a little tricky for beginners, because it seems to bounce and slide all over the string.
    So those are the differences as I see them,it's a matter of taste as to which one is better.
  5. Bob Gollihur

    Bob Gollihur GollihurMusic.com

    Mar 22, 2000
    Cape of New Jersey
    Big Cheese Emeritus: Gollihur Music (retired)
    It should also be mentioned that the two are constructed differently.

    The french style resembles a violin or cello bow, with a small frog (the large piece of wood, usually ebony, that you hold and that holds the mechanism for adjusting hair tension) and narrow space between the stick and hair. You put your thumb into the opening at the frog and your fingers are at the top of the stick.

    German style bows have a tall, large frog, which enables that grip by allowing room for the underhand grip and multiple fingers by greatly widening the space between the stick and hair.
  6. Jon Stefaniak

    Jon Stefaniak Supporting Member

    Sep 2, 2000
    Tokyo, Japan
    one of the many unanswerible bass questions. all I can bring to mind is Gary Karr's ability to play unmiked with the orchestra. I play french, but I would like to know how to play german. I've got an old fiberglass german. I suppose I should learn one well before learning another well. my teacher plays french. I shure she's excelant at both, But I remember never likeing german. sorry, I just whining to myself.
  7. SottoVoce


    Sep 16, 2000
    I use a French grip on a German bow.

    My teacher (actually a fellow student who has more experience) does the same.

    I do that because I like the feel of a French grip but most French bows are too heavy.
  8. George F. Schmidtt

    George F. Schmidtt

    Dec 21, 1999
    I play both types of bows and "switch hit" depending on the music. (Playing a Strauss waltz is more interesting if it's bowed "Viennese Style" using a German bow.) I also somtimes use an overhand grip on my German bow if I don't have a French bow handy and find it works fine except for the missing mass (and resulting differences in balance points.) Over the years I've run across a couple of playes that use what they refer to as a "Russian" grip on a French bow. Anyone familiar with this? It doesn't show up in Simandl.
  9. I mostly use a french bow because I find it more comfortable, more articulate and get a better tone with it. I also have a Butler Bow that I use for arco bass solos, a butler is kinda in between a French and German bow. I used to use both when playing in an orchestra, switching to the German when more volume was needed.
  10. basslax


    Apr 20, 2000
    Washington, DC
    ive heard that if you can play a french bow, you could switch to a german bow..but if you play german it would be difficult to play french....is this true?

  11. Since the grips are different, you use a different set of muscles to hold and control the different bows.But it is not impossible to learn both of them, you just have to practice both. What I'm saying is, you can't automatically play German just because you play French, and vice versa.
    But once you learn both grips, it is fairly easy to switch off. A lot of great players do it all the time.
  12. Christopher


    Apr 28, 2000
    New York, NY
    French. German puts my wrist at a funny ie. uncomfortable angle when I'm on the E string.

  13. Why not just buy a light , 3/4 french bow?
  14. appler

    appler Guest

    I actually started out on French bow and switched to German, so don't have any qualms about one being better for beginners. I find that the German bow sounds better for ligatto playing but it's easier to play fast with the French.
  15. Chasarms

    Chasarms Casual Observer

    May 24, 2001
    Bettendorf, IA USA

    Since someone else resurrected this thread, I'll comment. I have seen in several publications, websites, etc. the terms German bow and Butler bow used interchangeably.

    Is there indeed a difference between the two? I have never seen a photo that compared the two. Nor have I seen any local shop offering distinct bows labeled as each.
  16. Steve Boisen

    Steve Boisen Your first second choice™ Supporting Member

    Dec 3, 2003
    Tampa Bay, FL
    Butler, Simandl and German are all names for the same type of bow. H.J. Butler was the original principal double bassist for the Boston Symphony Orchestra when it formed in 1881. He studied in Vienna and came from the same school of playing as Franz Simandl. Butler published his "Progressive Method for the Contra Bass" in 1881 and it was a popular method book at one time. It's out of print now, but you can view a copy of it on the Library of Congress web site. Like Simandl, Butler's name is associated with the German bow because he advocates it's use in his method book. A curious fact is that both Simandl and Butler describe the bow as being held with the pinky inside the frog whereas most modern German bow players keep their pinky on the bottom of the frog. Anyway, that's the long answer to your question. I hope you found it interesting :D .

    - Steve

  17. PleasantMan


    Dec 17, 2008
    is it wrong to play french style on a german bow?
    i like the feel of the french, but the sound and ease of my german bow. I feel most comfortable when i play with a french style on my german bow.
    my bow is a fairly decent and very light pernumbuco.
  18. Steve Boisen

    Steve Boisen Your first second choice™ Supporting Member

    Dec 3, 2003
    Tampa Bay, FL
    The short answer is "yes". The German bow was designed to be played with an underhand grip.

    Funny how this thread is resurrected every four years.;)

    - Steve
  19. TroyK

    TroyK Moderator Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2003
    Seattle, WA
    But, will a German bow fit in a Prius?
  20. damonsmith


    May 10, 2006
    Quincy, MA
    It also depends on your musical interests, age, etc. I use both and advocate learning both.
    If you are primarily into arco getting the French grip down is a good start, if you are into jazz, the German grip tends to be a lot friendlier at first.

    Without hesitation I would say the German is the best bow for primarily pizzicato players who want to practice some arco.

    There have been a lot of fantastic players who have used both bows, so if you really want a solid overview of the bass learning both is a must.
    French grip on a German bow works better than vice versa, I tend play mostly German and use some French grip when I need it.

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