Getting better at tremolo

Discussion in 'Orchestral Technique [DB]' started by pklima, Aug 23, 2019.

  1. pklima

    pklima Commercial User

    May 2, 2003
    Kraków, Polska
    Karoryfer Samples
    I've done a lot of arco in a lot of contexts, including amateur classical stuff, but never played in an orchestra and never really needed to play tremolo in real life. Well, in a couple of months, I'll need to record a bunch of tremolo, including some very low notes on the C string (in fifths tuning). I play German bow.

    So, any advice, tips or tutorials other than the obvious "actually start practicing it regularly" (heh) would be appreciated.
  2. I am a French bow user/teacher but you may still find my comments useful.

    Generally speaking when I approach speed with any movements by either hand I liken it mentally to the free spinning front wheel of a bicycle. It simply gets faster and faster without any increase in resistance and avoids the feeling that you are mentally pushing against a brick wall.

    The only ways that I can produce a very fast tremolo are , in both cases, with a relaxed shoulder and arm. The first is to rest the bow on the string somewhere between 1/2 way out and the tip and flap my hand vertically. This produces a small lateral movement as the hair bends each way. I am not trying to move my hand sideways. The second moves the bow sideways by small fast pumping movements of the elbow (like biceps/triceps twitches) and letting the relaxed wrist and hand amplify the bow stroke lengths (a controlled flapping that bounces).

    The first of the above works for German bow hold because the hand is almost 90 degrees to the stick and the wrist flexes in its most natural and fastest possible way - so long as the arm and shoulder are relaxed. The vertical weight of your arm should not interfere with the freedom to flap your hand and wrist sideways. Use the rest of your arm like a counter balance to avoid any stiffening that will slow you down.

    Tremolo is usually used as a sound effect to intensify the music. Because of its heavier longer strings and larger slower body a fast tremolo on bass will not produce a lot of tone. The context of the music will dictate what speed and color to produce. Your three basic tools are still bow speed, bow weight and contact point. Tremolo is easiest to produce on the thinner strings and higher notes. On the bottom string the contact point may have to be over the end of the fingerboard where the string is less stiff and easier to move. You might also explore whereabouts on the bow length gives best results, perhaps in the lower half.

    Happy flapping! DP
    Last edited: Aug 28, 2019
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  3. pklima

    pklima Commercial User

    May 2, 2003
    Kraków, Polska
    Karoryfer Samples
    Thanks a lot! I'll give those a try, it seems like they should be helpful in getting me to where I need to be. Especially flapping the hand vertically, haven't even thought about that being a possibility.
  4. Reiska


    Jan 27, 2014
    Helsinki, Finland
    Tremolo on a german bow is something that I have been able to do naturally since day 1 as I`m coming from drumset and percussion. Like David suggests, complete relaxation is the key. You need your arm to be loose from shoulder to wrist, but still under control for not dropping the stick. I do the tremolo mostly on the tip side of the stick, as opposed to frog side. Start slowly with the bow traveling only necessary lenght for the effect, strokes played in time and with even bow speed, maintaining full hair contact and perpendicular angle to the string. When you increase the speed, shorten the distance your arm and bow travels from side to side, focusing on beeing relaxed and eveness of tone. You can do pyramid exercises with a metronome, starting from 8 notes, continuing to 8 note triplets - 16th notes - 16th note triplets - 16th notes - 8 triplets etc.

    Caveat is that this is not coming from a classically trained bassist, but it has surely worked for me.
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  5. CaseyVancouver


    Nov 4, 2012
    C601FA9A-96A6-4AD1-A79E-90388AFE0A93.jpeg David Potts always has great advice.

    I found, for myself, once I focused on the spiccato and sautille stroke my tremolo improved as a by product of the effort.

    With spiccato the hair leaves the string (bounces) and is played at the balance point area, generally on 16th notes 88-120 per beat on the metronome. Sautille is faster, with the bow springing, the hair stays on the string and is played in the middle of the bow.

    Gaelen McCormick’s bowing books are useful, and book 2 is all about spiccato.
    Last edited: Aug 29, 2019
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