Grip for French bow and the great ford/chevy debate....

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by lermgalieu, Dec 12, 2002.

  1. lermgalieu

    lermgalieu Supporting Member

    Apr 27, 2000
    Palo Alto, CA
    My teacher suggested moving my thumb inside the frog, but I feel more comfortable (and the bow feels lighter) with my finger on the bottom of the frog (the flat part). He said to ultimately do whichever feels best, just wondering how others do it.

    He also said I might want to give German a try, so I ordered a cheapo cuz I tried his and it felt really natural. He also said German/French is akin to a Ford/Chevy debate. Go to it boys and girls! I don't know enough to participate, but would love to see it in action!
  2. tsolo


    Aug 24, 2002
    Ft. Worth
    I'm just starting with the bow. I use a french 'cause i have more control - the german bounces too much and gives me a wa wa effect. I play a fiddle (violin for you geeks) and hold the bows similar - thumb under the frog. I hold the wrapping or just behind.
  3. LoJoe


    Sep 5, 2002
    Concord, NC USA.
    Chevy makes great products. I've owned two Blazers and a Monte Carlo SS. All were great vehicles in their own right. The Corvette is also an awesome car. I'm a true blue Ford man now though.

    <<<< That's my Mustang Cobra in the picture over there.

    :D Couldn't resist. I have no idea about the bow question!
  4. The problem with holding the bow that way is that it inhibits wrist movement. Consequently changing the direction of the bow will never sound smooth and you'll lack any kind of control. It's akin to gripping a pen with your entire fist and trying to write neatly.

    I place my thumb in the crook of the frog.
  5. Mike Goodbar

    Mike Goodbar Supporting Member

    Jun 6, 2001
    Charlotte, NC
    I use French, and I place my thumb at the corner of the frog where it meets the stick, so my thumb is kinda half-on and half-off the frog. Smoother changes and better articulation (esp. spicatto).

    My kid (5 yrs old) plays Suzuki violin, and the teacher has her holding the bow with the thumb under the frog as VERMIN GLUE described. Once control is achieved with that grip, the thumb will be moved "right" place.
  6. lermgalieu

    lermgalieu Supporting Member

    Apr 27, 2000
    Palo Alto, CA
    Mike - interesting. I feel weird putting my thumb right in the crook of the frog, because it barely fits, but I might give it a shot a little in front of that again. Will this possibly help improve the bounciness I sometimes get at the tip of the bow?
  7. You don't really put your thumb all the way in. The pad of your thumb should be against the crook.
    The tip of your bow bounces because you're not keeping energy flowing into the stick-- separate problem from the thumb.
  8. olivier


    Dec 17, 1999
    Paris, France
    I feel that Mike's description is correct. Also I would rather speak of bow hold that bow grip: you want to keep a lot of flexibility in your hand and fingers while playing. It's difficult and takes at least a couple of years of daily practice to achieve a half-decent (and comfortable) bow hold. One exercise that may help is to lift your fingers (except the thumb) one by one while playing. Do not try to resist when your hand hurt: take a break, practice your pizz, get back to the bow later.
  9. lermgalieu

    lermgalieu Supporting Member

    Apr 27, 2000
    Palo Alto, CA
    Here's a question - once I practice at it for 3 years or whatever, every day, and am actually fluid like you describe, will the fluidity come from the fact that my wrist/hand have become very loose and the power flows from my shoulders, or will it be because I have built up the muscles in my wrist/hand? I find when I move my thumb inside the frog, my hand gets to the point of feeling like it is about to cramp, and when I play with my thumb outside the frog, the tiredness is more in my wrist and forearm. Obviously, I agree that I just need to practice and it will shake out (I have been, I promise!), just curious as to how the technique develops.
  10. Regarding thumb placement-- I believe either is correct: place the thumb at the corner where the frog meets the stick and lapping or place it further back in the crook. I think the determining factor is comfort and control as it relates to the balance of the stick. With a lighter stick, especially one whose tip is light (ie. the balance point is nearer the frog), I like my thumb in the crook. Heavier tip, I like my thumb on the edge of the frog. The difference in weight between my two bows is about 10 grams, each with the balance as I described above. I hold the two bows differently.

    Both. The muscles in your hand have to get used to holding the bow. The motion and energy comes from your shoulder. A loose, fluid wrist makes changes in bow direction smooth.
  11. markr


    Mar 1, 2002
    I'm a new bassist who has been bowing with a German bow for nine months or so. I've noticed that it is uncomfortable & awkward for me to bow where my teacher would like me too...closer to the bridge. He's not too strict about it yet, but he has mentioned some of the ideas that Gary Karr favors: having the bass more upright so the left hand isn't "gripping", bowing closer to the bridge, etc. In going on the Karr site, I noticed that he says that the major determiner for the type of bow, in his experience, is your arm length. The German cuts a few inches off relative to the French because of the wrist angle. So shorter arm, maybe better to use French.
    I realized that, being 5'7", if I raise the bass with the endpin out more, I can bow comfortably in a good spot, but it feels as if my left arm is straining, especially in lower positions. With the left arm comfortable, I reach barely beyond the end of the fingerboard. Thats been Ok, so far...but I also noticed that with the bass leaned up more, Karr style, my sound seems much better, not just louder, but richer, & easier to keep the left hand loose for vibrato, the thumb not pressing on the neck.
    I have a cheap French bow, which does reach down lower. Anyone have experience with these kinds of issues? BTW, I moved from trombone to bass with help from this forum, including info on the Christopher bass which I have, & I really am happy (sort of!)
  12. Shlomobaruch


    Dec 31, 2002
    Boise, ID
    As far as fluidity... it'll come from doing only what you need to do. When you're bowing, use the weight of your arm itself to keep the bow into the string. The movement will come from your shoulder, your fingers and wrist simply articulate the weight and movement of the arm into something useful.

    One trick about it is that it takes slightly more grip to start the bow than to keep it moving. So when you start a bow stroke, there's a slight extra push (or pull) that you'll articulate with the hand, but then you should release it! At any other point, your hand should be holding the bow just enough so that you don't drop it and no tighter. A good exercise to learn how to articulate this is what my teacher called "stopped bow". Basically, play four staccato notes in one bow stroke (same pitch). Start, stop, start, stop... etc. Start slow, work on getting faster without adding tension. Eventually practice scales with it. The first goal is to *not* tense the hand except for the millisecond it takes to start each note. The second goal (which takes years to acheive) is to have *absolutely* no bounce between each stroke - the weight into the string stays constant and all energy is translated into lateral movement. Again, don't consider this an immediate objective, but an ideal to work toward.

    As far as French vs. German... the far more important question is having a teacher who can help you with your choice of bow. I started French, but had terrible wrist and hand problems from trying to get good sound from cheap instruments. Then I switched to German to remedy that, but had technical problems managing the bow that no one could help me with because both of my teachers played French. Spiccato on German still seems impossible to me, and I never could manage a rapid detache or martele stroke. So after getting a better instrument (and having my $1,200 Lothar Seifert German bow stolen :mad: ) I switched back to French and am much happier. So my advice? Pick one type of bow and stick with it and pick one decent bow and stick with it. You need to have a decent piece of equipment, but knowing how to negotiate that specific stick of wood will help you articulate better than trying to upgrade bows every few years. I know - I've done all of the above. Good luck.

    Oh, and markr... as far as arm length determining bow type, that's rather ridiculous. Arm length (and bow type) determine bass height. Meaning if you want to bow near the bridge, but can't reach it comfortably, lengthen the endpin to raise the bass. Your left arm shouldn't be too displaced by moving up an inch or two, which is a world of difference for your right arm. Why spending hundreds of dollars on a new bow should seem a better solution to him that the obvious (and free) endpin adjustment, I don't know.
  13. sean p

    sean p

    Mar 7, 2002
    eugene, oregon
    lerm, i play french with my thumb under the frog too. i find it more comfortable and less strained than trying to keep my thumb at the front of the frog where it meets the stick - it just always slid around up there. this way i can get more arm weight into the notes and be consistent. plus, i'm not playing such heavy music (mostly scales and beginning-intermediate stuff) that technical disadvantages of such a hold are apparent. good luck!

    sean p
  14. lermgalieu

    lermgalieu Supporting Member

    Apr 27, 2000
    Palo Alto, CA
    I've actually switched to German! It feels so much more natural, maybe because I have long arms. Thanks for the reply though.
  15. Schlomobaruch, when you switched from German to French bow, did you experience that the German bow is easier to play with a greater volume than the French bow, since you're able to pull with more force with the under-the-bow grip on the German bow, whereas you're holding the French bow more from a on-the-top of the bow position? My other question is whether with the French bow, is it easier to play the G string, which may be harder with the German bow? My teacher is teaching me with the German bow, but I occasionally attend master classes of bassists who advocate use of the French bow. So I am very interested in this discussion. Francois Rabbath, for one, believes there are certain bow strokes with the French bow that are much more difficult with the German bow.
  16. Shlomobaruch


    Dec 31, 2002
    Boise, ID
    It does seem easier to play with a higher volume on German, especially at first. One of the things that turned me on to German was being able to dig in and just belt it out with much less effort. It's very seductive, especially if it's that exact issue you're struggling with. I'm thinking that this has to do with how the arm weight falls. Think about it, if you hold a German bow on the string at the frog and just drop the weight of your arm, the bow draws itself. Try the same thing with a French bow and the bow would draw somewhat, but mostly slide down the string and possibly out of your hand. If you know how to relax your arm weight into the string, it's possible to achieve plenty of volume and tone with the French though.

    As far as playing on any specific string... not really. The only situation where one string can be more difficult is actually the E string on German where you're pulling/pushing so close towards yourself, and the more obliquely you hold the instrument, the more of an exception you have to make for that string.

    My experience suggests that if your teacher is teaching you German, and he/she knows what they're doing, then stick with it and don't even worry about what anyone else says. Mr. Rabbath and others may recommend French, but the playing of Gary Karr, Duncan McTier, Eugene Levinson, and Joel Quarrington, just to name a few, make a strong case for the German bow. When it comes to bow choice, good instruction will take you farther than physics.