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How do you use a bow then?

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by bullmoose, Jun 26, 2001.

  1. bullmoose


    Jun 15, 2001
    Edinburgh, UK
    I've been playing pizz. grooves for a year and finally realized that I needed a teacher to learn arco & sort out my left hand tuning. Have just got Simandl & so far struggled my way up to page 13.
    Think I'm holding the bow right looking at the photo & have been shown a similar but slightly different way by my teacher (only had one lesson) - third finger wrapped around with the second vs. straight out opposite the pinky - any preference? Got the flexible wrist action idea but find it hard getting an angle on the E-string.
    It's less awkward if I angle the bow away from me i.e. wood 45 degrees below the hair on this string but the opposite angle on higher strings. Is this completely wrong? Should I angle the bow more towards me in the grip i.e. bow almost perpendicular to fingers so that the wood is higher than the hair when bowing the E, or am I just standing too far to the side of the bass rather than behind it?
    If I don't do this then I find I'm straining my wrist. I imagine this will be addressed at my next lesson but that's a few weeks away...
    Am I right in believing that your shoulder shouldn't move too much and it should all be wrist & elbow? Can't get my elbow moving....

    Also, how do I get a tone that doesn't sound like I'm rubbing the outside of a horse against the inside of a cat? - more purposeful strokes? If I do this though I sometimes get octave harmonics rather than the real note. Too much / not enough rosin?

    Any help appreciated as my flat mate is thinking of moving out!
  2. From a DB newbie I think it is safe to say that these questions should all be asked to your teacher, not here. A picture may be worth a thousand words but not in this case. How often are your lessons? I have been taking lessons for about 3 months and have inproved my playing greatly. As far as Arco goes my teacher says it is a thing that players spend a life time perfecting.
  3. bullmoose


    Jun 15, 2001
    Edinburgh, UK
    Thanks for your encouraging comments Jason - I'm one step ahead of you with a massive mirror to practice in front of! - trying to keep the bow horizontal at all times (which I assume is correct).
    GP - you're right of course - also that particular picture could do with a bit of Photoshop work! Unfortunately both my teacher & I are pretty busy so it's going to be ad. hoc for a while - aiming for at least once a month though.
    Looks like there isn't going to be any shortcuts... have been playing electric bass for 10 years & guitar for 17, but the more I understand about DB the more I realise I need to learn. I'm addicted to the tone though so I'm determined to get it right.
    Will let you know how I get on in another 17 years!
    Was just wondering if there was any 'do nots' with bowing.
    Cheers guys - off home to tackle page 14 ;)
  4. The key is endless practice. While you should ask your teacher all these questions and he or she should tell if you're going to hurt yourself the real answers will come through practice. The bow is a bit tricky at first since it sounds terrible. I had two suggestions (from two different bass players). The first was to play all the nasty harmonic stuff. Get the bow as close to the bridge as you can and place your fingers lightly on the string and get to know all those heinous tones that you're already producing without trying. The second suggestion is the one you're already doing, play slowly and use a mirror to check yourself. Like Jason said, good arco technique is a huge combination of tiny details. Don't do all at once. Try picking it apart and just focus on one detail. Long tones on open strings help you focus on your right hand finger placement, relaxing your arm and shoulder and playing from your whole body, working on the muscles that need to develop to be able to play arco and strengthening the tendons so you don't become crippled.
    And after all those hours of obsessive-compulsive practice you should play. Use the bow for percussion or try playing songs below the bridge, or bowing near the nut or early attempts at staccato or playing big tango swoops.
  5. dhosek


    May 25, 2000
    Los Angeles, CA
    Practicing harmonics in general is a good idea as it aids also in your intonation. On all strings, play the second partial (one location), third (two locations), fourth (two locations), fifth (four locations), sixth (two locations, not counting two node spans), seventh (six locations) and eighth (two locations). The second through fifth are especially important for location fingering positions up the neck.

  6. Phil Smith

    Phil Smith Mr Sumisu 2 U

    May 30, 2000
    Peoples Republic of Brooklyn
    Creator of: iGigBook for Android/iOS
    You really need a good teacher so that you don't lose time practicing bad technique.
  7. brewer9


    Jul 5, 2000
    When you get hired to play this way, is it called a bow job?
  8. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY

    No, it's called a GIG. The bow job comes AFTER the gig....especially if it's a straight-ahead jazz gig.

    Yeah, right. :rolleyes: And as long as I'm dreaming, I'd like a Steinway 7' for my living room and a retirement package.
  9. manda_176


    Jul 1, 2001
    i only started palyin DB about 4 months ago having played guitar, piano and a few other instruments previously. anyway point is i had a bit of trouble with bowing at first in that i couldnt get my elbow relaxed and flowing and all that but after doing it a bit you get used to it and it comes natural, so you don't have anything to worry about, i used to hate playin arco but now i don't mind it altho i still prefer pizz.


  10. For starters, it would be useful if you told us whether you're using a french or german bow.

    In any case, your assumption about the shoulder not moving isn't really true. The first half of the bow stroke (i.e. the lower half - closest to the frog) should come mostly from the shoulder. Around the midway point is when you should start to straighten your elbow (this assumes you started with your arm slightly bent, which you should). By the time you reach the tip, the elbow should be almost completely straight (but not locked). Reverse this coming back from the tip - start bending the elbow in the upper half until roughly the mid point, then continue into the frog with the shoulder. This keeps the bow traveling in a straight and even direction.

    In other words, if you are doing strokes mostly near the frog, most of the movement should come from the shoulder. If you are playing notes at the tip, the movement will be mostly the forearm (elbow).

    I'll address the angle of the bow a little more later, once you tell me whether you play french or german bow. :)
  11. bullmoose


    Jun 15, 2001
    Edinburgh, UK
    Thanks Rob.
    I'm not sure what sort of bow it is - apparently it's quite light but I don't know the difference between French & German - is it a different grip? It looks like the one in Simandl.
    The previous owner of my bass was a 12 year old girl (!) so it's possible that it's smaller than standard.
  12. German bow is played with an underhand grip (palm up). It's likely what you might see in Simandl, although my edition shows both. French bow is held overhand like violin, viola and cello.
  13. Don Higdon

    Don Higdon In Memoriam

    Dec 11, 1999
    Princeton Junction, NJ
    I suggest you read this statement every morning, every night, and before every practice.
    You sound like you're in too much of a hurry.
  14. Phil Smith

    Phil Smith Mr Sumisu 2 U

    May 30, 2000
    Peoples Republic of Brooklyn
    Creator of: iGigBook for Android/iOS

    Yes I am in a hurry, I'm in a hurry to correct the bad stuff that I'm doing before it becomes too much of a habit, which is why I study with someone.
  15. Don Higdon

    Don Higdon In Memoriam

    Dec 11, 1999
    Princeton Junction, NJ
    Maybe you misunderstood.
    "bull" was an abbreviated address to bullmoose, who started this, urging him to pay attention to your good advice
  16. Phil Smith

    Phil Smith Mr Sumisu 2 U

    May 30, 2000
    Peoples Republic of Brooklyn
    Creator of: iGigBook for Android/iOS

    I did misunderstand that one. :confused:
  17. bullmoose


    Jun 15, 2001
    Edinburgh, UK
    Cheers guys(!)
    'Get a teacher' seems to be the theme for every single topic on this forum, which is one reason I was prompted to get one - which in fact led me to attempt arco & start this thread.
    I thought the concept of a forum was for the masses to throw in their 2p and enhance the collective understanding.
    I'm looking forward to my next lesson but am also finding many threads on this forum incredibly useful & have changed my playing direction as a result of reading the advice of others.

    Yes I am in hurry to get much better as soon as possible - hence lots of practice, reading and talking bass whenever possible. :)

    Rob - thought you were talking about actual bows(!) I'm trying the palm up method. Still sounds like I'm choking a cat though...

  18. Well then, that's german bow. BTW, there are slight differences in construction - german bows usally have a smaller tip and the opening at the frog is much wider.

    Anyway, you asked about the angle of the stick/hair earlier with regard to string crossings. generally if you want the most sound, you should aim for having the hair completely flat on the string. There is a natural tendency with german bow to have the stick tilted slighty towards you since having your wrist underhand makes the reach of your arm effectively shorter.

    There are ways of using the bow angles to facilitate string crossings. With german bow, crossing from one string to the next can involve some pretty big movements with the angle of the arm. One way to help this is by turning the stick a little as you make your string crossing. If you are crossing from a lower string to a higher string (say, A to D), as you make the crossing, (assuming you started with hair flat) turn the stick in your hand so that the stick is angled slightly toward you. This does a good part of the crossing for you so you won't have to move your arm as far up. Of course, once you've made the crossing, quickly revert to flat hair (this will involve turning the stick back in your hand and bringing the arm up a bit more).

    You can reverse this coming back , but you need to prepare it. If you're coming down from a higher string, sometime before the crossing, turn the stick towards you then make the string crossing by flattening the hair out. Once your there you may need to adjust your arm slightly.

    Of course, this technique is mostly for german bow players although it could be used to some extent for french. But with french bow, string crossings seem much easier since the wrist and fingers are in a much more flexible position to facilitate string crossings.
  19. bullmoose


    Jun 15, 2001
    Edinburgh, UK
    Thanks Rob - that makes sense now.
    Also - I'm definitely noticing intonation improvements using the bow so convinced it's worthwhile.
  20. Don Higdon

    Don Higdon In Memoriam

    Dec 11, 1999
    Princeton Junction, NJ
    Everything you're saying is correct, but it's TOO far out in front of where bullmoose is. This is someone learning to swim, and you're rowing him out to the deep part of the lake. bull's initial complaint included tone. He will never improve his tone while thinking about all you're telling him about angles and crossings. bull also shows ill-advised aggressiveness in running through Simandl pages. I thank my lucky stars for having a painstaking disciplinarian for a teacher (who, by the way, has former students in major orchestras all over the place, including the NY Philharmonic) who insists on demonstrated competence before turning the page.
    I would advise long, slow strokes on open strings, with total focus on the sound. The left hand should be doing nothing. Each session, don't change strings until you hear some improvement on the one you're on. Do some of this tone practice in the dark. After you get decent open string tone, do long, slow scales with minimum shifting - F,G,Bb- so you can focus on tone to the exclusion of all other aspects of playing. The less you have to think about, the easier it is to be 'at one' with the bass. This is also important intonation practice.
    The best players never give up scale practice.

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