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How does a person decide if they will be a "French" or "German" player?

Discussion in 'Orchestral Technique [DB]' started by Chris Fitzgerald, Jun 23, 2003.

  1. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Forgive me if this topic has been covered before, but I did a search and couldn't find it. A couple of weeks ago, I had a lesson with my teacher, and he wanted me to take a shot at the old "Stick O' Pain". Since I don't own one (and didn't really want to for many reasons), he brought me an old one of his and left it with me to use indefinitely.

    Anyway, the bow he brought is a French bow, and we worked on the grip and getting a good sound with the bow. All was good, but the more I try to practice with it, the more I have this nagging feeling that the French grip is not for me - it puts a very unnatural torque on my right shoulder, especially when playing on the G string. I tried holding the bow in the German fashion, and even though the grip is all wrong, I was able to get a good sound much more easily, and my shoulders immediately felt more comfortable. This leads me to believe that I may just be a "German grip" type person by nature.

    The question is, how is this decision of which grip/bow to use normally made? What are the factors involved besides "my teacher played French, so I did too"?

    Thanks in advance, and feel free to rag me mercilessly if it amuses you. :)
  2. Pacman

    Pacman Layin' Down Time Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    Omaha, Nebraska
    Endorsing Artist: Roscoe Guitars, DR Strings, Aguilar Amplification
    Chris, this is not a decision you can make just yet - bowing is an art form, and it takes a while to get the mechanics down. (I've been playing for 2years and am just starting to get my grip relaxed and loose).

    I think for jazz, you're going to find French the right one for you - ask Lynn when he comes there to show you some stuff.....
  3. godoze


    Oct 21, 2002
    I played cello for 10 years before I went to the bass. That and the fact that my first teacher played French made it a very easy transition for me.

    I have , however, just started playing German in the last year and I am finding it fairly hard to control. So obviously it takes some time to switch sticks and gget it right.
  4. Alex Scott

    Alex Scott

    May 8, 2002
    Austin, TX
    Hey Chris,
    I don't think the problem is in the type of bow you choose. Some people say that german is louder or french more delicate, but really it is about how you use them. In my life, I have seen very gruff french players, or powerhouse sounds from frnch- check out Hal Robinson, the Philly principal, he could knock a grown man down with his sound. I have also seen some very delicate german bow players, especially from Paul Ellison's studio. I would try to maybe get my hands on both, or just try to hold your french bow like a german bow sometimes, at least to figure out what you like about the way your shoulder feels- then you can transfer that to your french bow use. It does sometimes help to use the bow your teacher uses, because they will be more articulate usually about how to use it, but just about everything is transferable.

    (If you can't transfer it, excluding grip, then it probably isn't something you should be doing)
  5. Chris:

    No matter which grip you choose, be aware that the best sound is produced with the weight of your arm, not torque produced by your wrist/arm/shoulder. If your right shoulder is jutting forward or hunching and feels tight, you're probably not using the right arm's weight effectively.

    I play French, by the way, because I also converted from cello. I'd like to explore the German bow, though. Maybe I should've been playing it all along.
  6. I play German standing up. I read in one of your post one time you play setting if I remember right. I think setting French may be easier. I`m no expert but I think String crossing would be easier with a French setting down.

  7. imo, people aren't by birth french or german. Any bass player can (and should) learn and play either grip. Which one you stick with is simply preference. If you're having trouble playing french bow, it's definately a problem with your technique and not the bow itself. Maybe try talking to some other players in your section/ school or whatever, or some pro players in your area. Sometimes it takes a different teacher to figure out whats wrong with your technique when something's not working for you.
  8. Don Higdon

    Don Higdon In Memoriam

    Dec 11, 1999
    Princeton Junction, NJ
    In individual instances this can be true, but as a generalization, I consider it to be without foundation. I had two exceptional French bow teachers, both in the bass section of the Met, one a teaching assistant to Gary Karr. Both found my technique proper. The bow, made by Susan Lipkins, was excellent; I sold it to a teacher from Peabody Inst. I never was able to play French for more than a half hour before discomfort set in.
    I switched to German and never looked back.
    There's not a doubt in my mind that someone can be a "German grip type person by nature." I'm one of them.
  9. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Thanks for the replies everyone. Looks like I need to get my hands on a cheap German bow and do some A/B comparisons. It'll be a while before I have another lesson for logistical reasons, and I'm not having much luck getting at all comfortable with the French grip. I'll head over the the BOWS forum and do some reading now...
  10. From Gary Karr's Web site:

    I'm a bass student of only a few months now, but I am completely stricken with the instrument. I use a German bow instead of French, and was interested when I found out you do as well. I use it because my teacher does, though he teaches both. I have not really found one better than the other, as I have also played a little with a French bow. I would really appreciate some information from a professional on the subject, why you would choose German over French.
    Thanks for listening -

    Gary KarrÂ’s Answer:
    Your question is probably to most frequently asked question in the world of doublebass. Since we are blessed with two different kinds of bows, it's inevitable that every bassist will wonder about the merits of each. The best way to discover the answer is to try both bows and learn how to operate them correctly and efficiently. I recommend this because the answer is a very personal one. Most bassists find that one of the two bows works better, but the reasons for this have more to do with the fact that we're all different and the final choice is based on arm length and weight, height and build of the player, size of the hand, posture with the doublebass, sitting or standing, to mention only a few of the many variables. In general, I have found during my 40- plus years of teaching that the most common reason to choose one bow over the other has to do with arm length. The German bow because of the 90 degree angle in the hand shortens the arm considerably which affects the placement of the bow between the bridge and the fingerboard. On the other hand, the French bow, because of the straight line from the arm to the hand, adds some length to the arm. Therefore, players with short arms often find the French bow easier to handle. I chose the German bow because I have very long arms and my family goes back many generations of German bow players. Since I felt comfortable with the German bow from the beginning, I didn't find any reason to change my family's tradition. However, I did learn to play French bow, but because of my long arms, I still found the German bow easier to control.
  11. Don Higdon

    Don Higdon In Memoriam

    Dec 11, 1999
    Princeton Junction, NJ
    That's pretty much what I was going to say...

    Holding the bow with a short arm? This I gotta see.
  12. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    As it turns out, a buddy of mine has a German fiberglass bow that he doesn't use much, and he's going to let me try it for awhile. I'll try both and see what comes of it. Thanks for the replies from all helpful parties - it's replies like these that remind me why I value this place so much.

    BTW, I have very long arms.
  13. I dunno, I have pretty short arms and I seem to do allright with german bow. I switched from french about five or six years ago, I think. Although, I did spend a lot of time working out issues with my bowing technique due to the fact (apparently) that I have short arms and a rather large bass. But it did come together eventually, though it still needs work... ;) and I still prefer german to french.
  14. hmmm.. my teacher decided for me (german) + we only have german bows at the Musikschule (thats where i learn electric+double bass), but personally I prefer the feel of a french bow but that is mainly because I used to play cello

    Hey, I think this is my first post in the TB DB section...
  15. Don Higdon

    Don Higdon In Memoriam

    Dec 11, 1999
    Princeton Junction, NJ
    Welcome; there's a first time for everything.
    My first road tour included Frankfurt, where we played at Jazz Keller. Ever been there? We met fabulous musicians from Germany, Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden. That place swung HARD. (1957)
  16. Haven't been at the Jazz Keller yet ,but I will hopefully be able to go there soon because I was told that it is really nice
  17. Hey Chris,
    Just curious which Bow you went with and hows it going? You are still practicing right?

  18. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY

    Practicing? What's that?

    Seriously, I just started a new university teaching gig and have been pretty busy, so I haven't been doing much arco practice the first few weeks. But when I do, I still go back and forth between the French and German bow holds, for now both on the French bow, which is by far the better of the two. The bright side of the story is that my teacher is the "legit" bass instructor at the University, so I get to talk to him quite a bit. He says that I'm not hurting anything by doing what I'm doing, and that the most important thing right now is to learn how to get a sound out of the string that I can control. We'll talk about the virtues of both styles in our next lesson.
  19. I play French but I've noticed the same thing if I flip it upside down and play "German" style. I've attributed it to the fact that the outward edge of hair isn't used as much but still gets rosin so as to make it seem to stick better. Maybe I'm a German guy and just don't know it yet haha. Will you be at the KMEA convention this year Chris? If I'm not mistaken I'll be playing with the EKU symph. orchestra.
  20. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    FRIDAY THE 13th,

    Glad to hear I'm not the only one. :) If I make it to any convention this year, it will probably be IAJE, but even that is doubtful at this point. Have fun at KMEA, and let me know how your grip ends up.

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