"locked" wrist vs flexible wrist, right hand German bow

Discussion in 'Orchestral Technique [DB]' started by Nohrellas, Jun 5, 2019.

  1. Nohrellas


    May 11, 2016
    To start this off I don't have any ambitions to become a "proper" classical bass player, but I do want to learn good and healthy technique with the bow.
    Living in Vienna the school that virtually everyone here learns from is Ludwig Streicher "Mein Musizieren auf dem Kontrabass" which shows something that my teacher has made me put attention towards: the bowhand should "flow" when you switch between upbow and downbow. When you push the bow on the upbow the wrist kind of collapses to the right, on the downbow it flows in the opposite direction when you pull the bow. This should make the entire motion more fluent apparently. That said, my teacher also mentioned that there are also players who play with a fairly locked/stiff wrist (as I have been doing up until now) and that this can work out too.
    My question is: is the "locked" wrist considered bad technique or simply different? I feel like I lose control of the bow fairly quickly when I'm trying to do the fluent motion, I can't maintain proper pressure on the strings that way. That might just be a matter of getting used to it but maybe the locked wrist has other advantages that I haven't heard about yet and it's just a different approach. I'm definitely interested in other peoples opinion on this outside of Vienna since it's so easy to get stuck in the mindset that the local school of thought is the only correct one.
  2. neilG


    Jun 15, 2003
    Ventura, CA
    I don't think it's possible to play well with a completely locked wrist, and I don't even know if it's possible to fully lock one's wrist. I've seen really good players who appear to have locked wrists, but if you look carefully, there is some flexibility in the fingers if not the wrist. Something has to give in order to draw the bow straight and to make smooth bow changes.
    Don Kasper likes this.
  3. Neil Pye

    Neil Pye

    Apr 13, 2016
    Horsham, UK
    The more relaxed you can keep everything ( from the neck all the way to the fingers) the better your sound will be, and the easier you will find the "flow" you're looking for. Try to feel the change of bow starting right up behind the shoulder, and travelling like a wave,so the last thing that changes direction is the bow. Does that make sense? It did when I thought it! Mr Potts will be along to explain it properly any minute....
    Fleo likes this.
  4. Thanks, Neil, for dangling the bait! I'm a French bow user but to my mind the basic theory is the same. Try to match the flexibility of your bow hold to that of the bow stick, bow hair and strings. This usually requires everything to feel like springs, relaxed but not floppy. The bow is the last to change direction and, yes, it is possible to make OK bow changes with a stiff hold. But it is so much more comfortable to avoid pronating and stiffening the wrist unless you are trying to saw the bass in half.

    With either French or German bow I suggest testing the flexibility of your hold by grasping the stick further out with your other hand and tugging gently in each direction. See how your fingers and wrist can take up slack. Now try on the string. Grip and load the string by bending the bow hair over it gently and pushing/pulling so the string deflects but does not jump into life. See if you can relax the bow hold just enough to take up slack in your fingers and wrist. If you continue the push or pull the bow will release the string into motion.

    I worry when I see bow changes using large florid movements. You will be surprised how little slack needs to be taken up by fingers and wrist to have a nicely controlled change of direction and connection of notes. The aim is to not blur the connections. You are helped by the body of the bass continuing to vibrate which can be both a blessing and a curse. Work on being in control by predicting the moment in time when each note should start. All the flexibility leads up to that moment when the next note is "plucked" (released) by the bow. You can find that there is no need to lessen the weight of the bow at ends of "on-the-string" strokes if you pick the speed,weight and contact point carefully.

    Lots of experimenting to do.
    Fleo, Bubbabass, Jeff Bonny and 2 others like this.
  5. Don Kasper

    Don Kasper Gold Supporting Member

    Thank You, Dr. Potts.
    Fleo likes this.
  6. Further thoughts next morning after reading what I wrote above, Neil.

    Both hands have different tasks, the LH more mechanical and the RH more artistic. By working closely together I think that they form a circuit that is completed by the strings. So I tend to put what should happen to the string first then work back up the arm from there. OK, I'm a French bow user and I live Down Under where everything is backwards anyway.

    An analogy can be made between the width of a paint brush and the delicacy of bow use. You paint the outside of your house with a six inch brush and broad powerful strokes that really do test your shoulders. At the other end of the spectrum your finest camel hair brush will paint the final tiny flash of colour in the eyes that brings a portrait to life. Continuing the analogy, if you are painting a flat horizontal surface with a medium brush using broad strokes then observe what happens to the tips of the bristles as you go through the changes of direction. They go from dragging in one direction to dragging in the other direction at the start of the new stroke. You can observe the same change and take up of slack in your relaxed fingers and wrist if you rest your fingertips on a table/desk/bench and copy the action of painting with a brush. Then continue the analogy through to bow changes and you will see the same chain of events. So, if we are to express ourselves artistically through using a wide range of bow styles, note lengths dynamics, etc,etc we have to be very wrist, hand and finger conscious - more so IMO than the upper arm and shoulder. My best message is to look down and carefully observe, not just see, what happens to the string, fingers, hand and wrist in the chain of events. And listen carefully too. The string movements will teach you much.

    However, I can see that big broad sonorous sounds could come more "from the shoulder". For example use Wagner's March of the Apprentices bass part in Meistersinger to practice Neil's suggested flow of events. But would this work for playing Bach's Air in his Third Suite delicately (or see Edgar Meyer on YouTube - wow!) or Mendelssohn's Midsummer Nights Dream Scherzo music.

    But then again, I am a French bow user from down Under!! And Don, I'm not a doctor. I am a Musician's Laborer who is still slugging away in orchestras since 1965.
    Last edited: Jun 13, 2019
    damonsmith likes this.
  7. Don Kasper

    Don Kasper Gold Supporting Member

    Honorary Doctorate, then!
    damonsmith likes this.
  8. Neil Pye

    Neil Pye

    Apr 13, 2016
    Horsham, UK
    Thanks David. I totally get what you mean about broad strokes rather than delicate ones, I was talking more about the "feel" of things changing direction rather than the actuality of it. As usual, you expressed it all far better than I could. Have to go, off to play Vaughan Williams' Tallis Fantasia...