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Switching from German to French for better body mechanics: yea or nay?

Discussion in 'Bows and Rosin [DB]' started by Esteban Garcia, Mar 19, 2020.

  1. Esteban Garcia

    Esteban Garcia bassist, arranger, chaat enthusiast Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2018
    Portland, OR
    Hey all, I've been bowing German for about a year and a half, and I'm starting to think I'm not built for it.

    I feel like I have to reach to get the bow low enough, or raise the end pin so far that I'm reaching too far up on the left hand (i.e. the nut is too high). I've tried seated and standing (prefer standing), and either way, I'm just not finding a position that is both correct in terms of bow position on strings and keeping my body in a natural, relaxed position to avoid injury.

    I'm 5'10", so pretty average! My teacher (who I'm on hiatus from due to you-know-what) plays French, but got me going pretty good with German. He's not a stickler for body posture though, so I'll be looking specifically for help with that with him or my next teacher when this social distancing is over.

    The grip on a German bow feels natural, but I can't seem to maintain good posture while playing with it. Am I wrong to think maybe I'm not built for German and that French might be a better fit, body mechanics-wise?
    Keith Rawlings likes this.
  2. Keith Rawlings

    Keith Rawlings Supporting Member

    Aug 3, 2019
    This is a great question. I’m wondering the same too as French bow feels pretty good for me (I’m 6’), but the German bow seems to be more of a natural movement for a player; granted I’ve been watching Gary Karr videos and he just makes it look so easy!
    Esteban Garcia likes this.
  3. It’s possible. French has its’ own drawbacks.

    The biggest difference, to me, is the articulation on the E string. French bow seems to do that better.
  4. turf3


    Sep 26, 2011
    Well, I'm no kind of orchestral bassist, and I've probably deviated some from the good form instiiled in me by my teacher, but I find the exact same issues. I'm 5-10 and with long arms and I still have to bend forward to get the bow in a good place on the strings and keep it perpendicular. With a bum left shoulder I can't raise the bass up any higher than it is. I think the string length is pretty standard, maybe a hair under 42".

    I am not sure, however, that French would help.
  5. Reiska

    Reiska Supporting Member

    Jan 27, 2014
    Helsinki, Finland
    I have similar problems with german bow, and different problems with french. French bow fits me better overall but my right hand can`t take it for extended perioids of time. So, at least for me, it`s about picking the poison, do I want the posture or hand problems. I quess only way for you is to try and find out, and it`s great if your teacher allready knows his / her stuff on the french bow. All that said, I tend to use my german bow with fench hold at times, I find playing E string loud easier that way for example.
  6. Wasnex


    Dec 25, 2011
    As others have suggested, each bow seems to have various advantages and disadvantages.

    I was given a choice and initially decided to go with the German bow. French bow cause my young hand to cramp and German did not. I liked that I could continue holding the German bow while I played complicated pizz passage; I find the French bow gets in the way a lot more. I also liked the ability to quickly transition between pizz and arco the German bow afforded.

    However, about a year or so after transitioning to bass from viola, I discovered that I could play with more speed and precision with a French bow, even though I had been playing with a German bow for an extended time. For awhile I switched back and forth depending upon which bow was best suited for the music. Eventually I transitioned to playing French exclusively. With time I developed the necessary muscles and finesse that allowed me to play for hours without hand cramps. IMHO find a proper grip and learning to avoiding clenching is probably the biggest hurdle to overcome. I still find the French bow impedes fast technical pizz patterns. In all other aspects, I now consider the French bow superior. YMMV.
  7. LaFaro01


    Aug 27, 2018
    I just would pose this question to someone like David Allen Moore, who plays both "in real life" and should be able to talk about "differences, advantages and disadvantages"..P ;)
    TideSwing and kinnon64 like this.
  8. Matthias Hacker

    Matthias Hacker

    Apr 8, 2018
    Would it help to raise the endpin but to let the bass lean more in an angle towards you? The upper nut should not be much higher than, but you reach the sweet spot with the bow easier and you can rest the weight of your arm on the strings easier, actually both right hand and left hand. Know what I mean?
    Wasnex and Esteban Garcia like this.
  9. Esteban Garcia

    Esteban Garcia bassist, arranger, chaat enthusiast Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2018
    Portland, OR
    Thanks all, I think I might pick up a French bow just to give it a shot.


    I tried this, but couldn't get comfy... I'll give it another shot.
    Last edited: Mar 20, 2020
  10. 210superair


    Sep 10, 2019
    I'm a hack, but I much prefer the French after making the switch last year. Rarely touch the German bow anymore.
    Esteban Garcia likes this.
  11. I would get a French bow as well as work on solving your issues with the German. This instrument has a lot of things that need to be overcome, and you shouldn't back down from them!
    Learning both grips is very useful!
  12. Ludwig


    Aug 17, 2006
    Both bow grips are playable. Usually you should get the possition correct for the bow, not the left hand. If you feel, you have to reach up for the lower positions, just play them only on the lowest string and use higher positions on the other strings.
    Often the reach between left and right hand feels easier to do when playing on a stool insteadd of standing, maybe you could try that.
  13. jisbass


    May 13, 2005
    Queens, NY
    You should try French bow, especially since your teacher is a French player.
    In the mean time, you can try different german bow holds to see if there is one that helps you to reach the strings better while staying relaxed. There are so many variations of the German bow hold, and some holds give you little more reach, some might work better for standing behind the bass, some better for standing next to the bass, etc. You can learn to play however your teacher teaches you to play if you work at it long and hard enough, but with bass, especially German bow, there is no one right way. Too many variables. You have to find what works for you. A great teacher will give you a good foundation and guide you to find what would work for you.
    Last edited: Mar 25, 2020
    Esteban Garcia likes this.
  14. Kristian


    Dec 5, 2008
    I played German bow for about 15 years but could never do it right. My arm was stiff, crappy sound and no power or speed. I changed to French and after two weeks i played better than i ever did on the German. Give French a try, especially since your teacher plays French!
    Esteban Garcia likes this.
  15. mjt0229

    mjt0229 Supporting Member

    Aug 8, 2007
    Bellingham, WA
    I made the switch from German 20ish years ago because I was having trouble with my bow technique and my teacher at the time played French. Watching him, I could see some mechanics that seemed inherently harder with German. French poses its own challenges, and I think the ability to switch hit is really helpful, but I think the change was the right decision for me.

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