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Up and or down bow

Discussion in 'Orchestral Technique [DB]' started by Andy Mopley, Apr 18, 2017.

  1. Andy Mopley

    Andy Mopley

    Sep 24, 2011

    I understand that as a "general" guideline, the first beat of a bar is usually taken on a down bow. This works fine with consecutive bars of even tempo (2/4, 4/4, 6/8...) How does this change when confronting uneven tempos (3/4, 5/4, 7/8), is the idea to try and land on a down bow even if it means taking two up bows on the preceding bar? (clearly dependent on notes available). Or keep the up and down motion regardless, so long as the sound quality remains?
    And before you remind me, sure there is a section leader, and cellos or other strings one can follow, but sometimes there may be a piece that I may be practicing on my own, in the uneven tempos above, hence the question...The other piece is that sometimes instinctively I tend to bow in what may not be an orthodox way, so having a self-reminder helps to correct bad habits..

    Regards to all
  2. Pulse beats, unless otherwise notated, generally take a down bow. Since complex meters are usually various groups of duples and triples, just figure out how you're going to handle the triples. Presuming there are no slurs, that's either down-down-up, or down-up-up.
  3. neilG


    Jun 15, 2003
    Ventura, CA
    >>Or keep the up and down motion regardless, so long as the sound quality remains?<<
    That would be the simplest thing, wouldn't it?
    One should be able to make down and up bows sound the same. This will simplify your life and make for easier bowing patterns. Start down bow, alternate with up bows until the person on the podium stops waving their arms. If you need to, throw in a downbow for an accent or similar effect. There is no need to have the first beat on a downbow all the time. There is no need to have accents be on downbows all the time.
  4. CSBBass


    Sep 21, 2013
    Some people are really into the "downbow on the accents and strong beats" idea, but I agree with Neil here. You should be able to play convincing triplets, quintuplets etc with alternating bows. Certainly, you should be also be capable of landing a downbow at any point you feel the need to by taking two downs or two ups somewhere in the mix, but it's going to be easiest almost all of the time to just take the bowing as it comes.

    If you can't make the subdivisions clear when taking it as it comes, practice playing eighth notes while emphasizing every upbow, then every down bow, then making them each sound completely even and consistent with the others. If you can do all three of those, you should be pretty well set for letting the groove of an odd time signature be heard and felt by the listener/yourself, without overly complicating things. Certainly, some musical figures work well with hooked bows, so complicating things isn't always bad. However, it certainly makes life easier when we can go to orchestra and remember that our bowing for a certain passage is exactly what one would expect it to be, rather than something more complicated.
  5. Jon Stefaniak

    Jon Stefaniak Supporting Member

    Sep 2, 2000
    Tokyo, Japan
    With odd meters, just like 3/4, bowing depends on tempo, style and accent.
    A medium tempo waltz might be down-up-up so a similar 5/4 bar with a strong accent might be duudu or duduu - downs on the beats. If you don't have a need to accent beats, simply alternating can be preferable to lots of cumbersome up-ups

    Sometimes a whole bar is really in one, then adding beaty downs works against the music.

    The reason we have these conventions is to help simplify the quick digestion of the music you're reading and to have everyone in the group digesting in the same way. I am sure the more you play in orchestra, the more your instincts will adapt to the conventions.
    This can actually be a problem since there are always exceptional passages in the music that go against convention. Hemiola, or Polymeter are the most common - the beginning of Stravinsky's Soldier's Tale for example.
    Remember, an individual case always trumps any rule. But learn the convention before you start breaking with it. Sometimes it is better to take an offbeat sfz on an upbow than to beak the down bow down beat convention (im looking at you, Beethoven)
    bassmastan likes this.
  6. Andy,

    You might find this interesting... It's a snippet from the "The Great Double Bass Race" (1978). There's a short segment with my teacher, Murray Grodner, in a master class where he discusses the logic behind bowing a Mozart passage and demonstrates a choice that seems unconventional but effective. Bow technique was probably the biggest takeaway for most of Murray's students. (It was for me, at least.)

    Start at 9:44 to view the clip:

    Will Yager and Jon Stefaniak like this.
  7. Andy Mopley

    Andy Mopley

    Sep 24, 2011
    Think were the focus must be....Thanks csrund - very informative!
    csrund likes this.
  8. A few more things to consider. Don't use too much bow except in very long notes and stick to the "comfort zone" of the bow (lower half around the balance point but not too close to the frog). There note starts sound about equal, up or down. Practice loud starts and accents in both directions near the point but do not rely on them to be strong enough in the orchestra. Practicing out there will firm up your overall bow control and tone.

    There are points in passages or phrases to aim at landing on a down bow, eg at rehearsal letters where the music changes for some reason. And there is context. Are you doubling the passage with cellos or are you aiming to come together at a certain point? Convention says we follow cello bowings however our shorter, heavier bows might require more changes to sustain tone, articulation and dynamics of long notes. Beware of bowings written into your parts by the Leader of the orchestra - they don't always suit us, especially in off-string passages with complex bowings and string crossings. But be very diplomatic about challenging them!!

    Quoting Tom Martin, there are times to be heard and there are times to sound musical that don't necessarily coincide. How and where I use the bow is guided by his words. Reality is that the bass sound becomes more mellow with distance. What sounds rough under your ears is different twenty feet away!!
    Last edited: Apr 21, 2017
  9. LouisF

    LouisF Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2003
    Los Angeles, CA
    One really amazing point in the this thread is how far the bass world has come since 1978 (Great Bass Race) and the idea of soloists on the bass, bass literature, technique, pedagogy etc. Whole new world from when I started in 1963! O brave new world!!
  10. Les Fret

    Les Fret

    Sep 9, 2009
    good post David! especially about the differences with cello. In regard to the above quote I have noticed that violin players play a lot at the tip side of the bow. Also in fast passages whereas on bass one tends to play these passages closer to the frog side. I guess this is because a violin string 'speaks' easier so you don't have to bow on the lower half of the bow that much...
  11. Think of the violin bow action containing much pumping of the elbow between the biceps and triceps muscles as well as finger and wrist use, in order to draw the bow at 90 degrees to each string. It is less comfortable in their lower half, and more awkward to control bow weight and tone near their frog. Our comfort zone is different (1) because of our different playing position(s) and (2) we have to apply more weight. My relaxed arm weight resting through the bow hold only produces about mp long bows at most in an auditorium.
    Jon Stefaniak and Les Fret like this.
  12. LouisF, what is more amazing is the advances in technology that allow us to discuss this topic though we are thousands of miles apart physically but fractions of a second apart on the net. I started in 1963 too, just as the first electronic calculators and word processors were appearing. I tuned the bass for years with a tuning fork. Now I just bought a little clip-on tuner for $11. The mike in its feet that lets you tune even in the warm-up cacophony where the trombone, tuba and tympany are my nemesis!!

    For me the greatest advance has not been so much in the actual physical playing of the bass but the string technology that allowed the action to be lowered, gave us more stable tuning and clearer sounds, and developed a range of products that differentiated between jazz and classical use. Yes to better teaching, more available music and literature, a choice of rosin, a better understanding of set-up, great players to watch and listen to on Youtube. Sadly, even as young players are steadily becoming more proficient than oldies like me, it has become very much harder to win the same position full time that I did in 1970.

    The bass does not make a sound unless the bow moves across the strings or the fingers pluck them. That much has not changed since 1963 and neither has the importance of musicianship in creating our sounds.

    Enough from me, an old fart!

    ejnachtrab and s van order like this.
  13. Andy Mopley

    Andy Mopley

    Sep 24, 2011
    Actually David, that brings me to a point I have been wanting to ask for sometime - with all the string technology, better teaching aids etc. were the older players therefore "better" players than today's? It's probably akin to asking if Rod Laver was a better tennis player than Sampras, I guess, but advancements in the manufacture of strings, rosin, even endpins, would have made life easier for the "younger" brigade - yourself included! :) - compared to Simandl times?
  14. bengreen


    Jan 26, 2016
    San Diego
    Totally agree about about going by sound rather than rule.

    Only trouble is some conductors freak if they see basses out of sync with the other sections.

    It's a visual dissonance they can't abide.
    Last edited: Apr 26, 2017
    csrund likes this.
  15. Andy, are we comparing apples with oranges? Still, Dragonetti must have been something special to play Beethoven's Cello Sonatas at pitch with gut strings an inch above the fingerboard on a three string bass. And Bottesini, Koussevitsky, etc.
  16. Jon Stefaniak

    Jon Stefaniak Supporting Member

    Sep 2, 2000
    Tokyo, Japan
    I know this is drifting off topic, but the idea of comparing bassists from the 18th and 19th centuries to contemporary players with words like "better" (I know you used quotes) is a slippery slope. Dragonetti was a monster player and Bottesini made the bass sing with a sweetness that had never been heard before. Even at the time, people compared the two. Who was better? Is Edgar Meyer better than Gary Karr? I feel kinda silly asking these questions.

    Besides, if you consider the perspective of the period performance movement, none of us are doing a better job playing the ancient music of the long dead masters than the people who lived and breathed it when it was written.
  17. Andy Mopley

    Andy Mopley

    Sep 24, 2011
    Fair point, Jon & David. I guess I wasn't so much trying to compare players from past era or contemporary. It was more to state that today's DB players have 'easier" (sorry about the quote!!) instruments to play on than the old Dragonetti school, because of advancements in technology. Doesn't make for better players, though, merely easier playability - strictly IMHO.
  18. LouisF

    LouisF Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2003
    Los Angeles, CA

    Thanks for all your words of wisdom - from old fart to another! Very helpful to non-pros like myself.