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Which bow to start on??

Discussion in 'Double Bass Pedagogy [DB]' started by Julia H, Oct 11, 2017.

  1. Julia H

    Julia H Supporting Member

    Feb 5, 2016
    Hello TBers,

    I have recently begun my journey as an educator, and have now found myself teaching both private lessons and group lessons at a few middle schools. I am sure I will be asking more pedagogy-related questions in time, but for now I am wondering...

    How should you guys tell students which bow to start on?
    In my experience orchestra directors are usually like "have your teacher decide", and I have been more of the philosophy that it should be the player's choice. However, most of these kids are young and they don't necessarily have the opportunity to try both bows. Some decisions are made by "well this was the only extra bow the school had", but I have also had a couple students who immediately knew they wanted German bows. Then there are the majority of the students who just shrug their shoulders and look at me.

    I have searched some past threads and none of them seem to go too in depth. I appreciate all of your incredible advice in advance!


    *Just so ya'll know - I played french for about 6/7 years before making the switch to German about a year ago. Although I wasn't experiencing any major technical issues and was producing a good sound, I was struggling with serious thumb pain and attempts to troubleshoot with my teacher weren't particularly effective. That being said, at the level all my students are at now I feel equally comfortable teaching both. :thumbsup:
  2. Steve Freides

    Steve Freides Former Mannes College Theory Faculty Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 2007
    Ridgewood, NJ
    Julia, like you've, I've done both. In my case, I started German and switched to French both because I wanted to be able to do both and because I began studying with a teacher who only bowed French.

    I demonstrate both, I have new students try both, and I let them decide for themselves. If they can't make up their minds, I've sent them home for the first week with both a French and a German bow and told them we'd decide at their second lesson.

    My experience has been that students who've already played violin, viola, or cello prefer French, and most others prefer German because it's easier for most people at the beginning. My students are all private, and I keep a stock of student-level bows of both types and in a few sizes, and since they're usually renting their bass outfit from me, it's easy because everything is here.

    Just my experience.

  3. Lee Moses

    Lee Moses

    Apr 2, 2013
    I've always been a French player, but for most beginning to intermediate bassists, sound production is much easier with a German bow. If I had it to do over again, I would at least start out with German bow and avoid the multi-year struggle I had back then.
  4. I usually teach French bow to all ages, my youngest aged 9 and my oldest 65. A few students are better suited for German and change over, usually because of continued pain in the upper arm just below the deltoids.

    Much of the earliest teaching material I use can be from class systems like Strictly Strings or, in my case, Tricks to Tunes (by Audrey Akerman, an Australian publication) Most seem to build towards the D Major scale using nursery tunes. My attention (and the student's) is initially given to establishing LH shapes, uses and intonation. During this period, and later even up to 2nd Position Simandl, I have the student's RH thumb outside the ferrule a la Suzuki. I ask for, but not often get, bow strokes drawn at 90 degrees to the strings with steady contact point. There is usually a pause in LH development to learn and play some fun pieces and consolidate fingerboard knowledge while turning attention to the more conventional bow hold and RH use.

    I can see the following advantages of German bow especially for young beginners. The German bow hold initially gives young students less complexity of movement, a more relaxed shoulder and R arm and an immediate feeling of more natural weight on the string giving more leverage/power than French bow. This works in well with the teaching material because the bow styles are still generally fairly simple detache or legato (on the string). Of course notes bowed later on the E string will present a bigger challenge than French bow (depending on the shape and size of the bass) but the LH is advanced enough by then to switch attention more towards the RH for a while. The little sods still won't want to draw the bow at 90 degrees!!
  5. Julia,

    Are your students typically migrating to bass after having been started on violin/viola/cello? If so, French bow will be a more natural transition. If not, I like Steve's approach of having students try each. Wish I'd have had that opportunity when I was that age.

    BTW, I share your French bow thumb pain. I cobbled together an ergonomic solution you might find helpful. Here's the thread: Ergonomic solution for French bow (A gizmo-making tutorial)

  6. neilG


    Jun 15, 2003
    Ventura, CA
    Teach the one you play best.
    wathaet and Don Kasper like this.
  7. Steve Freides

    Steve Freides Former Mannes College Theory Faculty Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 2007
    Ridgewood, NJ
    Most of my new, young students want to bow German, and I now bow better French, but I feel I should do what's best for them, not what I do best. I'm plenty competent to teach either style to a 5th grader.

  8. neilG


    Jun 15, 2003
    Ventura, CA
  9. Steve Freides

    Steve Freides Former Mannes College Theory Faculty Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 2007
    Ridgewood, NJ
    @neilG, sign me up for oboe lessons with you.

  10. damonsmith


    May 10, 2006
    Quincy, MA
    I steer younger and more classical oriented player toward French, it is a harder grip to get going on and therefore easier to make a clear choice between French and German. Older and more jazz oriented players I steer toward German, it is far easier to make basic sound with.
    There was a time when there was a strong French bias in classical music in America. I think it is less of a big deal now, but French still seems to be favored.
    Both bows can be played equally well and take just as long to really master. The German lends itself to a strong singing tone, the French to fine detail. You can really get anything you need out of either.
    I can play both so I let one grip inform the other, though, I do favor German for my own performances.

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