Thursday, March 06, 2008

Bow Adventures

I've been playing the double bass for about two years now. One aspect that has been a continuous struggle for me was the bow. You see, upon taking up the instrument, double bass players are immediately presented with a decision: French or German?

The above image is from Bob Gollihur's excellent site, which includes an FAQ on bows.

For the first year of playing, I played with a French style bow because that's what my instructor used and that's what came with the bass. However, I was never able to get comfortable with it. I could not relax my grip enough to be effective. So, I decided to make the switch to German. I found an online source for quality, inexpensive bows in Upton Bass, and ordered their German style bow. Soon after, I joined the Cardinal Health Chamber Orchestra as second bassist. The principal bassist also played a German bow, and my instructor was able to give me some tips, so I felt fairly comfortable with my decision. I found the bow easier to hold, and it gave me a decent sound.

But there was still this nagging question: Is this really the right bow for me? I found the grip to be somewhat awkward, like I was also having to reach to play. And I always felt as if I were trying to cut down a tree with it. I would watch other German bow players, and they could produce such lovely sounds, yet I always sounded like a cow fighting a goose. My instructor, being a French bow player, could only help so much, and getting a new instructor was not an option because I really like him and his playing, and since my primary goal is to play jazz, he really is the right one for me.

Then I saw some instructional videos from Andrew Anderson. His grip on the French bow is very much like the grip of my instructor's. And after seeing how he placed his thumb and hearing his theories on grip and producing sound, I felt I had to give the French bow another chance. So, I ordered the French version of the Upton Bass bow.

I received the bow via UPS last Monday, and proceeded to work with it that evening. I was able to get decent sound from it, but it still felt uncomfortable, particularly when switching back and forth between the two. I was beginning to think I made a bad decision. But I knew I was not giving it a fair chance, and wanted to spend a week with it before deciding if I should keep it or not.

Tuesday was our next orchestra rehearsal, and while I toyed with the idea of bring the new French bow, I felt I was struggling enough with the music, so I brought my old one. Upon my arrival, I set up my music stand, got out my bow, tightened it up and hung it on the little hook on my music stand where I always hung my bow, got out my music and placed it on the stand. As I was leafing through the music to the first piece, the edge of my hand knocked the bow off of it's little hook and it hit tip-first onto the hard wood floor.

I had always heard that bows are fragile, particularly when under the stress of being tightened. At this point there wasn't much I could do, so without saying a word, I packed up my music stand and left rehearsal. Needless to say, I will not be hanging my bow in the music stand any longer.

Last night I played for quite some time with the French bow, and I found that without the option of switching back and forth, I was able to become much more comfortable with it. It'll take some work, but I think it'll pay off in the long run. Sometimes I need to have decisions made for me.