Back again and looking forward to warmer weather and all the good stuff that comes with it. Lots of great ergonomic products coming out for the musician- I’m seeing these everywhere, and they are better than ever. Companies are doing their homework- better products, quality materials, lab tested- not just slapping an ergonomic label on them to move a few units. Straps, guitars, you name it. Cabinets and heads are lighter than ever, without sacrificing much in the way of tone.
In June I’ll be giving a presentation for the International Society of Bassists for their biennial convention, this year being held at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. The topic will be bowing and do’s and don’ts from an injury prevention perspective, so while beginning to prepare for that I thought I’d talk a bit about the bow.
Bowing should produce a natural hand position. When using a French bow, the hand is placed on top of the stick and power is generated as the hand applies weight that is distributed between the index and middle fingers and at right angles to the stick. The thumb serves as the support and distributes the weight accordingly. The weight exerted by the hand should come from the natural weight of the arm and shoulder. The German bow is held from underneath so that the force generated by the arm automatically directs the bow into the string. The index finger is the main supplier of force, but is supported by the second finger and thumb. The little finger serves to hold up the bow and to direct it so that it moves at right angles to the strings. Bowing should be done without pressure. Too much pressure by the bow against the strings will cause excess tension throughout the right arm. The bow should be drawn without pressure, and the weight of the arm used so as not to ruin the sound. The follow through should do just that, the bow becoming an extension of the arm and not putting excess pressure on the wrist. Many times left hand trouble, such as pain or cramping trying to get all the notes, is failure of the right hand to provide enough power to get through the passage. Common to the right hand will be a near constant state of flexion from grasping the bow and guiding it across the strings, while the left hand will be in constant movement, wih the fingers flexing and extending, pressing down on the strings and reaching for position.
As Grammy award winning bassist and composer John Clayton told me, “Players may not have discovered the importance of not squeezing the bow. I notice this in both styles, but especially with the French bow. Without special instruction you end up squeezing the bow in order to hold it versus allowing the bow to be cradled in the hand. When you learn properly you discover that you can angle the fingers in a certain way so it rests on the fingers like a shelf, rather than bringing the thumb to the stick. Players instinctively grab the bow this way, or with the left hand the bass, like a baseball bat or doorknob, squeeezing too tightly, and when playing a piece with an orchestra for 45 minutes your muscles will tighten up. With the French bow, when bringing the thumb to the stick, keep the thumb bent, cradling the bow in the area of the palm so that the hand remains soft and flexible. If kept straight, this area will tense up.” Keep this great advice in mind next time you pick up the bow, before you set your hand position and before you begin to play.
Pictures of ideal hand position for both French and German bow are readily available online or in many technique books.
Hope to see you at the ISB convention this year- a truly stellar line-up awaits. Find out more at isbworldoffice.com- and tell them Doc sent you.