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The Bass  Education Project - By Bob Gollihur

 

The Bow: 

Bows are made of wood (usually pernumbucco or xxxxx ) or fiberglass and have bleached or unbleached hair. The are two types of bass bows, French, similar to a cello bow using a similar grip, and German, with a larger frog to accommodate an underhand grip. Bow selection is personal. The choice between German and French bow is arguable and boils down to physical comfort and bow control. After that, the main concern in bow selection is to choose a bow that has a comfortable weight and balance and that is straight (not warped). Again, seek the assistance of someone knowledgeable about any particular bow.

Select quality strings (recommended: Flexocore Original or Flexocore `92) for all purpose playing, xxxxxx for strictly classical playing and Spirocore for strictly jazz or amplified playing).

Also, select a quality rosin (recommend Carlson or xxxxxx); it should be sticky, not powdery and you should be able to leave a fingerprint in the face of it if you press on it with your thumb.

Again, a $350 plywood bass set up with good strings, a decent bow and good rosin can perform as well as an investment of thousands of dollars.

 

 


Holding the instrument:

There are two postures for holding the bass, standing and sitting. I strongly recommend that students sit, particularly younger students. 

Some players feel that they have greater freedom of movement be standing. If you choose to begin students standing, be sure to spend generous amounts of time teaching the students to support and balance the instrument with the body, NOT with the left hand. Allowing the student to use the left hand to support the weight of the bass will have devastatingly crippling effects on the students ability to develop any left hand technique. In the sitting posture, the instrument is automatically supported and balanced by the body enabling the young player to have more freedom of arm movement and preventing the early development of detrimental left hand habits.

In the standing posture, the players legs should be straight. The instrument is supported by the left leg and hip/groin area. The bass is tilted back slightly, similar to the angle of the fingerboard, leans slightly into the player and is twisted slightly clockwise towards the player.

In the sitting posture, choose a stool that is approximately the same height as the length of the players inseam. It should have rungs so that the player can elevate the left foot slightly. The right foot should rest flat on the ground. The bass is held in a position similar to the standing posture, however, slightly more accentuated. It is supported by the inside left thigh and groin area, and slightly by the left knee. The bass is tilted slightly back, similar to the angle of the fingerboard, leans slightly into the player and is twisted slightly clockwise towards the player. The left knee can be used to slightly adjust the angle at which the bass faces towards or away from the player. With the player's right foot comfortably flat on the floor, the fingerboard should be about parallel to the right thigh.
 


The Right Arm and Hand

The right hand holds the bow. 

Though there is a choice between German and French bows, most students who are converted from other string instruments will feel most comfortable with a French bow.

While most people refer to the hold on the bow as the "bow grip", this phraseology carries a connotation that evokes a visual image and a psychomotor response that is detrimental to effective bow technique. A more appropriate phrase, resonant with the desired result is "bow rest".

The bow rest for the bass bow is similar to that of the cello bow, with some slight differences. There are, however, more pronounced differences from that of the violin or viola right hand.

Holding the bow:

1. Have the student, sitting or standing up straight, let their right arm and hand at rest.

2. If the student's arm seem tense and not relaxed, have them gently shake out the tension from their arm and     hand and let them come to rest.

3. This natural, relaxed hand position is the proper bow rest.
The hand should be in a relaxed, curved position, palm facing the hip.

4. Place the frog of the bow in the right hand, the front curve of the frog at the tip of the thumb. The thumb should remain curved and rest gently in the front curve of the frog. It should not bend backwards or stick through to the other side of the bow. The left side of the fleshy part of the index finger near the furthest knuckle should reach slightly forward on the stick. The other three fingers should remain slightly curved with the fleshy part of the fingertips resting on the frog. The hand and should remain relaxed.

 

Placing the Bow on the String:

1. Supporting the weight of the bow and the relaxed student's hand and arm, place the middle of the bow on the D-string just above the halfway point between the bridge and the end of the fingerboard. The stick of the bow should tilt slightly towards the player. The full weight of the arm, the hand and the bow should rest on the string. Furthermore, in the sitting posture, the angle of the strings provides enough support so that there is no real need to "grip" the bow and the right hand can remain completely relaxed. In the standing posture, the angle of the strings is more vertical, thus requiring more support from the hand to keep the bow from sliding towards the bridge.

1a. If the student's arm and hand are not relaxed, the full weight of the arm an hand will not provide the necessary energy to make the instrument work properly. This energy is supplanted by muscle pressure which corrupts the sound, hinders technique and can be physically damaging to the player. 

Practice relaxation exercises to relax the right arm and hand and to develop a psychomotor understanding of the feeling of allowing the right arm and hand to be "dead weight".

Allow the student to hold the dead weight of your hand and arm so that they Explain that this weight is all that is necessary and that there is no need to "press" the bow onto the string. Have the student allow you to support the weight of their arm and hand until they can fully relax their arm and hand to the point of being dead weight. Then repeat step (1). Repeat steps (1) and (1a) as necessary.


Moving the Bow Across the String:

The energy to move the bow across the string comes from the larger muscles in the upper arm, thus movement initiates in the upper arm. A psychomotor simulation to this feeling can be created by having the student hold their right arm and hand at rest at their side as they did to prepare the bow rest. The teacher should then initiate a back and forth swinging in the arm (similar to walking) by pushing back and forth on the front and back of the student's upper arm. The arm and hand should remain relaxed and the inertia of the hand and forearm should keep the hand lagging behind the upper arm. This is as it should be in playing. If the hand and forearm are ahead of the upper arm, the upper arm is not acting as the driving force and the arm cannot remain relaxed.

 

Start with simple tone production.

1. Prepare with a relaxed arm and proper bow rest and place the bow, about three inches from the frog, on the D-string, just above the half way point between the bridge and the end of the fingerboard. 

2. Be sure the arm and hand are relaxed and the full weight of the arm, hand and bow rests at the contact point between the bow and the string.

3. The teacher can initiate tone production by firmly pulling back on the students upper arm. Inertia and friction at the contact point should cause the rest of the arm, hand and fingers should lag behind. The joints of the elbow, wrist, and fingers should act as springs or shock absorbers. The extra movement should not be exaggerated. This indicates movement that is not initiated by the upper arm. If the arm, hand and fingers move all as one unit, without any flexibility, the arm is not relaxed.

The attack of the sound should be clear. Draw the arm at a constant speed and stop about two or three inches from the tip of the bow.

Repeat, always resetting the bow on the string correctly, so that the student can learn what it is supposed to feel like when the arm draws the bow correctly.

This movement is a "down bow".

4. Allow the student to initiate tone production themselves. Watch for signs of appropriate relaxation and muscle movement initiating from the upper arm.

Repeat step (3) if necessary.



5. Repeat the process (steps 1-4) pushing the arm forward, starting about two inches from the tip of the bow moving to about two or three inches from the frog.

This movement is an "up bow". Again, be sure that the arm is relaxed, the weight is in the string, movement initiates from the upper arm, the joints act as a shock absorber for the forces of inertia and friction and the bow moves at a constant speed.

 

More Fundamentals of Moving the Bow Across the String:

Practice the tone production sequence outlined above with the following variations:

1. Practice on each of the strings.

2. Practice moving the bow at many different speeds.

3. Practice placing the bow at various points between the bridge and the end of the fingerboard.

4. Practice attaining different volume (dynamic) levels.

5. Practice using varying amounts of bow (full bow, half bow, about three inches of bow).

6. Practice starting at different points in the bow (middle, down bow starting near the tip, up bow staring near the frog).

Note: Often, due to the physics of the construction of basses, tone production on the A-string is difficult and sounds raspy. This is called a "wolf" and is remedied somewhat by a "wolf suppressor".


Also, a cognitive/psychomotor note: We have established that the driving energy comes from the upper arm and that the joints act as shock absorbers. In order to successfully execute the above variations, another concept must be learned and several learned concepts must be integrated. The fingers have an additional job. They are the "sensors" That is why we place the fleshy parts of our fingers on the bow, that is where most of the nerve endings are. The fingers sense the friction at the contact point providing information as to what psychomotor movements are required to produce the desired sound.

The parameters that we vary to achieve different sounds (loud, soft, fuzzy, warm) are:

bow placement, bow speed, and weight. Think of these three parameters as a 3-way balance. If you change one, you must make adjustments in the others to maintain an equilibrium. Be aware of subtle sound and physical feeling differences as you vary these parameters. (When varying "weight", do not press into the string, allow more or less of the full weight of your arm, hand and bow to rest on the string).
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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