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BOWS: French and German Style
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French or German Bow - Which should I choose?
Unlike the other stringed instruments, with bass you have a choice of bow styles. If you're new to the bow, how are you supposed to know which one to choose? Here's a quick overview to help you decide.
The French bow has a smaller frog (the part of the bow you hold) and looks more like the bows you'd use to play cello, viola or violin. It is also held in a similar fashion as with those instruments, with an "overhand" grip.
The German bow (aka "Butler") has a taller frog and is held in an "underhand" grip. Generally speaking, the rest of the bow is virtually identical, using a similar stick, and is haired in the same way.
So what's that mean to you? Here are some additional thoughts:
- There isn't one type of bow that is necessarily "better." It's sort of like asking, "what's better, vanilla or chocolate?"
- Often, the primary reason that a player would choose one over the other is because "that's what my teacher played and that's what he/she taught me."
- That said, many players feel that a French bow is better for "finesse" and a German bow is better for "power."
- Accordingly, many orchestral players actually become competent with both bow styles and own bows of each style to suit specific performance needs.
- ...And there are plenty of bassists who play French with power and/or German with finesse.
- French bows used to have a substantial edge in the USA, but German bows have made a resurgence. We still sell more French than German, but not by nearly as big a margin.
- Learning materials for French are probably a little easier to come by due to this popularity (and their similarity to the bows of the rest of the string family). So if you're not already married to one or the other - and are learning on your own - opting for French may ease the transition to arco - especially if you have experience with other instruments in the string family.
- We always recommend studying with a reputable instructor, especially when starting the instrument or a new technique (like arco) - so ask your teacher which is best for you!
- There are multiple variations of the grips as illustrated in the examples below, so don't accept what's shown as "gospel"; your teacher's technique or your learning materials may differ.
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The Fine Print:
The information contained herein is based on what's in my brain and/or my opinions as of
today and is subject to change. Like any topic, a great deal more information could be added—but
the intent of these writings is to present easy to understand, quick FAQs, to address common questions
and improve the reader's general knowledge. What's written here is by no means the authoritative absolute
answer, I am not the world's greatest authority on bass (not even close), or on anything else for that
matter. I hope the information and opinions here are helpful to you, that's the point!
I welcome email with dissenting and additional viewpoints that help improve my personal awareness and the
content pages. If you have a question that you think belongs here, please let me know