Technique: New perspectives on bow curves for double bass
How to improve fluidity, nuance and expression in every bow stroke
When we talk about how to make an expressive sound with the bow, we often consider three basic ingredients: bow speed, weight and location. These are important, but they do not take into account the way you angle and shape each bow stroke to achieve more nuance and expression. Here, bow inclination, skew and tilt are also fundamental. Inclination is the angle between the bow and the string. It determines whether the bow hair is closer to the string below or above the string on which you are playing. Skew is about how much deviation you make from bowing parallel to the bridge, by pointing the tip of the bow up towards yourself or down away from yourself. Finally, tilt denotes how much the bow is tilted towards or away from you. Once you are aware of these three factors, you will be able to use them in different combinations to create curves as you move the bow up and down, clockwise and anti-clockwise, with impulses that either lift or drop (see my demonstration video at bit.ly/3t1vHON). This will help you to play with more fluidity, nuance and expression.
In his book on bow curves, Percival Hodgson (see box, page 81) looked at how the bow moves in clockwise and counter-clockwise shapes and curves, by affixing a light to the bow screw at the frog and taking time-lapse photos. These showed the shapes that the end of the bow should trace, as seen from the player’s perspective. I find it even more helpful to examine these bow-movement shapes from multiple perspectives: player view (figure 1), screw view (figure 2) and observer view (figure 3). When you film each movement, the shape of the bow curve and lift or drop should be obvious from all three angles. A balanced stroke will draw curves in the same direction from each of the three views…