Choosing the Right Bow for Beginner Bass Players: German or French?


Unlike other instruments in the violin family, the double bass has two types of bows: French and German. Professional bassists can skillfully use both types of bows, and the beauty of the melody depends more on the bassist than the type of bow. However, for beginners, should they choose a German or French bow?

Table of Contents

French Bass Bow

Visually, the French double bass bow looks similar in shape to the violin and cello bows but differs slightly in weight, length, and other aspects. Structurally, bows across the violin family are consistent, and you can refer to "As a violin beginner, have you understood the violin bow?" for details on the structure of a violin bow.

Advantages of the French bow:

· More flexible, able to produce a greater variety of tones and expressiveness;

· Easier to control, able to achieve more nuanced changes in volume and intonation;

· More suitable for playing fast and continuous music.

Disadvantages of the French bow:

· Requires a higher level of technical skill and wrist flexibility;

· Playing sustained notes requires more strength and physical endurance;

· Not very suitable for playing music at high volumes.

German Bass Bow

There are distinct differences in appearance between the German and French double bass bows. 

The German bow has a shorter, thicker bow stick, and a wider frog. The frog is part of the bow that the player grips with their hand and is usually made of ebony. The frog of a German bow is typically square in shape, with a flatter appearance, making it easier to hold. The German bow also has a wider, flatter bow hair, which is used to produce a more impactful sound.

In contrast, the French double bass bow has a longer, thinner bow stick and a narrower frog. The frog is typically rounded and the end of the stick gradually tapers towards the tip. The French bow has a rounder, smoother bow hair, which is used to create a smoother, more sustained sound.

Advantages of a German-style violin bow:

· Provides greater volume and improved precision in placement;

· Requires less force and physical stamina when playing long notes;

· Better suited for playing music with loud volumes and strong accents.

Disadvantages of a German-style violin bow:

· Requires higher levels of technical proficiency and arm flexibility;

· More difficult to control, requiring more practice and experience;

· Playing fast and continuous music requires more arm movement.

The History of the Bass Bow

Modern bass players typically use two types of bass bows: French and German bass bows. However, their development was not sudden, but rather formed gradually with the evolution of music, leading to these two distinct styles.

The history of the bass bow can be traced back to the 17th century when the bass was widely used in European music as an important foundational instrument in classical music, folk music, and dance music.

Initially, bass players used a simple plectrum-like device similar to the modern guitar pick, but this method had limited playing capabilities and could not meet the demands of musicians. With the development of music and improvement of playing techniques, bass players began to seek better ways of playing and tools, gradually developing the modern bass bow.

The earliest form of the double bass bow was a wooden stick with a horsehair string tied to both ends. This type of bow had many limitations, such as the inability to make fine adjustments and control the volume of the sound. In the late 17th century, Italian bass players began using curved wooden sticks, which allowed for better control of the bow hair and produced a better tone and volume. In the early 18th century, bass players started using curved iron rods, which were more durable and could withstand greater force, resulting in even better playing performance.

The origin of the German bass bow can be traced back to the early 18th century in Germany. The bow stick of the German bass bow is cylindrical in shape with a small curve, suitable for playing a more balanced style of music such as Baroque music. The hair of the German bass bow touches the string from below the stick, and the player uses the movement of the arm and wrist to control the angle and contact area of the hair during the performance. In later development, the German bass bow was continuously improved and the shape of the stick also changed, gradually forming the modern form of the German bass bow.

The origin of the French bass bow can be traced back to the late 18th century in France. The stick of the French bass bow is cylindrical in shape with a slender, curved end, making it more lightweight and elegant. The hair of the French bass bow touches the string from above the stick, and the player mainly uses wrist movement to control the angle and contact area of the hair during the performance. The French bass bow gradually became popular in the 19th century and was widely used in the performance of Romantic music. The design of the French bass bow has also been continuously improved, with changes in the shape of the stick, the position of the balance point, and other aspects.

Should I choose a French bow or a German bow?

For many beginners, their first contact with the double bass may be in school or through a teacher-led learning process, and sometimes they may not need to make their own choices. As a result, many novice bass players have been using the bow type they first encountered. But if they need to make a choice, how should they decide?

You can seek help from your teacher

If you have a teacher, everything will be much simpler. As I have always emphasized, having a good teacher is very important on the path of learning music. It's like if you want to learn how to make a violin, having a master to teach and demonstrate is much better than figuring it out on your own. Even Stradivari himself once studied under his teacher Nicolo Amati. So if you have a teacher, it is recommended to ask for their opinion as soon as possible. This is undoubtedly one of the right choices.

Choosing different types of bass bows means choosing different ways of use

If you don't have a teacher, you should choose based on your situation. 

You should be aware that choosing to learn French or German bow means choosing different practice methods. The grip of the bow is completely different between French and German styles when using the bow.

The French bass bow uses an overhand grip, similar to the bows used for the cello, viola, and violin. If you were previously an accomplished violinist, using a French bass bow will feel more natural to you. Many students who encounter the bass in school find that the school-provided bows are predominantly French, as most students have had some experience with the violin and the French bow helps them transition more quickly.

When using the French bass bow, the performer primarily uses wrist movements to control the angle and contact area of the bow hair, while also using arm strength to control the up-and-down movement of the bow stick. Compared to the German bass bow, the French bass bow requires more frequent wrist movements and has higher flexibility and delicacy. Performers can achieve subtle variations in tone and playing effects through small wrist movements, thus better expressing the emotions and characteristics of musical works.

The German bass bow uses an underhand grip, which differs from other bows. When using the German bass bow, the performer primarily uses arm movements to control the up-and-down movement of the bow, while also using wrist movements to control the angle and contact area of the bow hair. Typically, German bass bow players use the strength of their arm to control the pressure of the bow stick and the contact force between the bow hair and the strings, while wrist movements are used to control the angle and contact area of the bow hair. This allows for more precise control over changes in tone and performance effects.

Practice Two Types of Bass Bows

There is no good or bad type of bow for the bass, only whether it is suitable for you. Compared to the French bow, the German bow is more suitable for people with longer arms. Compared to the German bow, the French bow is more controllable and easier to learn if you have a foundation. However, many orchestras only accept people who use a German bass bow...

Therefore, in reality, many factors require you to proficiently use both types of bass bows for performance. There is no need to be entangled in which one to choose. I suggest that you should practice both types of bows and switch between them on different occasions or when playing different pieces. If you are just starting, then choose the one that you are more likely to learn.

Where should I buy a bass bow?

Modern people, on the one hand, can purchase a bass bow through physical stores, and on the other hand, they can buy one online. If buying online, it is recommended to purchase from Fiddlover Violin Shop.

The recommendation is as follows:

1: Fiddlover Violin Shop specializes in violin instruments and accessories such as bows, making them highly professional. Each bow is carefully selected by professional staff after ordering, with high-quality horsehair and related accessories assembled and inspected, and adjusted before being shipped. In addition, sturdy packaging is selected during the logistics process to avoid damage to the bow during transportation.

2: Many famous bow makers in history were in Europe, and there are still very good manufacturers in Europe today. However, for beginners, it is not necessary to choose very expensive bows when starting to learn, unless you are very wealthy. Fiddlover is a Chinese manufacturer that can produce high-quality instruments at a lower cost. Compared to other stores on the market, their instruments are of good quality and reasonably priced.

So I recommend purchasing a bass bow from here. If you are not sure which one to choose, then I recommend the following two products, the French and German bass bows, respectively.

Name: French Bass Bow Multi-Style Professional B1172

Price: $183

Size: 4/4, 3/4, 1/2, 1/8

Name: Double Bass Bow German Model Brazilian Wood Stick Snake Wood Frog B1173

Price: $183

Size: 4/4, 3/4

Bass Bow Maintenance

1、Cleaning after use: After playing, the bow hair and stick should be gently wiped with a clean soft cloth to remove debris such as broken strings and cosmetics from the bow hair, to avoid damage to the bow.

2、Maintain humidity and temperature: The bow is very sensitive to the environment, so it should be stored at room temperature and not placed next to a fireplace. Also, pay attention to humidity and avoid placing it in overly dry or damp places.

3、Regularly replace bow hair: Bow hair is the key to the sound of the bow and needs to be replaced regularly. Generally, depending on the length of playing time, the replacement frequency will vary. It is recommended to replace it every 6-12 months.

4、Avoid collisions: Avoid hitting the bow stick on hard objects to prevent deformation or cracking of the bow stick.

5、Keep the bow box clean: The bow box should be regularly cleaned to prevent dust and dirt from entering and affecting the maintenance of the bow.

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