Jump to content
Maestronet Forums

The Perfect Bow (for me). Does it Exist?


Recommended Posts

  • Replies 55
  • Created
  • Last Reply

Top Posters In This Topic

I think Martin Swan makes an interesting point, and it also relates to finding violins:  it's NOT just the sound; rather, it is an aggregate of how the bow feels and works for all the different strokes and nuances that a real artist feels impelled to put into the music.  And all these things need to be done without having to fight.  Some of the first things to look for is if the bow feels too heavy or light; too stiff or too weak; too bottom or top heavy; too slow to respond to nuance.                 

When it comes to comfort, ease of use, and responsiveness, that ought to be the first order of business * in picking out a bow, and pretty easy to determine if one goes about it carefully, thoughtfully, and as logically as possible. 

Tone and power are more subjective, but in a gross sense they are quicker to determine. I'd like to give advice given to me by Mr. Kagan in Chicago, years ago.  It was mainly how to handle trying out a lot of bows at one time, because it is easy to get confused.  He suggested putting all the bows out, then comparing two at a time, simply choosing the better of the first two for tone and power, and smoothness—nothing more, because trying to compare too many variables at one time complicates things too much.  Then play the winner off against the next bow.  Then, only after choosing the best several bows, start putting those bows through ALL their paces.

I would add:  Have pieces prepared which cover all the things one needs to look for, and not just noodle around.  See if you can get through the material as if you were playing Carnegie Hall or taking a serious audition.  The ideal bow will not tire you out or throw you for a loop.  And it should feel "light as a feather" no matter what the actual weight, and should never feel either too stiff or too weak.  I mean, the weight should not cause you to feel it is a problem.  Just as a generality, with violins and bows, the lighter the better—because, after all, we are holding these things in the air for hours a day, year after year, and that adds up to a lot of wear on the body.  But, of course, if a bow feels too light, or a violin too quiet or too easy to play, those situations cause their own brand of tension.  (I have found very light bows that give a sense of heft because they produce the tone and power one would assume only a heavier bow would give.)

In all my years of trying all levels of bows I found only one perfect bow.  And I mean YOU COULD TELL.  It was like walking on air, or having something that was as natural to the hand as its own fingernails; there was no separation. I might as well have been born with it.  It did every bow stroke perfectly from tip to frog.  Not a bobble anywhere It was stunning!  Sadly, this level of perfection is not found automatically by seeking  the most expensive and/or famous makers.  It was a Tourte, but I've played between 10 and 20 Tourtes, and not one of the others was "perfect.")  

But there are plenty of bows that are much closer to perfect than it sounds like your current bow is.  I know no way other than to position yourself to see a lot of bows.   

*The reason I say this is because most of us are trying to blend with other instruments and don't need a soloist's distinctive sound; but we are spending hours a day, and if we have any discomforts from the instrument or bow, we're running a greater risk of injuring ourselves.  But, of course I don't mean to suggest that tone and a sense of power are not to be considered at all; ideally a player deserves a tone that is satisfying.  But I want to relate a story that (at least to me) taught me a lesson about what we call "tone."  Christian Ferras played with our orchestra.  And at the first rehearsal I found his tone to be—as I immediately described it to my stand partner—"the tinniest, most metallic sound I ever heard." But after two more days of listening to him, I had grown used to the tone and I was hearing more the musicality of his phrasing and nuance.  All of a sudden, his tone just didn't bother me at all.  I equate it to a fish swimming in clean or dirty water:  the fish gets used to it.  Another analogy is when recently I couldn't get the same florescent bulbs, and the newer ones were not as warm as the old ones, and I hated this—but after a day or two, I'm perfectly content with the colder light.  Humans are more adaptable to some things than others; IMO, tone is something our ear adapts to rather easily (within reasonable standards, of course); but listening to, or being, a violinist not able to produce much "tonal color changes" (for want of a better phrase) is much harder to accept.

Perhaps another factor is that violinists can dull an audience very quickly if they play too "mono-tonally" and the best way to keep their ears fresh is through nuance, such as changes in dynamics, phrasing, and what we call tonal colors (which includes all the ways we start, finish, and play around with notes).  And great violins and bows give us so much more of those gradations, which is what makes them great.      —all just my opinion, of course; best of luck.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hey Will L,

Good to see you, great post, thanks for all that!

On another note,,

The difficulty I've always had with this,, this,, finding the right bow is, that it goes against my better nature to even hold one, let alone rub it back and forth across the strings in some sort of rhythmical lyrical truth.

I do picks. They;re not the same.

The struggle to overcome has led almost to sweating blood.

What good is the worlds best bow to a tuba player,, I don't play tuba, but I still would like a good bow.

So over time,, they just appeared everywhere, under couches, and hanging under the stairs. A few beside the bed on a stand, then some others on the Grand.

I don't have a harem I have a hoard, traded, fiddles, pulled up tomato stakes in the garden, in the middle of the night.

There's some decent wood in there, so good enough.

But the road to there was ruff, I hated most of them all, some too stiff some to soft, and oh  how I hate to rehair.

So I'd grab anything,,, a broomstick with some rosin, will do. Viola bow,, now theres a lot I "like" about that. Made from farmed trees,, what to say about that.

Cello bows, baby bows,  bass bows, farm shows, rodeos,(I drove by one once).

So I have "observed" under the strictest of conditions, (think white coats, sterile, gloves, surgeons around the table, lasers calculating the speed of sound, air density, nitrogen concentration, the best of shoes, Goggles, good numbers and formulas of every description on every available board, air purifiers humming,,pencils behind the left ear,  old style water cooler in the corner,,,,the one with the blue bottle on top).

It was sorta like watching Dr Kildare and practicing with a bass bow,, when suddenly. I "observed" that it sounds and handles differently than a violin bow,,,, some of it an be very positive. I'm easily distracted so,,,,

After years had past, the skys were grey, winter setting in, I looked up at that ol bow,,, and said Bow!  I decided to really practice with it and try to make it sound like a violin bow. It really doesn't work,,, like working out at the gym. I had to work on my non existent technique to make it work. It can be painfully difficult, but it  really improved bow strength and control. So When I pick up and play a good bow, it really feels different, and I can greater hear the possibility's of different types of sound, because of spending some real time on the bass bow, which has, completely different feel, texture, weight. Fast string crossing takes a very smooth hand, I was shocked actually by how difficult it was to play. Learning to play with it expanded the horizons. So it has seemed like, the more different bows I really spend some time with and try to really overcome their problems, it seems that it becomes more of my problem,  all the bows seem to get better, as my knowlege grows,,, and the worst ones, not quite as foul as before, though some could still double as a clothes line, or a tomato stake,,,But only in a dire emergency.

So now when I play different bows, I really know fast what I like and what I don't, I've had so many flavors to choose from. If you only ever play on one stick,  you might not know how comprised your style is, to accommodate that stick, to get the most out of it.

Does a perfect bow guarantee a perfect performance?

Or does a near perfect performance demand another search for that more perfect bow.

But then, some of you might know, you might fully well know By George, By Golly,,,you might already understand everything.

Experience changes everything, we adapt.

A friend of mine was large and would end up walking,,while rolling his ankles leaning toward  the out sides of his feet, he was used to it,, and  it would take a lot of work and dedication before he could even start to appreciate and enjoy normal shoes.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.

  • Create New...