German Bow Technique with David Allen Moore

Los Angeles Philharmonic bassist David Allen Moore lays out a great approach to German bow in this helpful course.

With David Allen Moore · Los Angeles, CA

As a longtime French bow player, the specifics of German bow have always been a bit mysterious to me. While there’s much more in common with both French and German bow holds and mechanics, the nuances of truly sophisticated German bow playing have always been a bit out of reach for me.

I was so happy to see that LA Phil bassist David Allen Moore was putting out a course with Discover Double Bass dedicated to German Bow Technique.

I’ve gone through the entire course, and though it’s certainly oriented toward German bow (hence the name!), I’ve learned a ton that applies to French bow playing as well.

About the Course

German Bow Technique consists of eight chapters and 47 individual lessons. These lessons span a variety of topics, starting off with basic principles of body motion and moving into the minutiae of finger placement, blow planes, practicing philosophy, and more.

Chapter 1: The Fundamentals

David makes it clear from the outset that this is supplemental material and not intended to be a replacement for an in-person teacher. He also covers thoughts on rosin, when, and how much to apply.

He also goes into hair tension, the three basic elements of sound production, and where to orient your thinking while practicing these fundamental concepts.

Other fundamentals laid out in the introduction include:

  • The position of the bow on the string
  • How the thumb and the first finder of the bow hand and weight on each string

Throughout the course, David emphasizes that all of the exercises in this course are hands-on and experiential. Sitting at the computer and simply watching through these videos is not the way to experience them.

One of the benefits of the flexible platform that Discover Double Bass uses is the ability to display on any device, from desktop or laptop to tablet or phone. I often have the course on my iPad on my music stand and practice along with the course as I go through the videos.

Also, I find myself regularly returning to past videos, reinforcing these concepts that David conveys in them. It’s an awesome way to have multiple virtual lessons with David on these fundamental topics, and it’s one of the major benefits to learning in this modality.

Chapter 2: Bow Arm Gestures and Movements

This next chapter digs into the following topics:

  • Gestures and the bow arm
  • General warm-up exercises
  • Basic bowing shapes
  • Feedback from the bow
  • Keeping a “running body inventory” to constantly scan for tension
  • How tension breeds more tension
  • Forward curve, reverse curve, figure 8, and wave patterns

For David, it’s critical to create very elegant physical gestures in all aspects of bowing, with no angles, squares, or triangles to the shapes being created by the arm.

He digs into concepts of folding and unfolding, similar to the manner in which upper string players bow their instruments. David lays out a manner of practicing these concepts in 5-7 minute intervals of time on a regular basis for maximum impact.

Chapter 3: The Bow Hold

This chapter gets into the specifics of the bow hand:

  • Balance point
  • Concept of a “hot bow”
  • Methods of finding a bow hold
  • Individuality on approaching the double bass due to the size of the instrument
  • Basing technique on certain fundamental principles
  • A detailed description of where David puts each finger, plus the role that each finger plays in the overall bow hold
  • Trusting the structure of the bow hold
  • How there’s actually no “hold” in a bow hold
  • Balance exercises
  • The seven bowing planes
  • How forward and reverse curves compare to the curvature of the bridge
  • The “playing side” of the string
  • The three pivots: 2nd finger, around the string, and on plane
  • The two pivots exercise
  • The interaction of the pivots

Chapter 4: Bow Control

This detailed examination of German bow technique continues with:

  • Changing planes
  • How every shape we’re making with the bow is a combination of a horizontal and vertical movement
  • Posture pronation and why it’s good to practice these gestures standing regardless of whether you typically sit or stand
  • Drawing a straight bow
  • The sound concept
  • Direct and resonant sound
  • Learning to “speak the language” of the bow
  • Staying on plane with double stops
  • Feeling the vibrations of the bow
  • Changing the point of focus to enhance the learning process
  • Adding weight to a plane
  • Pianissimo practice
  • Why it’s important to decide what to work on before you start playing

Chapter 5: Bow Changes

This chapter digs into a detailed look at bow changes:

  • Introduction and explanation of bow changes
  • Taking a look at a lot of seemingly contradictory information out there about bow changes
  • How a bow moving at a constant speed can appear to slow down at the bow change
  • Using the app Tonal Energy to analyze aspects of bow technique
  • Forward and reverse curves
  • The out-of-print book Motion Study in Violin Playing
  • Watching the bow screw to describe the shape of the bow curves
  • Maintaining the same face of hair throughout these motions
  • Thinking of actually playing a six-string bass in terms of bow planes
  • Non-edgy/angular wave patterns
  • Expansion exercises across three and four strings

Chapter 6: Developing Technique

I know several colleagues that have been exploring these lessons in great detail. They’re excellent for understanding articulations, off-the-string playing, and more specifics in German bow technique:

  • Combing the three pivots into the bowing gesture
  • Clockwise and counter-clockwise motion
  • Covering multiple technical elements in one exercise
  • Bow divisions
  • Using the body to generate gestures
  • The concept of “Bunting flowers” and how to apply it to the bow in various divisions
  • Practicing advice: short amounts repeated at the top of every hour
  • Advice for getting new concepts into long-term memory
  • Interval training app recommendations
  • Frog to tip exercise and various permutations
  • The depth of contact exercise
  • String crossing: physicality and preparation
  • The challenge of striking crossings that skip a string
  • Off-the-string playing and various preparatory exercises and analogies
  • Working through frustration and “ah ha” moments
  • Switching from pizzicato to arco

Behind the scenes with Geoff Chalmers and David Allen Moore

After the conclusion of the course, David chats with Discover Double Bass founder Geoff Chalmers about his background, similarities and differences between French and German bow, and his back story.

David describes the concept of German bow as being a Italian sports car. Because the bow hold is so far back in the pronation cycle, it’s possible to go into, as David calls it, “murder mode” and put far too much weight and energy into the German bow.

He also goes into standing and sitting, and how to open and close the face (top) of the bass when playing on the upper or lower strings for and extended period.

Final Thoughts

It has been a real education for me going through this German bow course, even as someone who rarely plays the German bow. Frequently in the past, I’ve felt at a loss when working with a German bow student.

I feel like this course has given me a much stronger foundation for bowing in general, and I know that I will be revisiting the lessons in this course many times in the coming months and years.

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