Methods to Test A Good Bow
There have been numerous discussions on bows here. Usually beginning with something like, " What are the best bows?"
Sometimes this is a beginner and sometimes this is a more seasoned player looking to move up to a better bow.
I'm coming at this subject from the perspective of someone who simply doesn't want the bow to stand in the way of my improvement.
Aside from antique value which I have no interest in, how do you determine if any given bow is a good bow to learn on, one that won't hold technique back when the player improves?
If we get into the idea that a good bow for you might not be a good bow for me doesn't this tend to muddy the waters a bit? I understand there might be preferences that we feel help us in some way.
My objectives are to play very well. I won't ever be in the symphony or at least this isn't an intention of mine.
I don't want materials for good bows or prices or values or price points. I simply want to know I'm going forward with a good bow.A good enough bow to get me to heights I might not be capable of. At least then I'll know it wasn't the bow holding me back. I don't care what it's made of and initially I don't want to know what it costs.
I want to get from point A to point B with a good bow.I don't want a bow to restrict me in any way.
How do you test that? How do you know when a bow won't hold you back?
Like violins, what you want in a bow will change over time as you get better.
You want a bow that produces good sound on YOUR violin.
Timothy don't fret over it. You need to go to a violin shop and test a number of decent student bows around 300, perhaps 500, USD. Play fragments of etudes that you already know, e.g., do some detache, do some legato, do some spiccato, do some staccato. Just take the bow that you intuitively prefer. That should do it. The proof of the pudding is in the eating! Yes it is a grey area, but that also means the probability that you end up with a bow "holding you back" is negligible.
That depends on whether or not your violin is a keeper. :-)
Actually, Pierre Guillaume, a bowmaker of good reputation, told me that the adage "you must test a bow on the violin it is going to be played on", while obviously not wrong (how could it be wrong), can take quite a bit of stretch. In other words, if you try bows on a decent violin, and pick the one you prefer, obviously on another violin that bow will act differently, and perhaps another one that you tried would have been better, but the chosen bow will not suddenly turn into a bad bow "that will hold you back". At least he told me he had not experienced that.
I find this a really interesting question, thank you for asking it and I hope you don't mind if I hiatus a bit though it falls in the same line.
What you could do is try out a few of these $68 bows, pick the one you prefer, but bring your current bow with you and immediately compare it. If it feels really lousy compared to what you just picked, you are doing fine I guess at this stage of your development. At the same time, you can then stick with your choice and ask them if you can also try a few bows in the next price range, or the price range you would still be willing to spend in the near future. Again pick the one you prefer and immediately compare it with your new $68 bow. If this again proves to be a world of difference, then you may decide to save up! Obviously, if the $68 bow turns out NOT to be much better than your current bow, you'll need to look at the higher price range anyway. Hopefully that will give a noticeable difference... Happy bow shopping!
Small shopping tip: don't spend too much time on each bow, it's better to get back to them repeatedly so you can compare them. Just do some quick detache, legato, spiccato and staccato enough to get a feel for it. You should also test volume, playing softly and playing loudly. When I got my Bernard bow (a decent Pernambuco student bow, nothing fancy, but it suits me very well) out of trying five candidates, I knew I wanted it after 5 seconds of playing with it.
That's very sensible advice, thank you Jean. I will be less likely to walk in there with tunnel vision and take more time to really sort things out with better judgement and method. Appreciated.
Demian. I think we might have similar humor. Leave it to Fiddlerman to do something like that.:>)
While you don't want a sluggish bow, you also don't want one that bounces too much. The bow needs to have enough weight to be able to dig into the string a little without forcing it from above. Bow pressure should come mostly from gravity, not from your arm pushing it into the string. Ideally, you want a bow that can play a steady spiccato and make smooth legato bow changes with minimal effort.
The last time I tested a bow I used the Sevcik 40 variations book.
I've found CF bows within a given brand-model to be relatively consistent but far from identical. They have tonal variations that can be very significant, and somewhat different handling, although the similarities will also be clear.
Thank you Andrew, Joel and Lydia.Much appreciated.
"Pressure" is the wrong word. "Weight" is a better one.
Lydia, do you mean even application of weight at the point of contact of the hair rather than of the arm? I.e. shouldn’t different arm weight be applied as the contact point between string and hair move from frog to tip in order to maintain the same level of friction at the contact point?
On thought, yes. I just think of it as keeping the arm weight steady. ;-)
Pressure/weight is something I've been exploring lately. As my hand becomes more flexible and I come to understand the function of the fingers and their relation to the contact point when drawing the bow, it becomes more natural but, admittedly, when my mind starts moving away from the bow, I'll still experience a bounce or scratch mid bow. Usually I find that I've worked the bow out of my grasp a little, my ring finger coming off the frog, middle finger almost at the top of the bow. It's fine when I'm concious of it, but especially when I'm reading music, the multi tasking gets a little stretched. I've gotten the urge to tape my fingers onto the bow, lol, even though I know that would be an utter hinderance as opposed to help but it's still tempting.