Volume 6, August 2015
Examination of mid-nineteenth century double bass playing based on A. Müller and F.C. Franke's debate in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, 1848 - 1851.

by Shanti Nachtergaele

7. Bow technique

Franke and Müller each adamantly contend that their own way of holding the bow is correct and that the other's is unnatural, though they follow the same fundamental principles and differ only slightly in mechanics. Both Müller and Franke describe an underhand (German) bow hold with the thumb placed over the stick, one finger serving to direct the stick, and two fingers placed in the frog. This leaves one finger without a clear purpose, which leads to the discrepancy that arises between their two holds.

Franke chooses to place the little and ring fingers in the frog and uses the middle finger to direct the bow, which leaves the index finger free to rest somewhere between the middle finger and thumb while providing support.lv Müller, on the other hand, uses the index finger to direct the bow, places the middle and ring fingers in the frog, and leaves the little finger free to settle under the frog.lvi

Müller calls Franke's bow hold "unnatural" and "forced" because it causes the weight of the hand to fall mostly on the stick rather than the frog, which Müller claims causes the player to "hack" and "saw" with the bow.lvii Franke counters this statement by listing five objections to Müller's method:

  • It leaves the little finger exposed outside the frog, which is a disadvantage;
  • The frog's weight rests on the weakest part of the hand, between the ring and little finger, which decreases stamina;
  • The index finger is shorter than the middle finger, and therefore not as fit to direct the stick;
  • The fingers' duties are not evenly distributed;
  • It makes it much more difficult to change quickly between arco and pizzicato.lviii

In practice, the primary difference between the two methods is that Müller's bow hold creates the sense of holding the frog, while Franke's feels like holding the stick. Modern bow holds follow Franke's example in this respect, and give one the sense of holding the stick more than the frog. That being said, since the frogs of modern German bows are generally shorter than those in Müller and Franke's time and thus lack the space for two fingers, most modern methods involve placing the index and middle fingers on the stick, the ring finger in the frog, and the little finger underneath the frog, which can perhaps be seen as an amalgamation of Franke's and Müller's bow holds.

Müller also criticizes some of Franke's instructions for different bow strokes. While Franke writes in his method that one performs staccato by lifting the bow from the string between notes, Müller insists that the bow must stay on the string during the short pause between notes in order to keep the string from ringing, and to prepare for the next stroke. According to Müller, a bouncing bow is only used for fast repeated notes in piano.lix Franke readily accepts this correction, but is less forgiving of Müller's comment that his instructions for col legno should have been omitted because the technique is "unpoetic" and outdated.lx Franke defends himself by saying that col legno is an existing expression, and is therefore rightfully included in his method.lxi