Volume 18, February 2024
E-portfolios as Learning Tools for Applied Double Bass Study; a Research-Based, Practice Oriented Approach

by Mark Elliot Bergman

Appendix C

Advanced double bass playing necessitates mastering seven basic bow articulations. Mastering these strokes is not the end-goal of musical study. Rather, these articulations form the basic vocabulary of an artful interpretation and good ensemble playing. As Rabin and Smith (1991) observed, "bowing styles and bowing strategies are keys to a musical and stylistic performance" (p.1). For this assignment, you will record yourself playing scales with multiple bow strokes and post the recordings to your e-portfolio as an artifact.

Below you will find instructions for employing these seven bow strokes and creating a video artifact that you will upload to your e-portfolio. The instructions include a detailed description of each articulation. I transcribed and organized the descriptions from Ed Barker's 2009 interview on the podcast Contrabsss Conversations. A link to the podcast is included in the reference list at the bottom of these instructions. The strokes are organized from longest to shortest and divided into four "on-the-string" strokes and three "off-the-string" strokes. The note patterns are written in F major, but can be transposed to any key or mode. Please record each bow articulation twice (one major scale and one melodic minor scale) up and down as part of a two-octave scale for each bow articulation. 

On-the-string Strokes:


"a bow stroke where you draw the bow back and forth or up and down, up bow and down bow, and the attempt is to make a very, very clean and non-audible bow change . . . on the double bass we have to try to develop a very good legato bow stroke where we actually have to change bows. So you could have a series of notes under a slur. But because our bows tend to be shorter and our strings longer, it is often necessary for us to change bows under a legato slur. So it is important for us to have a bow change that is very, very clean." (25:26 – 26:12)

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"Another bow stroke on the string would be a portato which actually sounds rather like a detaché. Instead of changing the bow like you so on a detaché, you simply connect the series of notes on one bow stroke. With a slight releasing of the pressure and a slight slowing down of the bow without taking the bow off the string . . . . A portato would be more like "waa-waa-waa" with each gesture stating with a "w."" (30:19 - 31:11)

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Detaché (sustained)

I would call this an "on-the-string detaché" or sometimes I call it a sustained detaché . . . this is where we draw the bow. We stop the bow. Then we start the bow again in the other direction . . . . it makes for a clean break in the bow changes but not having a consonant attack on the bow change (28:00 – 28:20)

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"a marcato the musical sound begins rather abruptly. There is a very audible attack (I call it a consonant attack) at the beginning of the bow stroke. You could liken that to a "T' or a "B" pronounced very clearly" (29:06 – 29:40)

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Off-the-string Strokes

Detaché (Carried)

The kind of detaché that is unique to this school of bass playing . . . I've taken to calling it a "carried detaché" That's a bow stroke that is essentially an off the string bow stroke. I define off the string as being a bow stroke where the movement for the bowstroke starts in the air, not from the string. This carried detaché is essentially like an airplane landing and taking off. (31:50 – 32:26)

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Martelé, in my school of playing, is an off the string articulation. I refer to it as a hammered bow stroke. It is a hard attack. A rather sharp attack. It is produced by striking the string very hard and then pulling back very quickly with a lot of energy. This is an off-the-string stroke where you are actually making the bow bounce rather than letting it bounce. In doing so, it produces a hard, sharp, slightly brittle attack. It is similar to a pizzicato where you grab the string quickly with the finger, and you pull away very quickly. Essentially that is what we do with the bow . . . it is necessary to use a fair amount of rosin (in the orchestral realm especially) so that we get a lot of grip on the string. (36:20 – 37:54)

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If you were to shorten that carried detaché rather radically, you would start to enter the area of "spiccato" which is more of a technique than an actual articulation. It's an off-the-string bow stroke. And staccatos, of course, can be manipulated so the sound of the note is rather short or can be a little longer and slightly brushier . . . you have to rely on the natural springiness of the bow and the hair and the rebound. (35: 10 – 36:01)

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Heath, J. (2006). 165: Ed Barker Interview (from the archives). Contrabass Conversations. View Website