Simple Exercise for Increased Bow Control on Bass

When using the bow, the natural tendency is to play louder at the frog and softer at the tip. We must, of course, counteract this predisposition on a regular basis. Simply playing a full bow with consistent timbre and volume requires it. Generally, we do this by adding pressure, via arm weight, to the bow as we move further from the frog and reducing weight as we move closer to the frog. This involves a degree of finesse and subtlety in our arm movements, which we must be adept in applying.

Even after we are comfortable drawing a consistent sound throughout the entire length of the bow, however, we may still find it uncomfortable to work against its natural inclinations at the extremes, i.e. the frog and the tip. For example, we may tense up excessively when playing loudly at the tip, or when playing softly at the frog.

There are, of course, instances where we can play a particular passage in a different part of the bow without detriment to the music. However, there will undoubtedly come a time when we must play loudly at the tip, or softly at the frog. There will be no musical way around it. This is why there are so many exercises designed to help a player gain complete control over the bow. We must be ready for anything the music requires.

For quick improvement I like the exercise below, which some may recognize as one of several “son filé” exercises common amongst violinists. It is as effective as it is simple, and quickly improves a player’s dynamic control in all areas of the bow, particularly at the tip and the frog. As with most exercises, I advise applying the concept to scale work.

Simple Exercise for Increased Bow Control on Bass

Take a few weeks, spending about 10 minutes a day, to play your scales this way and you will see improvement in how effectively and comfortably you handle the extremes of the bow.

Dr. Donovan Stokes is on the faculty of Shenandoah University-Conservatory. Visit him online at and check out the Bass Coalition at

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