The movement of the wrist is important when you play Tango, you have to be very flexible with your fingers and wrist. To have this flexibility is easier with a French bow. I think that is because double bass players used to play with a French bow and they did all of the effects and articulations that we have nowadays, but the lack of literature or methods in this regard makes trying to play tango from a more academic point of view and with a German bow more difficult. So, when you play it with a French bow, according to The bass in tango, “It should be a soft movement, as if the hand were a pendulum hanging from the wrist, like an elastic band that goes back and forth.”3  and to play it with this movement and with this concept I think is easier with french bow thanks to the way you hold the bow, but if you try this with German bow everything changes, as we can see in the previous images.

And when you play it with bow is more common to find it like this



This marking model comes from Milonga campera. Although it has been present throughout the history of tango, because the milonga campera is the predecessor of tango, Astor Piazzolla made it characteristic of music, including it in all his works.

usually when we play it with pizzicato we find it written like this.

So, if you play it with a French bow, you can attack the first note of every group from the air and then play it with a lot of weight and a short bow. But if you play it with a German bow you have to change everything. First of all, you cannot attack from the air, you have to start from the string to be available to play the correct accent, then you need less weight and more speed than with a French bow to project the sound and play the correct articulation.

Here a video playing 3.3.2 with German bow 

French bow VS German bow

When I started working on this research, I thought that when we played tango with a German bow the wrist was less important, but I found that although when you play with a French bow  is really important, the movement of the wrist, when we play with a German bow the wrist is also important, but it has to work much more together with the elbow and the shoulder, so I think in general you need to use more your arm and do bigger movements.   

Horacio Cabarcos on of the most important bass players in tango playing Strapatta with the accompaniament of Leopoldo Federico playing the bandoneon  


In the book The bass in tango we find the following explanation of how to play strapatta with a French bow: The strapatta is divided into two parts:

  • The articulation: on the eighth note previous to the accented downbeat, the bow hits the strings. The bow usually bounces 2 or 3 sixteenth notes (closed strapatta), although sometimes the bow can bounce freely to produce a more powerful effect (open strapatta). Either the hair or the stick (col legno battuto) can be used. In each case the sound is different, but the effet is the same and so is its function. Here, the effect using hair will be studied, since it’s its mos well-known version. If using the stick, it would be best to abandon the traditional grip, and hold it like a sword, with the hair facing the player.
  • The arrival: on the accented downbeat, the open palm of the left hand slaps the strings at the spot where the neck meets the body of the bass. The slap shouldn’t be strong: little strength is needed to achieve a snap with a good volume." 4                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

As we read, the most common version of the strapatta is with the hair hitting the strings to have a sound percussive but also resonant, but when you are playing with a German bow everything changes because, thanks to the construction of the bow it has a tendency to jump more than a French bow, so you cannot do it just with the hair because then we lose the percussive sound but if you do it just with the stick we lose the resonant of the strings, so I found that the accurate way to do it is a bit awkward and less natural than with French bow but it works. So, holding the bow with almost all of the hair looking at the ground, with this position we will play with a bit of hair but also with the stick, and it will be easier to control the jumping of the bow.

Few bars of La Yumba to show how they write Strapatta 

Video strapatta


To understand better here two  videos playing some bars of Kicho  with a French and a German bow. Also there is the score and the notes inside of a blue circle are the notes with arrastre. 

  • French bow

  • German bow


As we can read in the book The bass in tango " effect is produced when a note is anticipated using a sound of undetermined length and pitch, which ends abruptly when the written note (the arrival note) is reached" 5

According to the bass in tango, this is the way to play it "arrastre starts pp using a small amount of bow. Then a crescendo is played, speeding up the bow until the note is defined with a dry, percussive movement of the wrist and fingers. This arrastre creates the illusion of a glissando even though the left hand doesn't change position." 6


After practicing following these instructions, I consider that they can be applied to both French and German techniques. However, playing with a German bow, I find the following three differences:

  •   I feel that the movement of the elbow is more important than the movement of the fingers because it gives control and stability to the movement. 
  •  If we leave the thumb free and relax without weight, the movement of the wrist is easier and then the sound is more powerful. 
  •  I found it easier to play the arrastre in the middle between the frog and the middle of the bow because if you play it too close to the frog, I feel that you block the movements of the arm and then you block the sound, but if you play it closer to the middle, the bow has more freedom and then the sound can have more resonance. 



With German bow

I found this effect particularly difficult to play with a German bow because you usually play it on the 3rd and 4th strings and also you have to play it on the frog and coming from the air. All of these things are more difficult with the German bow than with the French bow and it is thanks to the way you hold the bow. So to play this effect, you must be really careful with the way you arrive on the string to avoid this sound                                             that is the result of playing with too much weight, so you block the resonance of the string and  at the end you are just hitting the string.

So, to play this effect with a German bow, the movement comes from the elbow, it helps to make the movement more natural and powerful. It is also important not to stop the movement when the bow arrives on the string and after the bow touches the string it is important to relax the movement, to not  block the sound.


Here is a video playing YUMBA with a German bow. 


On the book The bass in Tango we can read these instructions to play La Yumba:

  • Always playing a la corda, down bow, at the frog and with a lot of sustain.
  • Placing much more weight on the bow than with a regular marcato.
  • Sliding very little hair (less than half an inch) of the bow parallel to the string to generate the needed friction and achieve the unique scratch that defines this bow stroke.
  • "Like plucking a chicken, an excellent metaphor that our mentor, Emilio Balcarce, shared with his students. referring to the act of taking the feathers off a chicken, with one yank. 7

Here a recording of Osvaldo Pugliese's orchestra with guests playing at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires. We can listen how this effect should sound in context with other instruments and at the second 27  we can watch how is the movement of the bow. 

Few bars of the double bass score of La Yumba by Osvaldo Pugliese 

Here a video to ilustrate how the marcato in 2 should sound 

The marcato


Marcato is the most common marking model in tango. To the bass together with the left hand of the piano, this articulation helps to lead the orchestra in terms of tempo and dynamics. As a percusive sound we have to keep in mind that we also want to hear the bass line that gives the harmony, so it is important to have a balance between the percusive sound and the note itself.

We found two kind of Marcatos. Marcato in 4 is when you play with equal accentuation the four beats of the bar and Marcato in 2 is when you play the first and the third beat with accent, so the second and the fourth beat are almost inaudible. 


To play marcato, the book The bass in tango gives the following instructions and these instructions are to play the accent so they work for both marcatos. 

  • The movement of the bow should be made: Perpendicularly to the string.
  • At the frog.
  •  Separating the bow from the string once the note has been played (the articulation itself lasts only a sixteenth note). Always down bow (in marcato in 4 this is done on all four notes of the bar, even if the articulation and the bow movement are not notated).
  • Use very little hair (less than a quarter inch, in general).
  • Put enough weight on the bow to achieve a full sound. 8


The movement of the fingers and the wrist are important in The bass in tango they explain that although the movement of the wrist is important, usually the articulation comes from the fingers. But when we need more sound it is important to add the wrist to the movement. In both cases, fingers and wrist should be relaxed and very flexible to not block the sound. 


In this video I am  playing marcato following these instructions: 


From my perspective, I found the wrist has a more important role than the fingers in both cases with a French bow and with a German bow. 

I found this articulation the easiest one to play with a German bow. Although you can not follow the same instructions, you do not need to change many things in the way you hold the bow or you do the movements to play. 


For me, when you play with a German bow, the fingers are less important and  our attention should be on the movement of the wrist and this movement is an accompaniment for the movement of the elbow, because I think the elbow gives the direct and the control of the movement. In the book they also talk about playing really at the frog, but with a German bow is more difficult, so, from my point of view,  the best place to play it is at the punto de equilibrio or in the middle of the frog and the middle of the bow. 

As with a French bow, it is important to use a short bow with not too much hair and enough weight to have a clear and big sound. 

Here is a video playing marcato with a German bow.


In tango, syncopations are made up of two parts: the question and the answer, and we can find different types of syncopations depending on how you play the question and the answer, so you could play it with bow-bow, pizz-pizz or bow-pizz. Also, the type of syncopation depends on where you play the accents and where you start (up beat or down beat). Although thanks to the German bow's tendency to jump, bow-only syncopation means much more control over the bow than French bow, we're talking about bow-pizz syncopation here because, from my perspective, it is the most challenging to play. the German bow, although in the book The bass in tango we can read that syncopation is most commonly played only with a bow. It is also mentioned that the way in which the different ways of playing syncopations are combined depends on the taste of the interpreter. So, in my experience, I prefer to play it with a bow pizzicato because I think it gives a more interesting color to the bass roll.


In general, when you start to play the German bow, one of the challenges is to change from bow to pizzicato or from pizzicato to bow quickly. From my point of view, making this change with a French bow is much easier because I feel that you have to make fewer movements, so you have more control over the bow.


In the book The bass in tango we can read the explanation of how to play the first part of the syncopa with a bow.


  • Let the arm drop with all its weight (dead weight) until achieving the desired articulation.


  •  Immediately after the accent take control of the bow and keep it from bouncing. In order to achieve this, it is important to relax the arm after the articulation, feeling the contact between the middle finger and the thumb, and controlling the stick with the index finger.9


Here is a video playing the Syncopation with a French bow.



To play the question of the syncopa with the German bow, we use the same principles as with the French bow, dropping the bow on the string and using our dead weight, but we must keep two things in mind. The first is that the bow does not jump too much and generate unnecessary sounds and second that when we try to control the jump of the bow we do not tense our arm, because otherwise we will block the sound.


We will play the answer with pizzicato. Usually, when we play in a symphony orchestra, the pizzicato with the bow in our hand, we hold it like this (See the next photo) and then the bow is in a vertical position.

So the way we hold the bow changes too much and we have to make extra movements unlike when we play with a French bow. So to make this change faster and easier, I consider that we should maintain the position of our hand when taking the bow and only move the index finger and the middle finger to play the pizzicatos. In this way our bow will be diagonal and not vertical as is commonly seen when we play pizzicato with a German bow.


In the next video I play with a German bow, first time slow and second time faster because it seems to me that the most you should practice is the speed of the movement and then do it mechanically.