Crescent bow- I just don't get it

November 29, 2009 at 06:05 PM ·

I am an adult beginner (playing for about four years now), and tring to learn the crescent bowing. I have read all of Drew Lecher's posts on this topic, so help me but I just don't get it!

I understand that for the down-bow I start at the frog and pullit in the direction of my right hip, then at the middle of the bow (elbow 90 degree) I push away from my body (right??).

For the up-bow I pull my arm back then midway I push forward. My question, how can I move upwards if I'm pulling my arm backwards?

Am I supposed to point the bow up away from my face?

And then what happens at the midpoint? Do I push the bow away so it's pointing to my left ear?

Sorry to be so obtuse, but any tips will be greatly appreciated.



Replies (23)

November 29, 2009 at 07:59 PM ·


I think you are confusing planes.

Try thinkin of it as North,  South Easr and West..  The Bow movesin a crescent from w to E and vice versa.  t does not rise or drop  to N or s.  Another wya to think of it is that you don`t want the distance between the hair and an adjacent string to change during the stroke.   (Talking about the ideal here.)




November 29, 2009 at 09:18 PM ·

Thank-you for your response; I think by North and South you're referring to the plane of my head and feet?

But I still need to know in which directions, within the East-West plane the bow goes, as I move my upper right arm back wards and forwards.


November 29, 2009 at 10:42 PM ·


When you begin a down bow at the heel the point angled towards the scroll very slighightly.  As you go down the bow it foolws a crescent path so that when you ariive at the point the heel is angled towards the scroll.  On the return the same path is used.  I assume you are working from Drew`s book.  If you look at the first exericse in the book it has you playing a note on the dgstring,  resting and then going to the  string.  During the g string note the bow does not dip towards the d in anticipation.  I usually teach and practice this exercis ea lot using half bows.  You may find it easier to get a sense of the crescent shape using only middle to point initially, then apply it to the lower half,  middle half and finally whole bows and of course,  the otehr way: it also applies to spccato albeit microscopically.

One think to keep in min is that the point where the bow hair touches the string doe snot change.  It is kind of like fuclrum around which the bow describe an elongated smileif a erson wa slying on their back dirctly uder your violin.



November 29, 2009 at 11:42 PM ·

>When you begin a down bow at the heel the point angled towards the scroll very slighightly. '

Buri, Do you mean angled AWAY from the scroll?

Catherine, check out Frank Almond.  He demonstrates it nicely and produces a wonderful tone.

November 30, 2009 at 01:24 AM ·


no,  I mean the point is angled towards the scroll.  If the bow was on at the heel and the point was angled towards your ear you would have been using the reverse crescent IE bowing around the body. ` which is incorrect -it is the opposite curve.But demonstration is much clearer than wotrds.  

I think it is useful to keep in mind that this is,  to some extent a theoretical construct. (as is=usingf a straight bow-)    In performance a player may have short arm sin which case the point is angled towards the scroll while -at the point- IE the bow is travellign around the body a little on the down bow.  It also may be thta ibn order to glidfe the bow towards the bridge or finger board at the end of a phrase or whatever the bow is d travellign around the body.  There is also what I consider to be an advanced technique in which the bow is held on a fixed spot and drawn diagonally in the direction of the body on the down bow .  In a beginner or intermediate player this would cause the bow to slip towards the fingerboard so extra control is required to keep it in place.  It is a sound and tehcnique used by soloists in particular.




November 30, 2009 at 03:33 AM ·

Milstein often have the bow tip point towards the scroll when bowing around the tip area.

PS: The special and fimilar beautiful sound from Frank Almond got me curious, upon visiting his website, turned out he's using a beautiful stradivarius.

November 30, 2009 at 03:50 AM ·

This bow movement can be seen throughout but to cut to the chase check out :40 seconds

 The playing is full bodied and brilliant. At his best, Kogan was a master of the highest order.

November 30, 2009 at 04:16 AM ·


that@s a beautiful example Ronald.  Many thanks,


November 30, 2009 at 05:29 AM ·


vid explains figure 8 bowing or crescent in detail

November 30, 2009 at 05:48 AM ·


let`s not confuse the issue here;) Figure 8 bowing is -not - crescent bowing .  Crescent bowing is that shape alone and doe snto require a figure of 8 pattern which is the wauy some people play,  teach describe the bow change. 



November 30, 2009 at 06:09 AM ·

Thank-you very much for your replies, and for the very helpful videos. I think with repeated watching and imitation, it will eventually sink in.

About the previous response; is figure 8 bowing different in tonality than crescent bowing? Is either of them easier to learn? How about when you play fast?

November 30, 2009 at 06:35 AM ·


Catherine,  I repeat ,  do not get confused here.  A whole new element was thrown into the discuassion which is,  with all due respect, not germane.   You are trying to get ,  i think, control of a very simple but tricky technique:  the eliptical path of the bow as it moves on a horizontal plane.   In order to get an impression of this you might try doing the reverse.  That is start with the bow angled towards your left ear and doing either a whole or a half bow down stroke in which the right hand travles around the body.   Notice how the bow slides towards the fingerboard.  Now move the bow back along the same trajectory so that the stick effectively begines travelling around the back of your head(well it would if iot carried on).  This is what I call the reverse crescent. The crescent or ellipse you are looking for is the mirror image of this. Nothing more and it is not presneted in Drews work as connected to the figure of 8 technique in any way . Thankfully .   frankly I think its sudden mention has confused you and the issue in question   which is the rather simple thing I describe above.  The figure of 8 is concerned with discussion of bow change. You do not need it to get to grips with crescent trajectory of bow.




November 30, 2009 at 06:38 AM ·

Cool, I just watched some videos of my playing and found out I AM doing crescent bowing. I never taught that way and never realize I'm doing it. I always search for the best sound I can get and that's probably how I end up bowing that way...

November 30, 2009 at 06:48 AM ·


that`s great. You might consider changing your name to `Crescent  J`;)



November 30, 2009 at 02:26 PM ·

I can still remember my youthful frustration (back in the early 1940s), and no doubt that of my several teachers, for my not bowing straight. I would practice trying to keep the bow straight and try to remain aware of where the bow touched the string(s) and what I was doing with my right hand and arm.

Nowadays, it seems to me this is mainly a matter of keeping the bow at the desired place on the strings and doing whatevery you have to with your right arm/hand/fingers to do that. Some time devoted to practicing long bow strokes every day should eventually make the proper technique for each person instinctive.

I think there are often problems when teachers attempt to describe a technique in broad terms like "figure 8" or "crescent" instead of focusing on what is supposed to happen where the "rubber hits the road" (bow or fingers touch the strings).


November 30, 2009 at 04:30 PM ·

I teach beginners to "stay in the center of the string" i.e. keep your bow at the same sounding point the whole way through, and if everything else is set up correctly the path almost always takes care of itself.  Then hopefully we've developed the bow control to talk about lanes, varying the sounding point, etc., all the things that build on the bow path.  when I concentrate on the bow path, I tend to lose the other factors, but when I concentrate on the spot where the bow pulls the sound out of the string, the rest seems to fall into place. 

November 30, 2009 at 07:51 PM ·

Well, last night, armed with all the responses and videos, I set to practicing crescent bow. I left figure 8 bowing to the side as I understand it doesn't relate exactly to my question... (and yes Buri, you can bet I'm confused!- But the Smiley Face analogy was actually very helpful)

With the bow in my hand I practiced the movements, and then put bow to string. I found that the point of contact between bow-hair and string changes depending on where I was along the bow, and where my arm-hand were positioned in relation to my body.  So on down-bow the bow rocks inwards towards me while on up-bow it rocks outwards away from me.

I think this is the not correct way to do it ? I'm reading that the point of contact of bow-hair on the string should remain the same thoughout?

You may ask why I do not approach my teacher with these questions. The answer: as truly nice and dedicated as she is, she is an adamant believer of the straight and parallel-to-bridge bow.

November 30, 2009 at 08:30 PM ·


.I found that the point of contact between bow-hair and string changes depending on where I was along the bow, and where my arm-hand were positioned in relation to my body. 

No this is not correct.  

There is aboslutely nothign wrng with using a straight bow you know;)      The reasoning behind the crescent is slightly more relaxed joints in the right arm.  It shoudl be easier than a strict straight bow which is actually quite hard work to achive and maintain.  You may find it helpful to buil this up in increments practicing i small parts of the bow and putting them together. This may allow you to pay more attention to the contact point.

Also keep in mind that you are probably over focusing on what the hand and arm is doing now.  The bow organizes the body,  not the other way round.  Bypaying attention to the feel of the string through the bow you may get better results.  Also kepe in mind that you may be moving theviolinaround too much.  It might not be a bowing problem at all.....;)




November 30, 2009 at 08:40 PM ·

If I get it?  When the bow comes towards the frog, tuck the hairs towards the chin.  when going down bow towards the tip, tuck the hairs away from the chin?????

November 30, 2009 at 08:56 PM ·

Hi Catherine,

You have good questions - don't feel bad about not 'getting it', especially when you’re trying to learn from written descriptions (or even from pictures and video)! The good news is that you can incorporate the feeling of the 'crescent stroke' without actually moving the bow in an arc; i.e. you can learn to play with a straight bow.

You might find it easier to work on the motion of the arm separately from hand motions before integrating them into a whole bow stroke. 

You've probably analyzed this to death already, so you might benefit from feeling the motion of the bow stroke before going back to analysis.  For example, the idea of keeping a consistent sound point is possibly more important than learning to play with a straight bow. You can also learn to bow well by simply listening for a good, consistent sound. In a 'straight bow', the arm moves exactly as though you were drawing a straight line. If you have a blackboard, you can simply draw lines to feel a straight-bow arm motion. Of course the important difference is that we're not accustomed to moving our arms to draw a straight line in the path of the bow. The path of the bow is 90 degrees to the string you're playing on, but keep in mind that that same perpendicular path feels quite differently on each string: the e-string feels more like we're using a bicycle pump, the g-string feels more like we're doing a 'hail Caesar'.  In any case, a down bow from the frog feels like you're reaching out diagonally away from you (not really toward the hip), more at the floor or out near shoulder level, depending on the string your playing on.

There's an exercise for feeling the path of the bow where you place the frog of the bow on a table, hold the bow by its tip, place it at the tip on the string; then you slide your bow hand along the bow to feel the path of the bow. Besides watching out for sticky rosin, you really have to focus on what you feel in your arm as you do this exercise to benefit from it.  Also you have to remember to mimic exactly how your fingers/hand 'give' and flex at their knuckles, base-knuckles and wrist to get the real feeling of drawing the bow. But there are other ways to practice.

At first, don't worry about whether the bow is 'straight' in the lower portion of the bow. Focus on using the upper arm to push the bow to the frog against gravity, and let it fall back to somewhere near the balance point of the bow (lower third of bow). This is the first bow division that you should organize for yourself since it's what helps us regulate the weight we need to apply for even sound: up bow, balance point to frog, we counterbalance with the pinky and suspend the bow in the fingertips to take weight off the bow; down bow, balance point to tip, we leverage weight onto the stick by pronation (by rotating the forearm in a thumbs down manner), and/or sink into the bow with weight, and/or tilt the bow into the string by pulling the stick up with the middle fingers. See how light you can make your upper-arm to move easily and fluidly in the lower third of the bow and weigh the arm down (i.e. without dropping the arm – you’re placing the weight of the arm onto the bow through the fingers) when playing in the upper third.

As you pass the balance point you approach another important division, but it's not really a division of the bow that's important here, but the angle created at your elbow. When your elbow is square and the bow is square with the string, this is the furthest your elbow should swing backward while playing a straight bow. Many students find it difficult to feel the limit of the backward swing of the upper arm. To bow straight, you must feel this point consistently. Also, notice that when your elbow is square you may or may not be at the mid-point of your bow. The placement in your bow is relative to the proportions and length of your arm. Take note of the bow division created by your arm at right angles and remember this feeling so you can repeat it. If you’re studying how other players move their upper arms, make sure you take into account the angle at which they hold their violins as this will affect how far back their upper arm swings relative to their body (i.e. how it looks to you, especially if you see them in profile; try to imagine a birds-eye view for the relative angles and range of swing employed).

From square arm to point of bow you’ve already noticed that the upper arm swings forward again, like the finishing motion of a punch. Again, the difficulty with bowing is the angles involved; we simply don’t move our arms in the direction of the bow very often. Instead of punching with the knuckles of your fist, imagine you’re about to skewer something (or someoneJ) with your outstretched pinky, diagonally out in front of you. You’ll see that from square elbow to hitting your target the elbow moves forward.

So, to trace the path of the bow: at the frog your hand is in front of your nose (you could wipe it if it were very long with the top of your wrist) and the upper arm is swung forward appropriately; as you move to square elbow, the upper arm swings back as far as it should ever go (for a straight bow); to finish the stroke to the point of the bow, your upper arm swings forward again so that you can skewer your target with your pinky. Now retrace this exact path in the opposite direction: at the tip, your arm is outstretched almost in a straight line (always leave a slight bend at the elbow); as you move up bow from point to square elbow, your upper arm swings back again to its position at square elbow; as you finish the up bow, your upper arm swings forward again from square elbow to frog.

You may be having difficulty coordinating the 'folding in' of the arm on an up bow - it's like retracting your arm to prepare for another punch (or skewer, in this case). At the beginning of an up-bow, your wrist releases and closes (flexion), your elbow closes (flexion), and your upper arm opens out at the shoulder (transverse extension), simultaneously. At first you’ll be very conscious of coordinating these motions to move your hand along the path of the bow; but after you get used to it, of course your arm will simply follow the hand, just as it does when you reach for something, or punch or pump or draw a straight line. If it helps simply to think of the hand tracing a line, by all means take this immediate step instead of thinking through all the mediating motions.

N.B. if your arm is relatively short you will not be at the exact point of the bow when your arm is straight – this is fine; this is your tip-of-the-bow when you are bowing straight; if your arm is relatively long, your elbow will remain bent even at the tip of the bow. Remember to take note of relative proportions when observing others. If your arms are long, the backward swing of the upper-arm going up-bow from point to square elbow is not as crucial as it is for those with shorter arms.

The first exercise I encourage you to try is a placement exercise. Start with bow-arm at your side; count 1, 2, 3, and place the bow on 4 (always train rhythmically):

1)      at the balance point

2)      at the frog

3)      at square elbow

4)      at the (your) tip

After placing, check for alignment (parallel to bridge, or perpendicular to strings) of the bow in a mirror. If it’s out, correct the position of your upper arm and make sure to feel the adjustment within the arm (train your proprioception). Repeat until comfortable. Later you can also practice placing at the divisions of the bow: half, thirds, quarters, etc.

Next, try a ‘place and move’ exercise. Do as in the previous exercise, but after placing move the bow, at first slightly, along the ‘path of the bow’. Stop. Check in a mirror, or by looking at the string/bridge/bow (soon you will learn to see a straight bow from your vantage), better still by feeling the straight bow, the sense for which you’ve started to train in the previous exercise. As you get better, place the bow then move it to the next division: e.g. place at frog – move to square elbow; place at tip – move to square elbow, etc., and keep adjusting as you do this until you can feel your way to playing straight whole bows.

If you’re having difficulty with freeing the backward swing of your upper arm and the up-bow from tip-of-bow, try the following:

With everything square (elbow, bow to strings) and while keeping everything very still in your upper-body, shuffle your feet and move yourself over to a wall until the elbow and shoulder are barely touching the wall. Make sure to keep all relative positions/angles constant in your upper body, and make sure not to lean against the wall once you’ve arrived there. Now move to the tip of the bow and notice how your elbow leaves the wall as the upper-arm swings forward; keep your shoulder barely touching the wall as you bow to the tip. From tip, move up bow and notice how your upper arm swings back to touch the wall again as the elbow becomes square. Repeat until you’re comfortably tracing the path of the bow. Once you’re able to swing the upper-arm freely and without hesitation, try slamming the wall with your elbow on a fast up-bow. You should be able to knock the wall rhythmically with your elbow on your up bows, from point to square elbow. Of course you can do this in the lower portion of the bow as well, from frog to square elbow, where you’ll be knocking the wall with each down bow. Your whole arm has to learn to get out of the way, and/or aid the hand to move the bow as you will.

As you try to correct the alignment of your bow at each placement, you’ll notice that you’re making adjustments with your wrist and maybe with your fingers as well. It is these finer adjustments that will enable you to do the ‘crescent bow’ motion. The way I learned to adjust with the fingers, there is no visible deviation from the straight path of the bow, but it does feel like you’re pointing the bow toward the scroll, away from the left shoulder as you make the change from up to down bow. This pointing feeling involves pivoting about the middle-finger-thumb contact point.

To practice pivoting, hold a pencil by your finger tips while it remains on a table; now pivot the pencil, pointing the left end toward you then away from you using only your fingers – keep the rest of your hand and arm still. You’ll notice that when you point the pencil toward you, your first finger curls as your pinky and ring-finger straighten; when you point the pencil away, your first finger straightens as your pinky and ring-finger curl. Now try this while holding the bow placed on the fiddle. These are the adjustments you’ll make when straightening the bow after each placement. But the crucial difference between these static adjustments and those you’ll make when you’re playing is that, when in motion, the bow remains straight and it is your hand and arm which move over the finger tips. That is, instead of pivoting the bow with your finger tips actively, you’re fingers remain aligned on the bow and your fingers pivot passively as your hand and arm pivot over the stick. This is difficult to feel at first so try the following exercise:

Hold a pencil as you would your bow. Take your left hand and grab the left tip of the pencil. Let your left hand/arm follow the pencil as you pivot it actively with the fingers of the bow hand, like pivoting the pencil while it was on the table, or the action you used to align your bow after each placement. Next, hold the pencil still with your left hand and move the arm and hand over the fingertips. Since your fingertips remain aligned to the pencil which is held still by your left hand, your right fingers will pivot (curl and uncurl) passively as you move your hand and arm over the pencil. So to finish the up bow at the frog, your hand pivots over the bow, i.e. your pinky and ring-finger curl passively as the pinky-base-knuckle pivots closer to the stick and your forefinger pivots at its contact point so that the forefinger-base-knuckle moves away from the stick.

A difficulty in executing any new motion lies in eliminating tightness, or 'stuckness' somewhere else. Even if you're not tense, your motor cortex needs to rewire to incorporate and coordinate every new motion, and often we're not even aware that we're holding some joint somewhere which prevents us from easily executing the new motion. If we learn to experience every isolated motion as part of an integrated whole, we might have an easier go of it. In this case, to allow the hand and arm to glide over the fingertips, however slightly, we must release the wrist and elbow to respond in kind. So as the fingers pivot passively, allow the wrist to open (extension) and the elbow to open (extension) to enable the finishing motion of the hand. 

Once you’re comfortable with flexibility in the fingers, wrist, and elbow, incorporate the hand motion into your bow arm motion:

As you approach the frog, your finger tips trail behind the base-knuckles as you move the bow with your arm – i.e. your fingers are slightly extended as you play an up bow with the arm. Stop the arm motion when you have 1 or 2 inches of hair left (depending on how big your hands are, or how much wrist motion you employ in your bow stroke) before you hit the ferrule (the metal half-moon ring of the frog) against the string. Finish the bow stroke with the fingers (or fingers and hand if you let the hand trail behind your wrist on an up bow) in 4 short, staccato notes; on each short finger-stroke play a different note with the left hand; e.g. in 4/4 time, play open A string for 3 beats using an arm-stroke, subdividing the sixteenth pulse; stop the bow with 1 or 2 inches of hair and play the last beat with 4 staccato sixteenth notes, B, C, D, E, using only your hand to play each subsequent note. Do the same on the down bow: play E, 4th finger for 3 beats; your finger tips trail behind the base-knuckles – i.e. your fingers are slightly curled as you play a down bow with the arm; stop with 1 or 2 inches left before your-tip-of-bow; finish the 4th beat with the fingers extending on each subsequent staccato note: D, C, B, A. As your coordination becomes natural, you can remove the staccato strokes and simply finish with a legato hand motion, still measured by the last 4 sixteenth notes. In this legato bow stroke, the hand finishes each arm stroke as a follow-through motion. 

Of course describing these fine motions is the clumsiest way to convey them to you – but I hope you can get some sense of how they should feel.


November 30, 2009 at 09:01 PM ·

This could be called the Silver Platter Effect: without even having to ask, I get the crescent bowing technique, which I had questions about, spelled out for me, including a video demonstration by one of the greatest virtuosi.

Thank you all!

December 1, 2009 at 06:09 AM ·

Hi Jeewon Kim,

Many, many thanks for taking the time to describe the action of the bowing from shoulder to fingers, and for even adding the exercises. I am amazed at your generosity and that of the other musicians /teachers in this discussion group. I appreciate all the input and have a lot to work on in order to sound like those virtuosos in the videos (joke!).

I'm so much looking forward to impressing my teacher with my wonderful bow-arm and beautiful tone (my husband too).




December 1, 2009 at 02:42 PM ·


You're most welcome, Catherine. Let us know how it goes.
I've added a paragraph after the paragraph starting: 
"Hold a pencil as you would your bow..."


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