Bow shake/bounce at balance point on down bow

January 7, 2018, 10:45 AM · Hi everyone,

I've been struggling a bit with this issue as it occurs far too often and I haven't yet discovered how to tame it.

On a down bow (I do not have the same problem on the upbow), my bow bounces when it reaches the point of balance.

My teacher says that it is a question of too much first finger pressure and that the hold should be very light, no pressure. However, I dont think I apply that much pressure and I try to hold the bow as light as I can but hey what do you know, i come to that point and it starts bouncing.

I've been trying to search for an exercise that could focus on this problem to help me discover what exactly I should be doing. I looked into the two books by Simon Fischer that I have (Violin Lesson and Basics) but I didn't find, perhaps its there but I missed it.

I read somewhere that it has to do with the smooth transition in the wrist from the upper to lower half of the bow, but I cant say that the transition looks abrupt and it is not something my teacher noted in my playing.

I suspect the 'secret' lies in a subtle and gradual transtion of hand shape (including wrist, first finger, thumb) to preempt and absorp these tremors. But it remains a mystery to me.Would someone kindly be able to suggest possibilities of why this would be the case and if they have exercises in mind?

Just to note:
-this does not happen on an upbow

-my bow seems ok, my teacher plays on my bow to demonstrate sometimes and he didnt note anything unusual and it doesnt bounce so definitely my technique

-perhaps there is also the feeling of lesser security going from the suspinated position of the wrist-arm at the lower half of the bow to the pronated at the upper half (ie downbow) than the other way around (ie on an upbow)

-i dont have too high a wrist, try to keep my elbow and wrist at the same plane more or less

Many thanks

Replies (16)

January 7, 2018, 10:52 AM · Could you post a video so we can give you more accurate feedback? Maybe you need a more balanced bow?
January 7, 2018, 11:07 AM · Tammuz, I went through a phase like that. Lasted a couple of weeks. Don't agonize over it or spend too much time focused on fixing it. Try to let it fix itself. If you want to work on it directly, then I suggest just playing some slow whole-bow scales and focus on how you are *changing* your finger pressure as you're drawing your bow. You might, for example, be starting out okay and then really dogging down on it at some point. If you cannot feel where you are doing it maybe you can see ... so watch yourself in a mirror. And just because you are not trying to apply too much downward pressure doesn't mean you should have a skimpy, finger-tippy bow grip. Let your middle two fingers of your right hand drape well over the frog so that your bow is drawn a little more into your hand. To do that you'll have to tuck your thumb in a little more.
January 7, 2018, 11:08 AM · Im embarassed to share this again here but here goes (ive been working on the violin hold, changed the chin rest, incorporated advice from the kind people here and so on..but that is not so pertinent to the bouncing bow and it still carries over) :

Not sure if these videso help or show much in terms of bow hold and so on. I suspect its too subtle to be shown in these videos. Sometimes the bow shake is imperceptible except to me, sometimes its obvious, sometimes its not there. Again, assume its not the bow's fault (otherwise my teacher would have noted this).

Edited: January 7, 2018, 4:02 PM · From your video, one obvious thing you should correct is the angle of your bow, perhaps the most likely culprit. Practice in front of a mirror to ensure that you maintain the bow perpendicular to the strings.

Addendum. Couldn’t quite tell, but it seems also in your bow grip that your fingers were close together, closer than they would be if you extend your arm and let your hand go down totally relaxed. That’s how far apart they should be, with the pinky curved sitting on top of the bow, unless you aim to use the Russian bow hold, which I am not familiar with.

Edited: January 7, 2018, 4:07 PM · Roger,

Actually, my teacher wants me to maintain a slight angle pointing towards the upper bout corner and not perfectly perpendicular to the strings (he is perfectly aware of the idea that the bow should be perpendicular to the strings/parallel-ish to the bridge but he disputes that this is necessary). ive also been doing so reading and i think in the galamian book (or maybe flesch, i pick one book up and drop then next to read about the same topic) he also advocates a slight angle . another teacher I saw recommends perfectly parallel to bridge with natural adjustment of hand positions. my teacher reasons that the consequent motion of the arm/hand causes needless tension. Of course this leaves me more puzzled and I think bowing is a rather mysterious science even if the result required in the same. Id like to open up a topic on this soon.

of course, i have neither this nor that down but that is improving. however, having said that, even when i bow carefully and parallel to the bridge, in front of the mirror, it bounces. Something else is going on.

Paul, I totally agree that I shouldnt have a feeble hold either. this is why Im not so convinced by the idea that it is just the first finger that is causing this. if first finger pressure (or weight transmitted to the finger by the arm) was the actual culprit, everyone's bow would be bouncing.

January 7, 2018, 4:08 PM · Hi Tammuz,

Here is a couple of suggestions that you can check into to see if it could be the cause:

1- Excess pressure can cause bow tremors, but the most important finger to release is the thumb. Without the thumb pressing, the hand cannot contract and the fingers cannot press.
2- Raised shoulders are one of the biggest causes of bow shakes, so make sure that both shoulders are sitting as either one being up will affect this.
3- This you can see in your video, but lifting and dropping the elbow between the "up and down" bow will cause instability in the bow. The elbow should remain on the same level during and between strokes on the same string. In actuality, the bow really moves out-and-in rather than up-and-down, and from experience, changing this thinking can really help.
4- A bow with a tremor. Some bows have higher instability at the balance point than others, so you could try with a different bow and see if the the problem persists.

Hope this helps...


January 7, 2018, 5:52 PM · I hate to controvert your teacher since I'm just an amateur, but I think the reason teachers usually emphasize perpendicular bowing is because it is more versatile and easier to manage, well into your intermediate and even advanced playing. I hate to think how you will learn spiccato and sautille when your bow is at an angle. Maybe that's possible but it just seems to me that it would be a lot harder.
Edited: January 7, 2018, 6:31 PM · Did you watch this video: Common causes of bow bouncing on You Tube

This might help.

January 7, 2018, 7:40 PM · It used to happen a lot to me. It still does eventually but it is disappearing.
I checked hand, wrist, angle and all I could try.

In the end the problem was in my shoulder. When I focused on letting the bowing shoulder muscles relaxed, the shakiness went away and when it comes back I realize that I am tired and I am "locking it" again.

Edited: January 7, 2018, 8:36 PM · Christian,
Thank you as always for your thourough advice. I will go through your points. A question on the thumb through, how can the thumb not press at all given that it is at the other end of the stick transmitting all the substantial weight from arm? If it were really lax and not contributing something, then how would the bowing work? I dont mean pressure at the ball of the thumb but some countering stablizing force at its tips where it contacts the bow? About the bowing in and out, yes Ive come across the idea in several places while doing some reading. Again, many thanks for the time you take to analyse and advise. Hopefully I can drop by for a lesson sometime when I pass by in Ottawa if possible and given your time :)

Hi Paul, I think that deserves a topic of its own. I'll post about it. Thanks

Roger, thank you very much. NO I didnt see that. I can say that its not the tension of bow hair. The issue of being perpendicular to the string is interesting, especially during a string change but Ive thought of this and varied the angle to see and it still happens. then i can also say i dont have an exagerrated finger movements nor an overtly extended last finger. i tried that upside down bowing (a bit distubing ;). I think the most interesting part of that video was about being perpendicular to the string but I dont know even then if thats 100% (you could think of how for instance we rotate slightly laterally around a string in order to transition smoothly to a double stop).

I watched this and I found it quite interesting :
although not sure one can always hook the first finger like that all the time. but theres some nice advice nonetheless.

January 7, 2018, 8:37 PM · thanks Calros, will look into that too. it ties in with what Christian had to say about the shoulder. thanks
Edited: January 8, 2018, 4:35 PM · Hi,

Tammuz, I am glad it was helpful! To answer your question, I personally distinguish between weight and pressure. Weight for me is from the entire arm and hand and fingers resting or sitting on the bow, which sits on the string, while pressure is pressing the fingers into the bow. I find that keeping the fingers released (not pressing into the bow) as a whole helps in not having tension that leads to shaking or other issues. I don't think of the thumb as having a separate action from the rest of the hand. In my humble experience, when one presses with the thumb, the entire hand contracts and tightens, while releasing it releases the entire hand. Of course, the fingers connect the hand/arm to the bow, so there is a balance. It is not all or nothing. As for in-and-out, I am not referring to what is in most books and should explain. The forearm (via the elbow) opens-and-closes leading the bow, but in essence it is a lateral action, not really up-and-down bow. Thinking up-and-down bow tends to make one lift the elbow or shoulder on up-bows and drop it on down-bows, which can make things unstable. The in-and-out in most books refers probably to that which one of your teachers may have alluded to, in that in opening and closing the arm, the bow isn't quite parallel to the bridge, but there is a slight angle out on "down-bows" and in on "up-bows." I hope this makes things clearer...

And, it would be my great pleasure to hear you and work with you if circumstances permit; thank you for asking!


Edited: January 8, 2018, 10:04 AM · Hi Tammuz,

It sort of looks like you are holding your elbow up rather than letting the weight sink. With the elbow weight, it will allow the rest of the arm to relax more, and you can sort of draw the bow from a relaxed set of springs (your joints). I think the holding of the elbow may be coming from lifting your shoulder. If you are trying to remedy this, you may want to be careful and not push anything down and overcompensate, but if you think of your elbow as the pendulum for your whole right-arm system, then you can allow the weight of the arm and shoulder to release into it, and then you can play with the pushing and pulling of the bow within that framework. Really long, slow bows can help you examine this relaxation (and the corresponding relaxation in the hand that has to take place).

It's a little hard to tell based on what you posted because those are using a more articulated bowing, but that's my best guess. Feel free to take it with a grain of salt, but working slow bows and really paying special attention towards the middle where some instability arises has helped me with bow shakes.

Edited: January 8, 2018, 9:40 PM · I am just a beginner so take this with a grain of salt, but I've been facing the exact same problem. There are three things I noticed which might apply to you:

1. Try lowering your right elbow a bit so your upper arm is more parallel with the bow.
2. Try long, slow bows where you place and remove fingers on the bow. For example, start the down bow at the frog with your normal bow hold, and as soon as the balance allows remove your pinky, followed by the ring, etc. By the time you reach the tip you'll be holding the bow with just index and thumb. In my case I found I was pressing with the pinky too hard through the balance point and that contributed to the bounce.
3. This is the unusual one but has worked for me. As you are playing a down bow don't think about the bow playing the top of the string, think about it playing the left side of the string.

Good luck! I know it's frustrating.

January 8, 2018, 9:46 PM · Thank you everyone, Im trying all these ideas now. The bow bounces every now and then but somehow being super aware of its bounce now makes it bounce less, im checking my shoulders and elbow just before i get there. still bounces sometimes though :) work in progress
thank you again
January 16, 2018, 8:54 AM · I’ve been having this exact same problem...really bad bouncing on downbow, mainly on A string and sometimes on E. My friend pointed out that my right hand seemed stiff, so I tried to hold the bow with only the least amount of grip required to keep it from falling out of my hand. That fixed the problem maybe 70%. (I didn’t realize I was gripping the bow but I was!)

Then from this thread I focused on the shoulder. I always thought that my bow arm was fairly relaxed but realized that I actually raise my right shoulder when playIng. When I consciously try to keep my shoulder down, fixed about 20% more of my problem.

Now I still have some bounce but not nearly as bad, and I think it’s due to things going back to tension when I’m not concentrating. Ironically I have to concentrate in order to relax! Hope this helps and that yours gets better also!

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