Bow Direction: Parallel bridge or angled slightly towards fingerboard

Edited: January 8, 2018, 9:44 PM · Hi everyone,

I recently posted something about my bowing and a point was made about the bow having to be parallel to the bridge.

I am , however, being taught that the bow should be slightly pointing towards the upper bout of the violin, or slightly towards the fingerboard if you wish.

Incidentally, I came across this video of Julien Rachlin where he pretty much says exactly the same things as my teacher: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UBY2pxbKEII
ie that the sound is better when the bow points that way.

i also came across a passage in galamian's book where he says that at the square arm/bow position (approximately when the bow is halfway on the string) the bow is pointing slightly towards the fingerboard. He also states later on that although the perfectly straight bow forms the basis of the technique, that it is undeniable that a slight angle as described produces a better sound. Whereas the opposite angle would produce less sound (this my teacher also stated).

the issue then becomes how this entails specific conséquences in terms of bowing and possibly the violin position. With the angled bowing, on the down bow the arm system is relatively less positioned towards the front of the body which means that on the downbow, there is more allowance for the tip of the bow to point even more towards the fingerboard, if not slightly move towards it (which in straight bowing is sually compensated for by a pronated wrist along with a motion of the elbow outwards). I asked my teacher about this and he said that if you look at Stern (i think he referred to Stern) and some others, you see that the bow at its tip is moving like an arc sometimes and not like a straight bow. in terms of the position of the violin, this might explain why his emphasis on bringing it more frontally. On the upbow, you dont have as much of the feeling that youre pulling the bow in towards you in a straight line with all the required subtle path modifications done by the arm and the hand, but more like youre aiming for the upper bout of the violin.

(note: this also brings to mind also Drew Lecher's idea of crescent bowing. the difference being the halfway along the bow, on a down bow, the Crescent bow moves away from the body. actually, Im thinking in a way the crescent bow notion seems to marry some aspects of the both other mentioned bowings. )


I asked someone else who was totally of the straight bowing camp, he showed me the technique. To be honest, i felt that in stretching the arm there might be a bit more tension, for the lack of a better word. however, it is a more 'empowering' bowing (there is more force in the pronation and the arm generally) whereas the one at the angle feels lighter, less tense, bringing in the bow closer to the body than away from it on the downbow.

Anway, I am sure that a lot of what I said might be just me rambling and my fickle observation but I would really be interesting in hearing about how people here conceive of the importance of 'straight bowing' (ie parallel to bridge) or whether they advocate a slightly angles bowing.

Thank you.

Replies (11)

January 9, 2018, 9:14 AM · As a student I had pondered similar lines of reasoning in my quest for better bowing techniques. According to my teacher and other sources I found in my research, one line of reasoning is to initially learn to bow parallel to the bridge and become proficient with that technique while polishing bow hold, finger control, pressure etc... After you have reached a level of proficiently controlling the bow and the associated mechanics stated above, then you should be at a level to address other bow techniques and nuances that give variety and improved tone to your sound, where crecent and other angled bowing techniques come in.

In other words, what I found and was taught was that I needed to become basically proficient at parallel bowing to establish a foundation of muscle memory and bow awareness that would then allow quicker adaptation of other techniques since I had the basics down. Parallel bowing was simpler and more objective for me as a student to accomplish, fairy basic in requirements and easily verifiable by me, whereas crescent bowing is a little more subjective in technique and visually, whereas I required more assistance and feedback with that.

The above reasoning as explained to me seems logical and works for me, whereas more talented and quicker learners than myself I'm sure could pick up crescent/angled bowing from day one without issue.

That is my contribution as a student to your post, whereas contributions and opinions of more experienced players and professionals here will undoubtedly have other and most assuredly better conveyed explanations.

January 9, 2018, 9:47 AM · 1. Playing "straight" to the tip of the bow might beyond the extreme for some players with short arms.
2. Curving the stroke toward the tip will reduce the sound a bit and that can help with phrasing if the phrase ends on that downbow stroke BUT if the note is to continue that will reduce the sound of the bow direction change.
3. And thirdly (and I'm not certain of this), but a bit of longitudinal "pull" on the sting from angled bowing will impart another vibrational mode to the string that will add overtone complexity that might be what the advocates like to produce and hear.

I certainly notice most acclaimed violinists "tipping off" and I certainly see a lot of slightly slanted bows. And when i was growing up almost all the great violinists wire small and had fairly short arms (I think Milstein and Szigetti were exceptions - but i'm not sure of that either - Friedman was certainly an exception - but he was not a "name" while I was growing up - closer to a contemporary).

Some cello pedagogues talk of bowing an "infinity" shape at the end of strokes, which entails the bow appearing to angle in both directions at the end of strokes.

I think all of these are things to not worry about until one has developed complete control of the bow.

January 9, 2018, 2:38 PM · It's really a complex subject. Beginners are taught to aim for perpendicular because something approximating a 90 degree angle is the most efficient way and produces a good sound.

However, as you become more experienced, you realize that a few degrees deviation from perpendicular makes sense in certain situations.

For example, in rapid passagework I tend to pull the frog in slightly -- which means the bow is closer to the fingerboard on the lower strings, closer to the bridge for the higher strings. This is optimizing for quick response.

In slow passages with long notes, especially if I'm seeking a clear sonorous sound, I use the elliptical bowing technique which means down-bow push the frog out slightly, and up-bow pull the frog in slightly. I don't know the physics behind it but it seems to help the bow track naturally near the bridge and in good contact with the string.

Watch YouTube videos of soloists and you will see that there is no one answer. Many styles of bowing can be successful.

January 9, 2018, 10:53 PM · People would do well to think not about whether or not to deviate from parallel (which seems like an affectation to me), but to focus more on the ideal contact point for a given passage, string, or position. Contact point is critical, yet constantly in need of variation.
January 10, 2018, 8:21 PM · I hope Rachlin doesn't teach violin.
Edited: January 10, 2018, 9:31 PM · Tammuz wrote: “Incidentally, I came across this video of Julien Rachlin where he pretty much says exactly the same things as my teacher: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UBY2pxbKEII
ie that the sound is better when the bow points that way.

Incidentally you angle the bow opposite to what he says in your video clip. I.e. The way he says not to. You may want to have a second look at this gentleman video vs yours. Also, the angle he’s talking about is very subtle. I.e. almost parallel to the bridge, whereas your bow angle seemed sometimes quite a bit more extreme.

Edited: January 10, 2018, 9:39 PM · hi Scott. Yes Im familiar with the idea of staying on the contact point (unless a change of tone is required and that is also determined by speed and pressure) and I try practicing staying on the same point and not letting the bow slide. This aspect has gotten better with practice.

My question was about whether the angle was justified or not.
I do not know if it is an affectation or not (the sources IVe heard or read this from are people whose business is violin playing and teaching) ; I raise the topic up because Im being taught that way (and not as an exceptional bowing to be used sometimes) - and yet I hear so much about parallel-to-bridge bowing from others. SO naturally I get concerned. Now, if both bowing parallel to the bridge and bowing at an agle result in pretty much the same thing, then both bowings would be equally an affectation :)

Skip F., thanks also for contributing. Bowing parallel to the brige is quite a specific technique, there joints of the articulate arm system are all working to straighten out the natural curve that the arm trajectory would take. Bowing with slight angle pointing towards the upper bout has a distinctly different feel. Which begs the question in my mind, why should perpendicular bowing be conceived as a foundational technique? In either case, control of bow is important and nuanced.

Thomas, this is I think the gist of what is written in Galamian's book. He mentioned perpendicular bow as being the first thing that is taught (base technique) but then the student is taught to play at a slight angle, especially on a longe more sustained note.

Andrew, I think that the tipping issue a slightly different one. The idea is that the slight angle dictates the bow from early on.

I was also watching Ruggiero Ricci video where he talks about this angle issue (circa 24:50) albeit with the downbow away from the body. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3riM9mQa8nY

Edited: January 11, 2018, 7:11 AM · hi Roger, I said the bow (ie tip of bow) bowing towards the upper bout of the violin. Perhaps my text ws not clear. The point is that the topic is as per the Rachlin's video.

There is no contradiction there. As for the angle in my videos, I myself am no reference. Im learning. And I depend on my teacher to tell me when Im doing something wrong (usually when it concerns something wrong about the direction of the bow, he tells me Im pointing the wrong way). So, my (bad) playing is naturally not a reference. The extent and nature of the angle Im playing with is more a reflection of my lack of experience than a consciously applied technique. I already look at his bowing and at mine. Quite Something else to ameliorate through practice than to theorize and it will take me time (i dont just post here,i also practice :)

January 12, 2018, 7:18 AM · I found this post on violinist.com:
http://www.violinist.com/blog/drewlecher/20174/21135/

This is really similar to what my teacher taught me: at the frog, you want to point the tip toward the fingerboard; at the tip, you want to do the opposite. But she did say this: if you do this, you feel your bow is not parallel, but it actually help you draw a parallel bow path.

January 12, 2018, 7:37 AM · Hi Peter, yes thats Drew Lecher's concept of crescent bowing. It sort of 'rounds' the two directions of the bow, away from you on the down bow and towards you on an up bow. Like an arc drawn between two tangents
Edited: January 12, 2018, 10:32 PM · ”But she did say this: if you do this, you feel your bow is not parallel, but it actually help you draw a parallel bow path.”

I think this has a lot to do with it. If the angle of the bow itself creates a better tone, it should not matter if the angle is forward or back if the up and down bow motion are the same. That said, in theory, bowing at an angle (without side slipping) could have a similar effect on tone as widening the hair surface touching the string. The more hair surface touching the string, the more powerful the tone. Also, theoretically speaking, the more angle, the more the difference in sounding point between the front and back of where the hair are in contact with the string (imagine if your bow was 1 inch wide), hence more pressure should be applied on the back side, which is closer to the bridge, than the front side to draw a good tone, though the delta is very very minute. All that being said, if the force (pull/push) of the bow against the string is applied with an angle, the vector component of that force directly perpendicular to the string will be less than if the bow is parallel to the bridge (@ maximum angle, which is 90 degree, the perpendicular vector component = 0 of course, I.e. no vibration can be generated if you pull the bow parallel to the strings). Since the string vibrate sideways, this would in theory result in a lessening of the amplitude of vibration, hence a loss in tonal quality. The question is the effect of that component more significant than that of the widening of the hair surface? I think it is by far. Therefore, in theory it should be optimal to draw the bow parallel to the bridge (I.e. perpendicular to the string) but aim for a figure 8 if that help you accomplish that parallel to the bridge motion.

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