Printer-friendly version
Drew Lecher

“GPS” –– 5.1 Bow

May 9, 2008 at 4:55 PM


The bow is most subtly involved with all we do in playing the instrument. Without a truly personal tone we can have excellent left hand technique, but it will be grossly limited in all areas of artistry.

With a truly personal tone the sound resonates beyond the ears and into the very mind, heart and soul of the listener. It is the purist of artistic achievement. Coming from the very depths of expression, the artist literally steps into the music with the goal of portraying its characters, depictions and realizations of moods and actions.

How do you think of, view and order its use?

Plan actions > Accuracy, Fluidity > MASTERY

This is the fifth category in a series of blogs dealing with:

1. Left Hand
2. Shifting
3. Right Arm
4. Right Hand
5. Bow

They will be kept under the heading of ”GPS” for those who wish to follow the articles. I hope it is of benefit to you.

Intonation is one of the primary areas of focus in all we do. This applies to the intervallic measurements set about for the left hand fingers and also the contact variables of the bow hair to the string –– the 1) point of contact, 2) speed of bow, 3) weight of bow, 4) amount of hair, 5) string selected and 6) vibrating length of string/position number are brought together in order to accomplish the desired dynamics and character of the music.

The 6 points above must be incorporated into every millimeter of the bow stroke.

Everything affects everything.

Use your eyes to educate your ears and sense of touch. Discrepancy of tone will be more easily heard and understood when the eyes observe our driving into the ditch, slipping on the ice and slamming into the Chicago-Style Pot Hole.

When practicing, when do you begin practicing and thinking of your sound? Hopefully it is on the way to opening up the case, but, at the very least, it should be as you approach the string with the bow for the first tone of the day — tuning the instrument and yourself (your ear, your hands, your arms and your posture).

In my books, there is a section titled Planes & String Crossings. It deals with the all-important basics of drawing the bow on the various planes dealing with a single string all the way to 4 strings. The examples given are done with open strings and then should be applied directly to other studies and repertoire.

When playing tricky and/or difficult passages we will use open strings to acclimate the bow’s actions to the various string combinations. This is especially done in chords and double-stops. Whether a beginner’s piece or the Brahms Violin Concerto, chords will be practiced with open strings to achieve the desired tone and understand/master the required technique.

This involves those 6 points above and the bow is further modified to compensate for the various strings and their lengths when fingers are added to the mix.


1. Higher/nearer.
a. Higher strings are played nearer to the bridge, if all else is kept equal.
b. Higher notes on the same string are nearer to the bridge in bow placement, if all else is kept equal.

2. Lower/further.
a. Lower strings are played further from the bridge, if all else is kept equal.
b. Lower notes on the same string are further from the bridge in bow placement, if all else is kept equal.


The proof is in the pudding.

1. Play 2 open strings and experiment with the plane of the bow. You will find the resonance increases as you slightly favor the lower string. You will be tonally shocked if you favor the higher string.

2. Now experiment with the bow’s angle to the strings. Look at the contact point and note the shape of the box or rectangle that is outlined by the 2 strings, bridge and bow hair.

Remember the angles are not truly right angles. A “straight” bow isn’t a true perpendicular to the instrument and it is not a true parallel to the bridge.

They are not mutually compatible.

Note how the great artists subtly, and sometimes not so subtly, modify bow angles to the string. I am not referring to the bow tilt and side or flat hair at this time, simply the actual visual angle of the bow as it crosses the string. THIS IS NOT BY CHANCE, BUT BY DELIBERATE CHOICE OF THE ARTIST AS THEY SEEK OUT THE PRECISE SOUND AND CHARATER DESIRED.

The “straight” bow is convenient terminology, but is actually false and has probably tied more string players technique up in knots of tension then I care to hazard a guess. Of course, some will say I am being too detailed and it really doesn’t matter to such a fine degree — HOGWASH! (It is a good thing I do not have any opinion on this:-)

All agree the bow path must fluidly flow. Curves are easier to draw, more forgiving in accuracy of path and more flexible in modifications in any direction and degree.

A “straight” bow either is or isn’t!

When approaching a string crossing we anticipate by adjusting the bow’s plane accordingly — it is a rounding over, if you will.

The rounding of the bow’s path is equally important as it instantly guarantees a fluid action in the joints of the wrist, elbow and shoulder. Just make sure you are “rounding around” the left hand or scroll — a very, very slight orbital path, hence my term of “Crescent Bow.” Banana Bows works well, too:-)

Too be continued…

Hope this helps —

Author of
Violin Technique: The Manual, How to master…
Viola Technique: The Manual, How to master…

Technique is the tool by which we accomplish the artistic.

From Roy Sonne
Posted on May 9, 2008 at 5:56 PM
From Corwin Slack
Posted on May 9, 2008 at 8:29 PM
Excellent thoughts!

You also need to close your HTML tag at the end of your post.

From Laurie Niles
Posted on May 10, 2008 at 3:00 AM
It is because of Drew that we are all bold....and italicized... ;) I fixed it.
From Drew Lecher
Posted on May 10, 2008 at 3:36 AM
Thanks, thanks and thanks!!!

Sorry if I emboldened the whole community and then left to teach…:-)

From Ray Randall
Posted on May 10, 2008 at 5:49 PM
Excellent advice as always, Drew,
we appreciate it.
From Yixi Zhang
Posted on May 10, 2008 at 8:11 PM
It's wonderfully insightful, clear and helpful. Thanks Drew!

This entry has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music: Check out our selection of Celtic music

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

JR Judd Violins
JR Judd Violins

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Los Angeles Philharmonic

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Thomastik-Infeld's Dynamo Strings
Thomastik-Infeld's Dynamo Strings

National Symphony Orchestra
National Symphony Orchestra

Violins of Hope
Violins of Hope Summer Music Programs Directory
Find a Summer Music Program Shopping Guide Shopping Guide

ARIA International Summer Academy

Borromeo Music Festival

Metzler Violin Shop

Southwest Strings

Bobelock Cases

Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins

Jargar Strings

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop


Los Angeles Violin Shop


String Masters

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine