Four Exercises for Bow Hand Flexibility

February 22, 2016, 11:59 AM · In theory, the bow hand glides back and forth like a paintbrush on a canvas, the bow hand having the smooth flexibility of the brush's bristles.

In reality, it takes a lot of work to achieve that natural-seeming motion. Holding a rather long and somewhat heavy stick at a funny angle while balancing a fiddle on the shoulder, then moving the two hands in completely different ways but somehow in tandem -- this is awkward work!

If you isolate the bow hand, its job boils down to the ability to balance and control a stick in your hand, without dropping it. A few very simple exercises can make a drastic difference in your right-hand flexibility, but the exercises require a lot of repetition over time. You won't see the effect in one day, nor will you be able to immediately apply the exercises to the bow hand. Why? These are active exercises, but much of their application is as passive strength and flexibility. In other words, if your bow fingers are springs, you first must actually create the springs, then strengthen them. When you then use the springs, it will in reaction to the motion of the stick. Rather complex! But the first step is to create those springs, to explore and strengthen the flexibility in your bow fingers and hand.

In the video below, I describe and demonstrate four basic exercises for developing bow-hand flexibility. I hope you find them helpful!

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February 22, 2016 at 11:15 PM · Laurie,

Many thanks for that video. A few years ago my teacher Jane Harbour, a graduate of the Suzuki school in Japan, taught me a similar set of bow hand exercises which have proved most beneficial.

February 23, 2016 at 02:36 AM · The only thing you should add is to show what happens with the thumb in the first excercise. Anyway it is a very good video. (Guillermo RochabrĂșn)

February 23, 2016 at 06:14 AM · I teach my students similar exercises, including using a pencil. Wrapping a rubber band around the pencil shaft gives the thumb something to rest against, a substitute for the frog of the actual bow.

February 23, 2016 at 12:23 PM · Very helpful, thank you

February 24, 2016 at 12:42 PM · Very good exercises. My teacher had me do some similar exercise quite some time ago. I had sort of forgotten them. Now that my daughter is taking lesson, I'll have her try these. (I'll do them with her -- could only help :-) ) Thanks for sharing!

February 25, 2016 at 03:12 AM · Good idea, Katherine!

February 26, 2016 at 08:09 PM · These are great. Re the first exercise, I have heard of teachers recommending that their students do 10,000 flexes a day for several weeks to build up strength.

One of the most valuable concepts about violin playing, which only came to me after 25 years, is the very close relationship between strength and flexibility. This is true for the left hand as well as right hand.

You'd think that a very muscular hand would be more rigid, but it is the opposite. If your hand is strong, it holds holds a 60 gram bow with complete effortlessness, and that means the player has the sensation of holding the bow lightly. Off the string strokes can fly without you losing control, and legato and detache can be glassy and consistent.

The same thing happens with the left hand. When you have a weak fourth finger, extensions, double stops, 4th finger vibrato only happen with a great deal of perceived effort. You feel like you're pressing too hard, your hand gets tired, and it all leads to tension and a lack of flexibility.

As you develop strength in the 4th finger you start to be able to articulate cleanly while FEELING like you are pressing very lightly on the fingerboard, and that feeling of lightness gives you speed and accuracy and also just the ability to play longer passages without your hand getting tense and tired.

There are myriad ways to strength fingers and people should try ANYTHING that occurs to them -- as long as they aren't doing anything to injure themselves. Learn to distinguish the difference between a little discomfort as you are building your finger muscles and sharp pain or cramps, which are a signal to stop and rest or do something else.

February 26, 2016 at 11:25 PM · Thanks so much for this great article. Really loved the video. I'm a beginner violinist (9 months playing the violin) and so far I haven't been able to play with flexible fingers/wrist but these exercises will certainly help!! :-)

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