V.com weekend vote: Bow Changes at the Frog: Cushioning or Neutral Fingers?

December 14, 2018, 11:00 AM · One of the challenges of the bow is how to create a smooth bow change at the frog, when going from up- to down-bow.

bow at frog

There are two different philosophies and practices when it comes to bow changes at the frog: one either "cushions" the change from up to down with a motion in the fingers, or one can simply keep the fingers the same while changing direction.

I haven't actually seen names given to these different approaches, but I'm going to give them names here so we can talk about them and do a vote! If you know terms for these, please feel free to share in the comments.

Bow change with cushioning fingers:

In this bow change, the wrist moves from an upward motion to a downward motion, with the fingers actively curving, "cushioning" the change from up to down. The hand and fingers move in a motion that is a lot like the bristles of a paint brush, when the paint brush changes directions. To some people this comes naturally but most often it is a motion that is taught

Bow change with neutral fingers:

Isaac Stern once described the change from up to down at the frog as: "You go up, you go down!" In other words, you simply change directions, without really changing the shape of the fingers, hand and wrist. The idea here is that one does not need the extra motion of "cushioning" the change and can in fact make a smoother transition without that extra motion.

As for me, my teachers really worked on getting my fingers to cushion the bow change at the frog. It's a motion that was not automatic for me in the beginning, but by now it feels very natural. I would say I do considerable cushioning with the fingers at the frog -- the change of direction comes with a noticeable change in my hand.

What do you do with your right wrist, hand and fingers when changing bow direction at the frog? If you use a cushioning motion with your fingers, did this come naturally, or did you have to work on it? Please participate in the vote and then share what you do to create a smooth bow change at the frog, and how you learned that. Or, if you are still struggling with it, please share the struggle! :)

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Replies

December 14, 2018 at 05:33 PM · I also was aught in violin lesson what the teacher called the "finger stroke" (I translated this form German). I had to work on it a bit but it quickly became automatic.

Whether I am doing "some" od "considerable" I could not tell because I have no idea how to measure this. It is not something easy to observe if you see people playing on stage because it happens so close to the body.

December 14, 2018 at 06:01 PM · I’m pretty sure I do the neutral fingers, but, since I am a visual artist and do use a paint brush, I recognize that movement and will try it. I’ll also run this by my violin teacher. She flexes with her wrist a lot and am wondering if she uses the cushion method.

December 14, 2018 at 06:14 PM · All the joints should be free to cushioning the bow changes and in my opinion the thumb curved and flexible help the fingers motions when we are at the frog as when we play detache

December 14, 2018 at 06:31 PM · I'm not sure it means the same thing in German as in English, but the "finger stroke" refers to a third option not listed on the survey. Not only can finger movement 'cushion' the change by absorbing some of the 'shock' of the arm changing direction, it can also be used to continue the initial bow direction while the arm changes direction to make the bow change closer to seamless. There was a previous discussion about this here a while back, and there seems to be a real divide among teachers on this, although it's not often aired explicitly.

December 14, 2018 at 07:04 PM · Some cushioning. My first teacher taught it to me. I tended to overdo it at first, but this problem didn't take long to fix. For me, it feels natural and right this way.

December 14, 2018 at 07:49 PM · I think this is mainly in the wrist, but you need neutral fingers to accomplish that.

December 14, 2018 at 08:44 PM · For me, my wrist and fingers are involved in turning the bow at both ends, with flexibility throughout the whole bowstroke. I have no idea what this technique is called, but I know it has a name.

December 14, 2018 at 09:42 PM · Andres, aren't you describing the same thing as Laurie when she compares the thing with the way the bristles of a brush move? There too the bristles move forward a little bit longer while the handle has already started to go the other way.

December 14, 2018 at 09:50 PM · The best analogy I can think of is to watch the expressive hands of a Hawaiian hula dancer or a Tai Chi master. The entire body is involved in the changing of directions, however small and unnoticeable the turnaround action.

December 14, 2018 at 11:36 PM · Hi Albrecht, I could well have missed Laurie's intention by this metaphor. With an actual brush one does flip the bristles out in the direction one was going before starting in the other direction. But when I see teachers demonstrate this 'paintbrush' movement, the fingers are only moving to absorb the change of direction (Julia Bushkova and Rachel Podger come to mind as examples).

In any case, there are three options, as some teachers explicitly teach the finger 'cushion' as being in effect passive, and some teach (or at the least play) finger movement as an active extension of the bow stroke initially prior to the arm's change of direction.

I see my initial description of the 'fingerstroke' was a bit ambiguous with "while the arm changes direction" whereas I think "initially prior" is more accurate.

December 15, 2018 at 01:46 AM · Cushioning!

Laurie wrote, "To some people this comes naturally but most often it is a motion that is taught." It was taught to me. After that it came naturally. :)

Fingerstroke is an interesting neologism. I like it. My teacher taught me that at the frog especially (switching from upbow to downbow), the index finger can extend a little and sort of "reel in" the bow. Is that the fingerstroke? Of course that's not all one does.

December 15, 2018 at 03:20 AM · Fingerstroke is not a word I invented. I just translated the German word that my teacher used (and other people too!). And it is true, Andres: I move the bow up with my fingers while the arm starts moving down though I am not sure at which point the bow actually changes direction.

December 15, 2018 at 09:50 AM · Considerable cushioning. As I now, there are few violinists who change bow with neutral finger: Midori, Stern

December 15, 2018 at 09:51 AM · The extra movement of fingers is a consequence of changing direction. I would say that we must keep the fingers/wrist flexible, but the movement is dictated by shoulder/elbow and forearm, not by fingers. Go down and go up, having in mind to match the bow speed of the old bow.

December 16, 2018 at 05:05 AM · I tell my kids to try both. Do whatever works. The goal is a subtle change in direction and NOT “this way or that way”

Physically the energy must come to a complete stop IF the direction is purely horizontal.

However if the motion is circular, the problem doesn’t exist because you’re not stopping the motion but redirecting it.

December 16, 2018 at 05:19 AM · Andres and everyone, I'd put the "finger stroke" in the category of "considerable cushioning."

December 16, 2018 at 12:14 PM · I learned cushioning via an exercise right at the frog, where only the fingers and wrist can move to make bow strokes an inch or 2 long, not the forearm. I did that kind of torture for a few minutes a day for a week or 2, then was well on my way.

I'd love to know how others remember learning it, as I need to teach it and would benefit from others' perspectives on how to get students to achieve the goal.

December 16, 2018 at 03:36 PM · So far, nobody has mentioned the Carl Flesch finger exercises with basic movements of right hand fingers at the frog yielding 'considerable cushioning' ;-)

December 17, 2018 at 09:07 PM · I am working on Wohlfahrt Op 45 No. 14 right now. I just started so my teacher hasn't given me any suggestions yet, but I'm trying to use the strength of my fingers and as much flexibility as I can. This is on a viola so I'm handicapped by a little more weight than a violinist.

December 17, 2018 at 09:28 PM · Stern is literally correct; The bow goes up, then down, and must stop for a very short time in between. But what the fingers can do is act like shock absorbers, finesse and control the change. Up-bow, near the frog; the fingers can continue the up-motion while the arm is starting to move down. Reverse that at the tip. This is not for beginners. The analogy is the fly-fisherman(!). He tries to make S-loops with the line, the arm moves forward to cast while the fly is still moving back. Otherwise it cracks the whip, the fly can pop off of the line.

December 18, 2018 at 04:02 AM · I like Joel's analogy with fly-fishing. I believe that cushioning is easier and more natural with a Russian bow-hold, which I was taught when I first began to play around 1948 at the age of 6, and which was enforced by a variety of early teachers. My hero was Jascha Heifetz: I had seen him perform, I had been given several of his recordings, and I tried to imitate his bowing despite the fact that it was so far beyond my reach! It seems to me that the claw-like grip of the Franco Belgian bow-hold, which I observe in the majority of younger players, makes it harder to flex the fingers and wrist naturally together, and therefore more of a challenge to learn to cushion the stroke at the frog.

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