V.com weekend vote: Which is easier for you: bow or violin hand?

February 22, 2020, 3:22 PM · "I'm so amazed by pianists," one of my students said to me earnestly, "they have to use both hands!"

I knew exactly what she meant, and I agreed with her, I do feel the same admiration for pianists. But I also had to point out, "We violinists use both hands, too!"

bow and violin hands

I always wonder, when one is thinking of the violin (or viola, cello, bass, even guitar) as a one-handed instrument, which hand do you mean? I feel like we would all have different answers. I also think that some of us struggle with one hand more than with the other.

For me, the left hand has always felt most intuitive - very likely because I'm left-handed. As a beginner, placing my fingers made sense, and "playing music" with my fingers felt right. Fingerboard tapes were not really necessary, my fingers were happy to follow my ear. It did take me years not to squeeze with the thumb, but that's another story!

Now, the bow hand? First, you want me to hold it how? And then how does this "straight bow" business work? Lanes on the highway? This took many more years and a lot more conscious effort.

Of course, no matter what, both hands take quite a lot of training to become adept at the strange motions required to play the violin. Which has been easier for you, the bow hand or the violin hand? Or do you truly feel you've had to work equally on each hand? Please choose what best fits your situation in the vote, and then tell us all about it. Is there anything that made one hand easier than the other? What have you had to do, to compensate for difficulties in each hand?

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Replies

February 22, 2020 at 11:32 PM · People tend to THINK that the bow hand is easier to manage because "ah, all you have to do is pull it across the strings and you have sound". We get all caught up with the fireworks in the left hand instead. But, "le violon, c'est l'archet", as they say. I find so often when I can't seem to get a passage under my left hand fingers that the problem really lies on the other end of my body.

February 23, 2020 at 03:50 AM · I voted bow hand, as I am right handed, and I am struggling with speed issues with the left hand.

However as my first instrument was piano, I suspect I concentrate at the moment more on the left hand business of playing the notes, and I will find bowing more difficult than I thought once I get my head around how important the bow is . ( I was a bit like Cotton’s “people”)

And yes, even as a piano student, watching my conservatory trained mother flap her hands seemingly effortlessly over the keyboard , I was amazed at how she used both hands.

There is a Chopin Etude she played, which i was afraid of getting good enough to learn , that requires you to play in different time signatures in each hand .

February 23, 2020 at 05:09 AM · Used to think left hand was harder. I started violin as an adult, and intonation, speed, shifting all were problems. Then I realized that I had simply been ignoring the right hand--hey, the violin was making some sound, it had to be good, right? Bow apportionment, argh.

February 23, 2020 at 08:29 AM · Perhaps its just my body, but I've always found it a battle: that which makes it easier for the left hand makes it harder for the right. And vice versa! I think I'm just getting to a point where they are reaching a truce...

February 23, 2020 at 11:29 AM · Left hand is MUCH easier, even though I'm right-handed. This may be a result of the way I learned: self-teaching while playing in orchestras, which meant I often focused far more on trying to play the notes than on articulation, tone quality, and bow distribution. It was only after some years that I really paid enough attention to my right hand. The short time that I took lessons in 2016 was focused entirely on reworking my bowing technique, and I still think my right hand is not flexible or relaxed enough. In recent years, I've started noticing that difficulties with fast passages have mostly come from my right hand, not my left hand; when my left hand fingers fall behind or get tangled, it's usually because my left hand is waiting for the string to respond to the bow, not because I can't move my left hand quickly enough. This is especially true on the viola with its heavier strings. As a result, I now pay much more attention to my right hand when practicing fast passages.

February 23, 2020 at 03:04 PM · I voted violin hand cuz I didn't find it that difficult when I was learning how to do vibrato. I think the bow hand is difficult to manage cuz my pinky is so weak... and after years of learning how to hold a bow I formed a habit that whatever I hold with my right hand I will stick my index finger forward... idk why but it's just comfortable

February 23, 2020 at 05:12 PM · Perhaps you should look into the Russian hold 113.etc [A robot name? :D ]. It does not require pinky contact with the nut.

February 23, 2020 at 06:35 PM · Right vs. Left. They are so different, it is hard to compare. The Left hand is definitely more complicated. Carl Flesch's book on Violin Fingering is thick, with 1,000 examples. When bowing well, the right hand doesn't look like it is doing anything. It is hard to write, describe, teach what to do with the right side. It is partly subjective, instinctive, and every player needs to work out their own feel for bowing. In performance a left hand mistake is more disruptive than a right side mistake. If you play a wrong note or grossly out of tune everyone hears it, and it can ruin your composure. A bowing mistake sounds like a smudge or crunch, and you just keep going. One would think that left-handed violinists would have an advantage, but not so in practice. I have had one advanced left-handed student. We spent extra time on bowing mechanics. Aside @ elise & anon; Yes the first finger should be in front of the thumb, for leverage. How much is debatable. Not use the right fourth finger at all ?! I can't imagine being able to control the bounce without it.

February 23, 2020 at 07:47 PM · I need to work on both hands, but in general find things easier on my bow hand as I'm strongly right-handed, and my left hand lacks dexterity and is rather weak, getting tired easily. I can't play folk tunes fast enough, sadly.

February 23, 2020 at 07:48 PM · I need to work on both hands, but find my bow hand easiest to work with, as I'm strongly right-handed. My left hand feels weaker - gets tired easily - and lacks nimbleness. I wish I could play folk tunes fast enough.

February 23, 2020 at 09:31 PM · For me, equally difficult but the difficulties are different.

My left hand has a short fourth metacarpal which results in a shortened fourth finger.

The left hand didn't like that backward articulation at the full extension of the down bow.

Different problems, different solutions and different remedies.

Strangely, over time, I, like many musicians I know, have become more ambidextrous. Not 100% but more articulate with both hands than the non musician population.

Now I'm dealing with osteo-arthritis forming in both thumbs. Life goes on and the new challenges continue.

February 23, 2020 at 11:58 PM · I have difficulty with the bow hand since my finger nails extend past the pad of my fingers. Can't cut them short enough. Very jealous of people with short nail beds. Probably should have picked another instrument but no one ever told me I had to have stubby fingers to be able to play well.

February 24, 2020 at 01:17 AM · Contrary to some of the people on this discussion post, I believe both are equally difficult. Currently my bow arm is easier because I’ve had wonderful teachers who all gave me their different perspectives on the right hand, and I’ve crafted my own style that suits my hands and interpretations. With this came along a lot of hand control and I can easily do many things that I normally couldn’t before such as super fast spiccato, flying staccato, upbow and downbow staccato (this got immensely better). However, the work it took me to get to this place has definitely been extensive and while I currently struggle a lot with my violin arm, I can’t deny that both require an enormous amount of effort and thus I chose both as equally difficult.

February 24, 2020 at 07:45 PM · When using each separately is ok, when co ordination together then I know I'm playing and I feel I use what I have learned so far with a great amount of determination for a while, then it goes well

February 25, 2020 at 03:57 PM · I think intonation with double stops is the most difficult thing with the instrument but sound production on the viola is also another difficult thing I think they’re pretty equal with left hand just edging a bit more

February 25, 2020 at 08:58 PM · Whichever one I'm focused on at the moment is the most difficult.

February 27, 2020 at 12:52 AM · I find the violin hand considerably easier. Not sure why; maybe it's a multi-instrumentalist thing.

February 28, 2020 at 07:56 PM · I also think the violin hand is easier, getting the bowing hand up to speed has been more difficult.

February 29, 2020 at 09:21 PM · Violin hand/left hand came more easily at the beginner stage. Bow arm needed more attention at first. Soon enough, I had a good feel for the basics required for each; so, when I'm well practiced, they're about equal now.

If I'm coming back from a break -- more than 2 weeks -- the bow arm needs a little more attention; but it doesn't take too long. FWIW, in daily warm-ups, I do bow-arm exercises first.

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