V.com weekend vote: Do you put your bow thumb on the leather, or 'in the notch' below it?

April 17, 2021, 10:27 PM · An interesting discussion came up this week on the Violinist.com discussion board, about where to place the thumb on the bow. Do you place it actually on the thumb leather, or below it, on the stick, in the little notch between the frog and the leather?

thumb placement
Thumb placement: left, "in the notch"; right, on the leather.

I was taught to place my thumb "in the notch" - that is, on the stick and between the edge of the frog and the leather. It's also what I teach students. Interestingly, though, a few posters contended that "most famous soloists" put the thumb straight on the leather. Of course, this would be difficult to see, but I'd be interested in which violinists place the thumb this way, and also the school of thought for putting the thumb on the leather.

One reason to "put it in the notch" is that the leather keeps your thumb from migrating up the stick (Here's an interesting video on that.) Having that contact with the edge of the frog also ensures that whatever movement the fingers are doing, the hand basically stays at the frog.

Putting the thumb straight on the leather would give the hand a slightly higher placement, but depending on how grippy and thick your leather is, it could still serve the function of keeping your thumb near the frog.

The thumb leather also protects the wood of the bow. This rings true for me, considering the fact that the edge of my thumb munches right through the leather every year and a half! What would happen to the stick, without that leather?

I also like the feel of that leather, so when I get it replaced, I always ask my luthier to cut me a leather that is about two inches long, rather than the typical inch or so. That way, my index finger gets to rest on it, too! (I don't actually know anyone else who does that!)

So where do you put your thumb, and why? Is it "in the notch," or on the leather? Is it just what you've always done, or have you given it more thought? What are your thoughts on the function of the "thumb leather"? Please participate in the vote and share your thoughts.

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Replies

April 18, 2021 at 06:15 AM · None of my bows has a notch as wide as the one in the photos when the bows are tensioned for use. It’s really about half that wide. I suppose that if the humidity were extremely high the hair would lengthen and the notch would widen. But anyway, since my notches are so narrow, when I put my thumb in the notch, which I do, the center of my thumb remains on the leather. So I can say that I’m in the notch but on the leather too. Or to express it another way, I’m mostly on the leather but bumping against the frog. I think that notch should be narrow. Ideally, the thumb never actually touches the stick, so the stick doesn’t get subjected to wear.

April 18, 2021 at 11:55 AM · When I first started playing, my thumb was on the bottom of the frog. When I changed school, so teacher as well, she didn't inform me where I should put it (I changed to the underside of the stick not the frog). Its only when I was 17 and rebuilding my bow hold that my friend who was "teaching me" said to put in the notch. Which is what I did and still continue to do

April 18, 2021 at 12:25 PM · The key for me is to feel the frog with my thumb. That gives me the feeling of having the bow firmly in hand. Like on the photo left my thumb is touching the leather also so the wear on the wood can not be so severe.

BTW it is called "thumb leather" but there are another 3 fingers touching it. Only the pinky is always touching wood* (doing a crucial job--we all know what happens if we fail to touch wood).

* At least Franko-Belgian pinkies; I am not sure about Russian pinkies.

April 18, 2021 at 01:27 PM · I agree with Albrecht that it's helpful to feel the corner of the frog with my thumb. But only my index finger and thumb are typically touching the leather. I can't imagine how the thumb and three fingers would simultaneously be touching the leather. But then, my teacher does teach a very "textbook" (i.e., compact) Franco-Belgian bow hold. Probably my middle finger does graze the leather while I am playing.

"Something else" has definitely got me curious. Like what else?

April 18, 2021 at 02:43 PM · I had the privilege to study for 3 years with Eddy Brown, who was an Auer pupil and a concert violinist who was famous in Europe, but not over here. He taught that the corner of the thumb (closest to the fingers) was in the notch, and that although the wrist moved, the fingers basically went along for the ride - they did NOT initiate any movement (he actually said that they were "still" - something we discussed, because Galamian was big at the time, and he apparently advocated using the fingers of the right hand a LOT, so I wanted to be sure I understood what Mr. Brown was teaching). This so-called Russian bow hold was NOT as many have claimed, "stiff", but the motion was in places other than the fingers.

That said, a couple of years ago I bought a baroque bow to try with Bach (I will never go back to my modern bow for Bach, and probably also Vivaldi, now). It has NO thumb leather, and my hand does tend to creep up the stick, which in nonstop solo Bach is a problem, since I don't want to end up in the middle of the bow! So I have to be careful that the creeping doesn't happen.

The leather on my bows is also closer to the frog than in your picture, Laurie. One of my bows had belonged to Mr. Brown, and it did have some wear on the wood of the notch.

April 18, 2021 at 03:57 PM · Most teachers and players I have encountered advise placing the thumb in the notch. Every luthier/maker I have encountered on the subject demands the thumb must be placed on the Leather! I am typically in the notch. But I will sometimes choke up and place my thumb on the leather to lighten the balance point. I enjoy variety.

April 18, 2021 at 05:54 PM · Just a small point: The distance from the frog to the leather is not a fixed property of a bow: It depends on how the last repair was done, on the humidity of and on how hard a player tightens the bow.

April 18, 2021 at 05:56 PM · Thank you for bringing this important topic for discussion. As always, carving little time to read treatises on teaching violin on a regular basis may help us with finding informed and objective answers to almost any question. Flesch (The Art of Violin Playing, Book 1, pp. 36,37): "The most appropriate manner of placing [thumb] is half on the edge of the frog and half on the stick itself." Galamian (Principles fo Violin Playing and Teaching, p. 46): "The thumb should not be placed into the cut-out of the frog...." Fischer (Basics, p. 1): "Place the thumb at an angle of about 45 degrees to the bow, so that the tip of the left side of the thumb (as see from the player's viewpoint) is on the stick and the right side is against the nut."

April 18, 2021 at 08:38 PM · I have been giving bow holds a lot of thought lately, as I will hopefully be starting a group of young students in an after-school program next year. It seems to me, like in so many other things, there is no one RIGHT way. What works for one person may not work for another, and it may depend on the type of music you play. I voted Something Else. As A FIDDLER, my thumb is on the bottom side of the frog, which I believe to be common with many Texas-style fiddlers. I have a good light and flexible hold on my bow and can dig into the strings for that edge that I need. I realize the tunes I play and the sound I am working towards may be far different from most of you who play orchestra music. It's a good thing we have choice! I love violinist.com and all I learn from you all! Thank you.

April 18, 2021 at 10:21 PM · I have a thumb nail which projects as it is used for classical and flamenco guitar. Contact between nail and bow is a problem if I think about but no problem if I just do it. I think what happens is the bow point of contact is on the nail on the hand side no flesh touching. Point of contact when playing the guitar is on the otherside of the nail more or less directly opposite.

April 18, 2021 at 11:08 PM · Mark I understand your point about fingernails. I don't play guitar so it's not an issue for me. But I think it's often assumed that violinists only really need to care for their left-hand fingernails, whereas my right thumbnail needs to stay closely trimmed to hold my bow and so does my right pinkie otherwise the nail touches the stick and I hate how that feels.

April 18, 2021 at 11:45 PM · Albrecht's point is important. The distance of the gap on any bow is variable. The archetier or whoever hairs the bow has to use a lot of discretion to allow for changes in weather. In the part of Canada where I live there is tremendous variation from cold dry weather in winter to high humidity in summer. A brilliant young luthier who had recently arrived here from France had difficulty at first in estimating the right length of hair to allow for these extremities -- the hair, put on in summer, became much tighter in winter conditions, and I discovered that the bow could not be fully loosened. The gap had diminished. I had to take it back for an adjustment. The next year she got it perfect.

April 21, 2021 at 10:35 PM · Hrachya, putting things in capital letters does not make it so. Lol about the seats, it doesn't exactly translate in any way.

Glad you found a way that works for you, and "in the notch" works for me and apparently for 84 percent of violinists.

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