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Mendy Smith

A Method to the Bow Madness

January 30, 2011 at 5:07 AM

Today my good friend and stand partner came over to help teach me how to evaluate bows and provide his thoughts on the selection I have.  

What interested me most is what he did first.  He took each bow in hand, held it straight up with the tip in the air and made little circles with it, then tilted it over in a playing position and raised and lowered the tip using his pinky at the frog, and then back to the tip pointing in the air again.  When I asked him why he was doing that, he said it was his way of determining the balance of the bow. 

He then found the balance point of each bow (which I measured).  Both bows had a balance point of 10 1/2 inches.  The two bows that I play with now have a balance point of 9 inches and 11 inches.  The 9 1/2" one feels a little heavy at the frog and the 11" one too heavy at the tip.  The bow my friend plays also has a 10 1/2 inch balance point.

My friend then had me play a series of techniques with the two top contenders (#1 - light & #4 - heavy):  very loud, very soft, legato, spiccato, retakes, and string crossings from A to C back to A again.  I would play a technique and then pass the bow to him to play the same technique and we compared notes, then repeated the process with the other bow. 

Not surprisingly, the lighter bow took more effort to play FFF on the C string, but it was surprising that the heavier one was quite easy to play very softly.  I had an easier time with spiccato and retakes with the lighter bow while my friend found the heavier one  just as easy but produced a larger tone.  We both found the heavier one easier on extreme string crossings (A to C), where getting the C to speak clearly can be a challenge in such a circumstance.  He found the heavier one more difficult to pull a consistent tone from frog to tip, however for me it was easier to do.  We then tried the other two bows, and agreed that #1 and #4 should remain the focus of the trials.

Aesthetically, both bows are beauties. My friend commented on the color of #4, saying that it was particularly pleasing.  We then flipped through my Etudes and decided that Mazas was the way to go to really get a feel for the bows. 

Tomorrow afternoon they will get their first chamber music trial - a piece for three violas :) 

From Adam Sweet
Posted on January 31, 2011 at 1:08 PM

 I too have had trouble with bows over the years.  (I have been playing for 44)  So I invented a bow about 18 years ago.  It's slightly more massive at the tip, has a 10.5" balance point and is slightly tapered in the upper part of the stick...I call it the Fiddler's Bow and it's been very well received.  I made a prototype out of wood and shopped it around to places like Coda, Glasser and P&H, and finally had it made in Tianjin, China.

You can find out more about my bow on Emily's Violins website

From Kathryn Woodby
Posted on January 31, 2011 at 7:17 PM

Thank you for the way you walked us through this process.  That was very helpful to me and I'm sure will be also to others!

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