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Mendy Smith

Bow Trial - Lesson Day

February 6, 2011 at 1:38 AM

Lessons today were not the usual hour spent at my teacher's house.  Instead of working on Vieuxtemp's Elegie, we evaluated bows.  We spoke for awhile about what I've experienced with each of the bows so far.  He told me about his own recent switch from his primary bow to his secondary one when he switched to a different brand of strings: within a week of his solo recital.

I played the top two favorites (#1 and #4): a little Vieuxtemps, a little Bach and some scales.  My teacher then took my viola and tried each of the two bows playing pieces that I hope to someday be able to play (Hindesmith, Reger) and put them through their paces with a wider variety of techniques than what I know how to do well.  It was a real treat to be able to listen to my viola played by one of the Houston Symphony.  

As he worked through the bows, I noticed small differences in their tonal color that I did not notice before.  Bow #1 had a sweeter tone while bow #4 had a more focused sound.  My teacher was able to produce the same volume on the C string with both bows easily (another lesson, use the weight from the arm, not the hand).  When he played the Reger (fast and furious bowing up and down the fingerboard with double stops), bow #4 had a little bit more clarity than bow #1.  He gave the other two bows a try, and agreed that #1 and #4 were the top contenders.  He then played the same pieces on his viola.  They sounded a little different on his viola and he said they responded differently as well.

He let me try his two bows as a comparison to the bows I have on trial.  His two felt as light in the hand as bow #1 though they were heavier bows than even #4.  They responded like bow #1 with more clarity than bow #4.  He than had me play the trickier part of the Vieuxtemps with the ones I had on trial and listened and watched while I played. He said that I seemed to be able to maneuver bow #1 more easily than #4 and suggested that I spend a week with it at chamber and orchestral rehearsals.

As a side benefit to this bow trial lesson, my teacher noticed that my D string was difficult to play due to it being close to the same height of the A string over the bridge.  I have one of those little rubber protectors between the A string and the bridge that could have been causing the issue or I needed to have a new bridge cut.  It explained why the notes on the D string always drop out on fast runs from C to A!  When I got home I took it off and those passages finally had the D string notes sounding clear.  

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on February 7, 2011 at 10:46 AM

So much goes into choosing a bow.  You have to consider the 3-way interaction among the bow, the instrument, and the player's hand.  Choosing the right bow can have a dramatic effect on your sound.  I like the way your teacher helped you so much.

From Mendy Smith
Posted on February 8, 2011 at 3:34 AM

and the strings....  It is a complicated process. 

I am coming to learn that my bow decision will be based on comfort in the hand/arm primarily and tone secondary.  With all the issues I've been having in my right shoulder over the past several years, comfort is my number one priority. 

From Christina Silvestri
Posted on February 9, 2011 at 4:05 AM

Hello, I am a violinist trained in the classical style and have been playing for the past 17 years.  I was introduced to the violin at a very young age so I had a rented violin for about 10 years.  

Upon being mature enough in age and in practice, I purchased my own violin and bow.  The violin purchase was separate from the bow purchase, however.  I worked with my violin instructor for picking out the right violin and bow from a variety of options.   

I tried out at least seven different bows that were from a selection of brands and different tonal qualities (warm, lyrical, rich, clear, deep, smooth, etc.). In the end, I opted for a hand-crafted Pernambuco bow with a warm tonal quality with clear as day clarity.  For me, it is the perfect balance of a smooth broad sound and clarity.

Good luck on choosing your bow!


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