Bending right thumb

November 25, 2007 at 08:32 PM · How much does everyone bend their right thumbs when holding the bow? and why?

Replies (24)

November 25, 2007 at 09:26 PM · I don't bend it excessively, just what feels comfortable and "natural" to me. I find that bending it too much (which may be subjective) can lock the thumb and would not be desirable, since "springiness" and flexibility of the bow hand is essential. I would say that if you have those qualities and your bow hand is functional for all different strokes and doesn't hurt, it's fine. I saw Julia Fischer up close in concert recently, though, and I noticed that her thumb seemed not bent at all, no matter where she was in the bow -- if my eyes weren't deceiving me -- I've always been told to bend the thumb, but she's obviously better than fine with however it is that she's doing it.

November 26, 2007 at 12:50 AM · My thumb bends with the other fingers when I start a down bow. As the down bow takes place it gradually unbends with the other fingers and becomes straighter. On the up bow it is almost straight like the other fingers.

November 26, 2007 at 02:22 AM · I find it's very important to remind myself to keep the thumb bent when I play those 'juicy' notes on G string and when the bow is digging in a bit. Otherwise, my thumb bends a tiny bit so that it's loose and flexible.

Bruce, do you think there's no need for you to bend the thumb on the G string doing the up bow f or ff?

November 26, 2007 at 03:19 AM · Bow pressure comes from the opposition of the index finger and the thumb. If your thumb chooses to bend when you apply pressure then let it do so.

November 26, 2007 at 02:01 PM · I set up with a noticeable angle of almost 90', but let the thumb flex bowing downstroke as described above. What I never do is let the thumb tense up and bend in. Catching the bow on the corner of the thumbnail is critical. Into the pad at all seems to promotes the thumb flattening out, which rolls the bow, etc. Sue

November 26, 2007 at 09:51 PM · The desired effect dictates the use. It depends, in large measure, on your bowgrip and bow style. If I feel it is appropriate to correct a thumb issue in a student, I'm normally looking to see if there is tension or stiffness. Flexibility is what I want. "Bent thumb," to me anyway, is only a beginning step towards learning flexibility and control.

November 26, 2007 at 02:28 PM · The thumb bends along the fingers and wrist when you give weight to the bow or approaching the lower part of the bow, or in every bowing requiring the collective bending of fingers, wrist etc..

vd previous threads and blog on clockwise anticlockwise rotation of the bow

I don't belive in static bending of fingers on the bow!!

November 27, 2007 at 04:37 AM · Thanks Bruce, it takes both index and thumb to get the pressure, how very precise!

November 28, 2007 at 09:02 AM · The important thing is that it's not locked.

November 29, 2007 at 02:28 AM · Bending the thumb too much can cause problems. I don't recommend it at all.

November 29, 2007 at 03:16 AM · Does it matter if you're touching the hair when you bend your thumb? After playing for a while, my thumb bends too much so that it touches the hair

November 29, 2007 at 04:32 AM · Food for thought:

Kato Havas in her book Stage Fright talks about the thumb contact with the hair as follows:

"If the thumb is in its natural bent position (as when holding a pencil) the tip area will be under the stick while the bent part(somewhere between the nail and the joint)will touch the ferule, or the hair, depending on the size of the thumb. The double contact is of major importance because the thumb is the only digit which is in touch with both with the hair and the stick, that is, with the top and the bottom part of the bow, and thus is able to create a link with a springy self-generating balance, between the arm and the bow. But it is very important to make sure it is the hair (or ferule) which leans against the thumb and not the thumb which is pushed against the hair (or ferule). This is because if the thumb pushes against the hair (or ferule), the muscle under the thumb will be strained and hard, but if the hair (or ferule) leans against the thumb, the thumb- muscle will remain soft and springy. Once the double contact of the thumb with the bow is well established, make certain that the end-pads of the four fingers are off the stick and are slightly curved at the joints under the nails, so that the fingertips are not in the position to grip the stick even if they wanted to."

Regarding this last point, I have found that creating a sense of pulling in the ring finger (which does cause the fingerpad to touch the frog) as one draws an upbow can enhance the feeling of stability in the bow and help the solidity of the tone in the up-bow. This feeling is not a rigid one though and therefore follows the principle of not making the fingers stiff as if clutching the bow.

November 29, 2007 at 04:59 AM · I try to keep it just moderately bent, but I've seen professionals (like the concertmaster for the NSO, I forget her name...) who don't seem to bend their thumbs at all and they sound great. I guess the point is to be as natural and relaxed as possible without losing control of your bow.

November 29, 2007 at 05:16 AM · Well...I jumped on this discussion because recently I have been feeling some pain in my thumb, especially when playing quickly for some time. I'm not sure if this is from work or from playing, but suspect the latter as Ricci's book has me straddling two strings a lot. I think its bent and flexing OK, but something's wrong. I wish Ronald Muchnik's/Havas' lines made more sense to me. The pads shouldn't touch the frog? Is this orthodox? Is the 'dual contact' with the frog and hair dependent on tilt?

November 29, 2007 at 05:41 AM · Greetings,

personaly I disagree rather strongly with this idea. Vegh used to refer to the third finger (pad) as the tone finger. I elive good deep comntatc with the satick is importnat much of the time although this varies according to the kind of sound one wnats to produce at a given moment. The only way to prevent the pads touching is to resit the natural shape of the hand in lightly pickign up or embracing an object. The proff of the @pudding remains as always in the eating. If you look at the Kato Havas video where her idea son bowing are being demonstarted preumably by someof her best studnets there is a consistent weakness of tone production. Not at all impressive and the kind of excessive movement being taught the bow ars would, a sfar as I am cocnerne dnee dot be undone. I would also suggets if the thimb is touching the hair then for most people the stick is really tilted unles syou wnat to play with the wrist dropped rather than at its most natural position.



November 29, 2007 at 05:42 AM · Blake, I think it depends on the length of one's fingers as to whether or not the finger pads or tips touch the frog- the crucial thing is that the fingers not grip the frog in an attempt to force control over the bow. To produce a rich tone without trying to press and grip with the fingers requires that weight be received into the hand from the arm which is supported by the muscles in the back and shoulders. This natural weight falls into the hand which in turn is received by the fingers resting on the bow. This will, in effect, cause the fingers to bend much the way a toddler crawls on all fours and their body weight falls into their arms into their hands.This natural weight is the same weight someone experiences when they lift the arm of a sleeping person. It will fall right back down with nothing preventing it from falling. A conscious, awakened individual can voluntary choose to lift and hold their arm in space or allow the weight to fall and it is this ability to allow the weight to fall to the extent needed without crushing the tone that is the foundation of a rich tone. The fingers and thumb are at the receiving end of this movement. Further, the right amount of weight allows one to pull and push the string right and left to get the string to vibrate to its maximum instead of being vertically pounced upon.

What I believe Kato Havas advocates is that the hair is tilted so that it can lean towards the thumb and one can feel the springiness of the hair in the thumb and also feel the thumb on the underside of the wood of the bow. This relaxed springy feeling, if maintained, will allow one to feel as if the bow is being supported by the string and the arm and hand and fingers rather than exerting a deliberate external pressure on the bow with the fingers. Because the weight of the arm goes into the bow, the thumb and fingers, receiving that weight, will bend.

I have seen several fine players remain relaxed even without bending the thumb but their thumbs are probably not locked, which as Kimberley pointed out, is key.

I hope that, though not brief, this explanation is clearer than the previous one.

November 29, 2007 at 06:02 AM · Buri, I do agree that the tilting of the hair throught the entire bow stroke to keep the hair into the thumb will not allow the tone to be strong. I also concur that the tone seemed weak as evidenced by the video I saw of Havas's students and those I witnessed in England when I attended one of her workshops. However, they were certainly very relaxed. I suppose, given my studies with Robert Gerle and the fact that both he and she worked with Imre Waldbauer whose ideas about tone production, if I am not mistaken, influenced both of them as well as Paul Rolland, I was trying to marry the two ideas of arm weight being received into the hand and the double contact of the thumb and hair. If nothing else, it is a good balancing exercise to help the thumb remain relaxed in this way, but I do indeed believe in a method of tone production more substantial than what I witnessed in Havas's workshop and on the video. I hope my previous response to Blake makes that clear.

November 30, 2007 at 12:35 PM · As already mentionned curve of the thumb depend upon many factors such as shape of other fingers, position of the wrist,dynamics etc but the main thing to point out is the shape of the hand and especially the space between the index finger and the thumb (the commissure) which must be rounded The closure of this space creates a great tension not only in the hand but also in the neck

December 1, 2007 at 10:53 PM · Joshua wrote, "Nate- Just for clarification, are you saying that you don't bend your thumb at all, or that you don't bend your thumb too much? How much is too much?"

Hi Joshua, I don't really bend my thumb that much if at all to tell you the truth. I've learned to play like this for many years so if I were to switch it would throw off a lot of strokes like staccato, and spiccato. I think bending the thumb too much is just as bad as locking it. If the thumb is bent so far that it touches the hair, I think that is too much. Then again everyone's thumb is different.

December 9, 2007 at 04:37 AM · Thanks for your comments, guys. I've had a lesson since last post and my teacher was trying to instill the bow arm weight I believe Ronald is referring to. I believe that before this lesson I was playing with the stick too close to the end of the forefinger. By moving it a little back (into the second knuckle from the nail), moving my little finger higher up the stick (to sit over the dot) and making sure the middle knuckles of the middle finger and ring fingers are rounded--the pads definately touch. I noticed a difference in tone right away and was pleased to see that Steven refers to tone in relation the pads and bow hold. Finally, though it was not mentioned, I suspect that the thumb pain I referred to originated in the thumb taking too active a role. Would you agree that the fingers, wrist and arm are active, but that the thumb is basically passive?

December 9, 2007 at 02:52 AM · Blake, I believe you have come to the right conclusion: The thumb should be passive and just respond to the movements of the other fingers. A stiff thumb, bent or unbent is our enemy!

December 9, 2007 at 05:17 AM · I think it mostly boils down to the effectiveness, and pliability in the hand, in being able to get the bow to do what one wishes.

December 11, 2007 at 11:08 AM · Blake

arm is active and thumb, fingers and wrist have to reach the highest passivity grade possible, the absolute passivity is impossible because these are not strong articulation so they are very helpful for fine tuning of the arm movement and for a wide serie of bowings (jumping, vd clokwise and movement of bow, staccato) and for piano and forte mechanism.

December 11, 2007 at 11:46 PM · Another image to consider is how the bow can be related to other objects held in the hands like a ball or a spoon. Though I am not aware of any statistics to bear this out, I believe most people curl their fingers, including their thumb, when bringing a spoon close to their mouth to feed themselves, as well as when holding a ball near the side of their face about to throw it. We stretch out the fingers and thumb as we send the ball on its way or reach for something far away. This seemingly natural tendency to curl in towards the face and stretch out away from it should not be deliberately prevented by a thumb that tends to behave differently than the rest of the digits in the hand. However, some people's thumbs do not curl much and to force more bending to make it look like other's naturally bent thumbs may create tension. For some the circle between the middle finger and thumb is present but not very rounded and that I believe is fine. Also some people are double jointed and their thumbs will not naturally want to bend in the way I described above so to establish an appropriate curve or curl needs to be done patiently and with an eye to making sure it is not overly curved in an effort to redress the natural tendency of the double jointed thumb to bend opposite to the norm. One teacher I observed had an image to encourage bending in the direction typical of most players by describing the opposite way of holding the bow as if one were holding a dead mouse, in other words, something you would find repulsive to hold onto.

In general, I encourage the thumb to bend for the purpose of developing a relaxed "bow shape" which is what I refer to it as rather than a "bow hold" to avoid the impression that it requires brute strength to hold onto or cling to.

Since there is a strong tendency in infancy to grab onto things and develop a clutching reflex in the hands, I believe it is highly beneficial to inculcate the idea of supporting an object with only the necessary amount of "holding" to prevent it from falling. Most people do so when holding an object that clearly does not take all their strength like a pencil or a cup of water, etc. but for some reason, a bow, which does not weigh but 68-72 grams or so, inspires the kind of death grip associated with people holding the steering wheel of a car on a slippery road.

The feeling of heaviness in the hand or of the fingers feeling connected to the bow is the result of weight sinking into the hand through the proper transfer of weight from the back and shoulder muscles into the arms and then into the wrist, hand, and fingers onto the bow onto the string. If the bow is not being clutched and the finger joints are kept flexible this feeling of arm weight is more easily established and helps avoid a common problem of the shaking or trembling bow arm though with some people adrenalin kicks in at such levels that that is still a challenge.

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