Index Finger On Bow Hand-What Should It Be Doing?

January 19, 2008 at 07:56 PM · What is the function of the index finger on the bow hand? My teacher will tell me that pressure should come from the thumb, not the index finger...I don't think my hand is listening.

I have been doing open string bowing in the Auer book 1 and just using my middle finger and thumb. When I then add back in the index finger I think I'm still using it for pressure.

Replies (23)

January 20, 2008 at 12:24 AM · for me,the index finger of the bow hand has little to do with how i play,but i am an exception because i play blues & celtic music--very few folk play these genres on this site.

i use the index finger of the right hand only to help balance the bow in my attempt to play an acceptable piece and i would think this would be an alltruism in all genres of music.

acquistion of balance seems to be the key in these regards of playing the violin.

your wrist must be relaxed,as well as your elbow and arm.

if you can see colour-it helps tremendously,but few can.

if you can envision any piece in your head as by utilizing imagery in your mind--it helps greatly.

if you can adjust your head to adapt to the piece you are playing,then you are golden and others will notice accordingly.

if you lack confidence,twill be very apparent to yourself and your listeners...

start doing drones and move up as you progress through the repitoire,then make any piece you play your own piece as you gain experience in your wanderings of the music world.

play from your heart--no one will deny your attempt and a few will applaud.

few make it to the top--be thankfull you have,at least,the inclination to play. share and teach others your gifts--no matter what you have to offer.

music tells no lies.

obligatory obligations ensue-----meet them and spread them to others;this is the doing of a violin player and a musician ......

January 20, 2008 at 01:20 AM · When I was in a masterclass w/ first violinist of the St Lawrence String Quartet, he warned against "the hook" index finger-the hand so pronated that the first finger wraps around the bow and strangles it.

I use the index finger as a kind of conduit for channeling arm weight at the tip mostly...although it certainly helps control the bow hold all the time. Does that help at all?

January 20, 2008 at 04:02 AM · Greetings,


at the heel hele the first finegr has the function of preventing the bow from flapping around and not much else. A simple exercise is to take the bowe and hold it with only the thumb, index and little finger without any pressure from any of them. In this balanced psoition the bow will be further down the index finger towards the nail. If you remnobve one of the fingers or thumb the bow will drop. Just play with this a little.

The function of the index finger changes the closer you get to the point. It begins to inject weight. I use this wording for a reason. The firts finger does not pres sper se. What iti sdoing is filtering in arm weight through the first finger. The distinction is subtle but even intermediate studnets often confuse the notion of `pressing` with the index finger and allowing the weight of the pronating foreram to feed weight through it. The sound is veyr different! I assume you understand the role of the pronating forarm as you hea dfr the point.

Now comes the thumb. The purpse of the thumb is to provide `counter pressure` to the weight being fed into the bow. thus at the heel it provides no upward thrust because there is non down. The more weight goes in the more the thumb will make a roughly equivalent counte rpressure. At the point this may be quite a lot.

The major problem that occurs all the time is not this use of counter pressure- in itslef perfectly okay even if it is a great dela at times. The probnlem is forgetting to let go. If one uses pressure or some kind of tension(horrible word) in violin playing there must always be at the very least an equavalent relaxtion. This ebb and flow, tense and relax is the essence of violin playing or human life and much of the problems ofviolin playing can be traced to ebbing without the er flow..

Prunes always come in handy though.



January 20, 2008 at 04:25 PM · In addition to the excellent explanation Buri gave, you can also observe the way your string is vibrating as you learn to let go of pressing into the string and instead allow the weight of the arm to be transferred to the hand onto the bow onto the string. With a slow to medium paced full bow stroke, try feeling as if you are pulling the string from left to right on a down bow and pushing the bow from right to left on an up bow to maximize the width of the string's vibrations without vertical pressure. So, for example, starting with the D string, you'd think of leaning the bow over on the side of the D string that is closer to the G string and pull from left to right on the down bow and then when you start your up bow you'd lean over to the side of the D string that is closer to the A string and push the bow from right to left.

January 20, 2008 at 08:11 PM · Thanks for the responses. Strangling the bow hasn't been an far! I can however hear at times a too metallic sort of sound, which is probably caused using pressure from the index finger.

Buri, thanks for your help and..."I assume you understand the role of the pronating forarm as you hea dfr the point." No, please explain what you mean.

Ronald, I can visualize what you are saying, thanks.

January 20, 2008 at 09:05 PM · I can say that the best thing I've learned came from Simon Fischer's "Basics", and concerns this point. maybe you shouldn't worry so much about what the index finger is doing, Instead, think about the second finger. I changed my bow hold based on the book, so that my second finger is slightly ahead of my thumb, instead of straight across or behind (which it formerly had been). I was recording myself when I made the change. Bingo! This small change instantly made my tone more rounded, and removed the edge which you describe.

Really, the small change has helped me spread weight through the whole hand. Also, try bowing with your ring finger on the side of the frog (like a cello hold). Another exercise which has helped is to bow using only the index and ring fingers, and also with the middle and pinky. Hope this helps.

January 20, 2008 at 09:17 PM · Thanks Adam, I'll try what you suggest. I do find that my middle finger tends to end up more behind my thumb. I'm trying to be conscious of that feel and stop and correct it right away.

I am doing alot of open string bowing lately!! Feels like I'm starting over again but these problems have to be cleaned up so I can progress.

January 20, 2008 at 09:55 PM · of course, I meant to try your pinky on the side of the frog. The ring finger's already there...I hope.

January 20, 2008 at 11:02 PM · When I quit worrying about the first finger last week and took it out of play everything about the tone improved immediately and I mean right now. I think about it barely touching the stick now.

January 20, 2008 at 11:05 PM · Greetings,

TNetz, the action or rotating the palm upwards is referred to as supination and the oppsite pronation. Thes eterms are worth knowing as they are used quite a lot in violin playing explanations. Many teachers suggets that as one approaches the point the forearm `pronates` and as one does the up bow it supinates. I think it was Gerle who suggested that the rate of pronation on the down bow must match the curve of the bow or the bow will shake . Sounds good to me but too complicated. Makes me wonder what those players who have the hari so tight the stick is straight do;)



January 20, 2008 at 11:29 PM · Though I quoted from Mr. Gerle's book "The Art of Bowing Practice" in a previous post, perhaps this will help with regard to pronation and supination of the forearm:

" At the frog, the hand, being right above the contact point between bow and string, can exert the weight of the arm directly on the string. Moving away from the frog , however, the distance between the point of the power's origin in the arm and the contact point between the bow and the string, where it needs to be transferred, becomes greater. Transmission of power over this distance can only be effected by the leverage of opposing forces between the thumb and the forefinger (index finger)."

Further along, he writes:

"Although the player experiences the feeling of increasing pressure in the forefinger, which is in direct contact with the bow, the force must come from the forearm muscle, which alone is strong enough for the task. From the player's point of view, the origin and nature of pressure progresses gradually from weight at or near the frog, to torque power towards the tip. These relationships of power between player and bow-change vary constantly, whether the sound-volume is steady or not. ..It is very seldom that we can use merely the weight of the bow to produce a satisfactory tone. That is also why using weight by itself to maintain or increase volume can only work within a minimal distance from the frog: beyond that point it has no bearing without transmission by leverage."

Additionally: " The small muscles of the fingers are inadequate (to produce a large full sound especially in the upper half of the bow) and the forefinger, which is so often and mistakenly asked to supply most of the pressure, in particular does not have the strength for the necessary torque power. This power should come from the much larger and stronger forearm muscles."

Still further: "To transmit their power to the point of contact between bow and string, the forearm,hand, and fingers should be turned (rotated) inward AS A UNIT- the whole movement from frog to tip and back can also be compared to the motion of scrubbing the inside of a barrel lying on its side. It is important that after arriving at the tip with increased pressure, the up bow should start with the same amount of pressure. A frequent mistake is to give up much of the sound during the bow-change at the tip and to start the up-bow considerably weaker than the end of the down-bow....

There are a number of large muscles in the body which can be used to make violin-playing less of a physical effort and therefore more economical. .. The most important, directly involved large muscles are the forearm and upper-arm muscles of both arms. But others which are also very useful include, in layman's language, the right chest muscle and the back muscles, especially the area on either side of the spine, just below and inside the shoulder blades. When you succeed in letting these muscles take over most of the burden of the physical activity in violin playing, you will have freed the smaller muscles of the hand and fingers and made them available for the more delicate task of articulation, phrasing, and expressive characterization."

Regarding changing the bow: " a seamless, unnoticeable bow change is essential for an uninterrupted,beautiful singing tone, giving the impression of an unlimited bow-supply and an unending bow... The bow , arriving at the end of a stroke, has to reverse direction and return on the same track; reversing the direction means a momentary halt; without bow motion there is no sound, without sound no continuity of tone or phrasing.

The only way to avoid this gap is to maintain the continuous motion of the bow, even if at a reduced speed. This can be done by moving it in a 'loop' with a flat elliptical path at the moment of the bow change. The loop can be either horizontal or vertical ( here, there is an illustration of a sideways flattened figure 8), but if you use the vertical loop, it should be flat enough so as not to touch the neighboring strings. While guiding the bow in this loop, the actions of the various parts of the arm are staggered: they change direction CONSECUTIVELY, one slightly after the other. This principle of de-synchronization is the same as in walking: one leg moves forward while the other is already preparing the next step in a continuous, overlapping motion."

To acquire this motion, Mr. Gerle suggests:

"For a smooth bow change from up to down bow in the lower half: just before the end of the up-bow stroke, start a slightly downward motion with the upper arm and turn it gradually into the down-bow path, while the hand is still finishing its up-bow motion and is straightening gently from its slightly bent position. When the rest of the arm is joined in this way in the down-bow motion, the slight delay allows the fingers to complete their bending movement smoothly and to conclude the up-bow motion of the bow itself . By then the arm is on its way in the down-bow stroke, moving momentarily, in effect, in the opposite direction from the fingers and the bow, which are just finishing the loop.

For changing the bow from down-bow to up-bow, simply reverse the direction of the movements in the sequence: while in the up-down change it is basically clockwise, in the down-up change it is mostly counter-clockwise.

Note that the finger-movements are passive: they react to motions by other parts of the arm and are last to complete the change. Sudden, excessive finger movements just before the change speed up the bow, and the added speed causes the unwanted accent which one tries to avoid for smooth, unnoticeable bow-change."

January 21, 2008 at 03:12 AM · Adam, practicing as you described has already helped with the tone problems I was having. It certainly makes the bow feel more balanced through the whole hand by keeping the middle finger to the left of the thumb. The index finger now is a non-issue. Amazing.

Buri, thank you for explaining about pronation and supination.

Ronald, wow, thank you for taking the time to type all that information.

January 21, 2008 at 04:13 AM · Excellent post, Ronald. I've read similar explanations, but yours really did the trick in terms of clarity of concept. Many thanks!

January 21, 2008 at 02:14 PM · t netz, there are lots of great info in this thread already. even if you do not completely understand all of it, it is great to keep in mind and refer to it in the future, because what some of them have said is really the bread and butter of the essence.

what i want to point out, however, assuming you are a beginner, is that the info may not apply to you at this stage. the simple reason is that we do not exactly know how you hold your bow (not even talking about schools of hold).

imo, it is very important to assess the shape/size of your hand, the flexibility of your hand, how you contact the bow "normally" with each finger, how supple can you passively move the knuckles when bowing, your thumb, your wrist, your elbow, your shoulder,,,,etc. all these need to be take into consideration when evaluating your index finger's function.

i have no intention to make something simple complicated, but it is really not that straight forward. i hate to cop out by suggesting your teacher is the best source. it may or may not be, really. but keep thinking about it, exploring it,,,good luck!

January 21, 2008 at 03:06 PM · Thanks for your input Al. Yes, I am a beginner and yes, the information in this thread will take me awhile to internalize for the very reason you point out...I don't completely understand. I have no idea what my arm and hand are doing when I bow. The thoughts on pronation and supination are new to me so I have to figure that stuff out.

I am amassing quite a notebook full of posts I have copied off of It is very helpful to keep going back over certain issues until that light bulb of understanding finally turns on.

In the beginning...I just wanted to learn to play the violin. I had no idea it would become so involved. I spend as much time reading about violin technique/watching dvds of great violinists as I do actually practicing with the instrument in hand. It has been quite an education so far!

January 21, 2008 at 04:06 PM · t netz, i think i can imagine where you are coming from, since i have helped my kid walking through some of those dark alleys:)

one of the comforting thoughts is that when you look back later, it all seems simple and straight forward, so something to look foward to. and the fact that one day you will be able to sound as good as you would like,,,that will be priceless.

on supination and pronation, let me give you a bit to see if you can understand better...

stand, facing the computer monitor, with your arms dangling and your palms facing the outside of your thighs, as you normall do. that, is a neutral position.

now, turn your palms and make them face the monitor,,,,you just supinated your forearm.

conversely, if you turn your palms backward (knuckles facing the monitor), you pronated.

now, try to assume a bowing position in the air from the palm facing thigh position, you will realize that the "neutral" position, more or less, will do.

but, as you air bow toward the tip/frog, you will realize that your forearm does a little rotation, one way or another, in terms of a little pronation and a little supination, the reason for which is that all those dynamics allow your bow to maintain optimal contact with the strings,,,

that is all. besides knowing that our elbow can help push and pull a door, it can also turn the door knob one way or another. one can learn violin perfectly well without knowing anything about pronation/supination. the body just does it naturally if you allow it. those terms simply come in handy for communication.

January 21, 2008 at 06:45 PM · T netz:

What is your physical makeup? Are you fairly skinny or does your arm have a bit of weight? I very much think (and have observed) that this changes how one uses the hand.

January 21, 2008 at 07:59 PM · Thanks again Al, that helps!

Pieter, no fat arm. Let's use the term 'lean'.

January 21, 2008 at 09:19 PM · Ok then, so your weight has to come from somewhere else; some muscle energy.

I think people overuse the index and the problem with that is that you don't get an even distribution of contact. You're right to focus more on the thumb and ring finger. That's how you channel the weight of your arm, which is probably almost enough. Now you just need to use a bit more weight from your index.

January 22, 2008 at 01:56 PM · Tnet,

I think the index finger also keeps the hand from collapsing into a more pronated position prematurely in the down bow. Try playing a down bow from the frog to approx the middle of the bow without the index. Notice that the hand wants to turn or collapse at the wrist and the base joint of the index and that it's hard to keep it from doing that without the index. Now, go back and do the same thing WITH the index and see how it supports the hand (and weight of the arm).

Incidentally, practicing a little without the index (just a little as an excercise) will help you understand the role of the middle finger and palm in keeping the shape of the hand. Once you put the index back on, you'll find it doesn't have as much work to do because the other fingers and palm are doing their jobs. This isn't to say that you should resist pronation, just that to properly "inject" the weight of the arm, you can't have the hand collapse around the base joint of the index or at the wrist.

Buri, I like your use of the word 'inject' and am stealing it. You can keep your prunes though.


January 22, 2008 at 04:43 PM · Also, I really think that explanations are less helpful at this level than demonstration, so make your teacher demonstrate as much as possible and talk as little as possible! Don't worry so much about WHY something works, just see if you can copy it. You'll avoid some real blind alleys this way.

January 22, 2008 at 05:34 PM · yea sometimes it's just better to do what works and understand it later.

January 23, 2008 at 11:47 PM · Forearm pronation!!! That's it! And talking about doing things and then understanding.. That's my thing. I get loosened up like in orchestras, and then, back home, next day, I don't know how to reproduce it. I think it was that ####### forearm pronation missing. Why nobody ever talked to me about that?? Thanks... (sorry for off topic)

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