Beginner's Bow Hold for a 5 Year Old

April 18, 2008 at 04:03 PM · I have a question regarding the proper introduction of form ( e.g. bow hold, violin hold, posture) to my son, Matthew, who is 5 years old. So far he has taken five lessons with a teacher using Suzuki. I practice with Matthew everyday for about 15 minutes and he can now play the A,E,F#,E of Twinkle and is working on the D,C#,A part. Matthew's teacher is an older lady who seems to had a lot of experience teaching violin to children BUT I'm concerned that the teacher is not stressing proper form, in particular the bow hold.

Perhaps I'm biased because when I was Matthew's age, my teacher (who also taught Suzuki) would not even let me use the bow on the violin until I had learned the Franco-Belgian bow hold. Per instructions from his teacher, Matthew is using the beginner's bow hold. When I asked about this, the teacher replied that beginner's bow hold promoted a relaxed bow hand and prevented the bad habit of tightly gripping the bow. Furthermore, she said that she teaches Franco-Belgian bow hold only after completion of Suzuki book 1. The teacher herself uses a beginner's bow hold during lessons! I accepted her explanation but am still concerned because she does not correct Matthew's when he is obviously not using the correct beginner's hold. Nor does she correct Matthew when his bow strokes are crooked. Here are my questions:

1) Should I be concerned that the teacher is not stressing proper form after five lessons?

2) The teacher says she teaches proper form "along the way," She is more concerned with getting her beginning pupils to play songs and generating interest. How many more lessons should Matthew take before I become concerned that Matthew is not learning proper form?

3) Isn't the beginner's bow hold reserved for very young kids? Should a five year old avoid the beginner's bow and immediately learn the adult bow hold?

Replies (22)

April 18, 2008 at 08:14 PM · I started studying violin at age six, using a modified Suzuki approach, and was taught using the beginner's grip through somewhere around the end of Book 2, as I recall. I agree with your teacher's suggestion that it's better to get the child focused on music making and a relaxed bow arm than to get going right away with a more sophisticated bow grip. By the time I switched grips, I was comfortable with the other aspects of playing the violin (at that level), and I could focus on the bow without damaging progress I had made in other areas.

I'm even more firmly convinced of this position by my experiences of working with my seven-year old son, who I'm trying to get oriented to the violin. He's having a lot of trouble putting all the pieces together, and I have no doubt that an adult bow grip would be the last straw for him. A simpler grip helps him draw a good strong sound and frees me up to focus on upper and lower bow arm geometry and overall posture. We'll get there when it feels right to get there.

April 18, 2008 at 09:02 PM · Hi Anthony,

For what it's worth, my son has just turned 10, he's not done Suzuki but traditional learning, but was allowed to use a bow hold whereby the thumb is underneath the frog (is that what you mean by beginner's bow hold?). He's been learning for about 18 months, and only now has his teacher begun to insist he hold the bow the proper way. His bow hold was extremely relaxed and his sound good. It took a couple of lessons (partly due to resistance from him) but he's now got it no problem. In fact, I'm wondering about 'going backwards' and trying that bow hold to learn to keep my middle fingers on the frog as they still keep riding up!

I would encourage you to trust the teacher. It's far more important that your son gets comfortable and enjoys playing. It doesn't seem that hard to switch when the time comes.

April 19, 2008 at 03:23 AM · I'm with your child's teacher on this one.

Both my sons started with an outside bow hold (beginner's bow hold). The teacher transitioned them to an inside bow hold when she felt they were ready. I can't remember how long they had been playing when she switched them, but I do remember it was no trouble for them at all to learn the Franco-Belgian bow hold. Curiously, I saw Mark O'Connor play a couple of years ago, and I noticed that he uses an outside bow hold.

I think you should trust your teacher and be patient. There is a very tricky balance between encouraging musical fluency and encouraging exactness in set-up. At the beginning you have to let some things go while gently shaping others. Eventually it will all come together.

Just a word of caution: Even though you play the violin, you must leave all constructive criticism to the teacher. This is unless she gives you specific instructions to look for and correct a particular habit. Otherwise your role is to be supportive and enthusiastic and to follow the teacher's instructions carefully. This is important because it allows your child to take ownership over his learning of the violin.

April 20, 2008 at 12:22 AM · Wow. Some very good responses. I'm happy to hear the experiences others have had with their children. I think I'll pull back a bit and let the teacher set the pace. I did tell my son that "he didn't have to play the violin." And that he could make up his own mind. He said he would like to keep playing and I guess have to attribute some part of his decision to his teacher.

April 20, 2008 at 02:55 PM · I also have my two sons in suzuki. One started at 4 with the beginner hold and the other started at 7.5 but has very long fingers and she decided to start him with traditional hold. I committed to this teacher from the very beginning and have trusted (as someone suggested you do). The results have been wonderful and although there are times I may want to try something differently, I force myself to stay the course with her approach. This works because I believe I have chosen an excellent teacher for them.

May 24, 2008 at 12:43 AM · As an update...after 10 weekes of lessons, I'm going to ditch my son's current teacher. She still hasn't addressed proper violin hold or bow hold. If I didn't correct my son, she would allow him to play with the violin almost infront of his chest instead of on his shoulder. I've tried my best to show my son a bow hold where all the fingers are directed at the screw but this teacher allows him not only to bow crooked but hold the bow with his index finger pointing up at the bow tip.

At $25.00 a lesson, I think I got robbed.

May 24, 2008 at 02:01 PM · I studied violin with only teachers from the Tchaikovsky Conservatory (Moscow) from the time I started until just recently for my masters degree in violin. I teach orchestra in middle school, and I have been teaching private lessons for 8 years. I start all of my students with the Russian or Franko-Belgian bow hold. I don't see any reason to teach one way, program a child's brain, and than change it up after they start to get the hang of things. I've never had a problem with my students bow holds, although I'm a very strict teacher, so I never let them play a note until their bow hold is correct.

May 24, 2008 at 04:23 PM · It sounds like that teacher had more serious issues beyond beginner bow hold vs proper bow hold.

FWIW I started violin at age 33 and used the beginner bow hold. My teacher switched it part way through Suzuki book 1. *shrug* I doubt I'd have continued if my teacher kept me on open strings for 6 months in order to learn a "proper" bow hold right off the bat.

May 26, 2008 at 08:52 AM · Oh heck, at 33 you wouldn't need six months to get your bow fingers in the right place. My adult students spend a week of good concentration on it and pick it up just fine.

I teach the regular bow hold from the beginning, but I don't really see a problem with the transitional hold. I inherited a student once who was using it and switched him out of it. He went home and came back the next week having practiced all week with the new hold and moved along from there.

May 27, 2008 at 02:44 AM · Anthony, what you mean when you use the term "beginner bow hold?" You mean holding thumb on the frog, not on the stick? If so, it is not a big deal. It helps a lot to form correct bow hold and, what is very important, avoids unwanted tension in the place where thumb "meets" with point finger. For how long it takes it doesn't matter. It is better to be patient until your child is comletely ready to switch thumb hold. But teacher should pay constant attention to bow hold and force student to improve all incorrect things right at the time when these things appear. If teacher just let it go doing something else, student starts getting "bad habits" in posture which are really difficult to improve later. And... why franco-belgian? In my studio, I prefer to work individually, keeping in mind hand's shape, lenth of fingers, phisical structure of whole body, etc. And in general, I'd rather prefer Galamian... though, as I wrote before, it depends... But indeed, bow hold should be under teacher's big and constant attention.

May 27, 2008 at 12:23 PM · What you call the "beginner bow hold" was actually the true french bow grip described in Michel Corrette's violin's method (around 1750) along with the italian bow grip similar to our bow grip (thumb touching the stick); I have never seen french violonists use this french method(even beginner) but some Gypsies or Roms playing in the subway adhere to this old method. I second Rita on choosing bow grip according to physical aptitude rather than so called school which represent a very short period compared to violin practice time

May 30, 2008 at 01:22 AM · I've been a violin teacher for a good 12 years now, and the only student I have taught to use "beginner" bow hold, was a student with a double jointed thumb. It was physically impossible for him to hold the bow any other way.

It is important for fingers to be relaxed and able to move, but to stay on the bow.

A book I switched to a few years ago was "Meet the Bow" by Shirley Givens. She dedicates a whole book to the bow. I have used it on my 'littlies' and adults alike. She makes reference to the bow being a ship, and all the fingers are sailors, and each have their own job to do.

On another note, when you mentioned your son's teacher would let him have his violin around in front of him... I teach my students to have their violins around almost directly in front of them, one foot in front of the other, and their bowing arm at a right angle, as it keep the bow straight. It won't slide around between the fingerboard and bridge as much, therefore obtaining clarity in tone.

Then again... I guess it's an individual choice about what's comfortable for you.

Good luck :)

May 30, 2008 at 05:08 AM · Greetings,

just to add a little to what Dianna said. `Meet The Bow@ is actually part of a series of books called `Adverntures in Violinland` which I think are the most systemtaic, enjoyable and just palin brilliant teaching books for kids ever written. Apart from that I have no opinion on them.

Cheers,

Buri

June 1, 2008 at 03:41 PM · YOU MUST TRUST THE TEACHER! Or get a different one!

The teacher has the experience of teaching many different people. She/He knows the tradeoffs of perfecting left and right-hand posture vs. other factors that are very important in teaching and learning.

When I first started teaching, I was very serious about assuring proper bow and violin holds in my students. But too much early concentration on these can discourage young children very quickly.

Many "fiddlers" have atrocious left and right hand postures - some can't even get theiir pinky finger on to the string; higher positions are out of the question, but they manage to play what they can and have fun doing it.

The problems of teachers are many. If the teacher allows students to be sloppy early, the day eventually comes when things have to be corrected. This may be easier than fixing them early, or it may not. The teacher needs to predict how far to let things go. The alternatives can be a potentially capable students who quit too early or those whose bad habits plague them for life.

Personally, I now teach using the Suzuki books, but not the Suzuki method (in which I was noot trained). However, I have personally seen woderful professional violinists come out of Suzuki programs (including Anne Akiko Meyers).

The real talents appear pretty early. The wise Suzuiki teacher knows when to pass the students on to more conventional pedagogy for more rigorous training.

Andy

June 1, 2008 at 09:49 PM · I have experience teaching young children, and it is especially difficult to teach the advanced bow hold because most children lack fine motor skills - this is why young beginners often use the beginning bow grip. I move my students to the advanced bow grip once they are comfortable with the basic bow strokes and can maintain straight bows.

As far as the crooked bows go, just give it time. A teacher cannot fix all things at once, but rather should prioritize what needs to be fixed first. I can completely understand that your son's teacher wants to get him to be playing songs soon to maintain his interest in the instrument.

I hope this helps - best of luck.

Lauren

June 1, 2008 at 10:35 PM · Greetings,

Lauren, please could you qualify `young.` The youngest I start stduents is age six and I have no diofficulty with the regualr bow hold, or rather they don`t...

Cheer,s

Buri

June 2, 2008 at 05:51 AM · The term 'bow grip'gives to me the impression of some awful ,tense,unco-ordinated means of scraping the bow up and down the string. This is in itself enough reason to teach a proper 'bow hold ' right from the start.I think its also important to make chidren aware of thumb flexibilty right from the start which is difficult when positioned under the frog.Also the relationship between thumb and fingers is distorted as is the relationship between individual fingers.

June 2, 2008 at 09:13 AM · Give them some prunes, that should loosen things up.

K, I've had too much chocolate. Going to go back and hide now :)

*hides*

June 5, 2008 at 02:57 PM · I think Janet makes an excellent point there. My daughter learnt/used the regular bowhold at least from as early as 3 years 8 months old, maybe even earlier. That's the age that I remember she started playing with left hand fingering properly coordinated with bowing. She did start off very early by putting her thumb under the frog as in "the beginners hold".

June 5, 2008 at 02:26 PM · Anthony, I see we live in the same geographical area. If you are interested, write to me privately . I can give you some info about an excellent local teacher. He is amazing with young kids- starts as young as 4 yo. Since he taught the likes of sarah Chang he comes highly recommended. Michelle

June 6, 2008 at 11:25 AM · another update,

Matthew started with a new teacher yesterday. I can already tell that his new teacher is going to be much better. She actually sits on the floor at his level to see what he is doing with violin. She is also going to be using "Strictly Strings" which seems to have a very good introduction to note reading.

The new teacher actually said Matthew's form was not all that bad which puffed up my ego a bit because I always stressed proper bow hold, violin hold, and straight bowing.

Now we are going to transition to the adult bow hold.

August 24, 2009 at 11:26 PM ·

Nearly thirty years of private studio teaching, and I have learned that the bow hold is truly one the trickiest issues for a large majority of beginning strings students.  Even once learned, it is often the first skill to go out the window when the mind if busy working on another concept.

Dr. Suzuki adopted the thumb on the bottom bow hold for the very short thumbs of  his beginning students, who were still practically toddlers.  Putting the thumb on the bottom affords such a young hand a little more leverage. However, my students often became confused when the thumb transitioned to the customary spot.

My beginning students, whether they are 3 years old or adults, no longer have issues with their bow holds.  I start them with the Bow Hold Buddies[tm] bow hold accessory [yes, I am the inventor, but I invented it to help my own students].  This shapes and stabilizes their bow hold without any fuss.  I have them continue to use the accessory throughout the first method book [I use Suzuki], which has been going faster because I am no longer devoting all those lesson minutes to the bow hold.  By the second book most of these students are now just using the Hold Fish[tm] pinky support part of the two piece Bow Hold Buddies[tm] accessory set.

Last September, I also used the Bow Hold Buddies[tm] accessories with my intermediate students who were having bow hold issues, such as a thumb that would not stay flexed.  Most started transitioning away from the thumb support part of the accessory [which I call the Frog Frog]  after Christmas.  It is now April and all these students just passed their ASTA CAP exams with wonderful bow holds!

Ruth Brons
Inventor of
Bow Hold Buddies[tm] Instant Bow Hold bow accessory
 

 
 
 

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