bow arm height and its implications,,,

March 6, 2009 at 04:04 PM ·

a poster on youtube raised this issue. 

on this issue has been discussed in the past, on the link between high bow arm and rotator cuff injury.  when i read into it more, there seems to be other factors at play as well.  for instance, besides a "pure" injury from violin playing overuse ( which may not be easy to pin down if you have lived your lives fully for 50-60 years), there are many cases of preexisting shoulder problems, from degeneration to trauma that are aggrevated by continued violin bowing.  further, studies have shown that some individuals have pre-existing more hooked bony acromion process which tends to impinge on the rotator cuff tendon in a more threatening way.

with my kid, actually her current teacher has made the point of asking her to raise her arm more---gasp:).  i have always wondered about this, but since i am nobody, it is almost pointless to challenge the teacher's wisdom, which, paradoxically,  i happen to do quite well, if not too often, on  then, with laurie's interview with mr ehnes, there is a mention of maintaining an individual's physical style, if i am not mistaken, and that some teachers are more liberal to go along with the students' tendencies which may not be the "norm", as long as,,,

my kid currently has no pains or sores anywhere, except perhaps headaches when daddy suggests it is time to practice instead of watching spongebob.   how would you approach this going forward, considering the teacher is for the higher arm and the anecdotes and literature suggest higher risk and that in the field of violin players,  there is a gamut of bow arm levels, even among the greats?   one thing to bear in mind is that she has been playing golf intensely for some time, so her shoulder and arm muscles are probably more developed than average.  i have wondered that perhaps her higher level of physical reserve may allow her to do questionable things on the violin without much symptoms.  imo, in terms of risk of physical injury, esp to the rotator cuff, i think golf is much more dangerous, especially at her swing speed.   so how do we live dangerously in a safer way?


March 6, 2009 at 07:45 PM ·

What's unclear in your question is I'm not sure to which part of the arm you are referring to.  Shouder?  Elbow?  Wrist?  From watching the video I would say nothing looks out of place to me, but here is something to consider though take it with a grain of salt because every teacher will tell you something different:

The elbows are very important in both arms because they transport you from string to string.  While pressing the G string down the forearm should be point down vertically and no you should not be able to see your elbow (wanna talk about injuries down the line...).  As you move your fingers to the D string the elbow moves to the left, and further left when moving to the A string, and even further on the E string.  The right arm does the same thing only vertically.  Elbow high on the G string, bring it down like a teeter totter to the D, further down for the A, further down for the E.  In both hands the fore arm and wrists maintain their comfortable natural shape.

March 6, 2009 at 07:56 PM ·

There are exercises to strengthen the rotator cuff. Maybe it would be smart to start doing them now to prevent injuries down the road. My RC problems sort of went away after starting the exercises.

March 6, 2009 at 08:21 PM ·

marina, good point on the left elbow.  your statement on G string is enlightening.  as i tried it myself in air, i realize that in order to maintain the elbow "down" instead of coming or crossing over, my hand/wrist shape needs to be better.  good deal, thanks! :)   agree that the twisting motion with left upper limb can potentially cause problems as you say.

may be i am being critical, but to my eyes her right, bow arm (thus more shoulder abduction/opening/flying like a bird) is higher than necessary.    think of rabin/szeryng, not saying they are wrong or right, but the elbow/arm is higher due to higher shoulder abduction.    in other words, it is like using a A string bow arm to play E string, or something like that:)   i guess the concern is that with some people, it may trigger an onset or an earlier onset of rotator cuff issues.  the other concern that i have read or heard is that if the upper limb is too "high", sound generation may be different, as if you have to push down on the string, instead of pulling or drawing the bow.  i am not sure if i got that right:)

ray, good point, i think violinists should do them daily.   you people are like prof wrestlers, minus sky dives and chairs:)

March 6, 2009 at 08:38 PM ·

Her arm looked ok to me. I think it's a bigger problem to have a lower arm. Having a slightly higher arm can help suspend the wrist for spicatto. 

March 6, 2009 at 10:05 PM ·

Here's my opinion and experience, Al.  I think it's great that your daughter started violin so young and that her teacher is urging her to have a high bow arm.  I actually think that will prevent her from having injuries in the future because her muscles are very used to such a position and have been for a long time. 

My son's teacher loves and wants as high a bow arm as one can get (and used to tell the story of a beautiful violinist whose elbow was so high, it basically blocked her face; to him, this is success)  Unfortunately for my son, not only did he start later than some (6 1/2), he also was very lazy and his bow arm never, never, never was high at all.  When he came to his new teacher about 1 1/2 years ago, his teacher was distressed (and still is) by his low arm.  My son tried over the course of the year to bring it up, but with limited success.  He has experienced some pain in his shoulder and in November, saw an orthopaedist who explained that my son has some sort of condition that causes the rotator cuff to rub something, causing pain.  He went through 6 sessions of therapy and at this time, is pain free. (I might also add he is a baseball pitcher but we believe the pain is mostly or all from playing violin).  His teacher's expectations of his bow arm have lowered (sorry for the pun!), though in every lesson he stands by my son's arm and pushes it up.  I doubt he will ever have a beautiful bow arm but if he can get it reasonably high on the low strings, that is success for him.

So, if your daughter can play with her arm that high (as I see most young children are able to do because of the flexibility that young children generally have) without pain, I wouldn't change a thing!

March 6, 2009 at 10:19 PM ·

It's a bit higher than Zukerman's, but not too much; I'm sure the style will "close in" as she develops techniques like colle to give a more "Galamian" look.

March 6, 2009 at 10:52 PM ·

Her bow arm doesn't look unusually high to me.  Maybe in the upper part of the bow it's a little higher than ideal...

The bow arm should be high enough that there's almost a straight line through the forearm and the wrist through the index finger without having to do anything weird with the bow hold (like let the pinkey and third finger let go or something).  If your daughter doesn't shrug her shoulder or unnaturally force the shoulder down when she plays (lifting the elbow in the most natural way possible) I think it shouldn't be a  problem.  Practicing rapid detace at the frog (really at the frog, under the winding of the bow) should only be possible with the right height of the bow arm and all of the joints from the shoulder all the way to the fingers relaxed so it might be something you consider having her do.  Practicing it at the tip requires opening up the elbow which is difficult if it's too high.

If you watch these two on the G string their elbow is quite high, but no higher or lower than necessary to create a good tone without pressing.  Also they played right into old age...

Anyway if you trust commentors on Youtube over your daughter's teacher I think that might be something to think about. 

March 6, 2009 at 11:51 PM ·

A too high bow arm can affect projection and crisp the arm but who am I to tell that it is incorect??? Ask to another violinist you trust that also knows your daughter.  In general, the teachers always make war with their students because their arm is too high :)


March 7, 2009 at 12:54 AM ·

Check out this video of Itzhak Perlman.  It is remarkable what he does with the fingers on his right hand.  I'm sure he's not even concious of the minute movements he is making.  But his bow arm is quite high, holding the bow with just his fingertips at some points, similar to your daughter.  (make sure you watch after about 2 minutes, the camera zooms in for a really good look at his right hand).

Of course, just because Perlman does it, does not mean it is correct, or the easiest way to play the instrument.  You always have to be careful when comparing yourself to pure genius.

March 7, 2009 at 03:20 AM ·

Just my unprofessional opinion here - "the kid" sounds great, looks great, and it's such a treat to see her progress through the years. Really, it's a thrill. You must be so tickled, Al. 

March 7, 2009 at 03:37 AM ·


al there`s no problem I can see. The importnat thing is the relationship between upper arm and stick.  Watch Herifetz playing the Mozart Rondo. The parlellsim is absolutely flawless.

The dangerous thing is when one over pronates and starts twising the right elbow up. That will caus wereal shoulder problems.

The artifically raised upper arm to inject ore powe rinto the string is generally held to be best used sparingly.   Some players who over used it run/ran into difficulties. 



March 7, 2009 at 04:25 AM ·

Al, several things.. First-I like the way her head and neck are positioned on the violin- she does not look like she's twisted or turned the neck into an uncomfortable angle-it's super important she keeps this loose relaxed position- it will make everything easier for her Second, I  don't think her bow arm is too high however, it would be great if she could do more of what she does 8 seconds into the piece when she plays the D ( on the A string) and E-flat  ( on the D string) together- her knuckles collapse and there is a pliability in the hand that would make the rest of her motions have a smoothness and ease of connection they don't yet quite have. Thirdly, to get this collapsible pliable hand, try reverse thinking- instead of feeling like you are sinking your curved fingers deeper into the bow and flattening the knuckles of the right hand in the process, try feeling as if a magnet exists in the underside of the fingers of the right hand which draws the bow up to them and that those fingers themselves curve as they feel pulled  towards a magnetic ceiling to which they become magnetized. This is just an image- it's not intended to make you force a frozen curved position of the fingers or thumb but I have found it to be very useful for developing a deep smooth sound in bow changes at the frog and for flexibility in spiccato and and string crossings in the lower part of the bow, an area which many violinists shy away from for fear of crunching or losing control over.

March 7, 2009 at 12:45 PM ·


"Ask to another violinist you trust that also knows your daughter. "  that will be me then, just kidding.

"In general, the teachers always make war with their students because their arm is too high :)" or too low:)

smiley, thanks for that link,,,one thing i find perlman differently amazing is that the world spins around on  just couple fingers!  at least his setup allows his wrist to do so much more,  something i think scott may agree.

rebecca, i wonder why your son's teacher insisted on higher and higher,,,my biggest concern, the reason for this thread, is that if a better sounding position is desired, i just want to be sure it is physically not too risky since serious violinists over their lifetime probably do more bow strokes than breathing.  the cumulative effect, if undesirable to the body, can be insidious and often symptomatic when it is rather late. does your son also pitch baseball with that arm?   may be ray can share with us specifically what he does to maintain his rotator cuff...

jim, joseph, buri, ron: thanks for the eval and tech suggestions.  i think there is probably a consensus that the wrist in this case plays a role on how the arm tracks.  from prior videos i have received feedback that the bow transition under the frog needs a lot of work, as clearly reiterated by ron this time.  we have tried to do some colle under the frog daily and already seen some loosing or collapsing of the knuckles at will, during practice.  however, apparently this  awareness is still sporadic-- still an inner struggle between letting it doing its thing naturally and grabbing it tight or the bow will fly away.  we will give ron's suggestion a good try,  reorienting what is considered the baseline position,,, interesting concept.  i often joke with my kid that if i have to judge how advanced a violinist is in couple seconds, without even listening to the sound,  i would look at the flick at the frog,  the moment of truth:) 

terez,  it has been an interesting journey, one that is not necessarily unique to music and probably applies to everyone.   we, including herself, don't think she has the mental refineness to pursue music on a high intellectual level nor the extrovertness to live on stage.  what violin has done for her i think is some basic but  valuable stuff.   on one hand, say, we work on intonation; on the other, the process of repeatedly trying to reach for that correct tone perhaps has a bigger impact on her,,,learning about patience, not taking the oh tempting shortcuts , experiencing  the simple but tedious process of recognizing shortcomings and correcting them, one by one.  in the long run, i think this process,  way of thinking/doing, will help shape her as a person. imo, each student (of life?:) comes with a rather permanent set of merits and issues.  with teaching and learning, we try to erase, dilute, weaken, enlighten, instill, strenghten, etc but shades and remnants remain.  with a consistent approach/attitude, hopefully we learn to manage in this struggle:).  the good  part of employing classical music in this process is that the benefit can hardly be measured in how we play.  rather, it is the deep connection between the music and the individual that makes classical music unfairly enticing.     it is so cool.

March 7, 2009 at 02:10 PM ·

 Al, really enjoyed your response (in regards to my comment) above. Very wise, astute, and carries a great universal message. Hope a lot of young (heck, the older ones too) v.commies take the time to read it.

March 7, 2009 at 02:50 PM ·

The question about arm height brings an important pedagogy principal to mind.  I especially like ways of studying or practicing which lead the student to find how to do something himself, without the teacher directly telling him what to do. One such little study which I've often used, has to do with the opening and closing of the right elbow participating in the drawing of the bow across the string.  It's a little experiment that takes the form of "Goldilocks and the Three Bears":

Draw a whole bow downbow on the D string, with elbow as low as you can possibly place it. Feel how restricted and awkward the whole bow is.  The forearm will move like a windshield wiper as the stroke is drawn.  Next draw a whole bow downbow with the elbow as high as you can possibly place it.  Again, the movement is very restricted and awkward; this time because one has to literally twist one's own arm to draw the bow across the string!  Next find an elbow height between these two extremes, focusing attention on feeling the free movement of elbow opening to participate in the stroke.  The violinist who studies this little exercise will be sensitized to seek out, and vary,  the elbow height according to the sensations of free and easy movement.

The ease with which the elbow joint participates in drawing the bow is an important criterion for determining the elbow height from moment to moment, and on each of the strings.  The too low elbow, too high elbow, just right elbow allows the student to make a good choice based on the experiment suggested by his teacher, rather than on doing what he is told to do.  This makes for better learning, because the action comes from a choice made by the student, rather than from compliance with an external suggestion.

March 7, 2009 at 03:08 PM ·

If I may list another exercise next to Oliver's very interesting one, Roger Raphael gets his students to put the bow on the string at the tip, hold it with the LH under the belly (or the teacher may hold it), then slide the hand up the bow until you are "playing at the heel" holding the tip of the bow.

March 7, 2009 at 08:36 PM ·

I was trained originally (70 years ago) with a different bow hold than is common today and with a low elbow - you know "hold a book under your right armpit while playing" kind of thing?

Many (30) years later when wondering why I was so adept at spiccato /sautille when playing cello and so miserable at it on violin I had an "epiphanous" moment when I realized how much easier it was on the cello because all the mass and strength of my right arm was above the bow - and it was difficult on violin because the reverse was true, mass and strength below the bow.

I undertook to change my bow hold to a more modern one (Galamian, Berkley, and others) and completed the transformation quite well in about a month. The result places the bow enough lower relative to my arm (i.e., the arm is higher) that many of the bowing strokes are more easily played. (The problem of continuing to play what I had to play during that month of transformation remains a lesson in perseverance.)

Perhaps this is one of the reasons for holding the bow in this acceptable way - better control!


March 7, 2009 at 08:49 PM ·


Here are 2 students of my son's teacher from about a year ago playing the same piece (and you can scroll through the pieces, obviously). The first is my son.  You can see how very low his arm is and why his teacher would want it higher.  It restricts the freedom and finesse in his playing and his teacher said people won't necessarily take him serious as a musician.  Someone commented to this teacher that they thought my son was a great player (parent of a beginner, no doubt) and his teacher said if he didn't have to watch my son, he might think so.  The second boy, particularly later in the piece, clearly is able to keep his arm up higher more often and it seems to free him up more.

Here's one more just so you can see what his teacher's goal really is.  It looks very similar to your daughter's arm:  I like it.

Yes, my son is a righty pitcher.  He is also a good bowler-all with the right arm.   Personally, I wish he was not a pitcher at all but since this may be his last year, I'm letting it go.

I'd love to hear what Ray does, as well.  My son's exercises were very different from mine (we were both going through physical therapy for shoulder injuries at the same time).  My son feels fine now but I'm still hurtin'.  Heck, I'm just old!


March 7, 2009 at 11:31 PM ·

If you wish to check bow arm height for an individual string, without the bow in hand pizzicatto a couple of notes on a string. In fact you only need to just touch the string. Your arm will naturally assume the proper height to accomplish this. Then just hold the bow, pizz., a couple of notes. If arm level is drastically different from not holding the bow, then your arm level is incorrect. Try to recreate the arm level you had without the bow.

To make the point more obvious, I would suggest you experiment, without the violin in scratching your knee, touching your shoulder, picking your nose :), etc. You will notice that your arm height is different for each of these various activities and the arm will naturally go to the most efficient level.

For instance, if you scratch furiously at the knee and with intensity, you will notice that your arm level will go up. (For the teachers of knee scratching, this is called pronation).

What we are after in violin playing is touching the string, through the bow in order to make the string do what we want it to do.

March 8, 2009 at 02:21 AM ·

oliver/jim, actually tried your suggestions today.  quite interesting and educational.  i think this goes along with my reason for the exposure, to be aware and exposed to many angles and perspectives for a better understanding of something.  (oliver, i meant to say thanks earlier but never got to it: one time you gave an analogy that the crispness and cleanness of a fast passage is like scraping a stick against railings.  we actually tried is memorable! :)

rebecca, saw those clips and understand what you mean.  handsome dude!  what andrew said is interesting, that the transition has afforded him better tech, something your son may want to keep in mind.  with my daughters in golf, i appreciate that changes are so much easier if they themselves come to the realization that the changes are needed:)

bruce, i am scratching my head trying to figure out the scratching knee but  i think i know what you mean:).  besides pronation, which essentially is a forearm motion, from elbow to wrist, another component of pertinence is shoulder internal rotation.   hawkin's test,  a maneuver that clinicians use to test for rotator cuff impingement, is actually quite similar spatially to a bow arm in motion with an elevated elbow.  look at  FIGURE 6 in this link.

March 9, 2009 at 03:04 AM ·


>If I may list another exercise next to Oliver's very interesting one, Roger Raphael gets his students to put the bow on the string at the tip, hold it with the LH under the belly (or the teacher may hold it), then slide the hand up the bow until you are "playing at the heel" holding the tip of the bow.

Jim, I use this exercise a lot.  Its a classic.  You can jsut rest the screw of the bow on a music stand.




March 9, 2009 at 03:15 AM ·



>it's not intended to make you force a frozen curved position of the fingers or thumb but I have found it to be very useful for developing a deep smooth sound in bow changes at the frog

This is an area of bowing that I find fascinating!   I studied with a stduent of Sammons and he told me the master often exclaimed `master the heel and you have mastered the bow.`   I wa smade to practice the finger action exercise relentlessly when I was at college,  being told that `like a paintbrush,  the bow arm cvhanges direction while the fingers carry on the same way to make a smooth chnage.`  I never quite got a smooth change this way and later on read of Delay saying `it doesn`t matter how well you do it,  if you use the fingers at the hell you will gert a gulp.`

This wa sa relief but I went though a couple more stages.... The first was the recognition that you could do a bow change any which wya you pleas ea slong as the bow speed remained constant.   The second thing i elanrt much later was passed down through an Oistrakh student who queried this issue.  Oistrakh reportedly said that whatever one did it was crucial that it happened after the bow changed direction.   That wa sa revelation to me and completely illuminated what i had struggled for so desperately at college where the explanation had always suggested to me that ther fingers started the action and then the arm changed direction. The other factor Oistrakh recommend was a deliberate sense of lightening and freeing in the should after the change took place.  



March 10, 2009 at 04:07 AM ·

(Buri typing fast) ... Delay saying `it doesn`t matter how well you do it,  if you use the fingers at the hell you will gert a gulp.`

Buri, can you repeat the last phrase, and perhaps expand on what she meant?  I greatly enjoy your post but I cannot make out the last few words.  Thanks.

March 10, 2009 at 04:16 AM ·


it should read if you use the fingers at the heel you will get a gulp;)   What sh was saying ,  I think ,  was that it is really incredibly difficult to suddenly switch from the bow being moved by the upper arm to the bow beng moved by the fingers while the arm changes direction.  The speed or contact or whatever will change it there will be an audible noise.  My own experience was that as I tried to do this the finger action speeded up the bow slightly.  here are other ways of makig inaudible bow changes.   Making the note prior to the change extremely resonat and the new direction lghter is worth playing with.




March 11, 2009 at 01:15 AM ·

As I understand it and teach it, the upper arm actually falls a bit before the bow change toward the frog. As this happens the fingers gather the bow ( this is also part of the supination process)  and after the bow change the wrist is free to drop. If one bends or pushes the wrist down at the same time the fingers are moving, there will be a gulp as you say Delay describes. Perhaps  this arm movement preceding the wrist movement is also in line with Oistrakh's idea of these things not all happening before the change of bow at one time.  I am applying this  when a deep or medium sound is required in the bow change. Of course, if one wishes to have the lightest  sound, a suspended arm weight with hardly any finger or wrist action will keep the sound very light and soft at the frog. In either case, I am certainly not advocating a stiff position or a sudden movement that causes the bow to speed up before the change. I have noticed this tends to happen when players rely too much on finger and wrist motion without supporting weight and balance from the arm. I think because one sees the hand and fingers on the bow, it is easy to forget that there is a big support system behind all that starting with one's balanced standing position from the arch in the feet on up through the stability of the hips and the spinal column throught the balanced position of one's neck and head to the muscles of the shoulder blade and the arms. This too is not a frozen thing since we are always adjusting our balance depending on the direction we move in from one moment to the next.

 I saw a very interesting movie recently starring the actor Anthony Hopkins in the role of motorcyclist Burt Munroe, in which he mentions that past a certain speed the motorcycle would wobble and become unstable and it was necessary to lift  his head out of its prone position to adjust the balance. It got me to thinking once again how different all these things we do on the violin feel if our head and neck and the support system down through the spine, hips, legs, and feet are misaligned or shift incorrectly when making the bowing and left hand movements on the violin.



March 11, 2009 at 02:08 AM ·




>It got me to thinking once again how different all these things we do on the violin feel if our head and neck and the support system down through the spine, hips, legs, and feet are misaligned or shift incorrectly when making the bowing and left hand movements on the violin.

That would describe AT quite well;)   Its interesting that the person people often talk about most in terms of perfection (Heifetz) appears in a huge number of books on Alexander Technique.  A more modern excellent role might be the cellist Janos Starker.




March 11, 2009 at 06:16 AM ·

Hi Buri, 

"...if you use the fingers at the heel you will get a gulp..."

The 'gulp' is a function of balance (or lack thereof) rather than the incorporation of finger motion in playing at the frog. 

Specifically, balance must occur about the thumb-and-middle-finger (the loop) along two planes for there to be a smooth transition through the fingers.

1. Vertical Plane: on an up bow, as you approach the heel, the pinky must counter balance the weight of the bow.  During the transition to down bow, to aid the pinky, it helps to feel a clockwise twisting motion with the thumb and second finger, i.e. without sliding along the stick, the thumb pushes toward the tip along the stick as the middle finger curls and pushes toward the heel along the stick.  Fingers 2, 3, 4 help counterbalance the weight of the bow with the thumb.  The 1st finger 'flips', opens and points toward the tip during the transition so that it neither presses nor hooks (curls) into the stick.  If more density is required, weight is applied to the stick through the middle fingers.  Note that without the 'flip' or release, i.e. if f1 actively curls with the other fingers, there is a uniform pressing motion as all the base-knuckles collapse or sink, or the activity of f1 pronates the hand, causing a sudden pressure change during the transition.  In other words, it is crucial to pivot the fingers about the loop to maintain even pressure during the bow change.  It is not necessary to actually point f1, but it helps to remember to keep the function of f1 independant of the other fingers.

2. Horizontal Plane: if f1 is allowed to open and flip open properly, the fingers can also pivot perpendicularly (or tangentially) across the stick about the loop. I.e. the axis of the base-knuckles will change as the pinky curls and f1 points, from an axis with base-knuckles of f1 closer and pinky further from the stick, to an axis with base-knuckles of f1 further and pinky closer to the stick.  This change in axis relative to the stick allows the fingers/wrist to unfold horizontally without upsetting the transfer of weight from the arm.  Of course for all this to work, the wrist and elbow must both open in coordination with the hand on the down bow, and close on an up bow, and as Ronald mentions, the bow must ultimately be balanced from the arm.

Also all of this presupposes a certain way of holding, balancing, and handling the bow.  The 'gulps' and bumps occur if that is what one does with the fingers; smooth bow changes occur if that is what the fingers create.

I am by no means suggesting this to be the only way to create a smooth bow change within a given context, but it is perhaps the most fluid way, if that is what is required.  A much simpler 'rule' to bow changes is to remember to follow the curve.  This is true no matter how one holds the bow and whether one employs the fingers or not.  I.e. to create a smooth change, keep the tip of the bow high as you approach the heel; follow the curve of the bow.  To create an accent, keep the tip of the bow low as you approach the heel; follow the curve of the bridge. 



Al, your daughter has improved so much!  It's a shame to put the piece 'to rest' so to speak when she's doing so well with it.

Is her teacher asking for a higher elbow on the G string?  That would make sense given her manner of holding the bow.  You'll notice that sometimes she loses density on the G string.  This happens because with her type of bow hold, the angle of the hand remains uniform with the angle of the arm.  Thus, to get density, the whole hand/arm has to be over the string so that the bow is tangential to the 'radius' of the string (draw line from where string sits on bridge to imaginary centre of the curve of the bridge; the bow must at least be perpendicular to this line, if not a bit tipped to the other side; this is true especially on the G-string, otherwise known as 'bowing in the c-bout', if you really want to 'dig in' on the G-string.)  When she loses density, she’s not quite getting over the G-string.  Sometimes she compensates with bow speed, getting a more balanced volume, but without consistent density.

At other times, it looks like she gets over the string when crossing to a lower string but suspends her lower arm and hand from the upper arm.  It's as if she crosses strings from the upper arm but fails to transfer its weight onto the lower (pitched) string which is 'higher' for the arm.  The upper arm is floating when it doesn't need to and is therefore higher than it needs to be.  The remedy for this is connected string cross exercises.  Start with slow bow speeds and an elbow which lags behind the string cross, i.e. reach for the string cross with the hand (but without breaking the wrist.)  Go from single string to double stop to single string, always moving in a gradual arc keeping an even density in sound.  Also practice lifting the weight of the upper arm onto the hand.  Gradually practice faster strokes, faster string crosses, with more activity from the upper arm, but only enough to transfer appropriate weight onto the next string.

It may be that when she plays with bow speed she can float the upper arm and get it 'high enough' (although unnecessarily high in this context), and when she wants to play with a heavy stroke she instinctively pulls, tightening under the armpit, impeding the arm from getting over the string enough.  It's hard to be precise from my memory of the video.  I could do a play by play if you'd like.

To avoid raising the arm so high, if that is her goal, change the level and or angle of the fiddle depending on context, e.g. lower the fiddle and/or rotate it to bring the G-string closer to the bow arm.  Others tend to keep the fiddle more forward all the time, although I don't think this is a good solution for people with long arms.  Lastly, change the bow technique altogether and learn how to pivot the bow within the hand as I mentioned above, although this may not be feasible for her.  

I don't think there's really a problem with your daughter's arm levels, especially if she's had no pain.  I've seen quite a few talented kids playing through pain aged 7 to 18 - not good.  Although my observations are by no means conclusive, from what I've seen the people in danger of shoulder injury have shorter arms, especially upper arms, relative to the width of the shoulders or to the size of the instrument.  People with narrow shoulders and long upper arms (like your daughter) tend not to develop shoulder issues.  My guess is that the problem occurs when the shoulders are pressed forward, and/or rolled forward, and held that way, and in particular, when both shoulders are pressed and/or rolled forward at the same time.  From what I understand, this causes the humeral head to move up and/or forward within the socket, tearing the labrum with repetitive motions.  To prevent this, make sure your daughter is aware of keeping the collar bone neutral and allows the shoulders blades to remain low and free to glide - make sure you can feel and see the blades move as she plays.

I could be wrong, but the shrugging motions, which your daughter does sometimes do, don't necessarily contribute to injury.  Again I'm guessing, but when the shoulder is raised by shrugging, the joint remains supported by the upper trapezius and the muscles of the rotator cuff.  Of course sustained raising of the shoulders could contribute to damage and headaches, etc., but she doesn't do that.  The shrugging will affect her sound and her nerves if she has difficulty with a severe adrenaline response to stress.  Tensing the traps can cause tremors in the bow when you’re nervous.  Also, it prevents sinking into the string, releasing weight onto the bow.  You'll notice that she'll shrug and keep shrugged through a sequence of difficult chords or a technical bowing passage - such tension could lead to chords not ringing or technical passages lacking fluidity.  Also there’s often a parallel response in the left shoulder leading to tension in left hand technique (and vice versa.)  A good exercise to make her aware of releasing the traps is to move the string (without making a sound) by releasing the shoulder.  Place bow near frog; apply sufficient weight so the bow won't move across the string; 'play' a down bow by releasing the trap, as if to elbow someone next to you; get someone to place a hand at the elbow and push it to the right with the elbow as you bend the string to the right at the same time; after feeling this release, play a heavy sustained down bow; lift bow back to the frog; repeat until the release is automatic and the preparatory motion is no longer necessary, until a heavy sustained down bow can by released immediately from the shoulder.  Do a similar exercise with chords; place, release, pull chord; repeat until preparation is not necessary to pull a chord, released from the shoulder.  Start with one chord at a time; two chords at a time; three, etc.

If you're still concerned, ask her teacher about bringing the fiddle to the bow as I mentioned before - playing the fiddle under the bow.  You'll notice that many great players who handle the bow in a similar manner to your daughter keep adjusting the fiddle and/or the body in coordination with the bow arm depending on what they're playing.  I'm not talking about the random gesticulations frequently seen, whether generated for visual effect or out of habit, but functional movements that aid in playing.  This freedom will also create a greater awareness of the quality of contact between the string and the hair of the bow, which in the end is all that really matters.  But keep in mind that everything will change as she grows; if it ain't broke...  I'd be concerned if things 'started to break' in her mid to late teens.

Hope this helps.



March 11, 2009 at 12:07 PM ·

JK, thank you for your time and interest as usual, and as usual there is so much to learn from your keen observations and thoughtful analyses, on bow height, string crossing, shoulder shrugging, and on bow pivot within hand/fingers at heel.  even though what you have written to buri is quite technical, i will try to run it by her.  that index finger "release" makes a lot of sense and i have always wondered about it ever since i first saw it on sarah chang.  to me, a good release does not necessarily mean the transition is seamless, which often is not necessary (in my moronic and audacious opinion:), but to provide both the end of the upbow and the beginning of the downbow control and character.  bring something to closure and let something else come into being.  it seems to my ears that if you fail to really catch the very very beginning of the downbow, it is gone and you cannot recatch it couple miliseconds later.  because of this, downbow pitch often comes out later than the corresponding, timely arm motion.  if this is done consistently throughout a piece,  it can give the impression that the entire rhythm structure is off and sluggish.  in fact, i often catch my kid doing that:)  i challenge her: yo, have some guts and show me you are prepared to do the downbow with anticipation and planning.  make some ugly noises. who cares!   we can build from there but you have to anticipate the pivot every single time! :)   you see, we drive each other crazy.

interesting stuff, really and thanks again.

March 11, 2009 at 08:37 PM ·


al,  it is not quite as technical as complex as it looks.  Its just a good description of a very simple thing.  One way to improve this control/balance  at the heel is the following .  First recognize that the primary function of the firts finger at the heel is to lateral sliding of the bow.Not much else.  Now,  Begin a down bow minus the first finger.  Ten cminto the stroke add the first finger to the stick lightly.   Now, as you mov down the bow gradually release the fingers starting with the fourth so you arrive at the point using only the first. Reverse this procedure on the up bow.

Another useful exercise is to play strokes in the lowe half using a cello bow hld in order to get the feeling of weight spread across the hand.

The abilty to balance the bow with the fourth and third finger should be taught from the beginnng of learning bowing,  but with care.  Too many exercises to `strengthen the pinkie (such as windscreen wipers) can cause damage to a young childs hand and forearm muscles.

Incidentally, the amount of pronation and supination in the bow stroke I use ha slessened considerably over the years.  I belive in a fairly flat hand  with probnation keptmor ein reserve for big attacks and articulation.  here in Jaapn excessive pronation and almost non existent balance at the heel is rather common.



March 12, 2009 at 12:48 PM ·

thanks buri for the addn comments.  by lateral sliding, do you mean in the axis of fingerboard to bridge?   some of the concepts in discussion require spatial orientation and consistent terminology that  some people may not be aware, esp a kid.

your mention of over-pronation with some players reminds me of this maddening dude:


March 12, 2009 at 08:53 PM ·


al that was a mysterious sentence I wrote.  Lateral sliding refrs to the bow sliding back and forth toward sand aways from the scroll.  One must be able to do this of course in order to change sound points.  Thus it is useful to practice lateral manipulation of the bow in which the fourth finger reaches forwarda and the first pulls in in and vice versa. The thumb,  as always, remains a fulcrum. 



March 20, 2009 at 04:24 PM ·

Hi Al,

Your opinions are never moronic, audacious maybe... But then perhaps one should never opine without a little audacity ;)  I meant to respond sooner, but rehearsing and work just got in the way :< Also, every time I start writing it just gets too long and wordy – there’s too much to discuss, too many variables, too many ways of accomplishing the same thing!  Sorry in advance for the verbiage.

You're absolutely right about seamlessness; it's actually only necessary when we run out of bow and need to use more bows than the music would indicate, sometimes because the composer doesn’t care about the limitations of the instrument, sometimes to stand out of the texture a little more – a useful tactic which seems to have fallen out of favour lately. Such seamless bow changes are best accomplished by focusing on following the curve of the bow, which involves control mostly from the arm with firm yet flexible fingers and a passive wrist.  Somehow when you see an artist execute a seamless bow change, e.g. in a cantilena passage, it can be quite breathtaking (not sure why that is exactly – maybe it’s just a string-geek thing.) 

That said, I think we’re presently more interested in smooth or fluid bow changes, as you said, with ‘control and character’, rather than a seamless change.  And from what you wrote, I think you’re interested in control at the frog in general.  Your instincts are good in suggesting to your daughter to just play crunchy for a while at the frog, until it feels comfortable just getting there with the arm, and then balancing the weight within the hand (pivoting or lifting) or taking weight away by lightening the hand, by ‘raising the arm’ – whether from the forearm or the whole arm.  And as you say, the success of the down bow depends wholly on the preparations made at the end of the up bow, to be precise, from the balance point of the bow (somewhere near the lower third) to the frog.

To master playing near the frog, we must organize for our brains this most basic of bow divisions.  It is more fundamental than half bows (which your daughter has mastered already), because we train our bow arm to distribute weight relative to it, leaning into the stick from the balance point to tip, counterbalancing from the balance point to frog, with the region around the balance point being 'neutral' so to speak, where the balanced weight of the bow creates a nice tone in and of itself without 'interference' from the arm.  (The next most important bow division is the point in the bow where the arm bends at 90 degrees, for this is the point at which our upper arms have swung back the furthest it should swing for a straight bow.)  These fundamental bow divisions must be constantly trained until we’ve grown, since our proportions change relative to our instruments; in other words, we must keep rewiring the brain map for these motions until their relations stabilize.

Once we confidently know where the balance point is, it’s just a matter of playing in that lower third repeatedly until the arm/hand has learnt its balance (of course there are many balances depending on which string(s) we’re playing, sound point and bow speed.)

But your daughter already has great bow control!  The improvement in her bowing, especially at the frog, is night and day from the last video.  She consistently finds a good sound point this time around; the strokes are cleaner, more confident and crisp.  There’s much more variety and she has much better control over the timing.  Sometimes she stiffens her fingers on impact, but most often compensates by softening her wrist to avoid crashing.  She has good instincts and seems to figure out a way to get what she wants (which suggests that she’s following an aural image in her inner ear/brain, and underscores the importance of cultivating and inspiring musical imagination for students in general.)

Couple of easy fixes: 1) To fix the shift she consistently misses at m. 33, practice and feel the guiding finger, especially when the guiding finger is not a written note – avoid jumping to the new position; rather slide the guiding finger along the surface of the string (true of all shifts) adjusting the finger pattern from old to new during the slide.  m. 33: 1st quarter pulse: Dm chord followed by Bflat, Gsharp sixteenths.  On the 2nd quarter pulse, place first finger on E on the D-string to act as a guiding finger, along with third finger on the E-string.  Slide first finger to G on the D-string, if shifting to 3rd position, or to the A on D-string if shifting to 4th position.  2) In the main subject simply release and use subsequently less bow for the two up bow sixteenths on the second half of the 3rd quarter pulse, so the height of the mini-phrase is at the last eighth note prior to the two sixteenths, i.e. the subject should build toward the middle of the measure and then come away (in general), since the 4th quarter pulse is weak.

Regarding what you said about bow changes at the frog:

 “it seems to my ears that if you fail to really catch the very very beginning of the downbow, it is gone and you cannot recatch it couple miliseconds later.  because of this, downbow pitch often comes out later than the corresponding, timely arm motion”

If I understand you correctly this has to do with coordination and/or timing.  On the one hand, if there is rigidity somewhere in the arm, i.e. if opposing muscles contract simultaneously, working against each other, there may be a moment of seizing-up resulting in lost sound before the offending muscle lets go and the proper muscle resumes it’s function.  This manner of muscle use is simply habitual (result of fear, possibly? fear of dropping the bow or crashing on the down bow?)  Simply releasing the active muscle instead of stopping it by engaging the opposing muscle may solve the problem, learning to coordinate the exchange between active muscle groups.  Of course the counterbalancing muscles must be prepared and engage for the bow change muscles to coordinate smoothly.

On the other hand, things may look fluid, like the arm should produce a smooth sound but it’s almost as if the ‘video’ has become out of sync with the sound.  Actually the hand/fingers have become too in sync with the arm.  This is the flipside of being too stiff but creates similar problems: lack of precision and lack of continuity in sound. 

On the surface, a player can look very flexible and fluid, but actually may be too loose so there is too much slack at the moment of bow change.  Or the wrist is extending or flexing at the precise moment the arm changes direction creating a slight moment where the bow is not moving.  Every motion of the arm and hand must coordinate to move the bow, whether across the string, along the string, into the air, or in preparation for the next stroke.  The only exception is in the hand, where opposing fingers (along the stick, or across the stick, never radially into the stick) can help to stabilize the bow, or make the hand more firm when necessary. 

I don’t remember seeing any hesitation in the latest video.  There was some ‘jumping the gun.’ But that has to do with developing inner pulse which will develop naturally for her.  Also, she will learn to simply take more time (distorting the metronomic pulse) between phrases and at cadence points, to breathe more.  The rest has to do with learning to feel really slow bows.

When we think of slow bows we usually associate it with slow tempo, but we shouldn't.  Slow bows need to be employed all the time to delineate phrases.  Using slow bows is using relatively less bow for the same value of note.  E.g. for a passage of sixteenth notes in Presto, to finish a phrase simply use less and less bow; resume normal bow length to start the next.  This is especially useful for sequences and passages with repeated pitch shapes.  Another example is phrasing a series of chords.  Most often, because it is difficult to execute, we focus on just making all the notes of a chord ring.  So we often use the same amount of bow at the same bow speed for all the chords in a sequence.  While this may work for a Bruch concerto, it might make Bach sound a little out of character.  Fine tuning bow speed is rather simple (to conceive, perhaps harder to execute at first), and can bring a student’s playing to the next level of maturity.  Practicing for it also brings a greater awareness of phrasing in general, and brings a certain physicality to the ebb and flow of living, breathing music (which emanates from a living, breathing bow technique for string players.)

Practice uneven distributions of the bow.  E.g. play an exercise with two half notes per bow (two down bows followed by two up bows, etc., at first staccato, then parlando, then legato.)  On the down bow, for the first half note use 1/3 bow, then 2/3s for the next half note, followed by an up bow with 2/3s for the first half note and 1/3 for the second half note.  Many distributions and permutations are possible.  Based on the principle of uneven distribution, every nuance and phrase can be meticulously planned.  E.g. for a series of fast slurred notes in one bow, distribute more bow for the first few notes, save like crazy in the middle notes, spend like crazy for the tail end, and you have turned the passage from an exercise into a brilliant run with virtuosic effect.

You both should be very proud – well I guess she should be more than you since she did do all the work and you drove her crazy, whereas all you had to do was be driven crazy ;)

It’s a pleasure to watch her progress.  Thanks for sharing.


Hi Buri, 

I respectfully disagree with your assessment of the first finger's function.  Whereas I would agree with you that it doesn’t do much more than guide the path of bow in a very soft dynamic, for all other contexts it can be used as the primary tool for articulation (Zukerman’s constant admonition to ‘catch’ the string with the bow is nearly impossible to execute without it, especially on an up bow), and can aid in the stability of the bow.  Also, it plays a crucial role as the point about which the hand pivots, if one wishes to do so.  Playing without it is useful when training the other fingers to balance without it (e.g. in a pp context), but learning how to pivot the hand relies on a firm grounding on the stick as it limits the curling motion of the other fingers.  I also dislike the Fisher exercise you mention for similar reasons (it doesn’t teach fingers to work together), but mostly because of the danger of crushing the sound between forefinger and thumb.  Also if the student doesn't already know how to transfer weight from the arm, there is the danger of conflicting action within the arm, i.e. the first finger applies pressure while the upper arm lifts, creating tension and possible injury.  Applying weight at the tip by pronation, if one wishes to do so, is best achieved passively.  Finally, changing pronation within the same kind of stroke, “…whole bows with a solid and even tone…” [Fisher, Basics. p6] in this context, is unnecessary and contributes to lack of stability within the hand.  As for changing sound point, I find I accomplish this with the arm/hand, saving motions of the fingers within the hand for articulating.



March 20, 2009 at 03:18 PM ·

Al- She's adorable, nice form and WOW! She can really play!  Love the house also!  You are so fortunate to have such a talented child/children!  Good Job also too you too!


March 21, 2009 at 01:28 AM ·

I would also add that dividing the bow into segments using a staccato-martele bow stroke is very helpful for learning to catch the string in each part of the bow and as you add more notes on a bow you discover better how to get the maximum tone out of each portion of bow you use. I have always been amazed at how full a student's tone can get in legato passages after practicing those notes as staccato. One needs to find the point of equilibrium each step one takes with the bow- the arm and hand, following the curve of the stick when you are playing on the same string and in general, in the same plane as the string on which you are playing.  You will have upper semi-circles and lower semi-circles (clockwise and counter-clockwise movements in string crossings).in the arm and hand when crossing strings- in other words, there will be times when the bow , and therefore the arm, will follow the path of the curve of the bridge and times when it will follow the curve of the stick, convex and concave.

The other thing that I keep emphasizing with my students is the slant of the violin and how that affects the angle the bow travels for each string.  I used to think it was necessary to flatten the table of the violin when playing on the E string and tilt it more for the G string but I am finding that keeping the instrument generally in a tilted position and with the scroll rising up for shifts with the violin forming a resistance upwards against the arm weight "falling down"  up to a point (because the tone would be crushed by too much arm weight and this does not involve pressing tightly downwards with pressure from the fingers) with  a weight that engages the string horizontally ( with a push and pull feeling) a  tremendous freedom and fullness is achieved in the sound  and greater freedom in the fingers and wrist is achieved as well. The constant fighting the flatness of the instrument necessating way too much rotation in the left arm and reaching over with the hand as well as causing a much higher arm level on the right side is, to my way of thinking a recipe for disaster. It is a position that can lead to imbalances in the posture and fatigue even as one is being careful to not  press vertically or twist the neck in anyway.  I believe it can shorten the number of years one can effectively play the instrument.

The other thing to keep in mind with the scroll higher than the chin rest end is that weight falls from the extemities towards one's center of gravity and this relieves the hand of feeling like it is holding a heavy object out away from the center of balance. It frees the hand/arm to vibrate more easily and greatly assists in shifting up and down.

March 21, 2009 at 02:01 AM ·

jk, having driven about 5 hrs (for the kids' golf tournament over the weekend)  and now holed up in a hotel room going over emails and clicking over some must read sites (laurie, do you sell antidote draught? :),  i have my exhaustion evaporated reading your vintage "verbiage".  as much as i feel almost embarassed with your thoughtful attention to the issues, i find reading your post totally enjoyable and illuminating.  your writing, full of complex issues,  is so easy to understand.  i am not going to pull your legs but you will make a great musical psychologist or psychological musicologist or what have you:).  not many can hit the nerves with such gentle precision.    millions of kids go through the motion, but often without needed tune-ups of this calibre.

we don't have the score here, but will follow up some of  those details once we get home.   discussion on bow division can often sound mechanical, but somehow you have made the concepts sound so fluid and vivid, as if one really wants to care about it. 

royce,  how she plays violin or golf is one thing, but underneath is a neat little person, one that always manages to smile and laugh all day long.  we feel blessed and lucky to witness that in born trait of hers.   it kinda makes me wonder why we insist on "countering" her cheery nature with pursuits that require strong disciplines.   aye...

but be proud.  a little muted violin made its voice heard tonight  for about 5 minutes before the light is out:) 

just saw ron's post.  the suggestion of activation of bowing  mechanics from smaller segment to bigger ones is interesting and makes sense.  in fact, we do that with golf practices on a daily basis:) 

i have observed that many violinists "raise" the scroll while "climbing up" the fingerboard.  if anything, the gravity effect helps the bow hair stay closer to the bridge instead of sliding off to the fingerboard, to maintain the proper sounding point.  aesthetically,  it looks more natural as well i think.  i wonder ron from your description, the "raising" is done more by a body tilt or from the hand?  thanks


March 21, 2009 at 02:45 AM ·


Dear Jee Won, I don`t think I said what yo9u said I said.


>First recognize that the primary function of the firts finger AT THE HEEL is to lateral sliding of the bow.Not much else.

Jee Won>Whereas I would agree with you that it doesn’t do much more than guide the path of bow in a very soft dynamic, for all other contexts it can be used as the primary tool for articulation (Zukerman’s constant admonition to ‘catch’ the string with the bow is nearly impossible to execute without it, especially on an up bow),




March 22, 2009 at 02:37 AM ·

Al, if one is not using a shoulder rest, I find it easier to simply change angle and  scroll height with the hand. One can still have a shoulder pad and do the angle change and scroll height change with the hand. When I was using shoulder rests that create a fixed position I found it necessary to change my hip position to create angle changes in the table of the violin and scroll height changes didn't occur because the combination of shoulder rest and chin rest placed the violin at a set height. I knew better than to arch my back to cause the scroll end of the violin to go higher. However, I have achieved the most comfort so far with an acoustifoam pad on the left side and find I have the freedom  to lift the scroll with my hand or tilt the angle of the violin with my hand as needed. My basic philosophy is that one should feel free to move where and when one needs to for any given technique on the violin and if there is anything getting in the way of that ability it needs to be examined and remedied. This is a life long process since there is always room for improvement. Suffice to say, each time I hear your daughter play she sounds improved, always making progress,  and I like how she carries herself in her head/neck region, so it seems to me she should be able to apply these ideas regarding lifting the violin and changing the angle without changing her good head and neck position.

March 22, 2009 at 08:50 AM ·

thanks ron.

up to now, i don't think she has any conscious awareness of violin positioning, that is, table tilt and scroll angle.  i often find her living in the past, about 1 second behind:)   it makes sense to start exploring it,,,  i think it will no doubt add to her understanding of the physical aspect of playing, to instill some purpose and habit.

any opinion on which players are better role models in that aspect, those who have demonstrated a sensible (as opposed to rigid and personal or wild and personal? :) use violin positioning to facilitate playing?

interesting to read about the acoustic form pad again which i think you have mentioned before.  it is neat that you find it useful both as a support and as a pivot point for violin positioning if i am not mistaken. 

even though my kid does not practice much, she has already come up with a dime sized violin hickey which i am really not that crazy about.  my hunch is that if she can "float" the violin more instead of clamping under the jaw, there may be a chance of less pressure or shearing focally against the skin.  

March 22, 2009 at 11:13 AM ·

Ronald is right!  I also play with a kind of pad behind my violin and I love it!  I'm not at all an expert but by starting older, I really had to be conscious of everything I did related to my posture/position while playing.  I naturally found that on the D and especially the G string, it went much much better with a strong violin tilt.  In the contrary, for the A and E string, it goes better with your head slighly leaning putting the angle of the violin slightly flatter (slightly it's important to not copy those who lie on their violin like if it was a pillow.  It looks very artistic but it's not very classical and can bring problems!)   After I begin to do this, I notice that many pros did it. Don't remember specific names but take a look on youtube!  My teacher said that it was really important do this also. Pros play with the angle (slightly) when they play on the G and D vs when they play on the A and E.  But the variations are minor and some violinists prefer a rather flat violin while others tilt it very much.  A violinist can vary his/her angles from flat to a little less flat and another one from very very tilt to slightly less tilt if you understand what I mean!  Menuhin and Oistrakh were strong violin tilters while I believe Repin, Bell (correct me if I am wrong) are not playing with a very tilt violin.   They are all amazing fantastic players though and this comes naturally and is unique to the body type, lenght of arms of each one etc.  It's like answering to the famous question: where should one put his head on the chinrest?  More on the corner, more towards the center?  It depens very much of the arm lenght!  You must be able to use you hole bow and this also depends of where you put your head so how can we make a one size fits all rule!  

Maybe it would be great to ask this to her teacher! For the scrool, I notice that many players with rests point it downwards, like if they would want to dig a hole in the ground.  I think the classical technique for holding the instrument ans shifting says that one should have the scrool either parallel to the floor or higher!   But even great soloists don't do this! Especially modern ones (with rests?)  But the most important stills remain the nice sound!


March 22, 2009 at 05:48 PM ·

 Al, I would say two excellent models in terms of a relaxed tilt are Oistrakh and Milstein. In  a number of videos you can see Milstein dropping and raising the violin, keeping his neck very free and his head quite loose- no violin red friction marks on his neck. Though the scroll of his violin does often does go less than parallel to the floor, it is raised when shifting or for greater impact in phrases that end on a triumphant note as in the Brahms Concerto for example. Oistrakh is more consistently higher-scrolled than Milstein and his tilt pretty consistent. Their sounds are not at all alike yet they both convey a sense of freedom and ease and a beautiful open, clear, singing quality.  I have to confess that Joshua Bell has me a little worried with the tilt of his neck and his unorthodox bow hold.  He is an expressive player beyond question with a strong communicative power, but I have to question the physics of what he is doing. I hope he doesn't end up hurting himself if he hasn't already.

  As for the irritation on the neck, I believe that could be solved by a better fitting chin rest that will not make it necessary to clamp or whose curve in the cup or at the edge will not cut against the skin to cause the mark. You might wish to try the Ohrenform or Berber chin rests. Their advantage is that, like the Guarneri chin rest, they are center mounted ( better/safer for the distribution of weight across the structure at that end of the violin) but, unlike the Guarneri, they have enough room on the right side of the tail piece to accommodate those who need to have their chin to the right of the tailpiece ( usually those with shorter arms)  to feel comfortable. The Berber has more height to it naturally then the Ohrenform but it has a sharper edge compared to the Ohrenform.  In either case, one can always build up the height ( and possibly get new barrels if the height build up exceeds the extension of the barrels ) on the chin rest  with cork or wood if the goal is to help keep the violin resting on the collarbone but still have the gap filled in between the chin/jaw and top cup of the chinrest. This should never be a tight, snug fit anyway, because the neck needs to be free to move up and down and a little side to side (as you can observe both from Oistrakh and Milstein). The advantage though in raising the chin rest as opposed to filing that gap with the shoulder rest is that the violin sits lower onto your collarbone and you do not need to raise your arms as high for the bow to reach the strings or for the left hand to reach around. Basically, you want to find a position that will last you for as long as possible, so as you grow older your body can have minimum wear and tear.

 I hope this helps some. Bear in mind too that chin rests have a definite effect on the acoustics of the violin. For years I used a Glaesel # 4 ebony, a left centered chin rest, because it seemed to give the instrument an even full tone compared to other chin rests I had tried, but I switched to the Berber when I was able to get an even better sound from my  instrument and be much more comfortable in the chin and jaw.  There should be a way to have both without sacrificing comfort for better tone or vice versa.


March 22, 2009 at 07:55 PM ·

Interesting to see Ronald's thoughts! I have so often noticed similar things! A relax sound comes with a relax posture.  You can have the tilt you want or are able to do but one thing is sure, the freedom of the neck head, keeping the head straight and if slighly bend for very high notes (remember to put it back ok after and do never lie like on a pillow!!!) + I really find important the thing of keeping the scrool = or higher than the floor!  This is less common now? Why?  I know at first, you have to develop ennough strengh to do it but you don't need to do that much a day!  

Interesting topic!


March 22, 2009 at 08:22 PM ·


>I know at first, you have to develop ennough strengh to do it but you don't need to do that much a day!  

I think this problem is actually over stated/overrated (?)

Two thing violnist learn to do incorretcly from the beginning and continue on to even rather high levels:  1) put the violin up slowly,  thereby activitaing musclesunnecessarily which are never fully released.   One actually throwsthe violin up like the follow through of throwing a ball underarm.   2)   rotating the arm around the thumb side of the rforearm instea dof using the little finger side as the rotational axis.

Keeping the scroll high drop the weight o the vilin into the body rendering an already light instrument virtually weightless.  Having a low scroll cause the right hand to tense in order to prevent the bow from slipping.  Any extra tension on the right side of the body will automatically contribute to increased tension and difficulty on the left.



March 23, 2009 at 01:03 AM ·

As a further comment related to Buri's mention of the little finger side of the forearm for rotation, Mimi Zweig  teaches the use of the third finger balanced on the string with this rotational movement as a good starting position for balancing the hand as a whole over the violin, because it is close to the center of the hand and it can be used to test octaves and develop hearing the sympathetic vibration with the open string, and it tends to make all the fingers come along in a curved shape toward the fingerboard whereas a preoccupation with learning to place the first finger on the violin does not at all guarantee the likelihood of a good position for the other fingers which can still move counterproductively up and away from the fingerboard.

March 23, 2009 at 12:50 PM ·

Al- though this does not contribute to the subject of bowing, what you said about the neat little person she is with in.... we all sould take lessons on being more like her in that respect.  And to keep a level of childlike teachability in us.  Hope her game goes well,

take care,


March 23, 2009 at 06:18 PM ·

Hi Buri,

Sorry for being unclear but I did actually mean at the heel.  To clearly articulate the sixteenth note in the dotted rhythm at the beginning of Bruch G minor (or Don Juan, two examples off the top of my head) one must engage the first finger to ‘catch’ the sixteenth note on an up bow at the frog, before the hand extends, flipping open to play it.  Of course those who prefer not to (or because of their bow hold, are unable to) play such a figure at the heel may simply choose to play it down bow, which makes me wonder whether it’s actually necessary, beyond a certain proficiency, to ‘master the heel’ in order to ‘master the bow’.

In writing my last response to Al, I started pondering how many different ways there are to achieve similar ends on the violin, how many different styles of bowing there are amongst the great violinists.  I started to analyze the variables involved in bowing and realized that it was a bit ambitious (or just plain silly.)  So I limited my comments to generalizations applicable to any bowing style.

What I intended originally was to suggest wonderment (or exasperation, as the case may sometimes be) at how difficult it is to pin down something as dynamic and intricate as the bow-arm/bow complex (which is more than half of violin playing; we should really be called bowists or something).  My response to you contained a little bit of what I'd been working out, but out of context and much abbreviated it focused on the negative instead of on the variety of solutions which are possible for any given bowing problem.  So, instead of disagreeing with you outright I should have presented other uses of the first finger on the bow as an alternative approach.  But I do maintain that while pivoting the fingers at the heel may include balancing the bow with the 3rd and 4th fingers, they are not the same thing.



Hi Al,

Hope the girls had a great tournament and you and your family arrived home safely.  

Thanks for your kind words, but I often find myself compelled to respond to your informed questions.  You may say it’s a ‘shameless questioning’, but I too believe your approach to be the only pure way to learn – to discover for oneself, to look at endless possibilities and decipher whether and how to incorporate them.  Your kids are lucky to have such an example in you!


March 23, 2009 at 10:05 PM ·


Jeewon, thanks for the clarification.  I agree with you cmpletley. We are just getting bogged down in language and not quite talking alongthe same lines yet. Simplest thing to do would be for you to come over and have a beer.

I know what you mean about the rolling exercises possibility for causing tension.   To me it serbves to illustrate a point very easily to the kinds of players who turn up at my door. Don`t know if its a Japanese thing but somehw the hand remains rigidly pronated most of the time with an avoidence of the lower third of the bow.   Getting such players to open things up is quite challenging at times.   For the best devel0pment of undertasnding how the fingers interact I think it is actually hard to beat exercises whre the bow is removed  from the string and travels,  for example he Thibaud point and heel colle exercise.  Control of the bow in the air does often lead to the reuqired interplay of forces.

Is that yu entering the Queen Elizabeth BTW?

Update- just been trying to figure ut how I play the Bruch.  I can@t say I have any problems with either execution r clarity in that up bow but neither do I feel a very active role for the first finger in articulating it.  I have always spent a lof of time on rythmic bowings at the heel anyway.  If you can`t do it then Beethoven symphonies are not possible.....  It reminded me of when I was working on Tzigane with Eric Gruenberg.   He had methink of the opening in terms of a kind of reflexive action as a result of energy transmitted through the arm and back though the fingers and hand via the st5ings.



October 6, 2012 at 10:21 AM · I want to resurrect this thread to talk about the opposite issue: potentially too low bow arm.

I'm not as good a violinist as Al's daughter, and when I was watching this video of myself, it occurred to me that my bow arm looks too low. Sometimes it comes up, when it really needs to, but my overall impression of how my bow arm looks when I play is both lazy and rushed at the same time.

I don't feel like it restricts my freedom of movement, and my teacher says that aspect of my playing in particular has improved over the past 5 years that I've been playing and studying. But I just hadn't given it much thought until I watched this video and then I cringed a bit.

October 6, 2012 at 10:50 AM · what a beautiful video and performance of Bach. Amazing. Thank you for sharing. So many detailed comments about the bow arm in question. Put simply - yes the elbow is too high. If you observe her with the string crossings - her elbow is at the height of the lower string stays that high while she crosses to the upper string. Her elbow needs to be the height of the upper string and needs to use her wrist to get to the lower string. Right now she doesn't get to explore the wrist too much because of the high elbow. it is not neccessarily that her bow arm is too high it is that the elbow is too high. I always tell my students there is a waterfall of energy that starts from the shoulder and needs to get to the instrument - if there is any tension this blocks the energy then the nice relaxed weight will not transfer to the instrument. Her sound will get even better if she drops the elbow. One small tip - if you observe her left hand she has a flat fourth finger. Her fourth finger is having to strain to be used and is not rounded. This can affect intonation and she may tend to be flat with her fours. Have her left elbow come under the instrument more - this will allow the fourth finger a little bit more clearance. I would also stress the shape of the left hand. A great exercise would be to have her fourth finger be beautiful and rounded in first position then let her hand and other fingers adjust to their position. Please be sure to read the recently posted article/interview of Mr. Vamos here on - he talks of this exact issue and how he addresses it with the kergoff exercises.

Here is my video that I discuss what I call the elbow elevator.

She is a beautiful girl and a beautiful violinist. I wish her all the best.

Please tell her Happy Practicing from me.

Heather Broadbent

October 7, 2012 at 04:15 PM · John, do you have a link to that thesis?

October 7, 2012 at 05:44 PM · I finally looked at the video you posted of your daughter, and what I notice is that she raises her right shoulder a lot. I was taught that the arm needs to move from the shoulder, but not move the shoulder itself. This has been reinforced with me by a local physical therapist who did a dissertation research project on violinists' bow arms and certain shoulder injuries. One of my students started having right shoulder pain, so she started going to this therapist, and I accompanied her to appointments. We worked out changes to her shoulder rest (tilted it so the violin was lower on the E string side) and her bow hold (thumb turned a bit more to reduce pronation of the hand and arm) and she learned exercises to keep her muscles in shape and she is now a conservatory student!!

Here's the URL for his dissertation, and I think there is contact information there as well....

So I would definitely pay attention to getting the right shoulder to stay steadier, and possibly take your daughter to a really reputable physical therapist.

October 7, 2012 at 06:08 PM · I have not yet read all these posts, so I'll just react to the videos.

First, Anina's doing fine, but I think you know that!

Then, yes, I find her elbow and wrist way too high. Why? A few neat, controversial reasons..

- A high wrist means "pinching" the stick, rather than supporting it from underneath with the thumb: parasitical tension before even starting to play.

- A high elbow means that muscles that are intended for motion are being used for maintaining arm position; persistant practice in this mode may strengthen them, but may also cause the muscle-fibres to harden. Look at early vs late videos of Mehuhin. For Anina's sake!

I have myself adopted a elbow-a-little-lower-than-the-flattish-hand technique, like Perlman and Oistrakh: "weight rather than pressure", raising the elbow and drooping the hand (a little) for certain saltellato strokes.

I shall now go and look up "rotator cuff" in my special book (in French) of anatomy for musicians..

October 8, 2012 at 04:46 PM · John, thanks for the tip! The straightforward approach, which didn't occur to me in this instance, can often be the most effective.

For those who love URLs, the link to the 180-page thesis is

BTW, I glanced at p. 9 of the thesis and this sentence caught my eye, "The right arm controls a bow that weighs about 270 g (Szende & Nemessuri, 1971)". Aha! so that's where I've been going wrong all these years, the average weight of my violin bows is a mere 61g, and one weighs in at a miniscule 56g. I wonder what other goodies there are to be found in the 180 pages of the thesis.

October 8, 2012 at 09:00 PM · I would really like to read the thesis but the two or three ways I have arrived at the page I always get the same sequence of events.

The document comes up showing a barcode. I can see the normal PDF information, number of pages etc.. Then the bar code gets blurry and I get a dialog box that says "Insufficent data for an image". When I click on the dialog box there is only the blue document cover with with the blurry barcode and this is the only page.

Any help would be appreciated.


Pat T.

October 9, 2012 at 10:06 AM · Patrick, I assume you have the Adobe Reader on your computer, so if it is up to date there should not be a problem in reading a PDF. What I do with a PDF I want to refer to later is to save it on my computer; then it is always available, easy to read, and no hassle with future downloading from what might be a slow website, possibly with problems.

John, with reference to the PDF's blank pages, I think this is a case where the thesis in its submitted form (which I believe is what we have) is printed on one side of the paper only - standard for important documents like that - and whoever was responsible for scanning it also scanned all the blank sides (that's probably in their job description). So we get a PDF with an inflated digital footprint. There you go.

A significant error like 270 gm for the weight of a bow, whether or not it was in the citation, should have been picked up by both the writer and the supervisor. It does make me wonder. Recently, I helped someone to proof-read her MSc thesis, which was in the biological sciences, and I can assure you it is a difficult, onerous and essential task.

October 9, 2012 at 06:05 PM · I don't know what's going on. I read PDF off the web all the time. This one is just not working on my machine. Oh, well.


October 10, 2012 at 02:42 PM · John, bringing Alexander in is an excellent idea. My teacher is an exponent of AT and uses it as and when necessary in lessons. I think it works well with the violin technique she learned from Shinichi Suzuki in Japan.

October 11, 2012 at 08:18 PM · Coming late to this thread and not having gone through every word of some intricate older posts, I'll limit myself (though it probably won't seem very self- limiting!) to the following:

1. Our OP, Al Ku, seems to have disappeared from Hope he and his are fine. I also hope Buri is OK, as I've seen nothing from him in quite some time.

2. I was pretty astonished by Al's daughter's performance! I've come across a few hot-shot 7 and 8 year olds playing Mendelssohn pretty well, but not a Bach fugue. And in some ways, though the shortest, it's the toughest of the three. And by heart! I think I'd better go home and practice. Oh wait – I AM home! Never mind! But seriously, what a talented – and cute - little child! She'd be about 11 now. I'd like to track her progress.

3. OK – elbow and arm heights. How low is low? How high is high? It's relative, and there are degrees. It's not necessarily either/or. But so many of the great virtuosos from Heifetz on, played with a relatively high arm. All other things being equal, this tends to lead to more sonority and projection. Menhuin sometimes went too far the other way. His position was sometimes so high that his elbow angled noticeably up from the wrist angle. I think that this contributed to some of the unsteadiness of his sustained notes. I feel that whatever string we're on – and of course the arm is higher on the lower strings, lower on the higher ones – the wrist and elbow should stay pretty much at the same angle. Bottom line: I advocate a somewhat high arm, and the prodigy in question was doing fine with her arm position.

4. But what about Oistrakh? No question, his arm was lower than most of the other great violinists from the early 20th c. on. A low elbow often comes with a high wrist – and that can really get in the way as you approach the frog. It's better to avoid unnecessary angles. But somehow Oistrakh does avoid this, and in his own way, keeps the wrist and elbow on a plane. According to Russian violinist GrigoryZhislin, violinists who patterned themselves in this respect after Oistrakh were making a mistake. He said that it worked for O. but even then, he did not have as much saturation of sound as some other soloists. (The Way They Book 13, p. 131-134.)

5. My approach on a theoretical level can be found on my website Go to “writings” then “fundamentals” And on a more practical level, just 2 days ago, I made a video demonstrating a violin I'm selling. For better or worse you can get a good idea of my approach to the bow, etc.

October 12, 2012 at 12:45 PM · Karen- I would suggest starting a new thread, most people will only read the original post (*posted in 2009, folks!*) and skim the responses so they'll probably miss your request for input.

fwiw, I suffered from a low bow arm too... literally. It reduced the amount of weight I could transfer through the arm to the bow simply via gravity so it affected my contact and sound and it made me more likely to actively press in order to compensate for that loss of weight & resulting in a choked pinched sound instead of a ringing one. I'm now working to resolve that but I ended up with an injury in my right wrist.

October 12, 2012 at 01:30 PM · Christina, you're right. I was skimming old threads to see if the ground had been covered before, and this one seemed to have a lot of thoughtful commentary about the general issue. But I still don't know if I have a truly low bow arm or not, or whether bow arm height matters in my case. Most people hate how they look in videos of themselves, it's possible that's all it is. Or not ;-)

October 12, 2012 at 10:31 PM · Raphael, thank you for that illuminating and informative video. I can tell you that my right hand technique, as taught to me, has many similarities to yours, viz index finger wrapped round the stick (and so, with the thumb, providing the main control), a flat wrist, the 4th finger coming into play as necessary when playing in the lower section of the bow, the 2nd and 3rd fingers (with me) not doing much at all except to hang there, and a bowing arm action which verges on a relaxed gravity-driven low style. I have no problems in full length bows on the G without undue raising of the arm. I find the bowing hold I have now is relaxed and well-nigh effortless.

[Edit added, much later same day: just returned from a day's workshop on Mahler's 5th (5-1/2 hrs) with no resulting muscular or joint aches, pains or tiredness, just some mental tiredness from all the concentration involved in working on that piece, so I must be doing something right.]

October 13, 2012 at 12:11 AM · Trevor - thanks!

John - I'll get out my crayon box! ;-)

OK - I'm not going to get out a protractor or try to reduce it to a formula. Also, I don't think I said that Oistrakh held his bow TOO low. I cited him as an example of one who held it on the low side. Interestingly, I just came off watching "The Art of Violin" for the upteenth time. It included an excerpt of Oistrakh and Menhuin playing the Bach double together. There were periods where Menhuin held his right arm to the point where the elbow pointed up. Experiment with that and see what that does to your sustaining stroke. I don't think that's helpful. I took a look at Cecelia Arjewski's Beethoven. Clearly, she's a fine violinsit, and I respect her. But her arm looks really low. In the really old days in some schools of playing you were taught to keep your arm so low that you could hold a thin book in place with it to the right side of your body! Then, I have a colleague who holds his arm higher than anyone I've ever seen. On the E string his arm is higher than mine on the G! He even does this in pizzicato. I try to maintain a mean between the extremes. As I sat in the intriduction to my "Fundamnetals" on my website - there is more than one way to play the violin well.

October 13, 2012 at 10:58 AM · John - I'm not sure I'm following all of your point, except that if I understood you, I would agree that how we hold the violin also affects the bow.

Re Zishlin, the quote I referred to was too long for me to want to transcribe it, so I merely summarized it. If you can get to that book, you can see exactly what he says, having grown up in Russia, and heard and seen Oistrakh live - though doesn't necessarily mean that everyone else in his position would agree with him.

But generally I feel like we're in a situation where we're in a dark room, and we point a flashlight (torch?) here and there and say "what's this? What about that?" If you want to have a basic sense of my particular approach to the bow, please go back to my earlier citation of my website and video. Then if anything still needs clarification, I'll try my best.

October 13, 2012 at 06:00 PM · Playing with a bow arm that is too high I think is just as bad as it being too low. I think you should always have the sensation of playing from above the string, rather than below it. Just do what looks natural.

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