unintentional bow portato.. any fixes?

October 18, 2009 at 09:39 PM ·

I've been having a rather annoying problem lately. Sometimes when I draw my bow across any string, the stick of the bow bounces up and down, and this usually occurs near the middle of the bow. I do not have this problem on the lower or top halves. This problem is even more obvious when I'm doing long bow scales, and especially when changing strings near the middle of the bow. I'm thinking this might be occuring because of my tendency to lift my right elbow/shoulder at times when it isn't necessary. 

Lately, I've been doing low bow exercises, really trying to keep the vibration of my bow stick from happening. The violin professor was noticing this happening in a quartet coaching and he said it is a extremely hard habit to break. Advice?


October 18, 2009 at 10:00 PM ·

I would mess around with varying hair tensions...if this doesn't work you might just have an "active" bow that you will have to learn to control.  I have a couple "active" bows that I absolutely love. J 

October 18, 2009 at 10:38 PM ·


October 18, 2009 at 10:55 PM ·


I've got an idea I know who you're talking about here. All I can say is that I find I cannot disagree with Galamian, who said this in one of the books that everybody should have, The Principles of Violin Playing and Teaching:

There are several problems connected with the change of bow (from down to up and vice versa), but the one that is most important concerns the ability to make the change as smooth and as unnoticeable as possible. The essence of the matter does not lie in the particular muscles or joints that should participate, but instead in two factors: (1) the bow has to slow down shortly before the change, and (2) the pressure has to be lightened, with both of these elements delicately and precisely co-ordinated.

Of course you still don't have to agree, just because Galamian said it, but practical experience seems to suggest that what he says about this does indeed work.

It's always fun showing students how much technique you need to change bow smoothly at the heel, i.e. not a lot. You simply get them to hold the bow tightly in their fist and, by slowing ever-so-slightly, and lightening even more ever-so-slightly - in the last fraction of an inch -  they can change bow-direction entirely seamlessly. Then it is a short step to them doing the same thing with a proper bow hold.


October 18, 2009 at 10:56 PM ·

It is also possible that too tight a bow hold is preventing the bow from allowing you to feel the beginning of the"bounce" problem so you can avoid it by "going with the flow" of the bow would avoid this problem.


October 19, 2009 at 02:33 AM ·

 Try pressing upward just a small amount with your thumb. This helps me calm the bow

bounce. Especially after drinking too much coffee.

October 19, 2009 at 03:05 AM ·

I might also recommend checking that your shoulder is not tense.

Bill Swackhamer

October 19, 2009 at 03:47 PM ·

i have this problem too, especially after i listen to szeryng or oistrakh.  i should stop that....

October 19, 2009 at 04:06 PM ·

I have also had it suggested to me to focus on the right bicep when this happens.  This, along with long bow practice, cured me of this same malady.  Good luck!

October 19, 2009 at 04:34 PM ·

I've had this happen, too. Long bows worked for me.

October 19, 2009 at 04:48 PM ·

I've been told to make sure my bow is tilted more (away from me/the bridge) - to create the flat bow hair I think a previous poster (Nate?) mentioned. Also to relax my shoulder and lower the elbow.

October 19, 2009 at 05:59 PM ·


Ophelia, if youtilt the bow away from you you wil get tilted hair which is the opposite of what Nate means.



October 19, 2009 at 06:00 PM ·

I have experienced the same problem, but it only seems to occur at my lessons.  Nerves?  Probably, but the physical cause is tht I'm not bowing parrallel to the bridge ... consequently ... the bounce.  Check yourself in a mirror next time it starts to happen.

October 19, 2009 at 06:34 PM ·

 Buri - I'm confused - according to my teacher, when I have a proper bow hold the stick of the bow is slightly tilted. So the bow hair lays flat, but the stick is slightly offset. Is this totally incorrect? Sorry to spread bad advice if it is!

October 19, 2009 at 06:37 PM ·

 Thank you for all the suggestions. I've begun doing more long bow practice, specifically on scales, to really narrow in on the bow spasms. Someone also suggested that my bow might be too light... and in fact it's not very heavy. Would a heavier bow remedy this problem as well?

October 19, 2009 at 09:16 PM ·

 Nate, I completely agree. Almost everyone nowadays is doing the Galamian method. Frankly I hate to hear that that audible change in the bow. The seamless legato sound has almost been lost. Everyone is telling me to use a lot of finger and wrist action(involving arching of the wrist) of which i completely disagree. They don't see the simplicity of the bow change by Heifetz or Elman.  However, I think a little bit of finger and wrist should be used to facilitate the use of the bow at the frog. For me,  use only so much wrist and finger should be used in order to ensure that the bow change is seamless. I also find that holding the bow with the middle of the first and second joints of the index finger creates a bigger sound.


October 19, 2009 at 10:19 PM ·

Nate and Ausar,

I am reminded of a conversation I once had with Dorothy DeLay about shifting. One of the things I have always felt very glad about learning from her is the principle of 'slow arrival-speed' in ascending shifts - especially long ones - where you are shifting with the finger you are going to play the note with. You move quickly to a place very slightly under the arrival note, and then glide slowly into the note.

Personally I think of it in a slightly different way now, but essentially it's the same. Anyhow, I told Miss DeLay (this was sometime in the 1990s) about a Guildhall student of mine who had gone to the USA for post-graduate study - and now it's my turn to be shy about mentioning a name - to someone who today is one of the foremost teachers in the country.

My student reported back to me that this teacher said that slow arrival-speed was wrong - that the speed of the shift was slow-fast, not fast-slow. I couldn't understand this, but when I told Miss DeLay about it, who knew very well the teacher concerned, she said, 'well, all I can say is, if Mr ------ thinks that, all it can mean is that his analysis is wrong!'

I'm sure Mr ------, who is a wonderful player and a wonderful teacher, was quite right in whatever he was thinking the end result should be. But even in a 'Heifetz shift', where you do appear to go 'slow-fast', even then the finger 'slows down' into the note in the last fraction of a second.

So I am just thinking, I've no doubt that I would entirely agree with you (Nate and Ausar) about whatever sound you don't like to hear at the bow-change, and what the sound is that you would like to hear. I can't imagine how there can be disagreement on that. Two separate-bow quarter-notes are never going to sound like one, sustained half-note; but there are excellent, 'seamless' bow changes, and there are jerky or too-audible ones, and if you hear first one, and then the other, there can surely be no disagreement about which is better.



October 19, 2009 at 10:48 PM ·

 This is a very interesting discussion!

I think everyone should find their own way of doings things that appeals to them. We have to invent ways to try and make our playing better. We try different things and we see what works best for us. Everyone  shifts or changes the bow in a different way. People can suggest different methods but in the end its up to the person to find out for himself. I guess in the end is all about the best possible sound you can make.

October 19, 2009 at 11:24 PM ·


in the bow change debate it is,  in my opinion,  the -speeding up-  before the change that causes the most problems wth he sound.  Personally I do slow down a bit.



October 20, 2009 at 12:19 AM ·

When one slows the bow, the string will not instantly vibrate less widely.  The string, having inertia, will lag behind the bow speed changes.  Therefore one may slow the bow and then be moving it in the reverse direction before the amplitude of string vibration has diminished.  There will not be a diminuendo at the end of the stroke. There will be a beautiful connection of tone from bow to bow, but it won't sound like one bow. There will be a resistance click articulation as the bow reverses direction into a widely vibrating string. Milstein often employed a detache which I believe fits this description. It connected beautifully from stroke to stroke and it articulated as well.

As to the shifting discussion, I believe Miss DeLay (fast-slow shift) is right and the other opinion (slow-fast shift) is a basically wrong idea.  If a shift gets faster and faster it requires an arresting opposing force to stop it. In my view slow-fast is not conducive to graceful facile playing.  As a general principal of moving on the violin, we don't want to set up a fight between an accelerating shift and a putting on the brakes when it arrives at its location.  Rather the shift should stop at the desired location because it was tossed, because it runs out of energy, like a golf ball coming to rest on the green.  If this is the case, the shift will necessarily decelerate before it stops - as Miss DeLay described.

October 20, 2009 at 03:41 AM ·

My understanding is that there is a chain of events occurring on the up-bow  near the frog: the elbow moves lower to  assist the fingers curling slowly and then turning direction to allow the wrist to drop after one has started the down bow. A rapid curling is like a rapid shift- one wants to slow down before the change not speed up just as one wants to gracefully arrive at the note at the end of the shift and not suddenly put on the breaks. This elbow- fingers-wrist sequence also helps make a meaty full-sounding bow change smooth at the frog as well.  Some violinists who do the figure 8 or crescent bowing ( in which one pushes out with the arm/hand on the down bow and then makes a kind of narrow figure 8 loop to pull in at the tip on the up bow and then creates the other end of the figure 8 loop at the frog from a pulled in up bow to a pushed out down bow) will even bring the violin  towards  the right as the bow is moving to the left as one approaches the frog to cradle the bow change, but I have seen others do the figure 8/crescent bow and not move the violin.

 As to the original question about the bow bouncing, it is important that one examine the plane that  the arm is traveling as one draws the bow slowly. If there is an imbalance in the height of the hand and arm in relation to each other and the string on which  the bow is traveling that  imbalance can cause a glitch in the bow. You can try segmenting or dividing the bow up into equal pieces or portions, say, for example, in half, then in quarters, then eighths, then sixteenths- try this both staccato and legato, or gradually remove the staccatos until you are playing only legato-  with each segmented bow,  notice if  the arm, bow, and string are on the same plane- each string requires that the bow and the arm (which should feel like a part of each other)follow the angle created by where the string rests on the bridge- so the arm and bow travel closer to vertical on the E and become more parallel with the floor (appearing more horizontal) towards the D string or G string. There are varying opinions on how and when to tilt the violin which will affect these planes, but one must stay true to each plane for each string regardless.

 One other thing may be useful-  try playing a lot of notes smoothly connected on one long bow like a partial scale up and down on one string. Notice if your bow shakes as much as when you play one long note that fills up the time it takes to play the long series of fast notes. If it does, try reducing the number of notes gradually to see if you can get accustomed to feeling the same with one long note as you did with lots of shorter connected ones. The bow speed is the same- you're still holding out a long bow whether it's filled with fast notes in the left hand or  ac ouple notes in the left hand so to some extent it's psychological when we fear holding one long bow out trying to avoid any jitters.

Excessive grabbing of the bow and inflexibility will also make control of long bows difficult. It's like clutching the steering wheel when one feels the car slipping on ice. Clutching won't bring you more control. Learning to let the bow rest on the string and using minimal "force" in "holding" the bow- learning to let go, though it may feel counter-intuitive when one is nervous, is ultimately a safer thing for the body and for developing control. The son file excerises for increasing the number of seconds one draws out a bow up to a minute or more are very salutary in this regard.

 Also, if one is tense in the lefthand or on the left side of the body  that tension can easily effect the right side and therefore the bow. Posture and balance are in a dynamic relationship and when working efficiently without compensatory controlling going on, one feels more at ease in general so that tension/friction is kept to an absolute minimum. With each position you play in, with each string you play on, with each finger you are putting down, and with each part in the bow you are playing a note, you need to feel balanced.














October 20, 2009 at 09:13 AM ·

Hi Matt,

You mentioned about remedy the problem by playing on a heavier bow - did you try that? If it's a bow problem, it's easy - just try other bows. If it's your own problem, you'll see that happen with many bows.

I think it's natural for someone who's facing this problem change their bow to heavier (or tip heavy) bow. I think many people would go through this stage, until they learn advanced techniques or found out playing heavy bow is tiring in general.

In general a bow that does the out of control bounce (especially in the middle section) is usually a "weak" bow. The stick feel tired and soft, or too flexible that it doesn't have any strength at all.

October 21, 2009 at 12:04 AM ·


I haven't had the chance to try a heavier one yet, but with the description you are giving of a weak bow, I would have to agree that my bow is like that. I'll have to try some bows from other violists in the music school.

January 6, 2010 at 02:17 PM ·

Instead of opening a whole new thread, I want to ask basically the same questions and see if there are any more suggestions out there.

I have been playing for 30+ years, and only recently started this "bow bouncing".  It is highly irritating to me, and I am looking for ANYWAY to make it stop.  It's very noticible on long notes during my scales practice...I have tried lifting each finger during a scale (1 at a time)...any other suggestions?  It's very irritating to be boucing my bow!



January 6, 2010 at 04:48 PM ·

I've said this before, so I'l just say it again: If you can focus your attention on the bow hair's contact with the string, you may be able to figure out what to do with your hand and arm to prevent the bounce. I've been playing more than twice as long as you and I do find that some days things seem different, but by focusing on the place from where the problem is heard I can stop it.

If you have changed to a different brand of strings, this can definitely change the way the bow behaves on them.

If you have recently had a bow rehaired, more hair on the bow can cause a problem, since it will behave differently.

A couple of grams of extra mass near the frog of a bow can make it too light at the tip and unstable around the middle.


January 7, 2010 at 07:36 PM ·


This is fellow-sufferer's advice -- be warned

Here is what I do about my bow-shakes. First, I try to find a spot in an etude or in a piece that provokes the trembling. (Such as: Bach BWV 1004, Sarabanda, bar 23, last quarter). Next I look for what I'm doing to make the bow tremble. (In my case it often has to do with the plane in which the elbow is moving. Lowering the elbow often helps, and spots with long bows following a bunch of string crossings provoke the problem.)
The case is solved when I can make the bow tremble or stop trembling at will.

Hope this helps,


January 8, 2010 at 04:55 AM ·

 Maybe I'm too lazy to read through all the comments but has no one suggested putting more weight on your bow? They key is not getting a heavier bow but to have a heavier hand. More pressure from your hands (specifically your middle and index fingers) will keep your bow from bouncing on the strings.

January 9, 2010 at 03:41 AM ·

The problem as it has been described (happening at one particular spot, not everywhere) is a bow camber problem. A good bow maker or repairman can remove the problem, IF you find the right person, and the bow is worth the labor.

January 9, 2010 at 04:49 PM ·

I have often seen this problem as a result of improper forearm rotaion I think associated with elbow height. I usually see it as the student stops raising the right elbow as the bow approaches the frog. Then as the down bow starts, the right elbow is a little too low (at least in relation to the amount of forearm rotation present), as the student corrects the elbow height intutively something sort of weird happens and the bow enters the realm of "the shakes". I have never figured out exactly what is happening but I think it is a combination of things that is easily cured by simply making sure that the right elbow continues to move upwards with the forearm on the upbow. I also know that a lot of people don't teach this. Whatever the whole complex picture is all I can say is that when one of my students experiences the unstable portato business, actually almost a bouncing, the suggestion of continuing to raise the right elbow a little longer on the upbow solves it.l

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