contrary instructions

November 18, 2009 at 06:44 PM ·

I understood from the outset that this student has a finite goal of getting his basics to an intermediate level, in order to eventually play a particular fiddle style. He thinks that with classical chops, STS, he won't always sound "bad." (His word.)  According to him, this is an impressive-sounding fiddler. But he also came away thinking that he was told he "has to" use his ideas of bowhold to ever play the style. He understood it as pinky on the endbutton, fingers spread out, thumb pushed into the frog-notch, lots of "wrist action".   My student came to me with a picture-perfect classical bowhold. His somewhat stilted bowstroke is something we work on weekly. As an aside, he has pins in his right wrist. I play a lot of fiddle, and over some years have learned to look at  invented technique with a more open mind. I don't like to say another teacher is WRONG. But in both basic terms & individualized terms, I think he is. Thoughts? Sue

Replies (28)

November 19, 2009 at 07:09 PM ·

Sue, I’m fascinated by this and I just wanted to post and bring this back up to the top.  I’d love to hear some more teacher perspectives to your post.  I’ve noticed so many wild looking bow holds with the people I know, some that don’t seem to cause great results and some that sound fantastic – the subtleties make a student confused.  My thinking (and what I’m working very hard on learning for myself) is that a solid classical hold just allows you maximum articulation so that you can choose to play any style - opens the possibilities.  But then I know people who play what they play only in their way, and it works for them.

Anyway, hope some responses come in.  As a classical musician who also seriously plays fiddle, do you think there is anything in a classical hold that would hinder certain fiddling techniques (I think I know the answer to this J but wanted to ask a teacher anyway)?  What did you end up telling your student?

November 20, 2009 at 01:53 AM ·

 I don't put up with a student having another teacher to begin with, so one teaching poor setup is even worse.

It's ultimatum time: you or the other teacher but NOT both. It will not work.


November 20, 2009 at 02:50 PM ·

I'd have to agree with Scott.  I think a student has to chose for themselves who the right teacher will be for them.  I would make your case to the student and let him decide what course to follow.  If he decides to play with a bow-hold you cannot abide by then I would say let that student go.  As a teacher I would not want to be responsible for a student who puts their hands at risk in this manner.

November 20, 2009 at 04:16 PM ·

When I fiddle, I used a choked up hold. My pinky rests on the grip. This gives me better control when playing shuffles at speed. I started with the classical hold but it just dont feel right to me. Even when I start with the pinky on the button I find myself back up the bow.


When it comes to fiddling I dont believe theres any set rules, this may shake the very foundation of classical players, but they are two different animals.

November 20, 2009 at 04:33 PM ·

I find many fiddlers having a bow hold way beyond the frog, has something to do with being able to play fast. Holding further up will decrease the "weight" of the bow.

Normally it'll require more $$$ to buy a bow that's nimble and yet stable, but since fiddlers don't require to use all the bow hairs like classical violinists do, I can imagine most of them just end up with cheaper bows and alter the bow hold instead.

By the way, I don't see the problem with 2 different bow hold playing 2 different kind of music (given the student is able to do so), unless you're talking about having 2 different bow hold to play the same piece of music, or same genre. I believe playing baroque violin/bow require different bow hold, too...

November 20, 2009 at 04:36 PM ·

I've played the fiddle for a good little while, and have always been aware as much of what I don't know as what I do know, I guess never obsessed enough with the one activity to focus and thus learn a lot more. I concocted a bow hold when I started, had a few lessons along the way but never addressed physical technique.  Old-time style fiddlers manage in all sorts of ways, and it's just not something people worry about.

I had a heavy grip, lots of down pressure, suitable to the mediocre bows I was using, and to music that likes double stops and strong rhythm.  But I finally got a reasonable bow about a year and a half ago (Nurnburger, $1500 range), and discovered that suddenly it would let me do things that I couldn't go before, and indeed was demanding that I alter my playing to allow the bow to do  its work properly.  So I ended up retraining myself, still (perhaps obstinately) without lessons, working from the mass of information now on the Internet about bow grip and technique.  Basically it's a matter of lighten up and loosen up, starting with learning a bow grip and technique that permits things to work more like Classical playing.  During the same period I also moved the fiddle around onto the collarbone and switched the hard shoulder rest for a pad.  This is enough changes to leave you somewhat at sea for a while, but I'm reasonably happy with the results.  My presence on this forum is one result of my having broadened my attention to the instrument.

I suspect that all this is pretty alien to a lot of people reading it, the Classical world being so systematically organized around teaching and learning a set of specifics.  But it seemed to me that my experience might be useful in light of the original message (oh, and I don't play Classical material at all, don't read violin music well either, just to clarify). 

So, back to the student we started with.  He's getting technique in reverse, can't play the tune without adopting the teacher's bow hold.  Dangerous stuff - teaching needs to train the player to perform what needs to be performed, but it also needs to train the player to know that there are always alternative strategies, and to close off the possibilities is one of the worst things you can do.  He should experiment with the other bow grip, find out if it works and how it works; then figure out how to play the same thing with the grip the teacher wants him to use.  Now he's got perspective (we hope, at least), knows more about how varying technique feels and works.  Just because you learn one way to do it doesn't mean that you won't find other ways.

Here's a set of more or less random Youtube clips of Southern Appalachian players, mostly older, for observing technique.  You will hear pleasant results in all cases, notwithstanding varied bow grips and playing positions.  They include a violin maker and player with a prosthetic hand, and a one-armed player who holds the bow between his thighs and moves the fiddle with his right arm:

I would say generally that the differences we are talking about are in the result, not how you get there.  Particularly in the Southern Appalachian examples there is great emphasis on drones and rhythm.  This requires a technique that permits lots of double string playing and continual rocking of the bow from string to string, often with slides and ornaments.  Where most Classical playing seems to me to be fundamentally melodic, single notes, single melody line (to oversimplify), the older fiddle styles seek to present a solo performance that is as rhythmic as it is melodic, which I attribute to a tradition where dancing was very often accompanied only by the fiddle.  This style can be quite sophisticated, as in the younger fiddler Brad Leftwich's performance of  "Bonaparte's Retreat," where the rather simple melody is richened and made rhythmic by using drones and crossing strings.  Youtube is a wonderful resource, I must say. 

Don't know if this helps, but it's fun to talk about.

November 20, 2009 at 05:25 PM ·


You make some good points, and fiddling certainly requires some things and not others (like spicatto).

The main problem is that MOST students do not have the flexibility to go back and forth with something as basic as a bow grip. When students come to me with faulty bow grips, it can take quite a while to correct, even if they're not being taught something else at the same time. 

"When it comes to fiddling I dont believe theres any set rules, this may shake the very foundation of classical players, but they are two different animals."

Barry, I think there are some immutable principles of ergonomics in playing the violin, and one is that no joints in either hand can be straightened or locked. Sue's description of a pinky straightened out and locked on the adjuster button is typical of a poor grip--regardless of style. Joints that are locked cannot be graceful or efficient. As I tell my students, just imagine locking your knee joints and trying to walk around all day. Yes, you can get from here to there, but neither gracefully nor fast. Some fiddlers can play like this, but look at some of the really great ones, like Donell Leahy. The better they are, the more classical their setup starts to look.


November 20, 2009 at 05:46 PM ·

I agree Scott, about the locked joint. Im still flexible in my hold, mostly I just hold further up the bow.



I'll have to watch all of these when I get time. i watched the first one with melvin wine. Notice (besides the bow hold and fiddle out front) his chin isnt even on the rest.

That would make a classical violinist shudder in their

Ya got to love the versitilty of our instrument :)

November 21, 2009 at 12:51 PM ·

Barry, you're right about some classical players, but I think you'd be surprised at how many agree with you.  What you describe is actually a lot like the set up on a baroque violin.  We "choke up" on the bow, maybe even more so than you.  And we don't really put our chin down because.... well there is no chin rest, you see.

We're not discussing the difference between different styles of bowhold like franco belgian and russian death grip for example.  We're talking about some fundamental no no's that result in the deterioration of anatomical health.  The OP said that this student now wants to place their pinky on the end screw....   I can see no safe way for the hand to do this.  In order to achieve this position one must contort their hand and most likely have to straighten their thumb as well.  This can result in all kinds of problems like carpel tunnel, tendinitis, and not to mention limitiation of movement and technique.  I would not want to associate myself with a student like this for my own reputation as a teacher, unless of course this was something that this student came to me to help him/her correct...

November 21, 2009 at 01:44 PM ·

I don't think you can have two private teachers, unless there are special circumstances such as the two teachers are friends who team teach or something along those lines. 

I learned fiddle, sort of out of necessity, since I lived 20 minutes from a famous fiddle program (South Plains College), but my fiddling consists of books, not the aural tradition that real fiddling comes from.  I used the American Fiddle Method which goes well with the Suzuki books, and also a lot of pieces from the Fiddler's Fakebook, which is a scholarly collection of such works.  

This works beautifully for most students;  I have a lot of students--adults in particular--who want to learn both classical violin and fiddle. 

Incidentally, in some cases I got students who were way too informal in their approach to the instrument and lessons.  One young woman never managed to come to her lesson with the required three-ring, looseleaf notebook with filler paper.  There were always "my dog ate it" stories and once, she came to the lesson with a handful of wrinkled paper.  She NEVER practiced;  she refused to change anything with respect to her hold on the instrument and bow.  Her playing was disorganized, and out of tune, and just awful.  Nevertheless, when she went to various fiddling contests, she came back with awards and prizes - a belt buckle, for example.  This made me wonder what the criteria were at these contests.  I finally had to ask her to find another teacher as I did not feel comfortable taking her money under these circumstances.

November 21, 2009 at 03:53 PM ·

Find youtube videos of good fiddlers with decent bow holds for this student to watch.

Have this student do bow hold exercises from Fischer's "Basics". Have this student read all of the descriptions and instructions in Basics! This may shed some deeper light on technique, and help this student be more open-minded to what you are trying to teach.:)

November 21, 2009 at 04:04 PM ·

Interesting comments, especially the description of baroque technique.  I like the emphasis on ergonomic considerations, perhaps one of the best arguments for adopting particular techniques, along with relaxation - these may be good ways for a teacher to get at changing a student's habits.  Clayton Haslop, whose violin courses are advertised here, has the story of his introduction to Nathan Milstein, who demonstrated what's possible outside the usual rules by playing Paganini with the violin clear down on his chest, all about relaxation and technique that works in a flexible fashion.

As to learning fiddling, the written material is useful only insofar as it presents the skeleton of a setting for a given tune, unless you try to notate a lot of subtleties that resist documentation.  It is absolutely necessary to make the leap from the printed page to the ear, because you're approaching what is fundamentally an aural musical style.  Of the Youtube examples I listed yesterday, the Brad Leftwich performance is maybe the most relevant.  Listen to what he's doing, then try to figure out how to put it down on paper so that someone else can learn to emulate him.  Then remember that he almost certainly never performs these tunes in quite the same way twice - this is improvisation operating within the limits of the shape of the particular tune and the particular playing style.  A standard old tune like "Soldier's Joy," for example, is easy to find in maybe a couple of dozen different settings (where "setting" is used to refer to the particular performer's way of playing the tune) from various players, locations and styles.  And of course Classical music used to be freer in this way at least some of the time.

I haven't seen Mark O'Connor's new books, but I'm guessing that one thing he's addressing is this print/ear question, and learning to improvise.  I'm a fan of Stephan Grappelly, and very much like his early recordings with the Hot Club of France.  He had a touch and phrasing that was always amazingly delicate, maybe impossible to duplicate, and recorded a lot of standard pop tunes with tasteful improvisation that enhanced the tune rather than abandoning it.  I'd recommend them for anyone who wants to hear how tune settings and styles develop.

November 21, 2009 at 06:08 PM ·

 It seems that the discussion has veered off from Sue's initial concerns and questions.I am an adult learner and always stick with my teacher's advice.  She follows the Suzuki method, modified a bit for an adult.  Sometimes I come to her with somethingI have picked up elsewhere, and she will always let me know if I need to leave it alone.  I told her when I first went to her that she was the boss, and that I would always listen to her, and that is what I do.

November 21, 2009 at 08:42 PM ·

I play fiddle, but also work with a lot of classical players.  With fiddling, it's largely a matter of "whatever works" to get the sound that you are looking for. There's no off the string work in any style that I know of, so it's all about articulation, and for some, tone and dynamics.

I see a lot of different bow holds that work well, among very good players. Classical, thumb under frog, choked up - my own is modeled after Heifetz', because I like the sound I can produce with it.

That being said, if I were a teacher, I would have a hard time standing by and watching  someone use a bow hold that made it harder to play and that could potentially do harm.  Fiddling or classical, a fluid, relaxed hold on the bow is essential.

I like the suggestion of showing your student videos of excellent fiddlers in a style similar to what he wants to learn, to illustrate that the style being taught isn't the only way, and probably not nearly the best.  Byron Berline, Rayna Gellert, and Vassar Clements are the first ones who come to mind who have unconventional holds, yet get the job done well.

November 21, 2009 at 10:13 PM ·

I know a girl that does classical primarily but also fiddles. She does not change her technique to fiddle. So far she has had great success at fiddling competitions. I think good technique can work for anything. On the other hand, a stiff bow hold, even if it looks very traditional, can be harmful to anyone.

Scott, you say you would not put up with students taking lessons from someone else. What if the student wanted to learn a style that you don't know about? Would you just ask them to forget that interest? I guess you could go out and learn yourself, that would probably be what I would try to do. 

November 21, 2009 at 11:43 PM ·

not to sound stupid, BUT what make the differance in the bow hold? or 1 teacher or 2

I would just be happy having someone to show me the basics in person and not thru U-tube or any other site ! I'm an old FART tring to learn from others and don't care about the small stuff thanks for letting me vent

November 22, 2009 at 03:43 AM ·


It's not style that would concern me, but essential technique. If a student wanted to learn some other style that wouldn't disturb their basic setup, that wouldn't bother me. In fact, I'd rather they were learning a different style than, say, learning Bach from me and someone else.


November 22, 2009 at 05:16 AM ·

Allow me to go way off topic here, but with a basis that is on topic.
Basis: I am a fiddler, and I find that I bow control is very important; bow hold is less so.

I also used to play a bit of pool (8 ball, 9 ball), and I found that I could get some amazing results with atypical bridges and cue holds; the key point that really mattered is that I had absolute control over a number of things the cue would do (angle, stroke, speed, force, follow-through, etc.).

The classical bow hold provides a stability to build from. It has become generally accepted in the classic environment that such a hold will produce certain results. As long as all parties agree, there are no problems; it works.

It is possible other bow holds provide the appropriate stability for a specific purpose, however I would warn the student that if an instructor is saying there is only one way to hold the bow, then they are teaching the surface level, and not true bow control. The fiddle instructor may be teaching the mechanics, however if the specific hold is the emphasis, I would be concerned that the underlying principles are not well founded or understood. What does that hold provide that another does not?

Therefore, while you are suggesting one bow hold, and the other instructor is suggesting another, there is only one way I see to avoid it becoming confrontation; focus on the underlying principles, rather than the specific hold. If there is a limitation to that hold, show it. That would be the best way to have the student to recognize that a fiddler may be different than classical, however the underlying principles of the music are immutable.

November 22, 2009 at 02:55 PM ·

As an adult beginner with a focus on Scottish traditional fiddling I'm following this thread with a good deal of interest.

I suspect that David Sanderson is on the right lines when he says it is all about relaxation and flexibility.

I play with some very good traditional fiddlers. They use all kinds of techniques, but the one thing they all seem to have in common is a sense of comfort, relaxation and fluidity about their playing. Some use classical technique, some are wildly eccentric, but for traditional styles my personal observations would suggest that relaxation far outweighs "correctness" when it comes to the end result.

Again, when we're talking about safety, I suspect that relaxation is more important than correctness. I know two players who've suffered rather nasty injuries - and both are classically trained. But, to my eye at least, both play with a great deal of tension. On the other hand I know working pros with eccentric but relaxed technique who've played intensively for decades without any problems.

Having said all that, I've decided to go to a good classical teacher to build a strong foundation. I suspect that many fiddlers achieve their results despite their odd techniques, not because of them, and that sound classical technique will widen my choices musically.

But even within classical playing, there are a wide variety of bow holds and left hand positions. Some of the variation must be down to different body shapes and musical styles, but I'm beginning to suspect that (within sensible limits) much of the variation is because fine distinctions of technique matter far less than this inner sense of comfort, relaxation and flow...

November 22, 2009 at 03:11 PM ·

Though I feel learning the many different aspects of violin music has advantages, there is also the expression, "you cannot slave for two masters" (I realise that Jesus of Nazareth was talking about slaving for God & mamon at the same time, there is a principle that can be applied to slaving for two passions at the same time!)

Since it sounds like two teachers diametricly opposed,  to be taught by the two, in this case, would only slow down progress, and confuse the student.  In the end the student is going to have to choose one over the other.  As the above expression I quoted goes on to say, "For either the slave will love the one and hate the other, or love the other and hate the one."

November 22, 2009 at 03:14 PM ·

I am amused to be writing this just to the left of the photo of Mark O'Connor in the right column, with him displaying his determinedly straight right pinky, I believe a habit that goes back to his early fiddle playing and never disappeared as he developed his Classical playing.

It's good to see the discussion become one of variations in bow grip; the "what works" principle is important for fundamental ease and comfort.  I would add to my earlier comments regarding fiddle styles that control of bow pressure is very important in many styles as a way of adding rhythm and dynamics, often when playing double stops.  One result of this, it seems to me, is that heavier right arm pressure can be helpful; you have to be able to press hard enough to get those accents.

I tried to find good examples on Youtube, but no luck right now.  Here's a couple I did find, though:

this is the setting of "Bonaparte's Retreat" that ended up in Aaron Copland's hands, from a Library of Congress field recording in Kentucky, 1937:

And this is a West Virginia fiddler, holding the fiddle clear down at the bottom of his rib cage, playing and talking about a tune called "Yew Piney Mountain."

November 22, 2009 at 03:55 PM ·

Dear All, Thanks for the many interesting responses! They have helped me look more objectively at this question from several angles. Sorry, the post got long!

Heather- I haven't found a fiddle technique yet where classical bow use won't work. I won't rule out the possibility but lean that way. There are OT tunes with volume shifts mid-stroke, and bitty bow-rock ornamental notes which are not heard much in classical, but can be accomplished w/o changing bow use, for ex.

Re more than one teacher, some of my PS students studied privately outside & now vice versa. IMO a school instructor defers in cases of differing opinions. Lit. choice & rate of advancement are sometimes sources of disagreement, though tech. differences also come up.  My students attend festivals, contests, camps where they hear other perspectives and get lots of suggestions. Like in person :) I think its important to demonstrate & verbalize the whats & whys of what I teach; I work on that all the time. I don't dismiss out of hand teaching someone who has another teacher. I think who's in charge of what needs to be reasonably clear. I think folks looking for a new teacher probably typically do so before announcing.

Barry, et al- choking up isn't that bad, but it does reduce how much bow you have to work with. The frog end is very good, too, for accents, "crust" & drama which borders on impossible to get using only the upper 2/3. Baroque bow use, as noted, is similar to playing choked-up. Renowned pedagogues Rolland & Suzuki both wrote about using same for early learners.  IMO choked up is better than pinky stretched out since that seems to lead to locked or stiff joints. I've heard Mark & Reyna talk about their bowholds. More along the lines of it sort of happened & they didn't want to go so far back to undo. I try to take soundbites from any expert as just that. There they are w/a bunch of people asking, giving answers off the cuff, and I suspect are as likely as any of us to say later, "Why did I say that that way?"

Casey- Less-experienced fiddlers sometimes do seem to have less trouble playing fast & getting OK tone by choking up, but that is not necessarily a good reason to reject trying a classical-ish bowhold for its other advantages. Relatively advanced classical players can play d.... fast, while also flying all over the fingerboard, after all. I can't agree that radically changing bowholds style by style is a good idea. My pinky might float, let's say, if I knew I wasn't going to pick up the bow for a long while, but that is in the way a variation, and in keeping w/the several responses about ergonomics & potential for injury.

David- I know you didn't mean it, but lots of us classical guys are very far from rigid in the way you wrote. Yep- I keep my chin on the chinrest in orchestra. It's the convention, and it lets me get to the notes I need. Cajun fiddle at a dance? Maybe yes, maybe no. Etc., etc. I speculate that advanced players, whether playing classical or fiddle repertoire, can get away w/a lot more "sloppiness" than beginners or intermediates. After 50 years, my violin is pretty much attached and little adjustments on the fly just happen by instinct.

Thanks, Roland, for bringing this circle back around!

Re bow control vs. bow hold,  the point doesn't quite make sense to me. Yes, of course bow control, my "bow use", is the goal, but it's a knee bone connected to the thigh bone thing. A change anywhere changes something else. Has to. The bowhold being closest to the strings, choices here have the first effect, if not also the biggest.

FYI, at this point lessons with this student are over. For success & enjoyment, there is an element of trust that needs to run both ways, and I don't think that is there for either. I'm thinking about whether I should ask different questions when approached, and about how I describe myself & my teaching. My style is to build a plan as I go, but maybe there are guidelines I should put in. I put in extra time on this student's interest , but I would rather go overboard than the opposite. IMO, students any age get a big say in what they learn. Adult students are interesting, though, in how some of 'em understand that. Thanks again. I appreciate your time & thoughts. Sue

PS If anybody is interested, I've had some fiddle lessons & workshops with Brad, Bruce & Reyna mentioned above. Also, Jay Ungar, Rafe Stefanini, Marc O'Connor, Dirk Powell, Mitch Reed, Hadley Castille, David Greely, Tracy Schwarz and a handful of other top fiddlers. Sat in w/a few of 'em too :)

November 22, 2009 at 05:13 PM ·


I noticed O'Connor's straight pinky too. The only problem is that he would probably have to change it if he needed to play Mozart, or Haydn or anything else requiring various shades of off-string bowing.


November 23, 2009 at 01:18 AM ·


I'm drifting off topic here, but you might want to check out this wondrous version of Bonaparte's Retreat: Scottish fiddler Aly Bain jamming with some of Nashville's best...


November 23, 2009 at 04:48 PM ·

Gorgeous, Geoff.  I'm a hopeless sucker for drones, and always find this sort of arrangement satisfying, if that description makes any sense.  On the other hand I find something missing that I think is important for old time music generally.  This is a group of expert musicians, playing rather carefully.  There's a sense of restraint there, which makes it a little formal.  What they're missing is what I call an "edge," a taste of wildness that pushes the rhythm and searches for ways to violate the tempered scale.  Makes the hairs on your neck rise, if that makes any sense to others.

Going a bit astray, I will suggest that this use of rhythm is one of those features of traditional styles that is often fundamental.  Bluegrass is the best example I know.  A Bluegrass band that plays like a metronome is rarely very interesting; turn to Bill Monroe especially and you get what is referred to as "drive," which is basically pushing the rhythm ahead of the beat, aggressively.  Makes a big difference.

Anyway, Sue is right that I didn't mean to insult anyone - I'm fascinated that the discussion has turned into an exploration of variations in technique and what's possible.  I'm also impressed that Sue has spent so much time paying attention to fiddlers, clearly a person who loves the possibilities of the instrument in its various guises. 

Knowing this, Sue,  I would suggest that you are well equipped to deal with the problem student, and made an informed decision when you dropped him.  You've got no reason to feel guilty about the situation.  I would be interested in knowing what tune was involved here that is so exotic that only one bow grip permits you to play it.

What I described earlier with my own playing is pretty much what was mentioned by someone else, that is going to standardized Classical technique as a way of learning to play "better," in the word's various implications.  I've ended up changing the instrument position, moving to the collarbone, dropped the rigid shoulder rest, and learned a generally standard bow grip.  A lot of changes, and likely at age 66 none too soon, and it's taken a while to assimilate it all, especially because I don't practice nearly enough.  Oh, and I also got myself some Baker's rosin and switched to Warchal strings after using Infeld for a long time, a combination that my instrument seems to like a lot.

And good results generally, faster, more articulate, not bad tone.  The one thing I notice in all this is a continuing impulse to press with the first finger, I think because that pressure is used so commonly for dynamics in fiddle playing (or at least I always have).  Trying to work at lifting the first finger and playing is quite hard, but as I understand it something that can be considered important for Classical playing.  I see this as Russian vs. Belgian grip - Paul Anastasio, from Seattle, quite a fiddler who studied with Joe Venuti, talks about this in Fiddler magazine columns, saying that Venuti insisted on the Russian grip because it offered better first finger pressure control (Venuti also insisted on Kreutzer and Paganini for practice, interestingly enough).

And what I think may be the case is that this use of first finger pressure is a technical peculiarity that works with fiddling especially, though I can't claim any real confirmation of it at this point.  I'd be interested in hearing from anyone who hasn't worked on fiddle styles and tests the theory out.

November 24, 2009 at 02:14 AM ·


I read and re-read your description of this fiddle bow-hold...and it sounds (correct me if I'm wrong folks) unlike any fiddle bow-hold I've encountered, and that's a lot - I've met  and jammed with a lot of the top fiddlers in the country and no-one does anything that's as uncomfortable as what you describe sounds and feels when I try it... Your desrciption sounds like someone's mis-understanding of a classical bowhold and not real conducive to the driving rhythm that characterizes american and celtic fiddle styles.

November 25, 2009 at 04:33 AM ·



may I introduce myself: I'm the one who is apparently the reason for this long thread.

I hope after my comments you may revise your view. I subscribed this forum just for the purpose of setting things straight. I apologize if I contributed to some misunderstanding. In no way I did mean to undermine your honorable efforts in teaching.


As far as I get the information straight you are conveying, I consider this a typical example of how information change if they go thru a 3rd party (especially thru a beginners mind).


First some general notes: I am a classically trained violinist with love to Celtic, Bluegrass, OT and Texas Swing. I am now completing my 44th year on this instrument and even though I spent most of the time now on Texas Swing, OT and Bluegrass, I still play lots of classical music as Violin Concertos (Bruch, Beethoven, Beriot, ....) and Quartetts.

I am teaching with open mind and manage to play lots of different styles as far as bow hold which btw is and always has been a hot discussion topic. I have seen many different ways, I am trying them all out. If I see a new way of holding the bow I am eger to learn this. I have found that if you play a certain technique long enough you typically stick to it and teach it (and even believe this is the right one). But may be, if you would have spent the equal amount of time learning a different technique, you might have acomplished the same thing. ... Who really knows?


As far as the bowing technique you are discribing I supposedly taught, may I comment: We can't believe every word of a beginner 100%. We want to take him for serious, but just be careful how you interprete what he is showing you. He might have misunderstood, forgotton or mixed up information. Beginners are easily overwelmed with the millions of information and have to rely on their memory, which is not backed up by thousands of hours of practice and continuously reminding.


Now to the real topic of this discussion:

As far as the thumb in the frog notch: I have seen this technique, find it myself uncomfortable and do not teach it. There are too many downsides and restrictions with this method.

As far as pinky on the screw: I told this student that some teach using a curved finger, some a straight finger. My pinky is straight when applying pressure, curved in relaxed mode (see Heifetz plays Tchaikovsky, same thing) and I can't change it after that many years. Although, it does not really matter. It is important that students understand what and when the pinky is used for. How you use it depends on your hand, finger length etc. What I have told him is that the pinky comes into play when you

a) play between the COG (center of gravity of the bow) and the frog. In this section the pinky will be used to equalize (take off) weight of the bow.

b) for certain techniques as spiccato etc or any other reasons lifting the bow.

But for most legato parts you don't really need the pinky, bowing pressure is controlled by index finger. (see how Perlman's pinky is often detached from bow)


Wrist action: I am a strong believer in a loose wrist. If you play fast tunes (160 to 180 = 10.5 to 12 notes per second) it is impossible to play them out of the arm without risking hurting yourself. The classical technique 'Sautille' is impossible to play out of arm (and also impossible with pinky touching the bow). Soft and smooth playing with seamless bowing transitions work only out of wrist. Special wrist exercises I teach when the student is ready and has the basics down.


Now, talking about multiple teacher: I am a believer of staying with one teacher (if it is the right one, if the student don't feel this way I recommend rather changing the teacher than going to multiple teacher). But I do encourage my students to get more and different opinions about playing. I think it is a good thing to go to some seminars and sniff around. Thus I receive also more information and I am challenged in continuously proving or improving my method. I am NOT saying that my method is the only one. (Never said he couldn't play if he is not playing my style, but I did say if the wrist is not loose he won't be able to play Katy Hill with 140 to 160 speed)

Look at Bruce Molski, wonderful music he plays, so does Itzak Perlman, Johnny Gimble, Aubrey Haynie, Yehudy Menuhin, Bobby Hicks, Sasha Heifetz; the list is endles. And everybody has a little different way of holding the bow. Most are small changes which work for the individual a little better for what they want to do.

But it is fact that different ways of holding the bow do sound different and have pros and cons. It is up to the teacher to make the student aware of the different sounds so he can decide what  or how he wants to sound like.


Talking to my old teacher (retired 1st chair of a symphony orchestra in Germany and having taught over 500 students in his life) he admitted that sometimes he is teaching TOF, mostly for children because it's easier for them to get started. There is no such thing as 'picture perfect classical bowhold'. No offense ment, I am sure you are a great experienced player and know what you are doing, but so do thousands of other violinists and they all do it a little different.

(Remember there were times when it was even taught that the elbow has to hang down and the right wrist is almost 90 degrees bend? There is even a book about this, I believe somewhat of 80 or more years ago, my mother was still taught this way. This method was replaced by straight wrist approach)

If a student shows me something he has seen somewhere else I appreciate this and discuss this openly and hopefully I can explain why I prefer my way. If this differs from my method I don't talk bad about the other teacher/method . As said before, there are too many ways of doing the same thing.


I am under the impression that the Suzuki method is more and more becoming a so called "standard". Well, I had a few students coming from Suzuki and every single one had a different posture and bowhold.

I am more old fashioned, for classical training I believe in Sevcik, Kreutzer, Mazas and all this good old boring stuff which trains the fingers to do what they are supposed to do. But my fiddle students get different treats. For them it is more important to learn tunes and I challenge their memory. I put some finger exercises together for them. Some don't read music and don't want to. So I adopt my teaching to what they are open for. I don't try to turn a OT player into a violinist. It is his choice. Still I offer the student to teach the methods if he is open for it. Same the other way around, I offer classical player to show them how OT or Bluegrass or Swing is played and differs from classical playing, ... if they want to learn it.


One thing I do not compromise, no matter what style, is timing and intonation.


One nice thing about the long path of violin/fiddle playing is: Nothing is carved in stone, there is no techgnique that really spoils a student. We can learn new stuff as long as we want to (and the body cooperates). Some techniques are a dead end for certain things to play, others are door opened and others are universal. Hopefully we can offer our students what they need and bring joy and fun into their life.


best regards


November 25, 2009 at 06:38 PM ·


Thanks for posting, and the level of detail you provided. This shows how many misconceptions are caused by incomplete communication. The student may have been doing his best to describe, but it may be like a blind man describing an elephant; the student can't recognize when there is something missing.

This also shows how helpful this site can be; it provides us all an opportunity to communicate.

Thanks again, Laurie, for the site!

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