Reaching the Tip of the Bow -- Why Not Use a 3/4 bow with a 4/4 violin?

January 25, 2010 at 09:03 PM ·

I’m a petite person (5'0", small frame, shorter arms) who plays a 4/4 violin an bow but cannot reach the tip of the bow.  I’ve searched previous threads/discussions re switching from a 4/4 bow to a 3/4, but unless I missed something (apologies if so), I could not find an answer as to WHY this is usually not done. To be honest, it makes pretty good sense to me, especially if the difference between the two sizes is not huge but enough to enable one to reach the tip. But, as I am totally new to the violin, I wanted to ask all of you what the rationale is for sticking with the 4/4 bow.


Thanks very much in advance.


Replies (29)

January 25, 2010 at 09:06 PM ·

I would change the placement of the instrument so that the tip of the bow can be's a matter of angles. Holding the violin more in the center as opposed to the left (where chinrests are usually mounted) can make a big difference.

Also, a lot of violinists tend to hold the instrument very far to the left. If you rotate it an inch or two to the right, combined with the above hold, you'll probably find reaching the tip while maintaining the angle of your correct bow stroke is no issue at all. :)

January 25, 2010 at 10:06 PM ·

I've had students with the same issue, though I've never run into it in an adult.  What Gene said often can fix the issue, but I have had students where  we marked "Tip tapes" that were about as far as their arm could reach without stretching.  If Gene's tips don't fix the problem, I can't see why a 3/4 bow would be an issue as long as it's a decent quality bow for your level.

January 25, 2010 at 10:30 PM ·

As another 5 footer (well, 151cm, actually), I say do it and see. I got a lot of raised eyebrows when I moved from a 4/4 to a 3/4 for instrument and bow. At the time, I had thought that eventually I would afford a good 7/8 and look for a slightly less than full size bow when I was ready to upgrade.  I had a very specific reason for getting the 3/4 - trying to do vibrato practise on my 4/4 was extremely painful, even after only a few seconds, and I just knew I wasn't going to get it under that circumstance.

What happened surprised me, as the immediate reduction in tension meant that at last I could concentrate on learning to play. I am convinced that I would have struggled for a long time to get a straight bow and vibrato had i not moved down a size. Although I was told I didn't have to go to the tip of the 4/4 bow, for anyone who's tried to do that and land in a consistent place, especially starting on an up bow - its bloody difficult. And when you add that sort of difficulty to everything else that learning involves, it just didn't seem worth the effort.

I enjoyed the 3/4 outfit for 18 months, and then started looking for an upgrade - I was starting to feel cramped - and at the time I was looking for slightly more petite instrument dimensions. I had played my teachers violin a fair bit, and it is an older italian which is at the smaller body length of 4/4, and just a fraction narrower at the bouts, and much lighter. It was easy to play.

I discovered that in fact the training on the 3/4 had trained me to fit to a full sized intrument and bow. 

If you can access a 3/4 bow (I purchased a Coda Prodigy and had the original student wood bow that came with the 3/4 outfit) give it a shot. Nothing has to be forever, if you don't like it, move back, if you do like, use it until its time to change.

January 26, 2010 at 02:00 AM ·

Jaime Laredo has a great sound and I noticed him holding the bow further up on the stick.

January 26, 2010 at 05:34 AM ·

 Indeed (re Jaime Laredo). :)

Depending on your setup, you may not *need* to use so much bow.  This depends not only on your type of bow arm, but on your equipment as well.  And that would mean not having to worry about straining at the tip.  After all... if you're playing with a 3/4 bow, you're essentially just shortening the amount of bow you're playing with.  Which, btw, for the type of setup I have... the less bow, the better and richer the sound.

As for holding the fiddle more centered... I'm only a fan of that if it's comfortable for your body, and also, if it sets the bow up in a good position on the strings, for what your bow arm naturally does.  In my case, neither of those things are true and I'm definitely more of a fiddle-to-the-side build.  Fits perfectly with my body/bow.  So, as with any of these suggestions... there are no absolute rules... just see what works for you.  Best of luck!

January 26, 2010 at 01:05 PM ·

I've had a couple of petite adult students with problems similar to yours.  They didn't realize it, but the full size violin was a bit too large for them to play comfortably.  They have got 7/8 size violins.  They can reach to the tip of the bow and handle their violins much more comfortably and easily.  They sound a lot better, too.  I am tall with long arms, and I can barely notice the difference between 4/4 and 7/8 violins when I try to play them, but adults with smaller builds find that the 7/8 size violins suit them much better.  You may have to search for a 7/8, but it will be well worth it.

January 27, 2010 at 04:43 AM ·

I'm quite tall and still find my arms too short!!!   The one who invented the bow must have been a giant!  

 For sure you should experiment with  a smaller instrument and bow... Confort is so improtant! 

good luck!


Some small persons as my teacher do just find with a full size but they are really flexible with hands that are wide ennough to compensate for the short fingers in stretches.

January 27, 2010 at 05:11 PM ·

From my observations, discussion with professional violinists, successful teachers and my archive materials I am sure of the following:

  • If you have to reduce your bow length down to 75% in order to be able playing with the tip, the chance is close to 100% you've been tought a (bluntly spoken) wrong posture. Or you might have chosen this wrong posture yourself.
  • It's "wrong" not just because you get "bow limited" but mainly because you will damage your health to the extent that violin playing will be impossible for you pretty soon.

Anyone interested in more details on this matter, please, feel free to send me an email.


January 27, 2010 at 05:27 PM ·

I am also a petite person. I'm 5'1" with short arms, but I play a 4/4 instrument with a full-sized bow. I've been playing for 3-1/2 years. When I first started playing, the instrument felt very large and it was impossible to use the entire bow, but the more experience I get, and the more relaxed I am while playing, the more bow I've been able to use. The only modification I have made to my instrument is to change to a center-mounted chin rest.

While I still haven't managed to get all the way to the tip, it's not an issue because I have worked on controlling my bow distribution. That way I don't "run out of bow" before I get to the limit of my reach.

January 27, 2010 at 05:47 PM ·

I think bow length is a personal choice. There have been various sizes of bows available, and bow lengths differ today, between different makers. I think we should just look away from the 4/4, 3/4 labels and just use what's right for us.

Of course, I use a centre mounted chin rest and a full size bow. But I tried a baroque bow, and it was much shorter but "felt" equally long when bowing. 

January 27, 2010 at 10:07 PM ·

Just to clarify: I don't mean "holding the instrument in the center" as in changing the position of the scroll in relationship to the body (we all hold it out to the left).

I am talking about changing where the back of the violin meets the neck; so for example the end button would be next to the neck, rather than the rib to the left of the tailpiece.

This has a great effect on the angle available for bowing...with my students I try to find where the middle of their range of arm motion  for bowing is.

March 10, 2010 at 06:18 AM ·

I saw immediate results from their instructions:

March 10, 2010 at 01:55 PM ·

Looking for a "lady's violin" (7/8) might be an idea for you, but I think those are commonly played with 4/4 bows. I use a full-size top-quality German student violin when teaching which is quite lightweight but still sounds pretty, so I can attest to the idea of considering both actual weight & weight-distribution of the violin. // The angle at which you hold the violin has everything to do with how long the bow feels, and how easy it is to play at the frog & tip. // I regularly tape "stop signs" on bow tips for growing children & adult novices. // IMO the issue of using a 3/4 bow on a 4/4 violin is that the entire bow is fractional; it is not only shortened. You would have less bow length to contend with, but also less weight at the frog, and the weight is distributed differently. This could mean you have to work harder to draw good tone, play forte, or achieve a wide range between quietest & loudest. I am not sure that is a good trade-off. Plus keep in mind that an awful lot of music doesn't require bow strokes that use the full length of the bow. Sue

March 10, 2010 at 05:01 PM ·

I am short (just under 5'1") with very short arms and hands.  I also have joint problems. I started out with a 4/4 and full-size bow.  After many iterations and painful shoulders and hands, I've ended up with a 3/4 violin and 3/4 bow.  The first change came with the 3/4 bow when my teacher realized I had very little control near the tip.  ( I am not sure that I ever reached the tip, and I switched to a 3/4 bow very early on.)

If you can play without pain, it may not matter as much.  But if there is pain, I think it is worth switching to smaller instrument and bow.

Best of luck,


March 10, 2010 at 06:13 PM ·

I am another very short player.  I used a 7/8 size violin during the last year of high school and first year of college.  My teacher in college urged me to find either a really nice 7/8 size violin or move up to a full size.  In my sophomore year I moved up to a full size violin and have been playing on the same instrument for the last 5 years.

I have had some problems with tension before, but those were due to overpracticing and not stretching, and I can use my full bow with a full size (and it is has VERY tall ribs).  I still use a side mounted chin rest but I DO have to bring my violin a little closer to my front.  I experimented for a very long time with my setup.

Also, the violin does not stay have to stay in a perfectly fixed position.  When I come towards the tip, I sometimes bring my violin just slightly further towards the right (the front) so that I can reach all the way out to the tip.  On average I perhaps lose a little tiny bit of bow at the tip but it is possible.

As a beginning student, I would urge you to begin on a full size bow.  I suppose there may be reasons and times when it won't work for everyone but I am only 5'0" with very, very short arms and even smaller fingers!!!

March 10, 2010 at 09:57 PM ·

Christina, I'm interested that you consider "As a beginning student, I would urge you to begin on a full size bow".  Just that I found I developed more quickly on a 3/4, always with the intention of going back to closer to full again eventually.  My 2c wjorth, but the realxation allowed by the smaller and lighter intrument worked in my favour.  Returning to full size was easy when the time was right.

April 9, 2010 at 06:14 AM ·

It amazes me to know how many petite people out there with same problem as mine.

I also have problems with reaching the tip, pain at the wrist and the bow is totally out of control, it literally jumps off the strings!!!

As far as I understand from above ideas, people say it's better to use 3/4 size for the sake of comfortable. Other than that, can anyone tell me whether it would compromise the sound or not? I'm going to upgrade my bow while saving up for better instrument. I need your advice to decide the bow size since I can't afford buy a new bow if this new one is going to be wrong.


April 9, 2010 at 06:21 AM ·

---double post.

April 9, 2010 at 08:25 AM ·

No one can tell you definitively that buying X or Y bow is wrong.  If you are concerned about sound,  I'm sure there are excellent quality violins and bows in 3/4 size, but one of the big deciders for me in starting to experiment back up in size again was that here in Australia there just wasn't that sort of choice.  There was early beginner or intermediate beginner, but certainly nothing worth paying much for.  Maybe the accessibility of instruments will be a deciding facto for you as well.

there was NO pernambuco 3/4 bow when I was looking locally, and it just wasn't worth ordering and having to ship back overseas if the bow wasn't suitable.  I think at the time there wasn't really much choice at all in a good bow even looking overseas, nothing called 'fine' and 3/4. So what I did, was get the best quality I could afford in a carbon bow, again, knowing that this would not be the bow to end all bows.  Even that took a bit of checking, and its why I got the coda prodigy, because most companies make beginner carbon 3/4 bows but only better quality in full size. There probably was some change in sound, but I'd had a bad sounding full size, and the 3/4 outfit ended up much better than what I paid for it, relatively speaking.  It is still worth checking as many instruments as possible, because there was a huge difference between the 3/4 violins I played in sound, although not that much in price.

It was a relief when I came to upgrading instruments to discover that I could play 4/4, it is just much easier to get decent quality when the market isn't large. 

April 9, 2010 at 12:34 PM ·

If you use 100% of the length of a 3/4 bow, and let's say that comes to about 80% of the length of a full-size bow, then you are actually using the same amount of hair in both cases. But all things being equal, the difference in the weights of the two bows favors using a full-size bow to best pull out the sound of a full-size violin. There are also differences here and there among lengths of full-size bows, and you can look for one that's a bit shorter. I also agree that the violin's placement can help or hinder the situation as has been pointed out above.

Another issue is that some players feel that they have to reach the point at all costs, and do so by extending their arm to the point that it's entirely straight and the elbow is locked, and even jut out their shoulder a bit. Not a good idea! There should always be at least a very slight bend in the elbow - even at the tip. Rather than insist on a paralel bow, a slight figure-8 helps, wherein we round off the bow a bit as we approuch the tip. Try it; you'll like it!

April 9, 2010 at 02:28 PM ·

 That all makes sense to me. And what i actually care is the sound it produces. I'm a beginner so i can't tell that, plus i don't have another 3/4 to try out.

@Raphael: ThanksI'm exactly the type you describe, and so does my teacher.   He wants me to reach it, we've been trying to fix my position but non has worked. I found a link from someone here, and trying to square off my arms. It works slightly, i mean it does work, even though the result was no that great because the pain in wrist still there.

4/4: 29.5";  3/4:27" That two inches mean a lot when I look at my bow and trying really hard to reach.

I have lot of problems with violin, from picking size to bow. i'm using a 4/4 now, because store here they don't carry 7/8 and they charge a big amount of $$ to order one. I wrote to many shops online, asking them which size I actually should use, 2 replied, and they both say 7/8. with my measurement: from my neck to mid of my palm is 23.5 inches,, I'm very short, about 5f and very small hands, 2.3 and 2.5 inches for my fingers.

btw, my teacher wanted me to use 4/4, he said i just needed to try harder, and for another reason that 3/4 is too small, low sound and hard to find. He heard of 7/8 size but never seen one. And. he think playing 4/4 easier for me to borrow/use anyone's instrument because theyre all same size.

So I think along with helping to pick between 4/4 with more effort or a 3/4, you may help me with sizing of instrument too. I'm saving for upgrading anyway.


April 9, 2010 at 08:25 PM ·


Since you are using the same amount of bow either way, why bother with a 3/4 bow unless weight is an issue (but then there are lighter 4/4 bows)? It's simply much easier to find good 4/4 bows than 3/4 ones. My teacher actually suggested that I downsize to a 3/4 violin but keep my 4/4 bows...  I'm taller than you so my arms are probably longer, but I used to not be able reach the tip (with a 7/8 violin) until I switched to a Berber/Ohrenform chinrest (although that was not why I switched), which is center-mounted.  So if it's important for you to reach the tip, you might want to give a center-mounted chinrest a try.


Your teacher's "just try harder" attitude is alarming. Are you playing violin for pleasure? Or are you aiming to become a professional? Either way, pain is not something to contend with. You don't want to get injured and not be able to do what you love...  You should discuss your pain with your teacher, and ask him to help you figure out a way to play without pain. If it means that you cannot use the tip of the bow, so be it.  BTW, my teacher also cannot reach the tip, but it did not prevent her from getting a position in a good professional symphony orchestra.

As for the size of the instrument -- I am 159cm (5'2.6") tall ; my arm length is 23.5" from neck to wrist (so probably 2" longer than yours). However, I have hands of a 10-year-old and pinkies of a 6-year-old. A 4/4 fingerboard is definitely too large for me both in length and width (or I have not come across one that's small enough). I play a 7/8 that I can just barely do vibrato on, so my teacher suggested that I look for an even smaller violin. My luthier inspected my 7/8 and found that the width of the fingerboard is the same as a 4/4 (even though it's shorter), so I have not been taking full advantage of a real 7/8 violin (I wish I had been told beforehand...) Another problem is that the fingerboard is too flat, which makes it harder to play.  I have been trying out a "real" 7/8 and a 3/4 for a week - with both the 7/8 and 3/4, vibrato is much easier. With the 7/8, it's easier to play in tune and shift to 7th or higher positions than before (probably thanks to the curve of the fingerboard), but I still have challenges with reach - such as playing 2-3 trills on the A string along with the E string  (i.e. double stops with whole -step trills) and fingered-octaves.  With the 3/4, reach is not a problem, but due to the narrower spacings between strings, I haven't figured out a way to prevent my finger pad from touching the next string in some positions, so it's bad for double stops/chords and string-crossings; also my arm feels cramped especially when the elbow is way under the violin. In conclusion,  not all violins of the same size are created equal. Nobody can help you figure out what you need on the internet. You have to try them out and see what works for you.

April 9, 2010 at 09:56 PM ·

Hello!  I'm also very much a beginner, and am having problems reaching the tip as well...  I'm not a petite girl, I'm about 5'9" so I guess I have about average length arms?  I can reach it if I completely let go with the other fingers and hold the bow with only my thumb and index finger when I get to about 90% or something...  Your hand isn't supposed to come out of position, is it?  I know I sound pathetic!  I've been looking around online and I'm having a hard time finding exactly what to do when I get to that point...  Sorry if I sound clueless!


April 10, 2010 at 01:02 AM ·

 For what it's worth, I remember reading an interview with Erick Friedman, where he recalls discussing with his students why the bow is as long as it is. Some of his students had no idea, and some thought it was simply because it *fit in the case.*

At the end, Friedman states that bow is geared to work well for people with average-length arms. That seems to fit with the adage of "make the equipment fit you, not the other way around."

April 10, 2010 at 07:36 AM ·

 Thanks Lin for your detail reply. I'm an adult beginner, and yes, playing violin is sheer pleasure.

As I stated, try them out is not an option for me because all stores dont stock 7/8 size. Hard to believe but it's true. I tried 3/4 and see that it's really too smaller so I think 7/8 is good. Thanks to your experiences, I'll make sure the store check my 7/8 width of the fingerboard when I purchase one.

Before entering this world, I thought i just needed to grab an instrument then learn to play, never was awared of such a lengthy bloody difficult process to find the right thing for eveything from instruments to posture...I'm not complaining, I'm just saying how complicated things are to me in my country.

April 10, 2010 at 12:34 PM ·

Re Erick Friedman and the length of bow - with great respect to him, I think that there is more to it than that. I think that trial and error, issues of weight, camber,  mathematical proportions etc. - oh, and a genius named Tourte - all have played a role in establishing the standard length.

Any bow makers out there who would like to weigh in?

April 11, 2010 at 07:36 AM ·

I'm 5'2 and I had some thoughts on the tip as well. I found the trick is in the fingers not the arm. Say if your fingers stay pretty much the same shape at the middle of the bow as well as at the tip, it's not that you have no way of reaching the tip; you can, but you won't have a straight bow at the tip this way, right? So to get a straight bow at the tip for shorter armed person, you need to think how to move your bow fingers in a way that they will keep the frog down as well as farther away from your body to keep the tip parallel to the bridge when you are getting towards the tip. Don't try to extend your arm or wrist but let the fingers to steer the bow. I hope this is helpful.  

April 11, 2010 at 09:06 PM ·

Hi Phil,

  Using a smaller bow CAN indeed be done. At the end of the day, there is no reason to make life more difficult. Yet, it depends if your arms are genuinely out of proportion to the rest of your body (assuming that a 4/4 violin DOES fit you).

  You might want to look into a 7/8 size bow as well, if they exist! I've heard of 7/8 violins but not bows.

  Another, more practical possibility - When you get to the tip, try to let go of your pinky off the stick. See if that gives you more length.


Good luck!




April 15, 2010 at 07:27 PM ·

( Sorry to the OP! I am aware that this is off-topic.)

Phuong said:  I'll make sure the store check my 7/8 width of the fingerboard when I purchase one.

It's more complicated than that. There is no standard for fractional violins, and I suspect that it's especially true for 7/8's. Currently I have 4 7/8 violins out on approval from various sources (7/8 violins are also hard to come by in the US - most shops only have 1 or 2, if any).  There is one that has a 3/4 fingerboard in width (so string spacings are smaller), some fingerboards are curvier than others, some have sharper edges so they are not comfortable to play on, some necks are thicker than others, etc. For small-handed people, every factor affects playability in some ways. That's why I encourage you to try as many as possible (I understand that it's not possible in Vietnam), and find one that fits you the best physically, rather than going for sound (It's a daunting task).

On a happier note for my own violin hunting - after trying many and none works well enough for me,  the violin shop where I got my 7/8 agreed to alter it free-of-charge, since the fingerboard is "defective" (arguably). They will also shorten the string length for me. So hopefully I'll have a violin that fits me better in a week. I hope your violin hunting turns out well for you too. Good luck!

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