Shaking bow on long down bows

May 11, 2010 at 04:41 PM ·

Over the last few years, I have developed a tendency to slightly shake or bobble while I am drawing a long down bow on a single note, particularly if I am playing softly.  I do not have the problem if I am playing moving notes in the same long bow and it does not seem to happen in the up bow.  I have looked as some of the past topics and they seemed more focused on nervousness.  This happens to me in the practice room as well as during performance.  I have done some Alexander work and while sometimes it helps but it has not solved the problem.  I do attempt to soften my right shoulder and again it sometimes makes a small difference but there is still a bit of shaking.  I have also tried to breathe when the bow shakes but it does not seem to impact the problem.  Does anyone have any ideas?

Replies (19)

May 11, 2010 at 05:05 PM ·

How much force are you applying to the bow frog with your thumb?

Excessive pressure on the thumb is one of many things that can cause "bow shakes."

May 11, 2010 at 08:05 PM ·

In front of a mirror, check your right shoulder to see if it is 'calm' or relaxed. Feel the weight of your arm and hand that is dropped on the string when you do the down bow to get the sense which part of your arm and hand is doing a better job on sound production at each point. Breath, softly.

May 11, 2010 at 08:59 PM ·

I have a very soft grip on the bow and my thumb is relaxed so I don't think that is the source of the problem.  I regularly check in the mirror to see if my shoulder is relaxed and also check my breathing.  While sometimes I catch my shoulder being tense, the problem seems to exist even when I have assured myself that my right side is relaxed. 

Thank you both for writing.

May 11, 2010 at 11:26 PM ·


I think there is a tendency to focus on what is goin on -on top- of the body .  If yo like we search for tension in the area that is vissible if we look down and to the right with our eyes only.

Instead,  you might try experimenting wth relxing the under arm ad armpit region nwith the following exercise:   put the violin and bow in position and bend over so that your forehad is as close to the knees as you can get it.  From here practice long sow bows or whatever with everything upside down (almost).  After you revrt to he normal playing position evaluate what is happening.

Not recommende after a bowl of prunes...




May 12, 2010 at 12:03 AM ·

Most curious.  When I played with the violin nearly upside down, my bow continued to shake.  However when I returned to the normal position, I was able to draw a bow without shaking.  I need to understand this exercise a bit better so that I can duplicate the sensation without having to play upside down.  I will also have to see how long this state lasts.  How does this work?

May 12, 2010 at 12:25 AM ·

I practised much to eliminate this problem, and it never happened that one day, all of a sudden it was fixed. I only experienced short moments of realisation......."yes, this is it"!!, and then I would lose it. But now I had the sounds and sensations to focus on in my imagination, while I was away from the instrument, even now as I write this. I applied this also in the begining when I was seeking to achieve glorious tones with my bow stroke, I found the best time to imagine this was upon retiring for the night. There must be tension somewhere because thats what causes the bow to shake. Check out Clayton's DVD 'Dynamic Breath Control', don't be decieved by it's simplicity, it is beneficial to many aspects. This would be the best kept secret of' violin mastery'.

May 12, 2010 at 12:28 AM ·

 Yoga and salmon oil 

May 12, 2010 at 12:29 AM ·

Hi, I'm not at all at your level and can't give advice but is this recent?  Did you have this a few years ago???  If not, maybe seeing a doctor would be a good idea...   Hope it's nothing medical but just to be 100% sure.  If it's not and that you don't have succes with all the wonderful exercises people suggest, would it be a good idea to train and get a little more muscle to add "weight" to your arm???  Very light arms tend to shake more easilly.   (But relaxation is surely the first issue to look at...)  Again, just an idea and I'm not pretending to provide advice...

Good luck!!! And Bravo to have studied with Joseph Szigeti!!!  (This is amazing)


May 12, 2010 at 02:55 AM ·

 Great suggestions above, also make sure your elbow isn't too high; I notice that this creates problems with my bow in softer passages. 

May 12, 2010 at 02:56 AM ·

Hi Lawrence,

I would second Buri's suggestion of paying attention to shoulder adduction (moving upper arms down to the sides) and abduction (moving upper arms away from the sides.)

My guess is that when you do the upside-down bowing exercise, your upper arms become accustomed to playing with a floating feeling (abducted). Since your upper arms are hanging when upside-down, you have to apply weight to the bow with only the forearms. When you play right-side up again, you retain the feeling of a raised (abducted) arm and apply weight with the forearm only. Off the top of my head, Christian Ferras played this way. We could describe it as bowing with the elbow held higher than the hand (most of the time.)

For those who play with a more variable relationship between elbow and hand (such as Heifetz, Oistrach) the upper arm must adduct/abduct appropriately for the context. I've observed that people with lighter and/or relatively shorter arms need to vary the weight of the upper arm more and so need to vary the adduction/abduction of their upper arms more. In any case the upper arm must coordinate with bowing toward the balance point (the angles within the arm will depend upon proportions); as the down bow passes through the balance point, the upper arm must release or float (abduct) or at least stay level; there may be trembling if the shoulder joint 'tightens through the armpit' (adducts) through the balance point.

Of course flexibility through the ball joint of the shoulder must also coordinate with the wrist; i.e. as upper arm abducts, the wrist must extend in response and vice-versa. The trembling might also be caused by a flexing wrist through the balance point. Perhaps a simpler way of describing all of this is to always follow the curve of the bow for legato bowing.

Hope that helps,


May 12, 2010 at 01:26 PM ·

This may simply be a camber problem in the bow that you have begun to notice as your playing has become more skilful. Try holding the bow only between the tips of your thumb and index finger and bowing slowly with no pressure at all. If the bow wobbles in the center when "playing" this way, it's the bow. This is a very common problem, seen in many bows, and can be solved by a good bowmaker adjusting the camber. Not everyone who works on bows will be able to handle it, though.

May 12, 2010 at 01:27 PM ·

Thank you Anne Marie for your thoughtful comments.  I have been a little worried that since this has only developed in the last few years, it could be a physical problem.  However the exercises I have received through this thread has pretty much convinced me that I can solve the problem.

Thank you Matt and JK.  I think I have a better idea of what might be happening.  I have very long arms and the relationship between wrist, forearm and upper arm must be at the root of the problem.  I cannot understand why this problem suddenly appeared but it must have had something to do with some bad practice habits. 

I don't think it is a bow problem because it happens with all of my bows.  My main bow is a very fine D. Peccatte which has always been maintained by experienced craftsmen.

I certainly appreciate all of the useful and considered comments that have been made.  Thanks to all.



May 12, 2010 at 03:50 PM ·

 Well I'm no where near your playing level, but I fixed my shaking bow problem a while back by realizing that the force necessary to play any note, at any part of the bow, should be provided by pressing perfectly perpendicularly into the violin, with force distributed equally at the frog and at the head. 

When the forces are unbalanced, the string won't be pressed down directly into the violin, and thus it won't vibrate from side to side as it is pulled. The slight vertical component of the oscillation will cause the bow to "shiver", especially when the bow hair becomes more taut closer to the head, and is less able to absorb that vertical vibration.

I got the diagram from Evelyn Hermann's biography of Shinichi Suzuki, but the explanations are my own.

May 12, 2010 at 03:56 PM ·

1. If a down bow has a bit of a clockwise trajectory as one goes from frog to tip, it will have some tendency to leave the string.  This is the basis of sautillee.  Hence, a small correction of the down bow's trajectory , making it a bit counter-clockwise, helps the bow stick to the string.  One can appreciate this if he imagines that the shaft of the bow is hollow. -- As you go down bow, the counter-clockwise rotation lifts the hand end of the bow up, causing an imagined ball bearing in the hollow bow shaft to roll toward the string.  That's where you want the weight to go.

2. Nervous bows can be tamed to some extent by making bow speed changes more gradual.

3. Combining the above two ideas: since a sudden speed with a little clockwise rotation on a down bow is the movement which is most likely to cause bow shake, use it as a test in comparing bows and selecting one that stays glued to the string, and has the least tendency to shake.

May 12, 2010 at 07:52 PM ·

To get a really good picture of what's happening at your end, I would need to hear and see your playing in person and then try the sustained down-bow myself on one note at piano or pianissimo, using your very same instrument and bow and strings.

I don't know how much you're tightening your bow.  Over the years, I've been surprised at the excessive tightening even some professionals will do.  As a kid, I got some valuable input on this subject from a professional symphony player.  He advised me to tighten the hairs only enough to take up the slack -- no more.  I found that this helped noticeably.

May 12, 2010 at 09:48 PM ·

Hi Lawrence,

It might also help to see what's going on in your left shoulder. Even if I'm not shrugging it, or pushing it forward, or even squeezing through the armpit, I've often been able to regain control of a nervous bow arm simply by releasing tension through the left shoulder ball joint. Feeling contrary motion through the shoulders (or at least counterbalance from the left shoulder) seems to help all kinds of bowing, from legato to fast detache. 

As for why such issues show up suddenly, I wonder if it's rather a gradual accumulation of tension or imbalance. I've noticed as imbalance builds, it becomes normal (even if it causes pain or instability) to the point where it feels strange to realign and re-balance. Anyways, keep us posted.


May 12, 2010 at 10:07 PM ·

Just a suggestion: Try use the motion of Opening the Door for applying bow-pressure, instead of using thumb only (Try use both Index and Thumb, but dont use the fingers, use the forearm/wrist)

May 12, 2010 at 10:22 PM ·

I think it makes a difference where in the bow this happens. There is definitely a change in bowing in the vicinity of the mid- and balance-points. The less your hand has to do with the bow, perhaps the better it will be, so you could experiment with focusing your mind entirely on the point of contact of the bow and string and minimizing action of any finger but the thumb; then apply a bit of index finger for any needed downward force. If it is happening near the frog, experiment with other fingers.

For me, when this sort of thing happens it is on upbows and closer to the frog than the balance point. And beware of too much coffee!


May 13, 2010 at 06:45 PM ·

I want to thank everyone who contributed to this thread.  I am trying to absorb the various suggestions and feel quite sure that I will be able to solve my issue.

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