Pressing too much with first finger on bow arm?

September 26, 2011 at 06:25 PM ·

I'm a Violin Performance major and I'd like to ask some advice from my fellow string players;

Does anyone ever get slight pain in the index finger of the bow hand after practicing for a couple of hours?

--

So lately I've really been working on projection and sound production; I'm always trying to get a bigger sound. Before I used to press to get the sound- and I've managed to stop doing that. In fact, I'm able to make a clean, beautiful sound without any tension at all. HOWEVER...

With absolutely NO tension (especially in the index finger of my right hand), I'm having difficulty NOT pressing with my right hand first finger slightly at the tip to keep a full sound in all part of the bow (almost always at the tip). At the frog its easier to feel the natural weight of the bow and your hand but at the tip its trickier and I start apply pressure. I end up pressing a little with my first finger to keep the tension on the hair and string and after a while my finger begins to ache. It turns a deep red color where my finger comes in contact with the bow even. 

I'm afraid that I might end up seriously hurting myself in the long run!

Does anyone else have this problem? I'm interested to hear other violinist's (besides my professor and my TA) opinions about this....

I've heard and tried them all...."pronating your forearm at the tip"..."let the violin hold the bow"...."push and pull, never press"...

Where should I think of the weight coming from to keep the tension on the string and NOT in my first finger? Or is there in fact supposed to be some weight transferred through the first thing...but perhaps I'm overdoing it a little?

 

 

Replies (30)

September 26, 2011 at 11:04 PM ·

using the index finger too much for pressure is not good in my opinion. To release it and get a even better sound with spreading the weight of the arm throughout the fingers I would recommen you to play without the index finger sometimes.

Whatever you play as long as it isn't spiccato or riccochet or something like that you can lift your index finger slightly over the bow, so that he has no contact anymore. Play some minutes like that and try to achieve the same sound without the index finger.

After that let the index finger come back to the bow, but feel like you are just laying it on the bow. You will feel the difference I am sure!

Pain is always a index for something is not as it should be in your technique. Of course you have to distinguish between muscle pain, wich can be good in some cases, or mechanical pain in the joints or the ties. Always remember that pressure is just a part of it and bow speed and soundpoint control is from the same importance. Try always to get as much out of the violin with as little effort as possible.

BTW. Why does everyone searches a "bigger" sound ;)

sorry for my englihs its quite late in germany. Good night!

September 27, 2011 at 01:16 AM ·

I have had the experience before, and I look at my right hand and imagine the finger bending too far right (ugh). Do you have a callus on the second joint? I found that after I started practicing again after summer, my forefinger hurt a bit after a few hours. But after the callus came up, it got a little better. Make sure to take breaks too. I can recall several times when I'm so obsessed with practicing a piece that time flies by.

Also, if you're keeping the finger tense constantly, you might be able to relax the bow hand a little. Heifetz had a bow grip which largely depended on forefinger pressure to articulate. If you're really desperate, there's a few ways to hold the bow; if you wanted to, you could search online for demonstrations. It's never too late to change your technique (unless it's right before a concert). However, make sure you're comfortable with whatever bow grip you choose, otherwise you very well might hurt yourself.

Finally a bit on Heifetz's bow grip. If you notice on youtube there are a few videos of Heifetz playing various pieces. His bow grip involves the hand leaning forward and upwards along the bow. The little finger is extended all the way while the index and middle fingers are very close to bow. If this is the way you hold your bow, then search a bit for info on his bow grip.

September 27, 2011 at 10:31 AM ·

 I like to consider the length of the players bow arm to determine where the bow hold should be located. If the bow arm is on the shorter side I recommend  a bow hold on the slightly higher side. Sometimes a shorter bow helps as well. Personally, I like an overlap of the middle finger and thumb, for me this more evenly distributes the weight (and pressure) of the wrist, arm, and shoulder, it also tends to draw a warmer sound, and not so pressed.

September 27, 2011 at 05:02 PM ·

Lets face facts that when there is "absolutely NO tension" there won't be aching muscles and bright red spots on your index finger. These are symptoms of tension.  You are correct, however, that continuing the situation is likely to lead to injury in the long run.

The first thing you should do is work with a teacher who knows about muscle movement as part of technique.  This kind of problem really can't be solved via web postings because the shoulder, arm, wrist, hand system is too complex.  That said, I suspect your entire right hand is 'frozen' all or much of the time (its tight most of the time so you don't notice the tense muscles any more - tight is normal now) and your index finger is doing the work that the large muscles of the shoulder and upper arm should be doing. It is counter-intuitive, but if you greatly relax the right deltoid (top of shoulder and arm) during the down stroke, you will get as much sound as pressing with the index finger because the 'dead weight' of the arm is heavy enough to produce a loud sound. This takes practice - like anything else. You also need to rotate the lower arm (around its long axis) during the stroke. During a down stroke, the index finger will create temporary pressure at the bottom of the stroke and produce loud sound from the top third of the bow. Being temporary, it does not lead to injury because muscles tense and relax, tense and relax. During the up stroke the hand has a completely different shape and the hand/finger muscles that were temporarily tight can relax more.

Find a good, in-person teacher on this topic.

September 27, 2011 at 08:12 PM ·

Thank you for your responses!! Mr. Laird, I'm not attempting nor expecting to "solve" this problem via online web postings. Again, I was merely asking other musicians if they'd experienced the same issue. 

I was only hoping to get some different ideas on the topic from other violinists because, as I'm sure you know, you can ask 20 fiddle players about bow technique and you'll get 20 slightly varying answers. Although each of us follow the same grounding principles in regard to violinistic technique, every person's individual experience in playing the violin is individual as nothing about violin technique is black and white. I appreciate you're advice!!

I'm open to more of it :-)

September 28, 2011 at 12:58 AM ·

 Kyle,

I'm chasing tension all over my body at the moment, but strangely enough the first finger of by bow arm was never a problem until I moved the viola more towards my left to reduce left hand tension.  

With the instrument more to the left there seems to be more of a reach in that position at the tip.  To counteract it, I'm trying placing my thumb under the frog like a young child would at first.  That seems to help and it occurred to me that this is just another pinching issue.  With my thumb under the frog, the middle two fingers do more of the work along with the weight of my arm.

Not an answer, but something to think about...

September 28, 2011 at 05:54 PM ·

Kyle,

I edited my comments above to provide more detail. Its not clear to me that I am solving your specific problems, but I hope it helps.

September 30, 2011 at 04:44 AM ·

Kyle,

I had the same problem for the first couple years as well. There several ways to deal with it.

1. I got this from Issac Stern. The pressure should come from your middle finger, never from your index finger because index finger can put too much pressure on the bow it will ruin the sound and it won't necessarily be "loud." I am using more or less the same method now except I still use index finger on some occasions for articulations.

2. simple control the placement of your bow. I saw a lot of masters talking about sound production and they never believed that pressure equals to loudness. You can simply generate the loudest sound possible by playing closer to the bridge which a lot of violinists don't do well. so keeping the bow away from fingerboard might change something?

and as you come to the upper part of your bow, you can straighten the bow so it's not tilted as much to give you more contact area to remain the sound...a lotta people do that

3. it's just a personal experience and theory. I try to make the bow stick to the string as much as possible, sometimes it's like they are glued together because you maximize your friction between bow and strings. Then I think of the pressing down pressure in a different way, something I learned from playing sports. It's similar to what your teacher suggests let the bow fall or let the strings hold the bow. I think of dropping or pushing my forearm down to the floor, not actually pressing down but think of it. Remember not to raise your shoulder while doing this. I think it's really effective because you are basically using all the weight of your arm to produce sound without killing it but I don't know if you get what I mean.

Hope it helps. For the Issac stern video, it's on youtube 

September 30, 2011 at 11:21 AM ·

 i remember seeing a teaching video somewhere given by stern where he advocated not using just the index finger for that purpose, but using both the index and the middle finger to apply the force.  it kinda makes sense to me, but then i have no way to tell if it entails certain way of holding the bow to start with...

edit.  oh shoot, the above poster said the same thing :)

September 30, 2011 at 03:30 PM ·

I have a couple of thoughts:

  1. Pain should always be addressed by going back 1 body part. For example: elbow pain - look to see what your upper arm and shoulder are doing, wrist pain - look to see what the forearm and elbow are doing. In your case - index finger - look to see what the base of your hand is doing.
  2. Explore your upper arm. I call this your swimming arm. It's the part of your arm that gives you the power when swimming. All the things you commented like "push/pull" "weight not pressure" etc. - transfer all those thoughts to the upper arm. Make this part of your arm the "driver" and your index finger more of a "passenger" that is simply reacting to the ride. You could also say the upper arm is the engine and the index finger more of a shock absorber.

Violin & Bow playing - the endless journey............

Smiles! Diane

October 1, 2011 at 05:32 AM ·

@ Al ku,

haha everyone's on youtube....yea Stern made his students play without the index finger so yea

I read in Auer's book that some masters of his time played without ever using the index finger. I guess it varies with people

October 2, 2011 at 08:51 PM ·

Thank you all for your responses! I've heard a couple of times about apply 'pressure' with the middle finger and sometimes of equally distributing the weight throughout all four fingers of the right hand- and I've noticed I have problems with that uneven distribution (sometimes even letting the pinky lift of the bow at times). 

I've been experimenting with bow speed and contact point and my hold in general.

I'm holding the bow a little more deeply, allowing my hand sink more deeply onto the stick and allowing for the two middle fingers to contact the stick more intimately which seems to helps me not to use my index finger as much

However while I haven't felt the slight ache I described earlier in a few days :-)....my index finger is still turning quite red- even when I don't feel like I'm pressing! Should I still be worried? Am I pressing with realizing it or do most players'  index finger turn a little red after playing anyway?

 

-----ALSO....could you post the link to the Stern video for me?

October 3, 2011 at 01:58 AM ·

Here's the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jgB4EczzPuo

It's called from Mozart to Mao....as for the part he's teaching you gotta look for it.

umm...if anything, I think only the thumb should get red cuz there's where most ppl grip hard?

I know mine does because I play sports as well so I tend to grab it hard sometimes

It's difficult to say why ur getting tat kinda pain without seeing u actually play.

and if your teacher can't help you, any chance u can find other professionals to help you?

I mean if you are a violin major, u really should get someone to check it out. Do whatever it takes since it might affect ur career even if tat means switching teachers

October 3, 2011 at 11:38 AM ·

 hello steven, i am not sure if my thinking is correct on this, having digested what i have, which is not much.

IF one is used to using index finger as a force generator into the bow, a tendency may develop: the hand may tilt, in the direction of a pronated forearm, along with a possible internal rotation of the shoulder joint.  the resultant picture may look like this: the bow hand is not leveled, but the pinkie side is off in the air, upward, elbow protruding out like a chicken wing; shoulder joint rotated in such a way the rotator cuff gets impinged.  the bow hand is less balanced because the force comes from the index finger side, instead of spreading evenly across all 4 fingers, from index to pinkie.  I think there may be a role for this type of bowing, on occasion (i dunno, really), but to consistently and persistently "tilt" for power in this fashion is not our body's efficient and anatomically correct way to exert power.  this "tilt" way does not allow a "falling"/natural way of adding weight from the entire bow arm to the string via the bow hand, but a pressing down move, working against gravity (to press down, something has to be on top, to get on top, takes energy against gravity).  i suspect because it is not easy to sustain this move, those who index finger press may not end up with a sound that is sustained with good volume.  it is too jabby, and the sound may be chokey.

on the other hand, if the hand is more balanced, all fingers involving contact and distribution of power, the elbow and shoulder will function more naturally and power will come out more naturally. the sound will have more of a singing quality instead of screaming, like what i do helping my kid to practice, haha.

here is an example in my mind that does not tilt incorrectly for power:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ubh50IW3UbE&feature=related

an interesting exercise will be: go to any youtube video randomly, turn off the volume switch, watch the bow hand and arm in motion, using fluidity and efficiency as gauges, guess what the sound production will be and then turn on the volume to verify it.  

October 3, 2011 at 12:02 PM ·

' You're playing too loud, anyone can play loud, the real skill is playing 'pianissimo' "

I just heard Ben Lea say that on the radio, he plays with the Vienna Philharninic.

 

I would suggest employing a very light weight bow and practise very softly. Then pick up the heavy bow and handle it the same way as the light bow. Keep alternating the bows until they both feel as light as a feather.

October 3, 2011 at 01:17 PM ·

Hi,

Al: why do you think that Philip Hirschhorn is an example of how not to tilt?

Cheers!

October 3, 2011 at 01:20 PM ·

 hello christian, my bad for using a double negative to have confused you:)

i meant to say, he is a good role model for a balanced hand on the bow.

October 3, 2011 at 01:23 PM ·

Hi Al,

Thanks! I am reassured because this last observation is what I observed as well in watching the video.

Cheers!

October 3, 2011 at 03:54 PM ·

 one thing that has always deeply troubled me:), on this topic, is how different bow holds LEAD to different--or more or less-- uses of the index finger...

for instance, without any experiential or scientific validation, i tend to think that if one holds the bow closer to or under the PIP joint of the index finger (the one closer to the knuckle), then the setup more readily prompts the hand to tilt toward the index finger than,,,

if one's index finger wraps around the bow closer to the DIP joint (the one closer to the nail).  

my thinking is that force can be directed more, um, directly if the bow is right under the PIP joint.  what kind of sound that produces i don't feel comfortable speculating.  

if what i am saying holds true, then imo how much one's index finger plays a role in bowing depends to some extent where the index finger contacts the bow, thus the different bow holds of tradition,,,

one instance that does not make sense, to me, is that if one has a hold with PIP joint bow contact with which one favors the use of the index finger,,,an anatomical disadvantage,,,,know what i mean?

October 3, 2011 at 04:49 PM ·

,,,an anatomical disadvantage,,,,know what i mean?

 

This would depend on the anatomy, it maybe an 'anatomical advantage' for large hands?

October 4, 2011 at 05:55 AM ·

umm..so wat Al ku is saying is that  the placement of index finger matters? 

I am sorry it's kinda confusing for me...lol but yea ...regarding ur PIP or DIP i dont think

it matters in sound production or size of the hands. i mean...Heifetz n Elman had the same bow hold but Heifetz is much bigger than Elman. I tried to do Heifetz's bow hold, it just didn't work with me cuz my hands r slightly bigger than average so I alternate between PIP n DIP. and Heifetz relied heavily on his index finger ..or at least it seems because his pinkie rarely stayed on the bow. um..the bow arm. I think Menuhin had what u said the chicken wing motion because he used a lot of his forearm which I disagree strongly but yea. dono if tat answers ur

arguments.

but yea...we can't figure out the problem without seeing him play

October 4, 2011 at 06:26 AM ·

Greetings,

al et al,  the placing of either the middle joint or the base joint of the index finger is one of the primary ways of defining the bowing school as being `Russian` (a siin Heifetz,  Milstein, Seidel et al)  and Franco Belgian as in Grumiaux,  late Oistrakh,  Szeryng and so on.  All the weird letter combinations are,  on the QT ,  giving me gas,.  The advantage of the Russian was that weight can easily be fed into the bow in the upper half although this should not be construed as pressing by the index finger. Conversely,  the FB,  at least accoridng to the FBI, allows greater flexbility and freedom at the heel.  Hugh Bean told me that he had frequently observed Heifetz close up when leaidng accompanying orchestras and that Heifetz was very reluctnat to go to the heel of the bow until he was full warmed up and comfortable.

Cheers,

Buri

October 4, 2011 at 11:21 AM ·

postings from steven and buri noted and appreciated, but need elaboration on fbi and huge bean.

now, here is the catch.  i felt that i have made an effort to state that how one holds the bow plays one, not the role in term of index finger involvement. it is, hmm, a consideration?

as with everything else, 2 people can have exactly the same bow hold and totally different outcomes, thus those heifetz masterclasses. for one, they use the "same" hold differently.  for two, there may be other differences despite one similarity.  in other words, just because another person holds it like heifetz does not mean much at all.  recently, we were looking at one freeze frame pic of the impact position of a great golfer and we lamented that to copy that position by a beginner would be tempting but in fact a waste of effort because the elite player was also doing other 99 things very well while the beginner would not.  out of context. a different galaxy.

henry brought up a point, rather vaguely, haha, highlighting the need to recognize anatomic variations when applying anatomic principles. concur. imagine the dilemma of having your teacher teaching only one school of bow hold which turns out to be no fitting to you. i think principles and theories only serve to help individuals to find their own ways.  but knowing some of the underlying anatomical/physiological principles may help the individuals to more efficiently find their own ways...hopefully.  

some people have large hands.  some large hands are bulky, thick and rigid; other large hands are thin, hyper-flexible and pliable.  thus to use "large" to describe the 2 groups may be misleading.

oh, forgot about this: if you practice hours and hours on a daily basis without proper breaks, expect some pain and suffering from the abuse:)

 

October 4, 2011 at 04:33 PM ·

I think the issue of the index finger's role in tone production  is often misunderstood and it relates to how arm weight is brought to bear on the violin. I try to think of arm weight like potential energy the way the weight of the water in a pitcher is transferred to the glass when the pitcher is tilted to allow the water to flow out of the pitcher and into the glass. The first part of the water that flows out of the pitcher has more water behind it "helping" to push it out. The more severe the tilt, the quicker the water will be dispensed and the quicker the rush of energy.

In a similar way, when the arm is tilted its weight can fall towards the fingers on the bow so that the index finger, though first in line, receives the weight of the arm through the "help" again of the other fingers behind it. Therefore, there is no need to "press" strongly in a vertical way with the index finger but rather feel as if the index finger and all the other fingers backing it up are receiving weight from the arm and allowing that weight to be transferred to the bow.

I believe it would be a mistake to think of the general principle of getting a strong full bodied tone on the violin the result of index finger pressure.

I do believe, however, that the index finger is involved in the slight "pinch" or "tug" that is associated with martele and staccato sounds and that the "pressure" in these instances is brief and in the form of articulation rather than the primary element for producing a loud, full, resonant tone.

 It is useful to discover what "force" is necessary to get the string to push and pull so it can vibrate fully but beyond that one would risk crushing the sound.

 

October 5, 2011 at 12:17 AM ·

Greetings,

I love thes eissues but at the same time I think we tend to negelct an interesting aspect of the equation.   Ther eare two things I like to talk about a lot with studnets.  Firsty the idea that the violin rises up and  supprts the bow rather than the bow coming down and secondly that one should try to fele the message of the strings coming up though the bow hait, into the hand and arm rather than merely imposing one`s will on inert strings.  Its a good deal more sexual.

Cheers,

Buri

Cheer,s

Buri

October 5, 2011 at 12:50 AM ·

Buri,

what you said is all in this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Il58JA2hV4

it's kinda brief but he does a good job explaining it

October 5, 2011 at 01:52 AM ·

October 5, 2011 at 03:11 AM ·

I fully agree with Buri that the violin plays the important role he describes in the violin rising up and supporting the bow and that the responsibility for the tone is not all on the right side where the bow is.

 I do stand by the pouring water out of a pitcher analogy, but more as an illustration and an image that I have found to be very effective with students because when they tilt their arms they sense weight differently than when there arms are not tilted ( parallel to/with  the floor) and this sense of more weight allows them to feel as if the fingers of their bow arm are not applying pressure on their own but receiving the weight from the arm that is  behind them.   So even if the physics is wrong because I do understand that objects will fall at about the same speed regardless of weight though air resistance makes a feather float down gently compared with a cannon ball when you are not in a vacuum ( like you would be on the moon), the idea of weight being transferred ( regardless of speed) like transferring weight from a pitcher into a glass at an appropriate angle that allows the weight to fall onto the object to which it is directed is not an incorrect concept.

 I do agree that the muscles in the back are supporting the arm and that when you lift your arm using those muscles you are aware that your arm weighs something but that weight must be directed or else it doesn't feel like it reaches the bow the same way . Tilting the arm, doing a certain amount of pronation feeling the weight of the arm leaning into the hand onto the bow onto the strings works for me as a sensible way to think of arm weight being applied to the strings rather than thinking of the hand first and in particular the index finger alone.

 The control of weight is also dependent  and inter-related with  how close to the bridge or fingerboard one plays and at what  speed the bow is moved across the strings but how you feel the weight seems to me to be crucial and that is why I was concerned about players thinking too much about index finger pressure when producing a strong resonant tone on the violin.

 

 

 

October 5, 2011 at 03:54 AM ·

Greetings,

incidentally,  for people who are perhaps hoping for explicit direction on how much to pronate (rotate the forearm and by extnesion the hand) please don`t.  It is entirely dependent on the individuals anatomicla structure.  Some players,  myself inclided,  use almost no pronation.  I couldn`t tell you why.  What is correct is a fucntion of the sound and not the other way around.

Cheers,

Buri

October 5, 2011 at 05:47 AM ·

I agree with this also. Different amounts of pronation including very little work for different people depending on the anatomy and the flexibility. I don't recall if it was on violinist.com or elsewhere but I recall someone suggesting that young children may get used to more significant degrees of pronation or even wrist bending that for an older student or an adult beginner would be potentially harmful. Some people are able to tolerate hand standing as an example a lot better than others.

 Bear in mind that whatever degree of pronation is needed does not necessarily mean that the wrist has to bend an appreciable amount any way. I am just an advocate for letting large muscles do their job and not having small muscles do more work than they need to so that pain and injury can be avoided.

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