Bow hold problem...

February 18, 2012 at 05:56 PM · I normally hold my bow with most of the arm weight coming through the index finger (sort of subconscious I think from my first current teacher hasn't had me alter any basics...) until a masterclass yesterday where the teacher suggested I try a different bow hold, with the weight more centered on the third and fourth fingers. I played the 1st mvt of the Mendelssohn E minor conc in the masterclass, and the teacher had me try the new bow hold on the opening, the fast passages after the second theme, the long slow bows on page 4, and some chords...and it did help me get a fuller, richer, more controlled and more focused sound. But today I tried playing through the whole thing with the new bow hold, and when I got first to the octaves at the end of the first page and then to the double stop passages on the second page, all the weight of my arm went to the index finger again...and I cannot for the life of me keep the bow hold the masterclass teacher showed me during those passages (especially the DS passages) without sounding bad...feels all wrong... Maybe I have messed up the hold since or I suppose it could be nervousness and habit kicking back at stressful spots... I hope that made sense. Any advice :-/

Replies (20)

February 18, 2012 at 11:31 PM · the new grip sounds good- no need for pressure from first finger, as it usually stifles tone. Maybe you should just try some easy bowing on open strings or some very simple pieces with the new grip for a few weeks, maybe in a separate practice session. Stay relaxed and loose while you develop it, and get used to using bow speed instead of 1st finger pressure. Ear/tone will be your guide! It's hard to break an old habit and form the new one while you're playing more challenging pieces, and your brain reverts easily when it is trying to process more complex pieces. Good luck!

February 19, 2012 at 04:58 AM · A habit 10 years in the making can't be undone in a day. See if your regular teacher can help you with this. As Tom suggested, applying a change to the hardest piece you know is difficult. Go back through something like the Kreutzer bowing variations with the new hold, or maybe try something similar to the Mendelssohn passage but less complex just to get the feel of it.

February 19, 2012 at 07:13 AM · Well, 5 years in the making instead of 10...thanks, that makes sense! Should I try the new hold on easy passages/etudes and stuff right now while I'm preparing for some big events with harder pieces where I will probably slip into the hold I'm used to? Or will that confuse my brain? I guess I should also wait and see if my regular teacher will bring up what the teacher at the masterclass said about it. Thanks. :)

February 19, 2012 at 09:15 AM · In this situation, you might do better consulting with people who can see and hear what changes you're making. (Sorry to be of no help, but as a teacher, I am aware of the complications of context and communication.)

February 19, 2012 at 04:51 PM · in an ideal world, you could take time out from everything else and really work in new techniques, but in real world, you'll have to learn it gradually. It's not just a "new hold/quick fix," but it's a process. Also, from what it sounds like, it's probably not just a new bow hold, but a different style of playing- more independence of fingers on bow hand, slightly different bow arm movements, using bow speed changes more, and how it all affects bow distribution. All that takes expert guidance!

If you just do a little of it separately on simpler pieces, it'll keep it going, and shouldn't confuse your other pieces. Then you can work on integrating it properly with good teaching over time. Good tone is highly addictive!

February 19, 2012 at 04:57 PM · As an aside - I am so glad you raised this. I've been changing my bow hold and while I was aiming for the same outcome - I forgot how it was achieved. The key for me was to reposition the thumb so that it is opposite the cleft between the second and third finger tips. This by itself causes me to drag the bow with these fingers instead of the pushing down with the first finger. It worked like magic - my tone is a heap better and my bow dexterity has also improved perhaps because now my index is working on alignments and not on trying to add weight.

Maybe something of use for you in that?

February 19, 2012 at 08:04 PM · I agree with Emily, and also make note that one lesson in a masterclass isn't enough to make a bowhold change work. Any chance of more lessons with the person who advocated this adjustment?

February 20, 2012 at 04:35 AM ·

February 20, 2012 at 06:02 AM · do not listen to the teacher.... hes out of his mind

February 20, 2012 at 06:40 PM · how so Ausur? Seemed like good advice to everyone else...

December 22, 2015 at 08:07 PM · The hold as described seems to completely balance the weight of the hand over the bow completely evenly.

This sounds like the German grip, which is now extinct because it is ineffective for modern playing, as the bow is held by all the finertips and thus lacks power and makes it hard to pull a full bow (and is not the best grip for baroque playing either, I might add). :)

An actual alternative that uses just bow speed is the modern Russian bow hold, in which you drape all of the joints of the finger closest to the hand loosely over the bow and control dynamics and inflection with bow speed, and the hand starts and stays flat throughout the stroke. Oh, and articulations are done by using the pressure of the 3rd finger. :D

Example of modern russian:

December 22, 2015 at 08:09 PM · Greetings, changing a habit takes rime and patience .It involves cutting a whole new pathway between the mind and fingers. Having something of great technical signidicane explaine din the heta of a masterclass may not always be a good idea .

I think there are two different aspects to this. First of all, do you actually know what the new hold is (avoid the word grip if possible). Can you explain exactly what the new finer place ment is in relation to the old? Are you clear about the function of each finger , perhaps how this effects the bow change and so on? If you are not very clear in your mind about exactly what you are changing and how it actaully workks then taht chnge will be prettyndfiicult to put into practice.

Sceond, thennew hold is intended to put into pracice the transfer of arm weight to the middle fingers ofnthe hand rathe rthan focusing it all into the index finger, causing a pressed sound, or something like that, right? That is a ,uch more general concept thatnyour new hold is suppose dto help you implement. This is more of a feeling or awarness, in ,any cases. You could for example, try holding the bow like a cellist and draw strokes that go from the heel to as clsoe to the point as you can get. Usually one cant get to tahe ppint. Rather like my writing...

When practicng this way, pay attention to the weightnof the arm spread across the back of the hand. The go back to ypur nw hold and see if you can recreate that sensationCheers,


December 22, 2015 at 08:11 PM · I don't think of the weight as being in any particular finger. It should move back and forth as the bow moves: more on the index finger at the tip, more on the pinky at the frog. Sometimes while warming up I'll just do long bow strokes and concentrate on the feel of the weight rolling across the fingers. The "teeter-totter" exercise (done without the instrument) is good too: try rotating your wrist to tilt the bow back and forth (like a windshield wiper) while feeling how the weight moves from finger to finger.

I'm still working on making my fingers flex freely during bow reversals. My teacher is a joy to watch - her fingers pulsate like a jellyfish.

December 23, 2015 at 01:37 AM · Greetings,

Charlie is right, but I wpuld be cautious about excessive finger movement. In the case of many top players it is virtually invisible. Over the years even some professionals have made the mistake of thinking that really soft wobb

y fingers are good whereas they are actually tonally deficient and unhelpful. Excessive use of fingers in ow change is particulary defective even though it may -look- impressive. Relaxtion of the thimb and hand is not quite ghe same thing.



December 23, 2015 at 01:25 PM · Hi,

Personally, I feel that the weight is transfered through the hand/arm as a whole, not with any particular finger, though I do feel it more in the middle two fingers (perhaps a Franco-Belgian thing), . I find that those who feel excess weight/pressure on the index comes from either of three things, the last of which ties into what Buri said:

1- Overspreading the index

2- Pressing the fingers, especially the thumb into the bow

3- Leading from the fingers/hand for bow strokes

The reason that most great players don't have excessive finger movements is that they lead/move the bow with the forearm, not the hand or fingers. The hand/fingers connect the arm to the bow. Simply thinking of it this way eliminates in my experience much of the problematic excess movements of the fingers that we often see.


December 23, 2015 at 01:51 PM · Just to say that the sensations in each finger vary enormously depending on the passage we are playing, as do wrist and elbow heights.

Also, fingers can be very active without its being visible from outside.

I took me about two years to change my bow-hold full-time..

December 23, 2015 at 06:10 PM · I think practicing the bow grip with scales will help. My teacher teached me (I think) franco belgian bow hold. But there are times where i idolized heifetz and decided to study his bow hold. I've managed to do it. My fingers are straight most of the time, a little bit tilted and make all the arm weight to my index finger. But its harder to control and with other reasons, I have decided to go back to my old bow hold. Practice it with scales a few times and done. It didnt really take much time for me to change bow hold though

December 23, 2015 at 06:39 PM · About the difficulty of changing a habit: Simon Fischer writes something like "don't try to change your habit, just acquire a new habit" and that is so true. Over the years I have changed a number of basics in my violin technique, and it is amazing how fast that can go if you approach it as something you become very conscious of, first while practicing but also while performing in easy passages when you have time to think about your new technique, and after a while it becomes indeed just a new habit.

December 23, 2015 at 07:13 PM · Greetings,

yes. That is bcause Simon has studied Alexander technique. Alxander pointed out that when we start trying to stop doing one thing we are actually setting up an antagonism. That is why it often appears that we have resolvd a problem but then have to confess'oh yes, it creeps bqck in everynow and agian' with a knd of gallic shrug of the shoulders. What children do is simply ignore the old habit and cut a new instruction pathway. That is why in a tradirional alexande rlessn we dont corrct seatingand standing by talking aboit seating and standing. Rather the student is asked to bnd the knees. This appears to the student as a brand new instruction unrelated to the erroneous sitting action and the problem is solved. Similarly one has to find new ways to instruct oneself in violin playing.

The classic error which is recognized by NeuroLinguisric Programming is 'Dont do x.' An instruction we give all the time which immediately cause one to do 'x.' One of the best insrructions for violinists is to foucs on a specific area and say 'do less.'


December 24, 2015 at 02:28 PM · Hi,

Buri's last statement is one of the most important. The body only responds to action commands, not qualitative. I always joke sometimes that I learnt how "not to play" the violin, lol! I think I also mentioned this in one of my blogs: one should focus on what one wants to do, not what they don't. In this vein, this is one of the most important things I think that I retain from the Heifetz masterclasses - which is take a chance, it only hurts once. Which basically translates as the fear of mistakes is their biggest cause/source.

Also, the lack of bending the knees has nothing to do with the knees but with the weight being on the heels instead of the "palm" of the feet near the toes. I learnt this from dancers. Solves it every time.


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