Does bow pressure matter?

May 3, 2012 at 01:34 AM · How does bow pressure affect your playing? Is it crucial to apply some for a good tone or does bow speed count more?

Replies (29)

May 3, 2012 at 03:48 AM · If you have sensitive instrument, you'll realize pressing the bow will give you more edgy and rougher sound - not something that's bad, you'll need it for aggressive music. Likewise, completely pressure free and let the bow slide across the strings will give you airy and floaty tone. You'll also get everything in between if you know how to control the bow and the instrument is sensitive to let you access these tone color changes easily.

On the other hand, bow speed is more towards the function of dynamics IMHO, and again if the instrument is sensitive you'll also hear tone color changes from weak to strong "ringing" depends on your bow speed.

Combining also the bow contact points, you'll get a whole range of dynamics and tone color palette.

May 3, 2012 at 07:14 AM · Bow pressure is along with bow speed the most important variable for sound colour and dynamics. Depending strongly on the violin one can experiment with different parameters of both. Usually high bow pressure (weight) will force you to slow your bow speed. But at Certain points those rules can be braked due to characteristic/interpretation reasons

May 3, 2012 at 08:36 AM · Greetings,

Simon, I suspect we actually have the same view. But as your comment stands I would respectfully disagree just a little.

The most important factor in sound production is the sound point or point of contact which I call sp. Flesch emphasized this in his works and it has reached fruition in the work s on tone by Simon Fischer. One selects weight and speed in relation to the sp in question. The original question( which you were answering) is incomplete in this respect and therefore not really that useful.

The basic start point for improving tone production is clear selection of a sound point and establishing the speed and weight, neithe r of which is more importnant than the other IE if one is wrong then so is the sound...

Then change the sp and do it again . Then change the sp and do it again until a complete understanding of weight and speed in regard to where the bow is placed between bridge and fingerboard is achieved. One then uses all these various colors to express music.



May 3, 2012 at 09:08 AM ·

May 3, 2012 at 11:21 AM · Yes, you are right, I forgot to mention this third dimension of contact point.

May 3, 2012 at 12:40 PM · Yep, what Buri said. Choice of contact point, and holding to a contact point, doesn't seem to get as much focus as it deserves.

May 3, 2012 at 12:44 PM · PS I always call it bow weight, not "pressure".

May 3, 2012 at 03:14 PM · To find the correct sounding point bow back and forth on the string, moving gradually towards the bridge, then away towards the fingerboard. After you do this a number times you will begin to feel what seems to be a dip or a shallow indentation in the string. That dip is the correct sounding point. The dip will vary with the amount of pressure and bow speed you use. Some teachers call this the "sweet spot". Once you understand the feel of this, you will always be able to find it.

May 3, 2012 at 03:56 PM · I believe the sweet spot is at a measurable location on the string: it is 1/9 of the vibrating length up from the bridge. On an open string on both my violins this visually places it halfway between bridge and the end of the finger-board.

I was told many years ago by a piano tuner that that 1/9 is the best spot for the hammer to strike the string on the piano. It seems to apply to the violin (and cello) as well.

May 3, 2012 at 04:02 PM · But there is nothing more boring than listening to a string player who plays only on the sweet spot. I heard just such in a piano trio concert last night. Awful concert - all they did was play loudly all the time on the sweet spot, and the pianist just smashed it out. Poor old Brahms. (Wigmore Hall, 2nd May 2012).

May 3, 2012 at 04:30 PM · Peter--

Were they all under 30 years?

I have a theory...

May 3, 2012 at 04:39 PM · Further to my previous post, my personal tendency is to bow closer to the bridge than the "sweet spot". If there are 5 bowing "lanes" between the bridge and the end of the fingerboard then that would be lane 2. Of course, I generally use lane 1 for overtaking in the high positions ;)

May 3, 2012 at 04:57 PM · Peter--

Were they all under 30 years?

I have a theory...


They were about mid thirties or younger. I think the pianist and cellist we about 30 or less. The cellist was sort of OKish but the others! Oh dear ... It was the sort of playing they would have done in an orchestra in a symphony concert.

It has sort of made a bit of a theory for me, as I went to another concert in the same hall on my birthday about 5 years ago! I must avoid going to concerts on my birthday, they are always awful!!

May 3, 2012 at 06:15 PM · Well, when I play I usually dont use a lot of pressure except on dynamics. (forte) what I have trouble though is expressing piano or pianissimo because I loosen my bow weight but then the sound sounds fake and shaky so how do you express those?

May 3, 2012 at 06:44 PM ·

May 3, 2012 at 06:46 PM · waxing tangential...sorry

May 3, 2012 at 06:55 PM · Speed, pressure, sound point - all three matter, and you have to find the right combination (or combinations). Get a copy of Simon Fischer's video "The Secrets of Tone Production" - it goes into these details really well. Watch it every few months - each time you'll find yourself reviewing your technique and finding some little tweak you can make to sound better than before.

May 3, 2012 at 07:45 PM · again, i must simon fischer's dvd is quite inspiring. it shows the interrelation between sound point (henceforth sp per buri) speed and bow weight or pressure and more. i've been doing the first three excercises. not only are they good for tone production but they also necessarily target bow technique. i use this to warm up my right hand and the vibrato fingers and hands excercises to warm up my left hand..


question...does the balancing between the three (sp, speed and weight/pressure) differ from one violin to another? i ask that because i read quite a bit about how (typically) guarneri violins can handle being dug into (i.e. pressure) whereas strad violins (again typically) require lighter faster bowing.

May 3, 2012 at 09:39 PM · oh yes


May 3, 2012 at 10:03 PM · Angelica, even though you are under 30 (which Peter and I are not!) you may want to play pp: either keep a long, light, stroke over the fingerboard,(a whispering effect) or a short, medium-light stroke a little nearer the bridge (for the effect of someone playing mf but further away). It's still a matter of trial and error to find the right dosage of speed vs. pressure

May 4, 2012 at 03:39 AM · Trevor you said: "I believe the sweet spot is at a measurable location on the string: it is 1/9 of the vibrating length up from the bridge...

I was told many years ago by a piano tuner that that 1/9 is the best spot for the hammer to strike the string on the piano. It seems to apply to the violin (and cello) as well."

Of course a piano hammer hitting a string can vary as to pressure (amount of energy) and perhaps velocity (but I'm dubious about that because of the modern escapement on pianos).What does not change is the sounding point, because the hammer always strikes the string in the same place. The advantage the violin has in expression is the ability to alter the sounding point to produce sound qualities varying from ponticello to flautando. This advantage, though, translates into a greater difficulty in getting a decent sound, unless the player is fairly advanced.

May 4, 2012 at 06:27 AM · Adrian

You have just said it absolutely as it should have been. But what we got was everything mf, f, or ff. Mostly f to ff. No colour, no line, nothing. And these players gave been around for at least 15 years and have not changed one iota. In fact they have got worse, musically.

May 4, 2012 at 01:24 PM · I believe that the word pressure should be avoided. The string should never be pressed. It kills tone. The string is drawn by the bow in a lateral motion (not a pressed down motion). From the standpoint of physics, a force is applied to the string. Forces are described by vectors and the vector that points into the string has a negative effect on tone. Lets call that vector the 90 degree vector. It is bad There may be an ideal angle for the vector. I believe that it is very close to O degrees ( or 180 degrees). In any event it should never be called pressure.

May 4, 2012 at 05:41 PM · The people that work the hardest and press the most I've noticed are the ones that play on the side of the hair. If you want to get a sound that projects it is more a matter of getting the bow to work for you. Sounding point as pointed out by Peter is important in relation to the speed of the bow. If you play on gut strings (like I do) you have to learn how to maintain a good constant speed otherwise the sound dies. Also playing in tune will give you a golden tone. There should be a bit of pressure in my opinion but the bow and string can only withstand a certain amount of pressure in relation to the speed at which the bow is traveling. The string can withstand greater downward force when there's a faster bow speed being used (like for a 1/4 note). Conversely the string and sound cannot withstand as much downward force when the bow is traveling slowly (for a whole note). If you try to use the same amount of bow pressure for the 1/4 note as you do for the whole note the sound will scratch.

May 4, 2012 at 07:25 PM · Nate - yes, it's in my opinion a fine balance between pressure and bow speed, as you say. And it varies on the instrument and lots of other things. Some intruments let you dig in more. Also the accoustic that you are playing in and how much carbohydrate you have consumed ...

May 4, 2012 at 08:51 PM · in Simon fischer's dvd, there are two excercises meant to elicit successive and immediate changes to the dynamics...the bow speed excercise and the bow pressure excercise. the soundpost remains the same. it is obvious that the bow may exert more pressure and the resultant tone has a bite to it...perhaps, im warranting a guess here, but the increase of bow pressure (probably) makes more prominent the higher frequencies. it is a very vivid colour. corwin, this disproves that one cannot apply the term bow pressure. there is a downward force applied by the bow on the strings, you choose how much it is in proportion to the lateral force ... that is to say, the balancing between the two variables, pressure and speed. on the other hand, the speed excercise brings out a rather radiant enveloping sound, less directional and frictional than the sound of the bow pressure excercise. i hope that makes sense, but this part of the dvd was exactly what i was watching today.

May 4, 2012 at 09:13 PM · tammuz

"the soundpost remains the same."

You mean you move your soundpost to get a result!!???

May 5, 2012 at 03:35 AM · i meant to say soundpoint :o)

but as well, perhaps a robotic autokinetic soundpost is something our luthiers here can entertain :p

May 5, 2012 at 03:52 PM · I really want to see that Simón ficher DVD sounds interesting. Well thanks guys for all the information I have learned quite a lot actually so thanks! I learned that is holding apply too much pressure on my violin because it will sound squeaky and that's the problem. When my teacher plays my violin he tries to do dynamics but they aren't that strong. You hear a fuzzy sound. Maybe that's the problem my violin is weak.

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