Bowing : weight vs. pressure ?

May 5, 2012 at 05:34 PM · Let's assume we have a suitable bow speed and contact-point !

For the physicist, what counts is the vertical force exerted by the bow-hair on the string, visualised by the diminished space between bow-hair and stick. All violinists must exert this force by a combination of thumb and finger action.

The words "weight" and "pressure" refer not to science, but to how we imagine our playing.

"Pressure" makes us bear down on the string with an awareness of the (necessary) muscular tensions in hand and arm, and can constrict our movements.

"Weight" gives us the impression that the arm "hangs" on the bow, allowing us to "swing" the bow arm – whatever the "school" of bowing we adopt ! We can thus "shape" the stroke as we wish : louré, marcato, collé, spiccato, legato etc, etc,

I shall not mind a bit if everyone disagrees with this analysis, because I am still absolutely right !! (And very modest..)

Replies (71)

May 5, 2012 at 05:44 PM · ok, but where is that analysis you speak of?

May 5, 2012 at 06:28 PM · Well, I'll give you a bit of analysis from a teacher's perspective. Using those two terms seem to have a different effect on what muscles a student uses, even if the goal is really the same thing. If you tell someone to use more bow "pressure,' (s)he will often scrunch the right shoulder up and try to dig in from above. If you tell someone to use more bow "weight" (s)he will press the shoulder down, which ultimately is more effective and less potentially injurious. The pressure on the string, or transferring weight into the bow, ultimately happens through the index finger of the right hand, either way. But a tensed shoulder (upward-feeling) causes a certain stiffness in the arm, a "relaxed" shoulder (downward-feeling) allows more freedom of motion and less physical contradiction.

May 5, 2012 at 07:42 PM · I've been yelled at for it before, but I have found that "pressure" works better for me, and my students. It may be the way I explain it, but I see a lot of student just become more confused with the word "weight." The previous post makes a lot of sense, but for me, "pressure" with a teacher's eye/explanation works.

In a nutshell, both words can work with the correct explanation (please don't put down teachers who use the word "pressure")

May 5, 2012 at 08:16 PM · Fair enough, Shawn; in any case, actions often speak louder than words.

In France, where we shake hands a lot, I use this trick to help the younger pupils feel the difference (the older ones will be too self concious..): I ask them to press down on my upturned hand from above - I can resist their weight; then they hang their full weight on my hand - and my arm gives way!

For the older ones, I ask them to watch Oistrakh or Perlman on U-Toob: big but ringing tone, with a lowish elbow, "hanging" on the bow.

(On seeing Oistrakh, my wife exclaimed "Oh! a Suzuki bowing arm!")

Analogies and images are essential when trying to describe sensations, but they can convey different things to different people. My Suzuki teacher-trainer suggested that I try to work with a "lower centre of gravity": I thought he was suggesting that I increase my waistline (I was only 40), but in fact he meant the sensation of "taking root" in the ground: a kind of supple stability.

May 5, 2012 at 08:48 PM · OMG! - as the younger generation often exclaim!

YOU MEAN students actually tense their shoulders to bring the bow down onto the string!!??

The bow, bow arm, wrist and all are just a featherweight. You don't need any muscles to get a huge sound out of the fiddle.

No wonder the world of fiddle playing is in such dire straights.

Maybe these students should be told to lay the bow on the string and glue it there. As it happens most students will have some idea of how to get laid - even in the best circles - so the connection with bowing should be a good one ...

May 5, 2012 at 09:42 PM · if possible I would always use the term weight. But sometimes pressure makes more sense to explain somthing.

When I am playing I like to have the feeling of balance in both hands and arms. this allows me to relax my bowarm and get me a powerful sound if needed. Also for the left hand the feeling of an hanging arm has many positive effects, one of them is, that you press less with the thumb. Actually I learned this from a cellist. Because their strings are so thick they have to use much more weight instead of thumb pressure. It also works on the violin and helps you with almost everything, intonation, shifts, chords, vibrato... feeling gravity is a good thing when playing the violin!

May 5, 2012 at 11:13 PM · That is how I was taught the cello, more than half a century ago.

May 5, 2012 at 11:33 PM ·

May 6, 2012 at 12:14 AM · Pressure vs weight...

We all know what too much pressure does... an ugly scratching sound.

I personally feel the goal is to come near that scratching sound but to NOT scratch it. Then everyone says "what an epic performance" : )

May 6, 2012 at 01:41 AM · I think Laurie's got it exactly. My sense is that pressure is something that is much more teachable in terms of a physical phenomenon and a predictable response. "Bow weight" is a mental construct aimed to achieve the application of the force in a way that keeps the musculature relaxed.

May 6, 2012 at 03:47 AM · "I've been yelled at for it before, but I have found that "pressure" works better for me, and my students. It may be the way I explain it, but I see a lot of student just become more confused with the word "weight." The previous post makes a lot of sense, but for me, "pressure" with a teacher's eye/explanation works."

I agree. People always seem to get their boxers in a knot about the word "pressure" and righteously proclaim "I always use WEIGHT." Blah Blah Blah. And anyway, the very concept of weight loses meaning in the upper half. There is no weight--the first finger puts pressure on the bow with torque.

It's very simple: If they're scratching, tell them to use less pressure and more speed.

May 6, 2012 at 06:18 AM · I'm enjoying this!

Scott, even at the tip, I still feel that my thumb-index squeeze is transfering the "weight" of my arm to the string.

Eric, the point of my thread was to separate words used as evocative images from the same words given precise usage in the scientific world. What about weight vs. mass? (How much does does a ton of material in a hot-air balloon weigh when it is floating? etc.)

May 6, 2012 at 06:47 AM · Sorry to be the fly in the ointment here!! But you all know me, I'm a right pain in the A.

Maybe we should all get away from words. Bowing is a feeling, maybe?

As far as the scratch goes, I personally don't think we get enough. Playing is often just a bit too polite. Heifetz was a little bit of a scratcher, but who has come near to his level of playing? Very few. I'm always surprised that when I record myself I think that it had a few crunches but on playback they are hardly noticeable, and that's with close miking at about 12 inches.

Talking of Heifetz, we had a comparison on UK radio yesterday of the many various performances on disc of the Korngold concerto. After close on 60 years old Yasha still comes out on top, and that is not just my opinion!

May 6, 2012 at 07:00 AM ·

May 6, 2012 at 08:18 AM · Peter, I like honey on my bread and butter; I have the impression you would prefer mustard!

But I do agree that no-one plays the Korngold like Heifetz.

May 6, 2012 at 08:37 AM · weight here is a tricky word. if weight refers only to the weight of the bow, then my understanding is that this occurs on sounpoints 5 and 4 with lots of speed (again my reference is mr. simon fischer). if weight of arm is whats being referred to, then thats quite tricky...after all, you do alleviate the weight when you need to and you exert extra force to top the weight of when you need to - this all within the same bow stroke. thus the concept includes the play of the vertical, the horizontal and the diagonal (pronated - well, that is a result of horizontal and vertical in itself). so, personally i don't think the word weight is integral in its place of usage. weight is always the natural, passive, gravitational and downward pull of the mass.

pressure, however, is definited by its relation to the area in contact, the string. that being the pressure exerted by the bow hair on the string. there is the possiblity- measured against other variables- for excessive pressure, acceptable pressure and insufficient opressure. the notion of weight does not include such differentiation and does not represent the other party in this dual relationship- the strings. the word necessarily indicates a certain deliberation to incur this pressure. weight does not indicate the same.

i suspect that people prefer the word weight to encourage a more natural (ie ergonomically natural) concept of bowing that would preclude negative forced influenced. but i also think, as i can read by some posts above, that this understanding can also pedal a false idea of bowing as a passive activity that just happens. but this is false; the arm muscles are working intelligently to both exert forces, alleviate other forces and balance the bow on the strings.

i'm pretty fine with the idea of pressure. its not teh weight of either my bow or my arm that i'm thinking about when i dig into teh strings. more pressure near the bridge and less closer to the fingerboard. weight, however, does not change

May 6, 2012 at 08:59 AM · Adrian

I do like mustard sometimes. With a bit of ham its OK. But I also love bread and jam ...

What I'm sort of saying is that I find that people generally (OK, I'm generalising!) play a little too politely, and it will sound good under the ear. But to get the message across we need a bit of blood and guts under the ear to sound perfect at 30 feet. For example, if you shout an obscenity to someone at two feet it's pretty brutal, but across the street at 30 feet it sounds about right, not too polite but not too nasty ...

That's why conductors don't get too emotional when shouted at from the back of the brass, but get very offended when a string player shouts out from 4 feet away that they are crap ... (wink)

May 6, 2012 at 09:24 AM · I think that at the tip the arm is even more heavier because he is exposed to the front or front-right. But at the tip the longer lever of the bow makes the heavier weight of the arm relative hard to get to the string, thats why we sometimes need weight and pressure at the tip. But usually the weight of the arm at the tip is higher then when he is held close to the body like it is onthe frog. The feeling and applying of pressure is sometimes necessary and will give you some results, but it is in my opinion not a necessary part of a good violin technique.

May 6, 2012 at 10:35 AM · While we are on the subject of bowing - if a slight deviation - what about the awful editing of violin parts that we get from these so called editors?

All they do is sling slurs everywhere so there is no articulation. If I've learnt one thing (and it's only one thing!) from the Baroque lot it's that we should have shorter notes with more articulation and less slurs.

I get through reams of Typex just blotting out the slurs and putting in my own articulation and slurs. Why can't they just produce music with only the notes and dynamics etc., but NO EDITING by adding slurs and fingerings.

Does anyone else feel like this!!???

May 6, 2012 at 11:41 AM ·

May 6, 2012 at 01:41 PM · A week ago I was taking part in a workshop on Playford music and playing for dancers, which we did later on. One of the violinists had a double violin case which contained, as well as a standard violin, a tenor violin. It was the same length as a violin but about as deep as a viola. It had no corners, and a scroll of unusual design, which are characteristic of many violins made by its maker in England. The tuning is the standard GDAE, but an octave lower. The strings, made by Helicore, I believe, were thick and heavy. The first impression was that it was hard work to play - imagine applying a pressure/weight not far off that needed to get cello strings to speak, but with a violinistic hold and posture, and that's it. I can't say I was enamoured of the tone, but to be fair I was only playing it for two or three minutes. The violinist herself admitted it was tiring to play, especially fast, but she used it mostly in her folk group as a standby if the cellist failed to show. I would have thought a viola would have been more suitable, but it wasn't my business.

May 6, 2012 at 05:24 PM · Trevor, you have hit the nail on the head! (with force!)

When I switch from violin to viola, I have to adjust my left hand (wider stretches and a firmer hold on wider-vibrating strings) but also my right hand. The viola bow is usually 10g heavier, which increases the force on the string without extra muscular tension. And as William Primrose put it, I need a slight "martellato" attack to start even the softest note, such is the inertia of the instrument.

Also, on the viola, the textures of the four strings are more markedly different, requiring a shorter, heavier stroke on the C, and (for my taste) a much longer lighter stroke on the A, to let it sing rather than scream. (I seem to be the only aunthetic violist to use the Dominant A rather than Jargar or Larsen..)

Peter, I prefer to leave the "blood and guts" to the kitchen, where some of my French friends use them to interesting effect. I like power with warmth from my viola, and folks usually ask me back!

Eric, physics was my best subject at high school, (after music). I had slight problems with using the word "accelaration" for stationary objects(..), but I still enjoy using words with precision (hence this thread!). But I have learned to choose the appropriate dictionary according to my public.. What upsets me is folks who use very technical terms (as opposed to common words) all wrong.

May 6, 2012 at 07:10 PM · Blood and guts is refering to violin, not viola!! You can't get blood and guts from a viola!

May 7, 2012 at 12:14 AM ·

May 7, 2012 at 04:01 AM · What is a tricky winger?

May 7, 2012 at 04:04 AM · "For the physicist, what counts is the vertical force exerted by the bow-hair on the string, visualised by the diminished space between bow-hair and stick..."

Adrian, I disagree with the term "vertical" for the vector. Actually, I teach my students NOT to use pressure (or weight, gravitrons, or whatever term is preferred) in a VERTICAL direction but to imagine the direction of force to be at an angle towards the feet of the bridge.

May 7, 2012 at 05:43 AM · Scott, I quite agree! I was naïvely assuming that the strings are horizontal so that the violin itself points slightly upwards towards the scroll. (Rare!)

I should have said "perpendicular to the string", not "vertical".

May 7, 2012 at 10:33 AM · OK I'm confused.

Playing a violin is part science but mostly its an art. Thus, we should not be surprised if teaching it uses a combination of scientific (mechanical) and emotional (feelings) terms. Nowhere is this clash greater than with respect to dragging that bow accross the strings.

The feelings-based teaching gives us pressure vs weight. Neither of these are accurate since there is (as discussed above) a combination of both - contrary to claims the weight of the bow alone (imagine i ballanced on the string with no hand there and pulled by a thread) would give you a very light sound that could not be varied.

Thus a downward force has to be applied to get a rich sound and as (one) tool for dynamics. The $10K question is how is that force applied?

As this is the real reason for the distinction between 'pressure' and 'weight'. Basically there are two ways of getting force from the body into the bow - and this is the nitty gritty.

The first is to simply rotate the hand at the wrist. With this method the force is exerted almost entirely by the index finger - its best called hand pronation. And this is the instinctive way to get force. It does give volume but it does it TOO WELL. The force from the index finger prevents the hairs on the bow from plucking the string and they grate accross it.

The second method is to apply pressure by a downward motion of the arm. The force is now applied not by the index finger alone, but by the whole hand. This, as I see it, keeps the bow paralell to the string and although pressure is increase it remains in proportion to the grip of the bow (bow speed adjusted proportionally). The reason this works so well is that if you combine downward arm movement with relaxation, the only force you can really apply is the weight of the arm!

The terms 'pressure' are (again my opinion) used to describe hand pronation and the term 'weight' is used to describe the use of the arm mass to apply pressure.


Wait a mo, maybe I wasn't as confused as I thought!

May 7, 2012 at 11:40 AM · Elise, you are brilliant! Tucked away in your thorough description is a word I hadn't thought of: "plucking".

Microscope photos of bow-hair show a scaly surface (so far, impossible to imitate with synthetics..) sprinkled (not coated) with little white blobs of rosin. It's these blobs which "pluck" the string in quick succession, which is why pressing harder than necessary produces less, not more, resonance. According to the chosen pitch, the vibrating string "chooses" which blobs to use.

Thank you! I was loooking for a better alternative to "rubbing" or "dragging".

Your post also echoes Laura's in pointing out that different words "speak" to different muscles. Psychomotricity! Scientific vocabulary clears the mind, while imagery and analogy get us moving..

May 7, 2012 at 07:33 PM · Eric, I'm so sorry you have removed some of your posts: to my mind they were thought-provoking and (to me) really useful.

Apart from enjoying an argument (in true British university debating tradition) I learn a lot from discussions. At 33, I knew everything; at 63, I only know the little that I know!

I see two "debates" here: on the one hand, how to convey movement and sensation to another violinist; on the other , how to use words that everyone will immediately understand.

The scientific community has often invented new terms, but often it has taken everyday words and given them either expanded meanings (e.g. acceleration) or more restricted ones (e.g. stresses & strains).

I had fun looking up these words in my Concise Oxford Dictionary(1966 edition!)

- couple, moment, force, power, intensity, level, vector, amplitude, weight, mass, tension, strength, resistance, impedance....

I have two books in French on acoustics: one translated from German, the other from English.

The resulting French terms do not always coincide!

In one book, the page-setter has kindly removed a vital paragraph so that the text no longer fits the graphs!

Some-one said to me (in French) "There is no current in this power socket!" I replied that there couldn't be any, since nothing was plugged in, but that maybe there was voltage... Not amused!

John, I discovered through your experiments with foam and wolf-notes! I had been looking for a way to raise the air-resonance of a violin, short of enlarging the f-holes... I'll put some of my findings in another thread.

I am a great lover of both scientific precision - and poetic imagery!

May 9, 2012 at 09:51 PM · As a student I've found comments like "use weight not pressure" confusing and not helpful, as the meaning was unclear to me. If you take it literally and let the full weight of your arm pull the bow, then you just pull the bow very fast, loose control and loose contact to the string.

I would have grasped the concept more easily if being told that the force is controlled with the index finger by torque and pronation, while arm and shoulder are relaxed. What's the point of using suggestive unclear terms instead of telling how it works?

May 9, 2012 at 10:49 PM · Is that how you understand it Michael? If you have a moment, please look at my post above - I think it got a bit lost but it has a different take....

May 9, 2012 at 10:53 PM · I remember pretty well the day when at age 14 I started to play the cello (about a month before my first cello lesson) and after 10 years of violin playing and lessons.

Using the heavier cello bow, with reduced gravitation advantage, seemed no problem (as I recall). It was a matter of being able to feel the frictional resistance of the rosined bow hair on the string.

As far as I'm concerned, as a player of both instruments (now, 63 years later), it still is. The only exception might be considered to be certain off-string strokes with many notes per bow ("staccato" or perhaps "flying staccato" both upbow and downbow, and saltando), although the same principles apply, just the time scale is so short and you may have to change right-arm posture.

The friction of the rosined bow hair on the rosin-holding string is proportional to the force of the hair into the string during a legato stroke (as is all sliding friction). More friction is needed to start the string vibrating (sticking friction) - but not that much more - and you have to release the applied force immediately.

So, it is a subtle thing one learns to do with practice, perhaps years of it. I think of it in terms of the torque of the index finger working at a moment arm (the distance from the fulcrum provided by the thumb and the point of contact of the index finger - OR - to make the bow lighter, when playing near the frog, the downward force of the pinky finger reducing the hair force on the string. I think of it in terms of the weight of the arm applied to the dominant upper contact finger on the bow - and NOT squeezing the bow with the thumb!

Tilting the bow away from or toward the bridge, respectively, will decrease or increase the contact area of hair and string and add some complications, because the overtone balance is changed as more of the string vibration is interfered with by the bow hair, and the string can probably tolerate more friction force when the the contact area is larger.

To think of the whole thing as "force" or "pressure" means that you then have to think of all the various things going on - and then what happens to the music? I say just listen to yourself and correct whatever you are doing so that it sounds right.

If you are having problems doing it without a teacher, get one!

If you are a teacher, having trouble getting the concept across, try a different approach. When I was teaching I tried to use a see-saw analogy (the whole "fulcrum" but), and it seemed to work for most students.

I tried to avoid the whole "pressure" discussion, because it would only confuse them if they later try to become engineers or physicists (as I did).


April 25, 2013 at 12:40 AM · How much pressure or weight should be to produce full tone without cracking the sound? By pressing the bow until it reaches its half way to touch the bow stick?


April 25, 2013 at 02:34 AM · I'm being taught by a wonderful teacher and she's discussed pressure and weight. Her focus for me is specifically weight. She does this thing where I put the weight of my right elbow on her hand. She slowly moves to my hand and actually holds my bow with me at the frog. I can still feel the weight. The weight thought actually produces better tone for me. I also utilize this weight by keeping the violin flat so that the weight of my elbow puts the pressure and bite on the string necessary to produce good tone.

Watch some popular violinists today and you'll notice that their violin is angled. While they may play beautifully I don't hear the genius of Heifetz. Check Heifetz out and you'll notice that he holds the violin very horizontal and parallel to the ground. I really think that this is important. I may be wrong but I can audibly tell the difference.

Also my bow hold used to be high and not palm-down and thumb curved. This was because I was focused on using my index finger to provide pressure on the string (so I could sound like Heifetz). So now my goal is flat violin, parallel with the floor, weighted elbow, and perfect bow hold.

I guess you see that I worship Heifetz but I truly think he has perfect form, excellent tone, and good control of emotional musicality.

April 25, 2013 at 03:32 AM · I went back and read the responses. Laurie Niles response is very similar to what I'm being taught now. Check out a link to my latest blog post discussing what I see in pictures and audio of Jascha Heifetz. I think this position is best even though it's actually painful for me because of my prior bad habits. Here's my checklist:

1. Left arm forward and under the violin.

2. Violin flat and pegbox level

3. Relaxed stance

4. Imagine the weight of the elbow

5. Use weight instead of index finger pressure

6. Palm flattened and thumb bent, pinky about 1 o'clock

Check out the picture of Heifetz here

April 25, 2013 at 07:54 AM · Good sound is governed by the ear. Heifetz had such high standards - so his sound is not only wonderful but unique. Same with Kreisler, Menhuin anfd Milstein, and others.

April 25, 2013 at 09:17 AM · Interesting thread - missed it first time around.

My own take is that we need to differentiate between the physics of what is going on, and how we conceptualise it.

The objective forces in violin playing are pretty modest relative to our physical strength, but most of us tense our bodies as though they were much greater than they are. In his interview with Laurie, even Vengerov says he struggles with this. In particular, many of us hold too much tension and rigidity in our hands, and this damages our ability to achieve subtleties of interpretation.

Everything comes from the mind - the idea of muscle-memory, taken literally, is incorrect as most people here will understand. So excessive tension in our playing must originate in faulty and unchallenged metal conceptions and habits.

To begin to correct this, we need to internalise a conception of our technique that encourages fluidity and freedom of expression, rather than tension and restriction. And to do this, words and mental images really do matter, I feel.

If we conceptualise weight or pressure being directed into the hand, it's natural that the hand will tense to bear it, and our playing will suffer. So in some ways I feel this is the wrong discussion - the key issue is how we conceptualise the endpoint of the weight or pressure. In particular, I find that conceptualising the force as being generated by or transmitted through the index finger can lead to hand tension.

The question is how do we conceptualise this force in a way that won't result in our tensing the bow arm and hand?

As I've posted before, I'm influenced by the cello teacher Margaret Rowell, who worked along similar lines to Paul Rolland, who respected her greatly. She spent 60 years studying this issue of how to conceptualise the bow stroke in a way that promotes freedom of expression, in collaboration with just about every major cellist from Cassals to Ma.

The way she taught was to visualise a free-swinging bow arm directing power from its source in the back and down into the root of the hand.

If you visualise the power being generated in the arm, the arm will tense. If you visualise it being generated in the back (which is what is happening anatomically) the arm is free to swing using momentum.

If you visualise the power being directed to the fingers, the fingers will tense to bear the weight. If you visualise the power being directed to the root of the hand, the fingers are free to add the delicate nuances of expression that distinguish artistic playing. So I visualise the motion of the up and down bows as being led by the bones on the left and right sides of the wrist, with power being applied by leaning the weight of the arm into the root of the hand, with a very slight sinking of the root of the hand to accept it. So the power comes from relaxing the arm using its natural weight, not from any additional effort or pronation.

I really do find this an immensely helpful way of thinking about the pressure/weight issue, with an audible improvement in tone and expression when I get it right...

April 28, 2013 at 10:12 AM · Peter, "good sound is governred by the ear", but produced by our limbs, which have to be up to the task..

Geoff, "everything comes from the mind" - here again, let's not confuse mind and brain, especially the cerebellum, which integrates acquired automatisms to make them available to the mind.

I learned quite recently (i.e. ten years ago!) that "joint" memory is more consistent than "muscle" memory; this has vastly improved my teaching (and practice) of the positions.

April 28, 2013 at 11:11 AM · Adrian

Clearly you're right about the two levels of mind, which is why I mentioned conceptions and habits. But surely the habits start as conceptions, which become automated through repetition. And if we're going to change our habits of tension etc, surely the only route is to develop a new conception of the action, and then work to embed it as a habit? Which is why I find it so helpful to use the kids of visualisations and action studies offered by teachers such as Rowell, Rolland and Havas.

And yes, my shifting is beginning to become a bit more reliable now I'm focusing more on the sensations in the elbow rather than the hand - it seems to help...

April 28, 2013 at 12:03 PM · I dont know but Im not convinced that the word "weight" is a a convincing one.

i recall in auer's book he says that the whatever-you-want-to-call-it comes from the lowered wrist..and i think its the same thig in simon fischers dvd where he illsutrates that very nice excercise pressure excercise. he even calls it bow pressure excercise (as i recall), not weight.

and that implies for me that, with the lateral motion of the bow, it is difficult to simplify the originating force to mere arm weight. since we believe that a lot of violin playing muscular activity arises from the back then why can this exerted force not arise from somewhere deeper than the fingers/hands/arms.

also, i think that the the distance from the bridge as well as the kind of instrument and strings mmay possibly make a difference as to whether it one conceives of this force as weight or pressure, no? i really have to dig into the strings near the bridge really slowly to bring out a strong healthy sound. this is really more force than i can conceive of "arm weight" providing.

which is to go back to the idea of a seesaw with foces being generated from the back, the two parts of the arm, the wrist...and that is to say, the arm is not thought of somply as a unit that has its own on-off passive effect (ie. it has a weight that could also be aliviated) but is a more complex system of parts and hinges for transferring and transforming forces.

April 28, 2013 at 12:44 PM · I did write in the OP the "impression" of weight.

In my lessons:

- I ask for the bow to be pressed statically onto the string so as to close the gap between stick and hair; feel the work of thumb and index;

- I then ask to acompany this "dip" with a hand movement from the wrist, then from the elbow, and finally from the shoulder:

- the original "pinching" of thumb and index is still there, but integrated progressively into a more overall arm drop;

- rather than think of all these impressions while playing, I group them into an illusion of arm "weight" "hanging " from the bow;

- this illusion applies to all parts of the bow: at the heel, all four fingers seem to hang on the bow, stabilised by the thumb; at the tip, the index and thumb collaborate to apply this "arm weight" from a greater distance.

The actual muscular actions have been described many times, for centuries! Here we are only seeking the most succinct way to think of them.

April 28, 2013 at 01:33 PM · yes, Adrian, I know and I am also discussing it at the level of the imagination/ being an impression.

when you say weight, i think of a weight of a unit, a dead load (live load if you had small creatures marching up and down the arm). therefore a passive unmodulated 'dumb' force. weight assumes (mentally- again i'm still at the level of impressions) the object of weight, the arm. pressure assumes the aftereffect on the string so it kind of omits signifying the source of that force...perhaps more honestly?

the more i advance (hopefully), the more i realize that the arm (and the body) works like a system that increasingly works well together with more and more practice, sort of like cutivating a corporeal intelligence. legatos over the whole span of the bow (working up and down, partial and whole bows) have brought to my attention a different disposition of arm parts relative to each other and so i naturally think of the arm as a system of modulating forces, an active complex system connectected to a larger system, whose weight is only one factor amongst many. so, it would be best to therefor conceive of it as a system of parts, hingest, cantilvers (from the back)...modulating speed and pressure (weight is not modulable, it is a necessary consequence of mass and gravity).

but i do see your point in connection to first introducing bowing. in that it would be a useful simplification to restrict one from applying too much force that would choke the vibrations. but, at a more elaborate level, this illusion would not really hold.

April 28, 2013 at 02:40 PM · Tammuz, I certainly don't conciously apply this so-called "weight" in fast passages, and not at all in springing bow-strokes; but if I neglect these images and sensations in my slow, preparatory practice, my fast playing will begin to harden, or stiffen, and I will have to apply more will-power to maintain the speed.

April 28, 2013 at 07:40 PM · My physics education is a dim memory but I recall that we spoke of vectors which emphasized the direction of the force. Anyone can see that all down into the bridge gives nothing and that all back and forth with no down also produces no tone. Because the hair is flexible and the bow is not weightles, the weight of the bow provides most of the down vector. The violinist's job is to balance the stroke so that the down forces of the bow stay constant while the bow moves back and forth at various speeds.

April 28, 2013 at 09:27 PM · no comment.

April 29, 2013 at 07:42 AM · I hate to disagree with you Adrian - but in the end, sound is a concept that you have in you head, or ear, and not a scientific equation or something Pythagoras came up with.

All the great players had individual sounds and they did not study science to play the fiddle well. They just had their own individual and unique take on the music and how they should intrerpret it and make it sound.

They also realised that it did not take force, muscles, or muscle memory to play well, but just a few brain cells.

April 29, 2013 at 07:54 AM · Peter, I wish all violinists had marvellous sounds in their inner ears before playing; I certainly do, but being a common mortal, I have one hell of a job conveying them to my listeners. In the case of the great violinists you mention, there seems to be a miraculous unity of mind and matter; but most of us have to analyse and programme our movements to get any where near our imagined sounds. Perhaps you are one of the lucky few!

April 29, 2013 at 08:29 AM · I suppose I have always had a personal concept of sound, and have been told that my sound is good. Of course all of this is ruined by the many other problems I have in making music, without the ability to give reliable performances that so many people seem to have no problem with. Sometimes I wish I had a lousy sound but a reliable technique. (And of course I have had my share of analysis too).

May 1, 2013 at 12:24 AM · It shouldn't come from your thumb and forefinger but rather from your upper legs where you have the biggest muscles. When you can feel yourself making your tone in your butt and thighs, then you know you're really using weight instead of pressure. And some of us have plenty of weight to spare around there, let me tell you.

May 1, 2013 at 12:37 AM · I was banned from using "weight" or "pressure" so now I just squeeze the violin and bow together.

May 1, 2013 at 06:38 AM · Another word: the bow clings to the string; this implies that it is still moving..

Paul, so far, I felt that violin-playing starts somewhere between the shoulder-blades; now I shall have to work on my thighs?

May 1, 2013 at 11:18 AM · I prefer to impel my bow across the strings. It leads to less confusion.

May 1, 2013 at 11:37 AM · Adrian... you're right! Working on the tighs (and abs) is not that crazy at all from my experience.

It's a well documented fact (that Menuhin and others spoke about) that standing very straight usually allows better playing. I would say especially for the bow contact and attacks on the strings when needed. In my opinion, it's because all the bow arm strengh (weight) goes on the violin and is not absorbed by a body that flexes itself when it sees the bow comming...

Simple and basic? But I find it's quite difficult to think about all this while playing and it's not in style either when corporal expression while playing is all over the place.

And effectivly, I found that a pretty good exercice to acheive this is to think about tighs, abs and upper back while playing!

Well, this is my own little experience, others may like this idea or not... and I must admit that some very talented players can play very well in very awkward positions/postures!


May 1, 2013 at 11:51 AM · Seraphim, you would be taken more seriously if you italicized!

May 1, 2013 at 01:57 PM · How about if I actuate the strings with my bow?

Does underlining get me any points?

May 3, 2013 at 01:31 AM · corwin: exactly.

ii often use the phrase "in" or "through" the string for that reason. it's directional, and the direction is not all vertical.

May 3, 2013 at 03:31 AM · Pressure is the amount of force applied per unit of area. May the force be with you.

May 3, 2013 at 05:47 AM · Are we going to let Paul get away with this?

May 3, 2013 at 08:29 AM · How about a code of conduct?

- under pressure, and the weight of an argument;

- Pressure and Weight for physicists;

- "pressure" and "weight" for string players.

Not to mention italics, inderlining, and thickening!

May 3, 2013 at 09:20 AM · Not to underestimate is the weight of the bow. I just had the luck to play for two weeks with an quite heavy german bow, because mine had to be fixed by its maker in austria. At first I was a little uncomfortable, because everything sounded so raw. But in rehearsals where I had to play solo, there was just so much volume range and it was easier to achieve than with my lighter bow. But with a heavy bow pressure is a no go, the sound just breaks. Focussing on bow speed and contact point is much better.

May 3, 2013 at 12:40 PM · Suzuki had a game (= excercise!) where you play with the bow back to front: very heavy!

Apart from stimulating the sensations, this is a remedy for two opposite faults:

- a pupil with a weak tone will discover the joys of a big tone, with no exra effort;

- a pupil with a crunchy tone will learn to balance the bow better with 3rd and 4th fingers.

A universal remedy! Which I find charmingly "oriental"; (I use the word in quotes..)

May 3, 2013 at 03:01 PM · John, there just aren't enough words in the English language to convey all the static and dynamic sensations involved. Arm "weight" is not Tosh, it's an impression, an illusion. If it irritates you, (or any of my pupils), it won't convey anything, but I find it useful.

"Weight = mass X acceleration", which I remember from my physics lessons, is a definition which suits the precision of applied mathematics, but if I try it on most musicians, their eyes glaze over! (Anyway how can a stationary object - e.g. me on the scales - be accelerating: my physics teacher said I would be accelerating if we removed the floor...)

O.k. we can indeed describe violin playing and tone in terms of mass, weight, torque, momentum, elasticity, stress, strain, lateral and rotational velocity, overtones, formants, Helmholtz, Fourier, damping, Young's modulus, Q-factor, and whatnot. I have gleaned much useful information of this kind from the likes of Carleen Hutchins, William Fry, Don noon, Eric Rowe, to name but a few.

But the busy violinist needs simple images, or if you prefer, Tosh! Please be patient with all us uneducated artists..

May 3, 2013 at 06:55 PM · My version of Tosh, let's call it Balderdash, includes the progressive increase in torque (!) from index and thumb as we go from heel to tip. In fact it's the only way to transfer the wei.. sorry, Tosh of the arm onto the string in a moving bow. The illusion of Balderdash is a mental trick to unify the constantly varying parameters of the stroke. This can relieve a few of my remainig brain-cells for the music! ( A visual check of the result is to observe the constance of the space between the middle of the stick and the bow-hair.)

May 3, 2013 at 11:07 PM · Another of Suzuki's "tricks": holding the bow-hair rather than the stick! Feeling the vibrations in thumb- an finger-tips; then trying to capture the same sensations when holding the stick. "Clinging", as I suggested earlier.

Hmm! Tosh, then Balderdash, how about Codswallop?

May 4, 2013 at 12:37 AM · Adrian, you made my year!

I am sympathetic to John's view here, of course. Personally, I like precision, reason and logic because it has always been a bulwark against the external maelstrom of insanity, inanity (and indeed profanity!) I've unfortunately had to deal with. It was something to hold (grip?) onto. When I feel down it actually helps and I find it beautiful. Of course it is not always a "perfect" one to one rendering of our world.

Also, it does get misunderstood. As Adrian says people glaze over (and you can be accused of arrogance, pedantry being pc [whatever that is] and the like!)...and people may think you always think you are right just because you are trying to be precise. Sometimes you can be precisely wrong too!

Just for Adrian: the way I might explain it is

W-N=0 no net force or acceleration here!

The normal force, N, is how we measure the weight, W. If instead N were 0 and the object were free falling the acceleration due to gravity will always be g, independent of the object, and we then interpret this as defining mass by


Physics is often taught very badly, just like violin. I cringe when teachers unnecessarily invoke the notion of centrifugal force to explain circular motion or when scientists go on TV and misrepresent the notion of time or probability in quantum physics.

As for the violin, it is the tension, T in the string which takes the place of N and balances any force on the string. I guess we want T to be constant (on average) to get a nice consistent sound.

....however it is done. Of course if you use an SR you will have to take into account curvature of space time (or maybe just the spine) apparently....just extrapolating others' comments on another thread.

May 4, 2013 at 10:26 AM · Well, I'm going to hold out for my view that we need both an understanding of the physics/physiology of what's going on, and simple mental images that our brain can use to move towards the most effective sensations while we are playing.

Any approach to teaching that focuses on external explanations without helping students understand what they feel like when things are working well is impoverished indeed, in my personal experience.

The sensation I mentioned of the weight being directed to the heel of the hand and being applied by a slight sinking of the wrist may not be useful to a physicist, but Margaret Rowell found that the better the player, the more likely it was that they visualised the bow arm this way. Because as well as working within the constraints of physics, our bodies respond to the mental map we have of the movement. And if our mental map is that weight is directed into the fingers, the fingers will tense up to support it. Simples...

May 5, 2013 at 03:00 AM · My comment was meant to be about precision, not physics per se.

Anyway, however something is explained or described, I find I personally need to understand what exactly I am to do and why, or to what effect.

For instance, Kurt Sassmannshaus has a nice video about the bow change in which he precisely explains what needs to happen and why; essentially the string must continue to vibrate unhindered at the moment of change by taking all the weight/pressure off just before and "sneaking" back into it after. That made more sense to me than all the talk of finger action etc á la Carl Flesch, or crescent bowing etc. I've never heard it described so clearly, yet simply by anyone else. It contains both physics "truth" and description of the sensation or aim. Precisely "how" and "why".

Similarly, I find that for at least for me, both bowing straight and removing weight towards the frog is aided by focusing on the sense of flexing of the third finger rather than the pinky, which then follows naturally... I feel it as guiding the bow.

There was also a piano lesson I saw in which the thumb under movement in scales was discussed. She made it so clear and precise about moving the thumb fully to its new position, quickly and immediately after the next finger plays, even in slow that very fast scales are possible. Again "how" and "why".

On the other side I remember seeing a program about Russian wunderkinder and a musician father was guiding his virtuoso son (ten maybe) in playing a piece on the piano. He never stopped talking at him (like me!). One moment it was to be played like elephants, baby elephants, then sparkly like a celeste and then like goblins or witches. ...well something like that.

May 5, 2013 at 01:55 PM · I can accept the notion that certain mental imagery, pretentious metaphysical neologisms notwithstanding, might lead a violinist to produce well-coordinated arm/wrist/hand/finger movements that result in good tone.

What I find harder to accept is when the person says, "I don't use any pressure or force, only weight," because even though they may be thinking only of weight, this assertion flatly denies the true physics of the tone generation process. The existence of a downward force can be proved unequivocally by the change in the distance between the hair and the stick of one's bow.

May 5, 2013 at 04:33 PM · I don't see the problem! In my 1966 Pocket Oxford Dictionary, many words have several shades of meaning: common, literary, colloquial, scientific, etc. As a musician with a scientific background (albeit rusty), I have to choose according to my audience, none of whom I would presume to despise!

Hence pressure vs "pressure" etc. when writing in this thread..

May 5, 2013 at 05:17 PM · I didn't think there was any despising, unless you meant "despise" instead of despise. :-)

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