Should you tilt the bow when you play or leave it flat?

June 3, 2012 at 11:13 PM · Usually when I play I tend to tilt the bow hair towards me on each up bow. I have seen some violinists that tilt there bows and some that keep it flat. Which style will be free of tension because that's an issue I'm with struggling right now. And which style will bring out more sound and dynamics?

Replies (90)

June 3, 2012 at 11:48 PM · One should be able to play with flat hair, and also to play with the stick tilted toward the scroll for certain coloration and dynamics. By your description I believe that you are doing it correctly, just make sure that you do it only when you intend to and not as a consequence of every up bow.

June 4, 2012 at 12:55 AM · tilt. You can play with the hair flat, and the bow tilted depending on the amount of pressure (yes I said pressure).

June 4, 2012 at 01:51 AM · Flat hair produces louder sound and more articulation. The fewer amount of hairs, the smoother and quieter the sound but also less articulation. You need to be able to control the mount of hairs you need to use for dynamics and bowing (such as spiccato, sautille, etc.) for different character of sound.

June 4, 2012 at 01:57 AM · This is of course, assuming, one wants to play with maximum sound all the time.

In a common application, some degree of tilt can be used to compensate for the difference in weight distribution between the frog and the tip (less hair at the frog, more at the tip) to keep the sound quality more consistent, everything else being equal.

June 4, 2012 at 02:07 AM · Wow. I didn't know there was even debate about this. Check out ANY major violinist videos on Youtube. There bow is always tilted.

Think about it. If you want to play softly, the best way would be to use only a couple bow hairs. Using a hundred bow hairs with only give you a scratchy sound. Like I said before you can still play with all of the hairs even with a tilted bow.

June 4, 2012 at 02:11 AM · @Nate Robinson

You said you should play with the bow flat!? You have 4 videos of yourself playing, and in every single one you can see the bow tilted out! You can even see it in the stills from the video.

Is this a do as I say, and not as I do?

June 4, 2012 at 03:56 AM · "The players that do not play on flat hairs (I agree there are many with record contracts) simply cannot be heard in the back of a large concert hall."

They need to press harder.

June 4, 2012 at 04:05 AM · What Nate wrote makes sense to me.

Tilting the bow does not preclude full contact of the hair against the string because the hair is not rigid, it can twist. I'm not sure what is the prevailing opinion on the advantage of tilting the bow, but one possibility (from my perspective as a non-pedagogue) is that it helps you maintain a flexible bow-hold, and it may help keep your bow from wandering away over the fingerboard. Pressure ("weight") on the stick coaxes the bow gently toward the bridge where it meets the slight downward curve in the string and maximizes the richness of your tone, whether you are playing softly or loudly.

June 4, 2012 at 06:15 AM · It depends on the color you want to produce. Like using a Chinese paint brush, the amount of hairs touches the paper/strings must change all the time if you want variations, subtle and not so subtle ones. There are times I need to use only a few hairs to play something very soft and airy, a flat untitled bow simply won't work.

Also, there is a difference between a violinist and a trumpet player.

June 4, 2012 at 06:19 AM · Hmm.

Tilt an press hard… What'ya got? flat hairs =p

Cheers ;)

June 4, 2012 at 07:22 AM · Interesting topic. I always switch back and forth between tilted and flat. There was even an exercise in Galamian's book for this that I found extremely interesting.

on a side note, I agree with Vitalis. I like a robust sound with a bit of bite. e.g. Zukerman.

A lot of violinists today seem to be afraid of applying pressure on their strings,which really puzzles me especially when they play on such wonder instruments. I guess we all miss the good old days.

June 4, 2012 at 09:18 AM · Here are three great violinists ALL with a tilted bow. Perlman, Heifetz, and yes even Zukerman

Now I did not have to hunt for these. Watch any video of a professional violinist and you will see the angled bow. Thinking logically about this, you will only be able to get the full amount of nuances in your sound by having an angled bow, and using different amounts of weight to apply less or more hair. You should be able to easily project to the back of a hall without resorting to a flat bow, and bad technique.

June 4, 2012 at 09:32 AM · Interesting fights and disagreements here!!

I would say both, but I do agree however that the huge sound that the great players made was due to more hair on the string, playing close to the bridge, and generally not playing like the pansys we often see today.

June 4, 2012 at 10:16 AM · You're saying that people like Perlman, Midori, and Sarah Chang are pansies?

June 4, 2012 at 10:17 AM · Neither one should cause tension. If you are having problems with tension it is more likely the bow hold or violin's at play angle.

June 4, 2012 at 10:36 AM · Thank you ^

June 4, 2012 at 10:41 AM · So is that clear now Angelica?

See the answer to your question is "Yes".

And we are all much enlightened. Well, maybe less enlightened but yet more (if thats possible) convinced that there is more than one way to skin this particular instrument...


June 4, 2012 at 11:53 AM · From Shawn Boucke

"You're saying that people like Perlman, Midori, and Sarah Chang are pansies?"

I don't remember mentioning them by name, and in any case I said "like the pansies we see today."

The names you mention are hardly of today, so what is your gripe? You seem to want to misread other peoples posts and not only mine. I did say "use both" i.e. flat and angles, but if you are not going to understand the posts we are adding, then maybe you need a less advanced forum that uses simpler language.

June 4, 2012 at 12:43 PM · There are a number of points of controversy when it comes to right-hand technique, and this has long been one of them. As far as tension goes, it's possible to be tense or relaxed either way.

Please visit my website, where in my "writings" section in "Fundamentals of the bow" I go into a lot of detail on this subject from my point of view - There, I also cover other controversial points, such as the use of the wrist and the first finger.

Briefly here, I'll say this. It's not just either/or. There are degrees of tilt, and it's possible to put most of the hairs in use with a slight stick tilt and a little bit of weight. In my approach, I do a slight tilt while still using most of the hair most of the time - about 60 degrees on the down-bow, and approaching 45 degrees on the up-bow. Even Aaron Rosand, one of my teachers, and a vociferous advocate of flat hair, has said that you can tilt the bow more on the up-bow. I change my basic approach a bit for different kinds of music. If I'm say, beginning the Debussy sonata, I will tilt more and use less hair, as well as bow closer to the fingerboard for that transparent, impressionistic sound that I want. If I'm beginning the last mvt. of the Tchaikovsky concerto, my hair will be completely flat, and the stick at 90 degrees, for that dense, gutsy sound that I want there.

There's also a relationship between tilt and hair tightness. With flatter hair, you can have the bow looser, which is better for the health of the bow, and the sound. One thing you need to avoid if you are tilting the stick, and that is actually playing on the stick sometimes, which is why tilters sometimes tighten their bows more.

Here's a rare instance where I'll disagree with my respected colleague, Nate. Even though for the most part, I'm an advocate of using more hair and less tilt most of the time, it's not true that tilters don't know what they are talking about. There are some excellent players who tilt beyond the point of getting all the hairs into play, who nevertheless get a sound that is both beautiful and projecting. The most distinguished such example I can think of is David Nadien.

June 4, 2012 at 01:16 PM · Raphael, quite a sensible way of putting it, and very diplomatic!! Thanks.

But of course this whole question of bowing is not something in isolation, it has a lot to do with contact, bow speed, pressure and point of contact. I think personally that there was a certain amount of obsession about 40 years past, and more, on bow contact. Concert halls were getting bigger (and drier) so people wanted to project more.

Maybe you won't agree though?

June 4, 2012 at 02:27 PM · Ok from what I understand after reading this is that its ok to tilt the bow but if you want more sound you keep it flat. Am i right or misunderstanding something?

June 4, 2012 at 02:32 PM · "Usually when I play I tend to tilt the bow hair towards me on each up bow. "

If you are tilting the bow towards you in normal play you may be getting some tension with this, IMO, poor technique. There may be too much bending at the wrist, a straight wrist is best.

Try this

Place the bow at its half way point with the hair flat on the D string. Look at the bow arm, there should be no bending of the wrist. The wrist should be straight and aligned with the hands base knuckles and elbow.

June 4, 2012 at 02:35 PM · Angelica - you are correct!

One thing that has not been mentioned so far is the fact that as you get higher and higher on any one string the closer you are forced to play nearer to the bridge, AND you must use flat hair, or the sound will be thin.

Of course it could be "hair today and gone tomorrow!!" (Sorry!!)

June 4, 2012 at 02:37 PM · alright @Peter Charles and @Charles Cook, I'll try to keep that in mind. After all i dont want "hair today, and gone tomorow" :)

June 4, 2012 at 03:42 PM · Another thing I should maybe point out is that in some of the photos the bow may looked tilted but the hairs can still be flat on the string. Try it for yourself. Even with a little tilt the hairs are still pretty flat and with more tilt they don't change that much.

As Rapheal I think said it also depends on how tight the bow hairs are, on a very tight bow the edge may come more into play than on a looser bow.

June 4, 2012 at 06:07 PM · Very diplomatic? I must be slipping! ;-)

June 4, 2012 at 07:53 PM · I'll just point out that there seems to be a confusion about two situations:

1. the bow is tilted but there is contact with all or most of the hairs.

2. The bow is tilted but full contact with all or most of the hairs is not taking place.

3. the bow is NOT tilted with respect to the string and the hairs are flat.

These are different because the tilt of the bow produces different tensions. It's difficult, for example, to perform a rounder brush stroke with a stick that is vertical. For example, I would personally tilt the bow more to get the brushed sound I want on the Scherzo from Schumann's 2nd Symphony. This would be the case till the coda, when I may use a flatter hair for a more aggressive sound. The last page of Tzigane would call for less tilt.

I think it's rather silly to make broad generalizations when there are clearly different musical applications. It's NOT just about who sounds the loudest at the back of the hall. That is rather a one-dimensional way of looking at it.

June 4, 2012 at 08:04 PM · Nate, I'm not just looking at stills. Check out every video on Youtube of all the masters.

June 4, 2012 at 08:25 PM · Peter please clairify. I never intended to put words in the mouth, but when you say pansies we see today, I assume you mean... People we see today. Do you mean teenagers, people in their 20s, or someone specific. Please clairify fo me who are he pansies you are talking about.

June 4, 2012 at 09:13 PM · who can resist this particular minefield? I think it mostly depends on whether you use an SR or not....

But seriously :) If your bow hair is not too taught (we need a separate topic) and you tilt it you can go from very little string contact (on its edge) to a lot (where the hairs flatten out) very fast. This would seem to gives you a dynamic range during the stroke that is far greater than can be achieved with flat hairs.

That said, I agree with Nate that for the Full Blast you need a flat bow.

BTW I don't change the wrist when changing the bow angle at all, its done by rolling the bow slightly between the fingers and thumb.

But I'm probably doing it all wrong anyway....

June 4, 2012 at 09:14 PM · Wow - so many passionate responses!

Carl Flesch discussed this issue as well as bow tension in the Art of Violin Playing and a century later his observations seem to hold true. Flesch observed that in general, violinists who used the Russian bow hold had a tendency to use a looser bow hair and flatter hair, while those who used a Franco-Belgian bow hold tend to use a tighter bow hair and tilt the bow more. I tend to observe the same. So the answer would seem that one is better for different approaches to the whole of the bowing mechanism in general.

Of course, different musical colors require different things. We may also want to produce a different sound when we play in chamber music vs solo vs orchestra. I think that all of those things may go into how much tilting or not one may choose to use.

For the original poster, tensions are the result of imbalances in the posture in general and not directly related to how much tilt or what bow hold one uses, but many factors combined together. So, changing the tilt of the bow will not in most instances solve tension problems in your playing.


June 4, 2012 at 09:29 PM · Elise, will you please stop being so diplomatic and reasonable? These gentlemen are trying to start a fight worthy of a SR war here, and you're just not helping keep the tension level high.

June 4, 2012 at 09:46 PM · Shawn

I probably shouldn't have used the word "pansy" as I realise this usually refers to males. I don't want to get into names as I get into enough trouble as it is, but there are certain players who turn out to be mainly (but not all), female. I've been accused on here of bias against well known female players, which is not true because the really good ones are fantastic. However, there are some male and female players who have a rather thin sound, and without naming anyone, I think most people will have some idea as to who I am getting at.

I have recently heard some excellent young students who have been mainly female and who have huge sounds and great temperament and produce electrifying performances. They are already a lot better than some of the younger generation (late 20's to late 30's) well known violinists who we hear a lot of, of both genders.

June 4, 2012 at 09:50 PM · Lisa, my tension level is so high that I'm breaking strings by the dozen, and all this flat hair playing is keeping the neighbours awake ... not to mention the local foxes.

I'm making such a noise now that my recordings are distorted as I forgot to reduce the gain ... The hair on my bow is still OK, but that on my head is coming out fast ... (wink)

June 4, 2012 at 10:17 PM · Peter, just tilt your HEAD instead of keeping it flat and it will all be OK.

June 4, 2012 at 10:28 PM · Peter's always got his head screwed on right right Peter?

Sorry if this doesn't make sense, blame my Chinese.

June 4, 2012 at 10:30 PM · "A Pansy is a flower that every wisp of wind will blow hither and thither"

That sounds about right for some of those thin sounds too ...

Lisa, if I tilt my head it might fall off ...

June 4, 2012 at 10:58 PM · Interesting... I haven't read all the comments, but I am wondering that there are some very rigid opinions on this very flexible issue.

The solution is very simple and John Cadd and others already mentioned it: It depends on the situation.

Who wants a second violinst who scratches his harmony notes like a little heifetz? And who can play three strings at the same time with less then all hair?

The only rule should be, that the bow stick doesn't touch the string. (and even that can happen from time to time, but should not...) Everything else depends on situation and taste. Speaking about the lack of a solid range of sound in "too-much-tilted" players, I can agree, that its horrible to see and hear such people trying too play dynamics. But also here it depends: some violins can carry also with tilted bow to the back of a hall and if the soloist is too quiet, the orchestra is mostly too loud... ;)

Yeah... but I like to scratch my violin quite good from time to time. Going to the edge is important to get a feeling for possible dynamics and relaxation of the movements.

And yes not so much tilt is better for the bow.

June 5, 2012 at 04:14 AM · What you want to avoid is having your bow tilting at windmills.

June 5, 2012 at 05:57 AM · Every time I hear justification for some principle of violin playing or equipment as "ability to project" I have to laugh. How many people in the world will ever really need to care about "sending the sound to the last seat in the hall"....what hall???? The simple fact is that tilting the stick is like setting the gain on your computer's mouse tracking to a reasonable level. It just makes the instrument more user friendly. Too much gain = jittery and hard to control. Too little gain = having to move the thing twice as far to get the same output.

June 5, 2012 at 06:07 AM · I don't disagree with you that often, Simon, and maybe I'm not disagreeing now, but I just wondered what you meant by

"Who wants a second violinst who scratches his harmony notes like a little heifetz? "


June 5, 2012 at 06:11 AM · Tom

I might want to project to the back of the hall occasionally if I'm playing first fiddle in a quartet, or in the past if I'm doing an audition on the platform in a big concert hall.

But yes, in normal circumstances (as a retired old fart) I don't need to do this. It's nice to think one might still be capeable of doing it though ...

June 5, 2012 at 07:01 AM · Peter i meant, that as second violinist in an quartet you don't have to play like a soloist all the time.

You always have to adept your playing, volume, sound colour. Agreeable?

June 5, 2012 at 07:37 AM · > How many people in the world will ever

> really need to care about "sending the

> sound to the last seat in the hall"

The ones who aspire to perform as a career do.

I guess one could play tennis by hitting the ball into the net on every single attempt at swinging the racquet. I would venture though that tennis, like music, tends to be more enjoyable when you can actually execute the required skills, regardless of the level you want to achieve.

June 5, 2012 at 07:43 AM · Simon, agreed. But I wondered though if you think Heifetz was a scratcher?


Well put.

June 5, 2012 at 09:14 AM · Gene - I'm confused. The statement wasn't that you don't need to be able to project but that you don't need to do so all the time. And surely chambermusic would be something else (er, surely not chamber) if the first violin had to compete with the second who was projecting to the back of the Albert Hall (and while playing in my music parlor)....

June 5, 2012 at 05:15 PM · A quote from Nate -

"I have to also disagree with you Simon. First of all, as Peter correctly mentioned, Heifetz did not scratch. Second of all, in a quartet, since the 2nd violinist is positioned *further* from the audience than the 1st violinist it is I think important for the 2nd violinist not to shy away from 'playing out.' "

I think a strong second fiddle is great in a quartet - and they are worth their weight in gold. And listen to some composers quartet works (20C etc) where the second fiddle is playing solo and/or higher than the first. You need a strong second.

June 5, 2012 at 07:21 PM · As far as this discussion goes, every arument has its counterpart. my opinion on this is as I said: It depends... I never said a second violinist should always play quiet. I said he should not always play like a soloist. Same goes for every player in an ensemble, most of the time you have to blend into harmony.

An experienced Jazz player once told me that he recognizes a good musician by the ability to know when NOT to play to much.

Also when I say Heifetz was a scratcher I mean he did use much bow weight and less tilt more often than other players. Wich doesn't mean I scratch on your heifetz-god. Milstein, my personal Violin-and-music-god, admitted with humor, that he sometimes likes to scratch his violin. Nothing wrong with that.

Nate I wonder why you advice a non tilted bow and yourself play also tilted. Maybe you tilt less than others and i like the Idea of full hair. But no tilt is just unrealistic and I have never seen that at a professional level. Lets be a little more flexible and we can enjoy all the colours of violin sound. I don't like black and white.

Yes, there is a way you have to teach it and I admit full hair and no or little tilt is the ideal in early stages, but when you develope as an musician you don't want to play always with full power? Do you? I know why people teach the full contact stuff and I agree, but not everything wich is taught has to be taken as a strict rule. Its more of an healthy guideline.

Also the Tennis Metaphor can be seen from two sides: Who wants to play with a player who always hammers the ball at you? Regardless of its success, is that tennis? Or even ArT?

June 5, 2012 at 07:56 PM · hi.

i dont understand the contradiction here. its very clear in Simon Fischer's DVD that he advicates tipping the bow to play with fewer hairs closer to the fingerboard with more speed and less pressure. he talks about a different tone, one that rings out. if i think about it within his rationale, you dont necessarily derive a fuller sound from flat hair at all points of the strings, the nearer to the bridge, the higher the string tension is, the more pressure required with less speed , the more hair area to catch the strings at their high tension....the nearer to the fingerboard, the lower the string tension, the more speed required, the less pressure. too many hairs near the fingerboard restricts the motion of strings, too few near the bridge and its not enough to set them into that a valid way of looking at it?

June 5, 2012 at 07:56 PM · post repeated

June 5, 2012 at 07:56 PM · ooops, post repeated again

June 5, 2012 at 07:59 PM · Angelica, I think a great solution would be to record yourself doing both tilted and flat hair for a number of passages and bow strokes, thereby bypassing the intense battle of the theories. That way, if a difference is noted, then you can have a good idea of the possibilities of either, and decide yourself, which to use when.

I'm trying to access my Physics 101 (Actually not that long ago), but if I remember correctly, the friction that is experienced between two surfaces is not dependent on the area of contact between the surfaces. I remember finding this rather counterintuitive. In that vein, I would venture that the energy transmitted would not actually be different, although perhaps the wrist and finger position would change in a way so as to affect the transfer of forces into the bow. I think there are some scientists out there, so I would love a correction if I'm wrong or over-simplifying. I've read some physics write-ups of bowing technique, but I always wonder if there is a little more to it, or it's just that the body has stubborn habits that make it difficult.

June 5, 2012 at 08:08 PM · Simon - my answers to some of your comments - you may still disagree though ...

"As far as this discussion goes, every arument has its counterpart. my opinion on this is as I said: It depends... I never said a second violinist should always play quiet. I said he should not always play like a soloist. Same goes for every player in an ensemble, most of the time you have to blend into harmony."

I don't think most of us would disagree.

"An experienced Jazz player once told me that he recognizes a good musician by the ability to know when NOT to play to much."

Yes, I would agree here too.

"Also when I say Heifetz was a scratcher I mean he did use much bow weight and less tilt more often than other players. Wich doesn't mean I scratch on your heifetz-god. Milstein, my personal Violin-and-music-god, admitted with humor, that he sometimes likes to scratch his violin. Nothing wrong with that."

Both Heifetz and Milstein are at the top of the tree for me too.

"Yes, there is a way you have to teach it and I admit full hair and no or little tilt is the ideal in early stages, but when you develope as an musician you don't want to play always with full power? Do you? I know why people teach the full contact stuff and I agree, but not everything wich is taught has to be taken as a strict rule. Its more of an healthy guideline."

I had a teacher who was a very fine player and soloist and he was always talking about the importance of bow contact. But contact can be contact in pp as well as in fff. Sometimes good contact is hardest when playing quietly. But there still must be contact. On the other hand, if you are playing flat out (and in a quartet say - sometimes the others have to play 10% less but still look like they are playing 100%) so you can be heard at the back of the cow shed, you neeed flat hair and to be playing near the bridge with quite a bit of scratch, which won't be heard after the sound travels 8 feet or more.

With Heifetz (particularly) and other top performers you hear the bow contact in fast loud passages. You hear the grit.

I find that a lot of the players here who put up videos don't demonstrate to me very good bow conact.

I've been doing a lot of recording of myself recently (to try out mics and a new mic pre-amp) and I have been playing extremely close to the mics. Just two or three inches away in fact. (I wouldn't normally reccommend this, but I'm messing around with recording quality and experimenting). This close miking certainly records lots of blood and guts, but it also tells me about my bow control and contact. It also helps me learn unnacompanied Bach. But often I find in Bach the flat bow helps. It can also help to find the sweet spot, even with a flat bow.

And of course all of this is entirely governed by bow speed, pressure, and point of contact on the string.

June 5, 2012 at 08:55 PM · I would like to address the issue re whether the violin soloists of previous generations projected better than today's soloists, and whether bow tilt, or lack thereof is a contributing factor.Well, EVERYTHING is a contributing factor! There is no one magic bullet to account for the complex phenomenon of a violinist's tone – especially a very good one. Why just bow tilt? What about the way the violinist holds the bow? Is it more of an Auer hold? Franco-Belgian – some sort of synthesis of the two, or something else? Even within this or that identifiable basic style of holding the bow, there are variations: how deeply into the bow do the fingers sink? Does the first finger stick out and move around or does it stay wrapped around the bow? Does the 4th finger stay mainly on or off the stick, or partly one way or the other? What about the wrist? Does it come up noticeably at the frog and bend down at the tip, or does it stay pretty level most of the time? What about arm and elbow height? What about the thumb – bent all the time? (Rosand, Silverstein) Straight all the time? (Dicterow) Sometimes bent and sometimes straight, depending where and when? (Szerying and uhm, Klayman) How much does the player choke up or down on the stick? Does the player keep the fingers or wrist more active, or play more from the shoulder (Milstein)? What about favored contact point when there is some choice? What about pressure or weight? What about amount of bow used? Some players lead saliently with a vertical approach (Stern); some with a broad sweep and a lot of bow (Milstein); some with more of a flowing approach (Menuhin). Many with aspects of all the above. We could have separate threads and lively debates on each of the above aspects – and I'm sure I have not been exhaustive.

But what about the left hand? What about vibrato and the different kinds different players use? To me, the body of tone produced by the bow is like the body of the violin, and the vibrato is like the varnish. Tone is also affected by the pads of the left hand fingers – almost like the felts on the hammers of a piano. And here we go again but yes, the presence or absence of a shoulder rest also affects the tone.

This brings me to the physicality of the player. Everyone is built differently and has different sized and shaped hands, arms and overall physique. There sometimes even seems to be a correlation between one's looks, and one's sound and phrasing. Imagine this experiment: get a focus group not familiar with the playing of Elman and Heifetz. Show them photos of the two great violinists, play some characteristic passages of each from their respective recordings. Now ask them to match the playing with the photos. I'll bet that the preponderance would guess right! One could do a similar experiment with Menuhin and Stern, Mutter and Hahn, with, I believe a similar preponderance of correct guesses. It's true, of course, that other pairings would be more nebulous. In any case, from all the above, we now have quite a few factors to work with. And when we consider how many ways they could be mixed and matched, we get a rather large number.

But I believe that there is still more. The above large number – whatever it actually is - represents the sum of the parts. I believe that there is a whole that includes but transcends the sum of the parts. This is the violinist's personality, desire for a certain effect, musical view (varied with different styles and situations) and ultimately unconscious gestalt. I remember my first teacher, Harry Fratkin, a student of Auer saying “I don't know how Elman produced his tone – and neither did he!” There is a DVD with a fairly recent interview of David Nadien. (This, btw, is where you can see even more clearly than on the YouTube NYP broadcast from the mid-60's of his Swan Lake solos, how much he tilts his bow. I'm sort of being the Devil's advocate here, as I personally don't believe in doing that most of the time.) After playing a little towards the end of the interview, the interviewer compliments Nadien on his beautiful tone, and asks him how he produces it. At first Nadien says that he doesn't know, and that it just comes out that way. Then he admits that he was joking and says “I know, more or less, how I do it”. I find though, that “more or less” interesting. I don't think he was joking any more at that point. Once some students of Dorothy Delay asked her how Pinchas Zukerman produces his tone. “Oh” she said, “you just do this, that and the other”. Well, has anybody heard any Delay students – or anyone else for that matter - sound like Zukerman? At least as much goes for Rosand, Heifetz, and Kreisler.

This brings me to the question of whether the older generation projected better than prominent violinists of today. For one thing, it really is generalizing not to name names, though for my argument, we can put that aside. There's one more factor to consider, which is instrument set-up. Bridges are often made different than 50 or more years ago and support stronger playing. On the other hand I recall an article from an old Strad magazine where a dealer insisted that many older players wanted a set-up with the soundpost placement that favored higher overtones and more brilliance whereas many of today's solists seemed to favor more damping. And yet there's the modern and popular so called “New York set-up” – by no means limited to New York – which promotes power and brilliance. Also, today's strings are more powerful than gut strings – though it is hard to imagine Heifetz playing any more brilliantly than he did, and he used naked gut for both the A and D. So this all strikes me as inconclusive. And the individual is still the most important factor. It seems to me that the only way to tell whether A projects better than B, is to have listened to them both within a reasonable time frame, in the same hall, in the same seat, and under similar circumstances – borh with piano or both with orchestra. We can't compare recordings with a live performance or with one another, as mike placement and other factors makea big difference.

So tilt, shmilt. Just don't run out of hair – or you will be 'hairing impaired'!

June 5, 2012 at 09:28 PM · playing tilted or not also depends on the position of the bow. Nearly all players tilt a little on the frog, at the tip less tilt provides better contact.

Raphael I also thought that this discussion is silly, because violin playing is so complex and tilting of the bow, while still important to sound and its colour, is just a part of it.

Nate: I also had a teacher, who teaches this contact method and I love it, but its really for giving you the ability to play like a soloist and project against an orchestra and getting everything out of your violin. Its very good to have that and i am still working on it. I actually every day reestablish a good, heavy conteact of the bow to the string. That I tilt the bow less then comes naturally to me, because I would otherwise be playing on the stick.

If you only tilt the stick and still play with all hairs this still means you have uneven pressure of the hairs to the strings, wich is not the same as non tilt flat hair. I am just saying, not critizising.

Good contact and solid bow use is the main sign of a good player to me. Left hand is important too, but without the good contact of the bow the left hand is nothing. I agree, that it is a wide spread misleading issue, that players tend to play too soft and for their own ears. I like the Heifetz/Zukerman/ and "my old teacher" method. And that is because it works. It makes you play better, simple as that. And Heifetz Zukerman and my old teacher Lara Lev are soundwise the most impressive players to me.

When she took my violin in a lesson and demonstrated something, it blew me away what my violin was able to sound like! I had other teachers not so well into sound, who played nice too... but it was a different league. And to get in that league who have to know really where to put your energy and practice that day in day out!

June 5, 2012 at 10:29 PM · If I can throw in my 2 cents here cause I realize a lot people posting are more qualified and knowledgeable than me. I never really thought about it until I read this discussion. When i play, as soon as I apply pressure, hair is almost always flat due to the weight of my arm. i am not sure if people are talking about tilting of the stick or just the hair. Unless you are playing pp, it's kinda hard to have your bow hair tilted at all times.

June 6, 2012 at 01:26 AM · Steven, you are raising a good question. In addressing it, I may clarify Nate's point about his own playing, though he doesn't need my help. But I may have a similar approach in my own playing in this respect.

It's possible to tilt the stick slightly - say about 60 degrees - and when applying some weight, you will get almost all the hair in play. In this way, you get more fullness and density, other factors being equal. I believe this has a different effect than when you have the bow at 90 degrees, with the ribbon of hair flat. With the bow completely perpendicular, and the hair compleltely flat, the hair is effectively taughter and the sound more gutsy, and even gritty. In the first way, almost all the hair is brought into play, but it kind of has a triangular build-up of hair from the edge of the ribbon into kind of a wedge. I consider this my basic default approach for most playing.

It's also possible to tilt the stick more, to the point where you are not using all the hair. As I mentioned earlier, I will tilt more for transparent, impressionistic passages from say the Debussy sonata, and have the bow at 90 degrees and flat hair for the introduction to the last mvt. of the Tchaikovsky concerto.

June 6, 2012 at 01:52 PM · I wonder if, throughout history, violinists have generally found that the instrument is simply more playable (easier to execute a variety of bow strokes with control) when the bow stick is tilted, and they found that unless the tilt angle is quite dramatic, there was not much downward influence on their tone or "projection."

I found the question about why the bow hair is flat to begin with quite interesting. The blade of a coping saw has an adjustable pitch with respect to the frame of the saw. It would seem a simple matter to make a bow that has tilted hair even when the bow is being held perpendicular. I'm wondering if such a bow would sound just as good (controlling for all other factors which is impossible, of course) but would be less playable.

June 6, 2012 at 04:09 PM · The answer then is clear. Keep the bow hairs flat at all times - but use an adjustable tilt on player to up to 45%.

I wonder if thats why violinists are always to good on cruise ships...

June 7, 2012 at 07:57 AM · My comment with regard to playing to the last seat in the hall is not meant to deter someone from having that goal, but there are a couple of considerations. If the instrument/bow combo is more user friendly, then the resulting music will generally be more pleasing to listen to. There will be fewer abrupt changes/pauses between notes, the dynamics of the piece will be easier to create, maybe the vibrato will be more relaxed or richer, there will be less of a grimace on the performer's face, etc. When compared to the value of projecting sound, I will take a pleasing quiet sound over a loud and less pleasing one any day.

Being able to tilt the stick does not really change the bite of the hair or the surface area of contact of the hair, which is after all hair that is flexible, but it changes the bouncing quality of the stick, kind of like having a variable speed transmission. You are not obligated to always tilt the stick the same amount but it is an option.

June 7, 2012 at 11:50 AM · tom utsch

From what perspective are you coming from? Teacher, student, performer, professional orchestral player?

Just interested as I find your views somewhat strange. We need more to go on.

June 7, 2012 at 01:12 PM · Heifetz tilted his bow a ton

There are times when it differs, but 90% of the time, especially when the camera is up close his bow is tilted (Almost to where the stick is touching the strings). The only time it is more flat is when he is either at the very tip of the bow, or is playing "fff"

June 7, 2012 at 02:04 PM · I have spoken with many violinists and violin teachers here, and some say tilt, some say flat. I have concluded that it depents on what you want to play, though I put it flat most of the times, and tilt it when it is needed.

June 7, 2012 at 06:51 PM · Heifetz tilted his bow a ton

Yes, but he had a flat bow in the pizzicato bits ...

June 7, 2012 at 07:14 PM · > Where did I say I play with loose bow hair on

> this discussion?

Hey Nate, this is off on a tangent, but I'd bring up that I prefer to play with the hair on the bow quite loose. It makes it easier to get all of it to contact the strings, regardless of the angle the bow is tilted at.

June 7, 2012 at 09:12 PM · "Yes, but he had a flat bow in the pizzicato bits ... " I know. That is why I said only 90% of the time.

June 8, 2012 at 03:20 AM · The world of violin is divided into four groups:

Tilted bow and shoulder rest

Tilted bow and no shoulder rest

Flat bow and shoulder rest

Flat bow and no shoulder rest

Linked traits? Or Mendelian?

I see the subject has drifted to bow tension. Surely this is something that one can measure.

June 8, 2012 at 06:37 AM · I have the hair quite loose for Bach, or anything with lots of chords. A bit tighter for the bouncy stuff.

I think that has a lot more to do with the bow though...something stiff that still draws a good sound gives one more options than the wet noodles that cheap bows resemble these days. :)

June 8, 2012 at 10:55 AM · "One can't really tell from the camera angles what he did in my opinion.

It is extremely obvious that the bow is tilted. The camera is many times zoomed right in on the bow, and many times the stick is almost touching the strings. I'm sorry, but the argument that your teacher said something does not hold a candle to seeing what he actually did. I've said that there are times for both, but you need to stop being stuck on just one way, and claiming things that heifetz didn't actually do.

June 8, 2012 at 06:20 PM · If Shawn and Nick are both referring to the Heifetz video Shawn linked earlier, it looks to me like you're both right! At some times the bow looks flat, at other times tilted.

I am definitely not an expert on bowing. However, my vague recollection from long-ago lessons is that whether or not to tilt the bow is just one variable in sound production, and would vary depending on the music you're playing.

June 8, 2012 at 09:13 PM · My eyes are just fine. There are many more, but here are just a few quick images from the Heifetz performance that show a tilted bow (I'm sure we would both agree he had complete control over his bow)

Like I said before he has the bow tilted for much of the time, and flat for others. There are a couple recent articles in Strings magazine about bow control (September 2011, and May 2012) where they refer to a tilted bow, and not as something that is taboo. There are reasons for both, but to say that flat is the only way, and that people like Heifetz only did that is just plain wrong.

June 8, 2012 at 11:19 PM ·

Let me quote an article from Strad Magazine (Jan 2012) called "The Motion of Emotion".

"Many people consider straight bowing (keeping the bow at an angle of 90 degrees to the string at all times) to be the gold standard. Crooked bowing. they would argue inevitable leads to an inferior sound by introducing longitudinal vibrations vibrations in the string. However, in practice we can observe many violations of this standard, and the bow can be considerable slanted even in the performances of renowned platers. Does that mean that their performances must suffer, and that they could produce a better sound if only they could keep their bow at a straight able? In most cases the contrary will be true."

June 8, 2012 at 11:39 PM · I've been around some fantastic players over the years and they do seem to use a flat bow most of the time. You see it also in the shape of their bow hand. They produced a big sound but could also play very softly even with a flat bow.

June 8, 2012 at 11:58 PM · @Paul: In the four groups you enumerate in your post of yesterday, put me down as 'tilted bow, shoulder rest'. OTOH, this thread has reminded me of the usefulness and importance of playing with flat hair for double stopping and chords. The same is true for increased projection though I don't play in public except in a large orchestra.

June 9, 2012 at 12:05 AM · Regarding two kinds of people noted a few posts ago, there are ultimately these two kinds of people: those that divide the world into 2 kinds of people and those who don't!

Bur seriously, as I explained pretty carefully some posts back, my own approach sometimes varies the tilt, depending on the character of the music, but my default approach for most playing is just a slight tilt, utilizing almost all the hair most of the time. That said, I don't have an axe to grind if I see someone tilt more or less than I do. I already pointed out that I saw a close-up video of David Nadien using quite a bit of tilt. But Heifetz tilted much less. Earlier, I reviewed a video of H. playing the entire first mvt. of the Bruch Scottish Fantasy. I focused on looking with the sound off. He tilts just very slightly, and uses most of the hair most of the time.

June 9, 2012 at 12:09 AM · But back to two kinds of people: most important to me are these two kinds of people - those who agree with me, and those whom I shall smite with my magic bow, be it with pestilence, plague - or fingered octaves in G-flat minor! Now how's THAT for tilting at windmills? ;-D

October 11, 2014 at 06:37 AM · Ok all of that is quite interesting... but nobody answers teh question : how do you tilt the bow ? Which finger and/or part of the arm do you use for that ? I never read or heard something very clear about this

October 11, 2014 at 11:34 AM · You tilt the bow towards the scroll using mainly fingers. You want to try and avoid rotating your wrist too much (or at all) and keeping it relatively flat. You can see an example with Itzhak Perlman. That is of course if you are using more of a Russian Bow style in which your wrist might be higher, but it is still the fingers that will create the tilting of the bow like with Heifetz.

October 11, 2014 at 11:35 AM · Now this could easily turn into another heated discussion. I think Strad Magazine put it best (So I'll repost it since it is a bit buried now)

Strad Magazine (Jan 2012) "The Motion of Emotion".

"Many people consider straight bowing (keeping the bow at an angle of 90 degrees to the string at all times) to be the gold standard. Crooked bowing. they would argue inevitable leads to an inferior sound by introducing longitudinal vibrations vibrations in the string. However, in practice we can observe many violations of this standard, and the bow can be considerable slanted even in the performances of renowned platers. Does that mean that their performances must suffer, and that they could produce a better sound if only they could keep their bow at a straight able? In most cases the contrary will be true."

July 28, 2016 at 03:36 AM · Well, that certainly was a long read.

I think I can safely draw the conclusion. Style, technique, and everything matters, and if it works, it works.

July 30, 2016 at 01:58 AM · That was a fabulous read. Well worth thinking about. Thanks.

July 30, 2016 at 02:31 PM · i don't know if bow tilt as it relates to spicatto has been covered already (by me or others). But so what? We all keep posting the same answers to the same questions.

It's very difficult to achieve the various shades of brush stroke/spicatto with flat hair. And much music demands subtlety in that regard. Most of the classical repertoire, such as Mozart or Beetthoven, needs a tilt to soften the bounce, and a typical symphony goes back and forth between on and off bowing. Try bouncing the pp triplets at the bottom of page 1 of Don Juan with flat hair, or the Mendelssohn or Schumann Scherzos. It's virtually impossible to land the bow on the string after bouncing with flat hair-the bow just skitters away. For 99% of all violinists, this control takes precedence over sheer projection.

About the only work I can think of that demands fully flat hair is the Swordfight from Prokofiev Romeo and Juliet. But it's supposed to be a little nasty anyway.

August 1, 2016 at 10:30 PM · One more question: where is the evidence that absolute number of hairs touching the string increases the projection proportionally? And doesn't tilting the bow actually increase the number of hairs by causing them to spread out?

Amount of sound varies with pressure, speed and contact point. However, if one has maximized those parameters, and the the violin is approach a plateau with regards to volume, does it really matter whether the hair is absolutely flat or not? I contend that the resulting increase in volume is marginal, and that the control over sound, especially when bouncing the bow with various shades, is much more important.

August 4, 2016 at 06:10 PM · I might not be qualified to comment on this topic, but I'm not sure if I agree with the logic that "Mr. Jascha Heifetz did it this way, therefore it must be the best way for everyone" Or "No great Violinist today or in history ever used a shoulder rest, therefore don't use a shoulder rest". It seems like a fatalistic way to look at things. A more practical approach might be to play a flat hair most of the time, and only tilt the bow when you feel like you have to.

It would seem much more appropriate to say, in general, my favorite violinists tended to this or that. In my opinion, trying to play with a big sound all the time sometimes takes away sensitivity, and disrupts phrasing. There always seems to be some kind of a trade off. Plus, Jascha Heifetz uses a very different bow hold, and takes a different technical approach in relationship to other great violinists, so maybe the flat hair thing just suits him better personally.

August 4, 2016 at 08:25 PM · I remember this thread! Wow, what a doozy.

Unless you are tilting the bow a lot, all of the hair can still be in contact with the string because the hair is not rigid except where it is confined right at the very frog or tip of the bow.

August 4, 2016 at 11:02 PM ·

August 4, 2016 at 11:36 PM · According to Ray Chen, he tilts the bow one way at the frog, and the other way at the tip. Flat in the middle. I think the bow stick is away from you at the frog and facing you at the tip.

August 5, 2016 at 03:50 AM · Wow, it's been four years. Well, thank you for all your replies. Fortunately, my technique and artistry has grown since then and I have been studying with a great teacher. In fact, looking back at this post makes me chuckle a little. What a silly question :)

Thank you.

August 5, 2016 at 11:32 PM · I think Donald Trump has flat hair too.

September 18, 2016 at 07:32 AM · I love this long thread,

I would like to say there is no physical support for the tilting bowing but the opposite! So the "flat hair" bowing is the way to go.

However, modern violinist should have the capability to tilt the bow on both sides slightly at the nut to gain more colorful and dynamic sound.

As a personal issue, I would say tilt the stick close to you for bouncing and away from you for beginning and-or end of a music.

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