Tense bow hold

January 25, 2013 at 11:26 PM ·

Replies (48)

January 27, 2013 at 06:16 PM · John asks the right questions - but I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that you are just playing too far from the bridge - this requires a faster bow speed (see Basics) and its harder to maintain volume (which is surely the objective, not pressure per se). Just try playing almost ontop of the bridge. Of course, it could be something else...

January 28, 2013 at 07:08 AM · If you are holding the bow then you must expect tension. We should not "hold" the bow.

January 28, 2013 at 08:35 AM · Try to keep your bow at where the F holes are.

and whatever your bow hold is it's important to keep the contact of the bow at all times. That

is not that contact of the bow with the string

but your fingers with the bow. It's a misconception some people have. Always keep your fingers in contact and never lose those contact points. You'll be surprised how much better your sound will get.

As for pressure, he might mean that you need to use your arm weight more efficiently. Think of playing from your shoulder might help. However, no offense to your teacher,if he tells you to put a lot of pressure, by pressing down hard to sustain the sound...it's probably time you find another teacher. Great violinists don't use a lot of pressure to produce a big sound. My teacher for instance barely tightens his bow, barely uses any pressure when he plays, and he is a much smaller guy than me and yet his sound is at least twice as big as mine so yeah. Anyway, hope that helped!

January 28, 2013 at 12:20 PM · While I agree with the above that any help is nearly impossible without more information, my bow "hold" has evolved with my development. I still prefer the russian style since I feel like I have control I am learning to relax back a bit from that and you will too over time. The key to maintaining a consistent string contact "pressure" from mid bow to the tip is the slight inward turning of the wrist as you bow downward. Telling you to use alot of pressure so the stick nearly touches the bow hair is one way to do it for sure, it does make you louder. Another way was touched on by other posters and that is to use the "dead" arm weight and drag the bow rather than push down on it. As far as your teacher goes, he/she should be able to demonstrate, posistion your hand, help you in some way to understand what she/he wants. To tell you to do something and to let you continue without understanding or achieveing it is weird to me. Students are taught to play loud because most wont otherwise. It sounds loud to me....well yeah, youre ear is right there. The audience is further away and you playing "Loud" to you might sound soft to them. Dynamics is the "salt" of music, its bland without it. Oh, and as was mentioned earlier, you can play louder by playing closer to the bridge, cleaner by tilting the bow and project that wonderful sound further by using more of the bow when you bow. imo

January 28, 2013 at 01:18 PM · "The Pressure of the bow at the tip comes by Twisting the forearm ."

In a word NO! That is NOT how you get more contact on the string - and the MAIN reason why beginners have lousy tone and experts sound so fantastic. This is called 'pronation' and everyone does a bit to emphasize, but the emphasis is at the cost of string resonance.

Instead of thinking of pressing the bow onto the string, think of dragging and pulling it - the emphasis then shifts to the back (pinky) side of your hand on the downbow and the back of the hand (and tips of your relaxed fingers) on the upbow and you will be astonished by how much volume and tone you can achieve.

The 'weight of the arm' concept is decidedly elusive - but its really what it says. No force, just sense of weight, gravity. The important implications are that you use relaxation of muscles to generate bow contact NOT contraction. For example, stand next to a counter that is at shoulder level. Place your arm from elbow to hand on that counter, just touching. You will use muscles on the back of the shoulder to do this. Now relax those muscles until your arm is lying on the counter. This is the sensation of bowing - obviously you can't relax completely else you could not hold the bow! But you use an absolute minimum of upward lifting to keep the arm in place. Now try pushing down on the counter. This is what beginners try to do to get volume (together with pronation). The arm becomes stiff and discoordinated - all of your playing will suffer.

The art of bowing (as I understand it) is to use the minimum of muscle lifting activity (extensors) while eliminating contraction of the opposite muscles (flexors).

Pronation of the arm is necessary sometimes - but its really a declaration of failure. Look at the greats bowing you will NEVER see pronation - indeed it looks like they aren't holding the bow at all.

January 28, 2013 at 03:04 PM ·

January 28, 2013 at 03:04 PM ·

January 28, 2013 at 03:57 PM · Of course you have some degree of pronation (I said so twice I think) but if that is the backup to string contact and if its your main way you are in deep trouble - and IMO its bad advice as the starting method of improving volume (if volue is what the OP is after, she only talked of pressure...).

January 28, 2013 at 04:22 PM · Elise put it very well. Try to develop a feeling of pulling and pushing the sound out of the string, riding the bow against the bridge and feeling the horizontal resistance of the string. Search for a feeling of horizontally moving through the string as opposed to pressing from above. In your practice, go for maximum resonance of the instrument (not volume) and make this your primary guide. You will notice that artificial pressure kills roundness, resonance and sonority, which mainly determine the carrying power and beauty of your tone (not so much the volume you produce under your ear). You really don't need much effort to play with a full and round tone. Some small children are able to achieve this. Following this path you will also be able to produce a very loud tone. Ensure that your right hand feels supple with only just enough resistance and that all finger joints have some play into all directions. Is your thumb always at least slightly bend? This will make things easier. Try to feel the vibrations of the string in your right hand and arm, this will help you to relax and get a fuller tone. Experiment on the open string or on single repetitive notes, using various combinations of contact point, weight and speed. Start in the middle of the bow. When having found a full, round tone with intense resonance, gradually extend to the tip - trying to keep your sound quality without increasing your effort. Investigate how variable left finger pressure influences the muscles in your right arm and your sound production. Always try whether you can get the same tone quality with less effort. It's fun and produces very immediate results. Final recommendation: Get Simon Fischer's Secrets of Tone Production DVD. It will give you a very clear practical idea.

January 28, 2013 at 05:27 PM · Eugenia, re: pronation, not necessarily. In Baroque one of the first issues is to learn not to pronate at all and rely solely on the weight of the arm and the bow. It's largely unnecessary on modern violins except for strokes like martele.

Back to the original poster. It's very hard to work on mechanics in words. You say that it's your thumb tensing at the tip of the bow. How tall are you? How long are your arms? Quite possibly the effective tip of the bow for you isn't the physical tip of the bow.

Draw a down bow, nice and slow, and stop when you reach the end of the easy travel of your wrist. Don't force it at all. This usually still has your elbow bent between ten and twenty degrees. Look what point of the bow you've reached. That's your effective tip. You shouldn't really be bowing beyond that point.

That would be the first thing I would check. If that's not the issue, you say that it's largely related to strong tone at fast speeds. As someone else pointed out, you may be too far from the bridge. There are three controls you have over tone production: distance from the bridge, speed of the bow, and weight of the hair on the string. If you're getting pain from trying to get tone from more weight, then try backing off on that and working with the other two.

Hopefully that's of some help.

January 28, 2013 at 05:51 PM ·

January 28, 2013 at 06:16 PM ·

January 29, 2013 at 12:00 AM · I believe "hold" refers to gripping tightly. you need finger flexibility and wrist flexibility. Of course you are technically holding the bow. lol.

January 29, 2013 at 02:13 PM · And when you've read John's point of view - please re-read Mathias's. Then go and get a copy of 'Basics' and make your own mind up :)

Is there another teacher - or maybe an accomplished violinist that you could talk to?

Come to think ofit, are you still reading this topic!

January 29, 2013 at 07:11 PM · Really good advice. I hope you will consider applying some of the suggestions. I would also add, if your teacher hasn't already-is to do bow exercises. Meaning without the violin. You look silly doing them, but it really helps in finding the bows weight and balance. From here you will know how to find your relaxed hold.

With the recommended hold, do wind shield wipes, touch the tip to your other hand, do circles, then bigger circles, and walking up the stick. Keeping in mind there should be no tension in the hold itself.

As always have fun and good luck.

January 29, 2013 at 09:45 PM · John wrote: "Pronation ,as you have deliberately misinterpreted in this topic Elise,is an actual physical movement". Where did I say otherwise? Please refer me to it. If you can not please correct your statement.

[Hint, it wasn't me.]

And because its a movement its exactly where we differ. You say pronate and I say pronot.

January 30, 2013 at 03:18 AM ·

January 30, 2013 at 04:58 AM ·

January 30, 2013 at 06:11 AM · Eugenia

You may have a point (just don't stick it in me!)

I'm thinking though that I might put up a very short video of my lousy bowing arm and then you can all have a go at me. I might even learn something - and boy I need to - as I'm playing like a drain. Let me think about it ...

January 30, 2013 at 08:15 AM · Eugenia,

I agree with you but I think maybe we can give her more time? she might be busy? plus there are a lot of teachers out there that don't actually know how to teach properly. but it is asking a lot for a diagnose with just a brief description

January 30, 2013 at 11:00 AM · OK John, pistols at dawn, and may the best man/woman win.

By the way I think any twisting of the bow arm (forearm) is bad, it should be all featherlight and relaxed. Play near the bridge and with flat hair to get a bigger sound. Now I have to go and clean my pistol and find some bullets ... (and you could say I'm Pro - Nate ...)

January 30, 2013 at 11:04 AM · Thanks John. I shall put my sabre away... weilding it takes too much pronation ! :D

January 30, 2013 at 11:15 AM · Swords are better than sabres - you can get straight to the point then ...

January 30, 2013 at 08:40 PM · 1. Position of the bow on the string ("lane"). Near the bridge or near the finger board.

2. Downward pressure on the string from the bow. Light pressure or heavy. The difference between weight and pressure is purely semantic.

3. Speed at which the bow is drawn.

4. Angle of the bow hair.

5. Location on bow (frog, middle, point)

I cannot think of another parameter that would have an obvious effect on the tone produced on an open string with a given violin and bow. If there are others I would like to learn what they are.

If those are the factors, then the question comes down to how they are applied in the most efficient way that gives the player the most facility.

If you are bowing at the tip and you want to produce more volume, then you may wish to move the bow closer to the bridge (this has been suggested already). You may also draw the bow faster. You may want also to increase the downward pressure on the bow hair, and I think this is the matter that has been debated rather hotly. Since your right hand is some distance away from the point where the bow meets the string, then the only way I can see to to apply additional downward pressure at that point, without changing the position or angle of the bow, is to apply torque to the frog. Torque is a word with evil connotations (tension, etc.), so let me just say that I intend only the simple definition from high school physics. And I am among those who cannot see how to apply torque without twisting one's forearm a bit such that there is a change in the amount of force applied to different points in one's bow hold, to wit, more toward the top left (perhaps conveyed through the index finger) and bottom right (perhaps conveyed through the thumb). This torque may indeed be well concealed or blended into the other motions that one makes -- so much so that the perception of what one is doing might be much different, and perhaps with excellent results for the player -- but unless I am misunderstanding something very fundamental the torque has to still be there or you physically cannot accomplish the change in downward force.

January 30, 2013 at 10:13 PM · "If you are bowing at the tip and you want to produce more volume, then you may wish to move the bow closer to the bridge (this has been suggested already). You may also draw the bow faster."

If you play nearer or near to the bridge you can't draw a faster bow. Faster bows can be accomplished in the midle or near fingerboard, but close to the bridge the bow must travel slowly.

January 31, 2013 at 12:12 AM · I like your post Paul but I take issue with:

"2. The difference between weight and pressure is purely semantic."

It is if you are a physisist or anything other than a violin(viol)ist. Every collective endeavor develops its own semantics just as 'muscle memory' is not a physiological term at all - and yet it means a lot to a dancer and many sports. I think the terms 'pressure' and 'weight' have been defined sufficiently often and the meaning established collectively that they are part of bowing 'parlance' and are much more than semantics.

Thus, a student can be told by their teacher they are using too much arm pressure and not enough arm weight and can relay that to a different teacher (or indeed on V.com) with a very good chance (OK maybe not so much on V.com) that the critique would be understood without a demonstration. Which is the proof of the pudding for a language.

January 31, 2013 at 02:35 AM ·

January 31, 2013 at 03:33 PM · I'm beginning to realise that it's not only me that's completely insane.

January 31, 2013 at 07:26 PM · Peter: V.commit

January 31, 2013 at 07:26 PM · The original poster seems to have given up and deleted her post....

The questions that bug me are the ones where somebody posts about having significant pain, but they haven't been to a doctor - instead they are asking violinists on the internet.

January 31, 2013 at 08:24 PM · This forum reminds me of an old "Carry On" movie. ("Carry on up the fingerboard"?)

Patient (an extra) lying in bed, tells of vague symptoms. Along come all the usual suspects with their detailed and varied diagnoses and prognoses and start bickering with each other in front of him/her. Original patient leaves barely noticed.

January 31, 2013 at 08:30 PM · This was a successful operation, colleagues, our patient is dead ;-)

January 31, 2013 at 08:57 PM · Maybe she was writing in the wrong tense ...

January 31, 2013 at 09:30 PM · Yes Mathias, but lets celebrate because the disorder was cured.

I remember a case like that at Hopkins - a guy wiht a really exotic brain disorder which had every neurologist and neurosurgeon visit his bedside. While in hospital in this attentive environment he died of a ruptured abdominal part (can't remember what but probably his apendix); unfortunately, noone was looking at that end....

January 31, 2013 at 09:48 PM ·

February 1, 2013 at 04:46 AM · Elise wrote, " I think the terms 'pressure' and 'weight' have been defined sufficiently often and the meaning established collectively that they are part of bowing 'parlance' and are much more than semantics."

I realize these terms have been discussed a great deal in the past, but I don't recall them being defined to my satisfaction. The definition of "pressure" seems to be accepted as fairly close to what we know from physics (force per unit area). Anytime "weight" is described the definition always seems to dissolve into things like "you should feel as though the weight of your arm is transmitted into the entirety of the bow" or such things that may well be true but are nevertheless ambiguous and subjective. My theory, which I alluded to in my earlier post, is that "weight" and "pressure" have exactly the same physical origins (torque in the bow hold), but the difference is that "weight" combines movements in a manner that conceals the application of the torque.

February 1, 2013 at 05:03 AM · Paul: definitely not.

Its actually physically consistent too: if you use the terms 'to apply pressure' and 'to allow the weight to be felt'.

The difference is how you use your arm (focus on the shoulders here) muscles. Downward arm motion can generated by two means: one is by contracting the flexors (thats the muscles that move the arm down) so that they apply more force than the extensors (the muscles on top of the shoulder). Weight alone moves the arm down if the extensors relax while the flexors are ALSO relaxed. Try it - its the essence of good bowing.

Beginners will contract both the extensors AND flexors in order to gain control of the arm. That makes the arm jerky and now the bow can not respond to the contact with the string - and you get a lousy sound. It also explains terms like 'I use the weight of the bow' it can feel like that because with minimal flexor contraction the fingers are free to relax too - but there is almost certainly some arm weight still contributing to the bow hair-string contact.

So weight and pressure really are different terms. We do use pressure of course - but selectively to create special effects. However, even 'digging in' to the string is only allowing more arm weight to get transmitted through the bow.

And then we get to the pronation. Pronation is another form of flexor contraction but this time its an arm rotatory movement. And I would argue that all flexor actions should be avoided if you want optimum tone. Do I pronate? Sure, hard to resist when you need a sudden increase in volume...

February 1, 2013 at 05:19 AM · All this torque is weighing me down and I can't stand the pressure!

Seriously, it can be confusing trying to figure out what you all mean by "torque", "pressure", "weight" when the words are used in different ways to make particular points.

Certainly, from the physics point of view all forces, including weight, have pressure and torque associated with them.

However, here I would take "weight" to imply efficient use of the arm as a whole and "pressure" to imply additional pronation above what is required with that.

February 1, 2013 at 08:26 AM · Unfortunately all these words as Eric has hinted, are our worst enemies. How well I remember my wonderful fiddle teacher at the RAM saying to me in the middle of a passage (on the fiddle!) "contact!"

A bit like old aeroplanes in WWII. But I interpreted that word as meaning "more" contact - when he could have been meaning "less."

I should have asked but I'll never know now, 50 years later. Life is full of regrets and missed opportunities, and perhaps I could have been destined for great things had I owned a few more brain cells ...

February 1, 2013 at 12:04 PM · Eric - did you read my last post? I think it really does makes work.

February 1, 2013 at 07:31 PM · how the heck do you get that result John? As I see it maximum torque is determined by muscle strength, muscle leverage (attachment point distance to fulcrum and arm length) and the strength of the components structure (you can't make more torque than the system can sustain), not by weight.

February 1, 2013 at 07:49 PM ·

February 2, 2013 at 12:05 AM · Good video Peter that summarises the important things. I'll review it again later. Thanks.

February 2, 2013 at 07:43 AM · Thanks Eric.

February 2, 2013 at 07:45 AM · John, we mad English (Welsh etc) do come accross as strange because of our humour which even we don't understand. Elise is too sane to understand it, you have to be born mad like me ...

February 4, 2013 at 05:58 AM · Belated response to Elise (better late than never).

Forgetting all the words, it seems to me that our views on bowing are really in sync.

February 4, 2013 at 09:10 AM · :) I've put a lot of thought into the mechanics. Basically, I think you should use the bowing technique that requires as little effort as possible. Same goes for left hand fingers, stance, SR, chin rest, teacher, scales, vibrato, posture, walking, making breakfast, relationships, metaphysics and enjoying the universe.

OK so maybe I'm a bit nuts too!

February 4, 2013 at 10:50 AM · you can't go wrong there.

Watch a great rally driver like Sebastien Loeb at work, he is RELAXED.

Same thing in other sports.

Watch a skier in superG, it's amazing to see how relaxed the legs are, soaking up undulations and bumps without falling off.

we violinists are no different.

Tense sportsmen are slow sportsmen..and get injured easily, which is why you see so many "sports injuries" amongst musicians....damaged tendons, bad backs, etc.

We are all just manual workers after all, nothing special.

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