Bow hand help

May 3, 2013 at 07:03 PM · Hello all,

I've been playing for around a year, and am having tremendous trouble with my bow hand and bowing in general.

I try and play relaxed, but my fingers just end up bunched together and looking more like I'm holding a toothbrush, and sort of stick out over the top of the stick.

I try and hold onto the bow more firmly to keep the fingers where they should be, and it feels awkward and stiff and I end up in a mess.

One thing I've noticed when watching videos of people playing is, the bow always seems turned and the index and middle fingers seem to under even supporting the bow a little; very different to my "toothbrush" hold!

I'm just wondering if there are any teachers out there in the UK (I'm in Nottingham but can drive to where ever I need to) that could perhaps have a 1 on 1 with me for a couple of hours to try and help me get on the right track? I know not all of these things can be solved overnight, but it's getting to the point where I'm wondering if I should carry on because I just don't think I get it. I've consulted somebody locally, but that didn't work out, I've watched countless videos, read books, and spent ages experimenting, but I just know I'm missing something.

So if anyone feels they might be able to help, please let me know via private message.

Update:

After experimenting a little further this evening, I have found that it helps a little to bring my middle 2 fingers over the bow more, so I'm holding deeper into the bow, and it is starting to look more how I've seen of people playing. This has also bought my index contact point more towards the second joint and the sounds seems better (probably due to more weight). But I'm still struggling. Some questions are:

1) In some posts I've read that the fingers should be relaxed but fairly firm. In that case, should I be "feeling" the thumb against:

a) All my fingers, including index.

b) Pinky, 3rd and 2nd finger.

c) Index and pinky, with middle 2 mostly just flopped over.

d) Anything else...

2) I still find, especially as I get near the tip, that my 3rd and 2nd finger want to straighten out and no longer contact the frog.

3) Should the pronation of the hand into the bow (I always see the fingers curved towards the index) be generally more caused by a turning of the wrist (forearm) or raising the elbow? I find that if the wrist is turned, it cannot move / hang so easily, if that makes sense, and is what seems to bring my little finger off the bow.

I think my main problem is just understanding how it should all feel..

Thankyou... and sorry for the long post!

Yours frustrated..

PS, Stephen, you mention prunes a lot - I tried them, they didn't help :(

Replies (23)

May 3, 2013 at 09:00 PM · There is no one correct way to hold the bow-- but most players try to keep the bow fingers curved and relaxed, but strong. A typical "Russian" style grip is more angled, leaning towards the index finger, and the pinky usually off the bow. Other "German" or non-Russian grips tend to center to weight across all fingers for a more balanced feel. Both are equally valid approaches. Of course, your hand shape and size should be taken into consideration, and blending the two styles is certinly an option.

Either way, try to use the weight of your bow arm and relax your grip as much as possible. Your fingers may or may not flex much, but try to avoid "locking" anything into position too much. Let the tone be your guide!

May 3, 2013 at 11:50 PM · Greetings,

re pronation.

Think of the forarm and hand as one unit that rotates from the elbow. As though you were turning a key in a lock. Would you move your wrist around whiole doing that?

Cheers,

Buri

May 3, 2013 at 11:58 PM · PS

typical beginner mistake: too much thumb contacting the stick. Without holding the bow make a bow hold shape with the left side of the right hand in front of your face.Look at the shape the thumb makeIts kind of a rectangle.Look at how much of the thumb and what part is touching your middle finger.If you are being normal it is only the top right hand corner of the tip of the thumb which is touching the pad of the middle finger. That is the tiny point of contact that should be on the bow. Beginners typically try to use more and even rotate the thumb this way and that to get as much safe grip as posisble. This isa disaster.

Furthermore, avoid curling your fingers under the stick.

Incidentally, many problems with bow hold can be caused by the set up of the bow, worn thumb leathers and so on. I assume yours is ok?

Cheers,

Buri

May 4, 2013 at 12:29 PM · Hi Buri, thanks for your response.

I *think* I'm not using too much thumb. I am in the top right corner of the tip, though I am not sure if I'm meant to be in contact with the flat part of the octagon which is more to the side of the bow, or inbetween that part and the flat of the octagon that is on the underside. I seem to end up inbetween, so my thumb is not contacting the flat part. If that makes any sense.

Seems no matter what I do at the moment, my middle two fingers don't want to stay in contact with the frog. I don't know if I'm rotating the bow too much on its side.. the bow hair often seems to end up resting on my thumb.

I might take some pictures or make a video or something so you can see sometime over the weekend. I know its hard to see from that, but there might be something obvious.

I can almost imagine how it should probably feel, and I think I can make a decent hold. It all just turns into this other hold once I start bowing, any trying to keep the pads of my fingers on the bow just seems uncomfortable, like I have to "press".

It's a bit like my hold ends up being between the thumb and fingers 2 and 3 (middle); the middle ending up pressing against the thumb between bottom and top of stick (though slightly to the side).

Pictures will say 1000 words more clearly, so I'll do that.. but I'll only say where they are via private message if that is okay, and I cannot post private messages for another couple of days because I've only just joined.

Thanks.

May 4, 2013 at 12:51 PM · Andy,

Do you have pics of your bow hold living somewhere on the interwebs yet?

Cheers,

Amber Rogers

May 4, 2013 at 12:54 PM · Not yet Amber, I will do soonish :-)

May 4, 2013 at 02:03 PM · Alright, here is a private YouTube video.

My own observations are.. my little finger looks really long, and it seems like it seems to want to stay extended a lot. My wrist looks twist awkwardly too. I don't look particularly deep into the bow either.. sort of finger tipping. I excluded the sound to preserve the health and sanity of viewers:

http://youtu.be/gacsXTfv9RI

May 4, 2013 at 05:50 PM · Hello Andy,

Your bow hold looks rather good in the video. Of course this is out of context. What really matters is what happens when you rest the weight of the bow on the string. And when you start moving the bow.

I would like to see another video showing that, preferably with sound.

The main thing I would want to modify in your bow hold is the tilt of the hand. It should be leaning more towards the index finger side of the the hand. You can achieve this with a rotary (doorknob motion) in a counterclockwise direction. Then when you rest the bow on the string you will naturally be holding it there and applying weight (or pressure) through your index finger.

May 4, 2013 at 05:59 PM · It seems that your problem is simply due to the fact that you are not contacting the bow properly with the middle and ring finger. Try this little experiment: fill a glass with water, then pick it up as if it was a violin bow. You will find that the most effective way to do this (so you don't drop the glass and make a mess)is to contact the glass with the pads of your fingers. If you contact the glass at the first finger joint the glass will feel slippery and you may well drop it.

Use the same contact (the pads of your finger) and your fingers won't slip around.

May 5, 2013 at 01:43 AM · Your bow hold starts out looking quite fine. Nice box-shaped thumb joint, fingers look like they're at the right depth on the bow. Then you start to play and I think it's the rest of your motion that needs maybe some help. Your wrist looks artificially high for example.

May 6, 2013 at 11:49 AM · Thanks for your responses everyone. I *think* I made a small breakthrough yesterday, prompted by comments about my wrist seeming artificially high, combined with comments about how to pronate the hand. I think I was trying to pronate almost more by bending and raising the wrist, rather than by turning it.

It does suddenly seem better and I can pull more tone out, but since this feels completely different I need to work on it until I can control it better.

I'm now aiming to keep a similar relaxed feeling and position in the wrist to when I'm just holding the bow by itself vertically, if that makes sense. I think most of the problem was all in the wrist..

I'll see how I get on over the next few days and post again if I'm still having problems, as sometimes these things turn out to be "false fixes".

Thanks!

May 6, 2013 at 07:42 PM · Greetings,

here is is a very simple but useful exercise. You can do for a few seconds every session. Make sure you are holding the bow correctly. Keep the wrist in the neutral position IE not bent either up or down. Now move your arm about in hoge circles for the shoulder , allowing any and all movements form the elbow as well. You can tuen the arm upside down, point the bow at the ffet or or imagine you are bowing but stretch even futher than you normally would. Just ake huge and interting movements in all directions. The bow arm is kind of like spaghetti flapping in the wind.

The key point is that the bow hold is moderatley fiwm. The fingers are gled to the stick and froh and:

THE SHAPE OF THE HANDAND FINGERS DOES OT CGANGE AT ALL> it is absolutely constant thourhgout all the arm waving.

Try that and see what you learn,

Cheers,

Buri

May 6, 2013 at 10:36 PM · Hi Buri,

Thanks very much, I will give that a try! I just wanted to clarify a couple of words, honestly not being funny but just couldn't work it out: "ffet" and "interting". Best guess was "inserting" :-)

One interesting thing now I've started doing the pronation properly (hopefully), is that the pads of my 2nd and 3rd finger seem to push a little against the frog the more I pronate and play into the string, perhaps because I have the bow turned a little (not flat hair).

It's interesting because a soloist I know said when pronating and putting weight into the first finger, I should feel the frog against my 3rd finger. Never understood that until I felt it, and never heard it mentioned anywhere else. I'm guessing there's different opinions depending on how people approach it all. She seemed against the thumb pushing and pulling and seemed more about the pads of the fingers. If I understood her correctly of course ;-) She is amazing so its obviously working for her!

I'm also understanding the firm fingers thing more now too..

Amazing how 1 change can make everything so much clearer!

Anyway thanks again :-)

May 6, 2013 at 11:37 PM · feet, interesting

or 'interesting feet' for the more perverse amongst us,

Cheers,

Buri

May 7, 2013 at 02:58 PM · Buri that is the first bow-hold exercise that my daughter got on one of her first lessons. She was given a certain pattern of movement for her arm, which reminded me a bit of figure skating lessons.

May 7, 2013 at 05:45 PM · In addition to some great advices already given, I would invite you to examine the position of your violin, especially how far it is above your collar bone. Some of us with a long neck and in a relative shortage of high chin rests, tend to raise the SR too much. This in turn affect the positioning of your right arm, everything from shoulder, elbow, wrist to the fingers and may lead to unnatural movement and arm bending.

Another thing to keep in mind that the bow is "driven" (pulled and pushed) across the strings using arm's big muscles, not from the tip of your fingers. Fingers act like car's shock absorbers - the power to move the car forward does not came from wheel's suspension, but from the engine and the transmission system. Encountering the bumps on the road, the horizontal axis of the car stays more or less at the same height, wile the wheels go up and down.

One of the challenges is to how to convert natural circular movements of the arm into a more ore less straight line. The system of "springs" - all of the muscles, joints, your shoulder, elbow, wrist and fingers work simultaneously in relaxed and coordinated fashion to accomplish this.

When "driving" your bow, the palm of your hand can serve as the imaginary focal point. (To raise the awareness of this spot. Hold a small ball in your hand with the fingers wrapped around it, pointing downward and move your arm freely.)

Observe how people throw a ball or a frisbee. Look at the animals in motion. If you place your hands on a dog's shoulders and hips and push gently from the top, you will feel how perfectly the animal is balanced, yet very flexible and firm at the same time.

Nature is the key.

May 7, 2013 at 10:21 PM · Thanks for your post Ricky. I really thought I'd figured it out but when working on it this evening, it was evident that I'm still missing something.

You could be onto something regarding violin height as I do have my shoulder rest fairly extended, so I'll look at that. The problem is I was straining something before I made that adjustment; I kept getting back pain.

I can "pretend" bow over my shoulder (resting the bow on my other hand) quiet comfortably so I should probably look at why that feels so different.

Regarding how the bow is driven. I've heard this described different ways on forums. One is to just use the natural movement that you would if you were moving your hand to pick something up. I guess I'm currently moving it like that, perhaps as if I am grabbing a rope and pulling (on a down bow), though with some weight too.

There is something odd here though. From what you're describing, its like I should hold the bow, and then move the arm and let the fingers and wrist be as passive as possible? Which I guess is not the natural way we think of moving the hand.

It is weird how that feels different just "air bowing" in front of me (without bow).. I can't work out why.. We are surely using the same muscles. But it is different..

Are there differing opinions on this? I'm fairly sure I've seen Buri describe it as the former.. something about moving your hand to somewhere and let the arm naturally sort itself out? (Buri sorry if I'm mus-representing you there and please correct me if I'm wrong).

I somethings think I've over thinking it all, and then other times..

One thing I'm trying to work out too is how the fingers and hand should feel while bowing. I feel like I have choices with how it feels when I pronate the hand to put weight into the bow. Trying to describe these choices though is hard! : -

Should the index be completely passive and just allow itself to mash into the bow to transfer weight, or should it activate in response? Should the 2nd finger be completely passive? It always looks to me like people are pressing against the thumb a little with the 2nd finger to stop the thumb slipping out of place, with the index passive.

I have huge amounts of trouble keeping my 3rd (ring) finger on the frog. It is on the stick but can't seem to curve it over onto the frog when I'm actually playing..

Sorry this is such a long post. I'll leave it there for now.

Thanks for listening!

May 7, 2013 at 10:49 PM · Your fingers should probably be passive while you work on the arm motion now. Eventually your fingers should be capable of independent functioning that's not necessarily used to propel the bow, but to position it at different angles and complement the arm motion. I wouldn't work on training the fingers this way until after you get the gross "arm" motion into force of habit.

One thing to remember- it can take years of refinement to get the bow doing just what you want- keep working on it, but don't get frustrated!

May 7, 2013 at 10:55 PM · Hi Tom - Thanks for your post. I didn't really mean should I be doing certain motions with the fingers. I can't really describe what I mean :( More like, what should the fingers be doing to aid pronating, or to transfer weight into the bow.

If I turn the wrist to put weight into the hand, the fingers surely have to respond in some way to stop them just slipping off under the leverage..

May 7, 2013 at 11:01 PM · Greetings,

well, at the end of the day it is better not to over complicate things. The bow is simply a tool. When you use any other tool in your life such as a tool do you actually analyze what all the various parts are doing. In the end you pay attention to the tool itself and the result you are trying to achieve with it'd. The tool leads.

Incidentally I strongly recommend an activity I learnt from an Alexander Teacher to practice correct motion of the bow arm. Rest the point of the bow on any string and have someone hold the bow so it is parallel to the bridge at a normally playing angle. Now instead of moving the bow let your hand move up the stick to the point , sliding along the stick, and then back to the heel. This effectively creates a perfect bow stroke because the hand and arm are guided to do exactly what they are supposed to do during the stroke. If you don't have someone to hold the bow then rest the screw on the shelf of your music stand.

Incidentally , In his wonderful new book, The Violin Lesson, Simon Fischer calls this the greatest bowing exercise of all time. I am not inclined to disagree.

Cheers,

Buri

May 7, 2013 at 11:16 PM · Thanks Buri - totally agree about keeping it simple. I think maybe something went wrong along the way, so I'm having to work on it now to figure out what it is. It's like I have the wrong mental image of how it should work, and it is difficult to look at it again fresh with all the preconceptions already there.

I think one of my biggest problems is not keeping the base knuckles low. I think I had a preconception when I started that the wrist was high, rather than fairly flat, and everything was sort of hanging down from the wrist to the fingertips.

May 8, 2013 at 12:39 AM · Greetings,

well, you could do a simple awareness exercise here. Hold the bow as you see fit with the wrist in neutral position. That is neither hanging down Norwich the hand tilted towards the ceiling.

The bow can be roughly where it is when you play. Now drop the hand, or if you like, lower the wrist. Notice how the fingers change and adapt to this new and rather extreme situational. Now return the hand to neutral position. This time bend it upwards and notice how the fingers are like a woman about to scratch your face ((usUally for a very gods reason).

Now return to neutral osition. Do this a few times when you practice or at work with a pen or whatever.

Cheers,

Buri

May 8, 2013 at 03:28 PM · I'd recommend taking it one step at a time- every time you make a change it takes awhile for your nervous system to adjust and incorporate. Just let your fingers relax as much as possible without dropping the bow and don't worry about pressure/weight. Let the fingers trail the back of the hand (both ways) like a paintbrush tip. Get the new arm/wrist movement you like grooved in real well so you don't revert to old way later when you're challenged by something else. Listen for changes in tone, and pay attention to basics like straight bowing, etc. Try not to put any pressure on string and get volume from faster bow. Take your time, it's a long road....

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