October 10, 2013 at 02:54 AM · Hello everybody!

I have a problem and I would like to discuss with you and I would really appreciate if you could help me.

I have a problem in down bowing and especially in the area from the middle bow until a little bit before the end of the bow. In this area it starts bouncing and and it is really dificult to control it. It is really annoying and I am trying to find a solution. I play concerts sometimes I play solos and I face this problem all the time (especially when I get nervous and my adrenaline goes high so my right hand lose the control and shakes.) But through the past years and after some expreriences that I haved I realized that is a problem in the specific area and something happens that I lose the control and starting trembling (and of course in really slow passages with piano notes).

Thank you very much all!

Hope to find a solution soon!

Replies (21)

October 10, 2013 at 05:11 AM · Hi Panos,

I wonder if your problem might be helped by strengthening the muscles in your arm. I found that doing yoga three times a week (back when I did this!) really strengthened my upper arms and helped smooth out my bow arm.

October 10, 2013 at 10:09 AM · Hi,

I have analyzed this issue from many angles, and the causes and solutions can be quite diverse. Here are some possible things to investigate:

1- Weakness in the bow itself: There are some bows that do have a great instability that manifests itself the area you describe. I once knew someone in great despair at his technique until it was determined that the problem was with the bow he was using. He changed bows and the problem went away. In this regard, you may want to try some bows other than yours to see if this is part of the problem.

2- Hand/arm positions: Tension is quite often exacerbated by certain things in the setup that can lead to imbalances which are magnified under stress. The most common that cause an effect on the bow are over-spreading the fingers on the bow (especially the index), pressing the thumb against the bow and neck of the violin in the other hand instead of using weight, a left hand thumb that is too low from the hand not being setup on the base of the first finger in the left hand causing a sympathetic tension in the right hand, pointing of the left elbow towards the right (instead of down) which creates tension in the shoulders that goes to the hands. Pushing the shoulders up is another problem, so keeping them down and relaxed will release tension. All of these things can cause problems with technique and need to be addressed together as solving just one will probably not solve the problem.

3- Setup of violin: in this regard, an ill-fitting chinrest and cushion/pad or shoulder rest if used can create tensions. Not to open a debate on this, but for most people, finding the right chinrest is first. If additional support is needed, then one has to experiment. Pads or Cushions are generally not as high as shoulder rests which can help with some people in allowing the violin to remain on the collarbone while providing some support. In using a shoulder rest, if needed, one should make sure that the direction of the violin remains the same as it would should one play restless and does not provoke a twisting of the shoulder to bring it to the violin. One needs to also pay attention in the setup of the chest portion of the shoulder rest so that it doesn't cause sudden changes in the position of the violin as one goes up in the position or on the G string. This chest portion of the shoulder rest is most often the one that causes problems for people and may be the deciding factor in whether or not it works for one should one need or feel the need for support.

4- Diet: some individuals are particularly sensitive to coffee which creates trembling of the hands. It does not appear to be caffeine itself as tea doesn't have this effect. Under stress, this gets magnified. Also, sugar and starch can have this effect on people as can food allergies/intolerances which play with blood sugar and increase the heart beat and adrenaline due to a constant immune response. Again, individual sensitivities vary, so it is a personal journey. Looking into this and addressing diet issues has helped some people overcome this.

5- Laurie mentioned strength, and yes that can be an issue. Sometimes, there is a weakness (caused by accident or other) that leads to a tension in the hand to compensate for repetitive movements which will cause the squeezing of the thumb and create the tremor. Exercises to increases strength can help, but one of the most helpful is to use kinetic tape such as those used by athletes in the middle of the forearm. By keeping the muscles, tendons and ligaments in place, the strength can increase and the repetitive movement tension will disappear. It usually takes about 4-8 weeks depending on the case to do this.

6- Issues with spinal alignment: Sometimes, through injury (most likely from a serious fall or other) or from improper positioning, there can be tensions or discs or vertebrae in the spine that get out of line. This can create tension on the nerves which can create trembling. It can also create other secondary complaints such as digestive difficulties, etc. Seeing an osteopath or chiropractor can be a good idea in these cases as putting things in alignment and order can alleviate tension on the nerves and relieve of symptoms.

7- Practicing or other habits: As Nate mentioned, the practice of slow bows and etudes as such can help in gaining control. Also, it is important to remember that bowing is a lateral event (in this regard, up and down-bow is sort of not indicative of the process). Sudden vertical movements, such as dropping the elbow on a down-bow, flicking the fingers at the frog, etc. can create unsteadiness. Pinchas Zukerman has a saying: "One string, one level of elbow"; basically if on one string, the elbow should stay at the same height throughout the stroke to keep the lateral aspect stable. Also, in string crossing, the lateral aspect such predominate. Such things as a sudden vertical drop can lead to instability. There is plenty of great practice material, but the Kreutzer Etudes offer some of the best. Practicing Etudes at the Frog using no more than a quarter of bow making sure the stroke are lateral and from the forearm rather than the hand: like no. 2, no. 3, no. 5, no. 6, no. 7 can help to strengthen the hand and bow arm as a whole, especially when combined with slow practice of long bows such as in scales, and Kreutzer Etudes such as no. 1, and etudes with long bows such as no. 11, no. 14, no. 29 can all help if done in controlled consistent doses everyday over a long period of time. Also, in general, slow practice helps in keeping things calm which is very important. As well, practicing without vibrato can help with the bow by focusing on it and making sure it is smooth, then added after as a coloring.

Now this list may not necessarily address all issues, but it is a meant as a diagnostic tool to figure out if one or more of these things may be creating the problem and hopefully finding a solution to it.

Cheers, best of luck and hope this helps!

October 10, 2013 at 10:16 AM · In addition to exploring all the possibilities outlined in Christian's excellent post, you might also consider the hints provided in this video:

October 10, 2013 at 11:42 AM · I used to have this problem! I did a lot of different things afterwards that helped and I'm not sure exactly which one did it. The list above pretty much says everything but some other things to think about would be:

Relaxing in the arm, shoulder, and back. Tension may be one of the main reasons as to why you loose control.

Your hand maybe also be a problem. Making sure you have the correct bow hold can really help and if anything is wrong with your bow hold, most likely it's with the pinkie. The pinkie I had a huge problem with and just recently fixed it. The key is to have the pinkie planted firmly on the bow without having tension in the hand and arm. To strengthen your bow hand (pinkie), you can crawl up the down the bow one finger at a time holding it vertically and the horizonatily. You would move the 1st finger then 2nd, 3rd, pinkie then thumb and then in reverse on the way down. Do this slowly at first so you can understand it. I am assuming a lot when I bring up bow hold so I'm sorry if I offend.

Lastly, making sure you are not slouching with your instrument: that the instrument is parallel with the floor and that you aren't caving in your chest should help.

Hope I was helpful!!!


October 10, 2013 at 02:51 PM · Anxiety is a real problem with some musicians, but it is curable. Stage fright is literally a bad memory of a fight or flight situation. What we need to do is change this flight or fight memory into a Peacock type (grandstand, showoff) memory.

Things you can try:

Sage or other herds. Sage cured my stage fright. There was a time singing in public and flying in large aircrafts was very hard on the nerves, but once I started eating a fresh sage leaf 2-3 times a week and before a show, I was cured.

Being low in omega-3 or folic acid could cause anxiety.

Work on getting rid of the bad memory; play small family type settings and simple pieces. Playing in large shows with demanding pieces will strengthen the fight or flight memory.

Single out an attractive person in the audience and play for them. Musicians play 10 times better when a person they are attracted to is in the audience - peacocking.

Learn to meditate. Meditation deals with breathing properly and not dwelling on the negative.

October 10, 2013 at 03:20 PM ·

I would stay away from Yoga. Some people who take yoga classes end up in physio. If you are having tightness or pain in the arms or shoulders don't self medicate with Yoga, but instead go to a physiotherapist.

October 10, 2013 at 04:11 PM · There many things that could cause a trembling bow. Perhaps it just lacks pressure! Remember that the bow must stick to the string in detaché, no matter what color you're playing, specially from the mid to the tip. Even in the quietest of pianissimi there must be a little pressure in the bow so it doesn't quit the string. In other words, you must always push the bow towards the string.

October 11, 2013 at 03:30 AM · Try to use the paradoxical intention - instead of avoiding, do your best to produce the shake! You may get surprised by the results.

October 11, 2013 at 08:37 PM · thank you very much all!

October 12, 2013 at 02:58 AM · Something that I have my students do (I do it too) is to play all the way to the ferrule (touching it gently, of course). by going further than you have to, it can make the normal use of the bow at the frog seem comfortable by comparison.

October 12, 2013 at 04:59 AM · Scott,

Another way to do that is to place you left hand further up the stick, closer to the middle, and bow that way. I did that during my summer camp and it helped A LOT.

October 12, 2013 at 06:08 AM · if you don't already do so, try using the "russian" bow hold (i think that's what it's called) - plant your little finger firmly at the end of the bow and extend your forefinger up the bow a bit more so that the bow rests under the knuckle.

i noticed a pronounced bow bounce in the lighter, thinner bow i just bought - could be a factor as well.

October 13, 2013 at 02:47 PM · Most likely this is due to a lack of pressure in the upper part of the bow.

Try this exercise: Play a down bow starting at the frog. After travelling 1/4 bow remove the little finger from the bow. At the middle remove the ring finger. At 3/4 bow remove the 2nd finger. Put your fingers back ON in the same fashion. Repeat several times, then keep your fingers on the bow, but feel the same balance change change you felt when removing and putting on the fingers.

October 13, 2013 at 05:11 PM · Bruce,

pressure is no the best way to describe a constant dynamic interplay between the bow and the arm, something that could be brought to awareness by the exercise you described.

The only detail I would do differently is to lift the index finger at the lower parts of the bow, or as soon as it is not "needed", depending on the elasticity of the bow and the balance point. In other words, starting from the frog, the index finger is up (or relaxed), the pinky is lifted as soon as not needed to counter-balance the mass of the bow, the ring finger follows, at the middle the bow is held by the thumb and the middle, the index finger is added approximately @ 3/4.

Starting from the top, everything is to be done in reverse.

One can do this on a single or two open strings, paying attention on sound quality; depending on the bow speed and contact point, the dynamic can be varied as long as the sound is good.

The next step after this exercise is to keep all fingers on the stick, but still feel the flexibility and the constant interplay all the time until it becomes the second nature. In essence, fingers act as the shock-absorbers.

Itzak Perlman shows this dynamism a lot; he even curves his pinky after he lifts it - quite funny at times, but obviously does the job!

October 13, 2013 at 06:47 PM · I've had what sounds like a similar problem. Here's some things that's helped me:

I needed to correct my bowing so that it was parallel to the bridge.

I needed to stop trying to control the tremble (which is a great way to produce a tremble), but instead focus on sculpting my actions as to produce a smooth, controlled sound. Closing my eyes helped me a lot.

All the parts in my right arm needed to move and respond with the proper spring action.

The balance of my hand needed to change in different parts of the bow.

And interesting experiment for me I think was to put the violin on the ground and use two hands on both sides of the bow to guide the bow across a string. For me it showed me what needed to happen with the bow, and demonstrated that it was in fact possible to easily and smoothly drag the bow across the string.

October 14, 2013 at 02:19 AM · From the shoulder on down to the tip of the finger every joint is a spring. The springs have to by flexible or a poorer tone and shaking will result. Quality springs produce quality tones.

Be aware they exist and work on keeping them working together.

October 14, 2013 at 10:02 PM · When we say pressure, I think that's a little misleading. It doesn't necessarily mean press harder. As you get to the tip, your arm pronates. Not too much, or you put too much pressure on your index finger. But the arm does have to pronate, otherwise your bow bounces or you press harder with your hand to prevent the bounce, which will cause pain in the base joint of the thumb or center of the palm. The degree of pronation depends largely on your physiology. The lady who does red desert violin on youtube had a really good visual of the arm motion. I looked briefly but couldn't find the video. She does the a bow stroke without the bow and you can really see the way the arm pronates.

(BTW, the way she uses her pinky in this video is only applicable to people with short fingers.)

October 19, 2013 at 11:50 AM · If it's all the time, get a new bow and double check your diet. Even things you'd not suspect like medications can give me jittery bows.

If it's fine in the practice room but not onstage, play a ton or try beta-blockers if your doctor says it'd be ok

October 19, 2013 at 03:23 PM · It's really hard to be sure just what the problem is without actually playing with the same instrument and bow myself.

Still, one further thing to check is bow-hair tension. I tighten my bows enough to take up the slack and prevent contact with the wood. But beware of tightening more than this. As autumn comes on and summer heat and humidity decrease, I find myself reducing bow tightness, sometimes more than once, during a practice session.

If the subject of beta-blockers hadn't come up, I might not have joined this thread. But now that it has come up, I will say it again: Stay off the beta-blockers -- unless they are medically necessary.

October 19, 2013 at 05:53 PM · Just out of curiosity Jim- why?

October 19, 2013 at 07:19 PM · One of the problems I had when I started violin lessons a few years ago was a bow that sometimes bounced when I started a note. Strangely, this never happened when playing the cello. My teacher figured it out quickly. My bow was moving as it hit the string - coming down onto the string like a plane landing, my teacher said - if there was any stiffness in my bowing (and there was plenty in those days) the bow would start to bounce, and the stiffness in my bowing arm would ensure that the bounce would keep going for most of the bow stroke. I don't think this has been specifically mentioned in this thread or the RedDesertViolin video.

Remedy - have the bow stationary on the string at the start of the note, and relax the bowing arm from the shoulder to fingers so that it feels like a very flexible heavy rope. Initially, the exercise was to have the bow stationary on the string for an appreciable pause, and feeling the weight of the bow engaging the string. In subsequent exercises, the stationary period on the string was reduced until it was practically instantaneous. Problem solved.

@Jim and the question of beta-blockers.

I agree with Jim on the principle that medication in general should be avoided unless it is prescribed by a professional who can explain why it is necessary, and who will be aware of possible interaction with other medication or even foods.

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