How much do you tighten your bow?

May 9, 2015 at 07:33 PM · I think a lot of this is up to personal preference. I remember when I used to take lessons, my teacher would often complain that my bow was too tight, and that the tone would be affected.

He was a very good teacher who went to a top conservatory, and played in a professional symphony, but I've received conflicting results from personal experience. I often find it very tough to play near the bridge with loose hair, and I often find that if my bow is too loose, it's harder to play spiccato. Moreover, loose hair often forces me to compensate by applying more bow pressure. Of course, there are pros and cons to both. Lately, I've not paid attention to this aspect of my setup. What do you guys think is the optimal bow tightness?

Replies (15)

May 9, 2015 at 09:32 PM · I prefer a higher bow hair tension, but it also depends on which bow I am using, some do not work as well tightly tensioned. I think Gil Shaham prefers super high bow tension as noticed in his YouTube videos

May 9, 2015 at 09:42 PM · Bow tightness depends on how the stick plays at a certain tension, but is also affected by the bow hold you use.

I use the Russian bow hold (a la Heifetz, Elman, Milstein etc.) so use rather loose hair as the grip already digs into the string more, so tighter hair skids off if I attempt to bow the strings because the tighter hair does not sink into the strings, while the classic (Franco-Belgian) hold has less traction on the string so it generally uses tighter hair.

Also agree that the looser hair makes bouncing strokes and such harder, but it also allows you to hear how the bow itself sounds because the hair is not overpowering the sound of the bow itself.

Personally, my bow to hair distance is about 0.75 cm (0.3 in), and I wouldn't recommend more than about half an inch (1.25 cm) as the bow's personality starts to get obscured by the hair. :)

May 9, 2015 at 11:10 PM · Greetings,

exactly as AO says. The two extremes in older players are perhaps Kreisler (very, very tight) and Enescu who hardly tightened the hair at all. The FB influenced soviet players a great deal starting with Oistrakh and you can see that legacy in Zhakar Bron and his students including Venegerov. The hair is so tight it make me wince. I use a standard FB bow hold but I have never found it necessary to keep the bow really tight. There does always seem to be a happy medium for me. And I can't afford to buy new bows as they get worn out by being screwed so tight. From an aesthetic point of view I have never quite understood why one would want to crest euchre a visual

y beautiful curved object and then straighten it out;)



May 10, 2015 at 12:20 AM · Strangely since I changed to a Russian bow hold a few months ago I seem to have the bow a bit less tight. I'm even a bit less tight myself as I've cut down on my alcohol intake too. (Hickup, burp - pardon me ...)

I was also at a student concert the other day and my oldest schoolfriend (even i have the odd friend!) was worried because his violin student had tightened his bow quite a bit before performing. But it worked out OK and he played well as first fiddle in the quartet. In fact they all played very well - two of each sort - male/female. The best group in the concert by general concensus.

May 10, 2015 at 01:52 AM · It's an interesting question since one would assume that when you tighten your bow, you also change the shape, tension, and response of the stick. And if the characteristics of the stick change the sound, doesn't the sound of one's violin depend on this parameter?

I was taught that a good starting point is when the minimum distance between the bow hair and the stick is about the same as the diameter of the stick. But I think it depends on the bow as well as the player's preference. When my daughter was playing a 3/4 size violin, the bow she had was a pernambuco bow (branded H. Cirilo), but it needed to be tightened to more of a straight contour in order to realize the usual tension. Her teacher called it a "weak stick" but it played fine.

May 10, 2015 at 04:46 AM · Overtightening the hair is hard on the stick, as Buri already pointed out. Probably not an issue with CF but I wouldn't do that to my French bow. In general I prefer a moderately tightened bow.

Sometimes in very dry air (central heating in the winter, or when spending time in Colorado), the hair will shrink from losing moisture. You need to keep an eye on your bow in dry conditions or your hair could become unintentionally very tight to the point of stressing the stick.

May 10, 2015 at 10:56 AM · Good points Paul, about the need to consider how it effects the sound.

Mary Ellen - yes, very important. I had a bow rehaired and on collection they rushed it back into the workshop as it was too loose, due to a change in the weather. I suspect that the person doing the re-hair was also understandibly otherwise occupied due to a death in the family abroad.

I also wonder if CF bows are more tolerant to over-tightening? I'm using a CF bow at present and I'm finding I'm using it less tight.

May 10, 2015 at 11:46 AM · for me, it depends on the attribute (changing wood tension) of the bow. I use a baroque bow, and sometimes the same timbre can be pulled out with less tension, sometimes more........ the bow is from snakewood :) it has it's own private life :)

May 10, 2015 at 12:09 PM · Honestly I don't think these precautions matter for CF bows whatsoever, except perhaps in the extreme. I suppose you could tighten a CF bow to the point where it's inside out and leave it for a few months and see whether it returns to its usual shape after that. Knowing what little I know about those composites, I bet it would.

May 10, 2015 at 01:58 PM · I was taught to tighten the bow to where there is about a pencil thickness of distance between the hair and the stick.

And then...for some music you might want the hair slacker...for other music/technique you want the hair tighter.

May 10, 2015 at 02:29 PM · Do let us know how the 2 pencil tightening works! :D

May 10, 2015 at 04:10 PM · You want to tighten the bow just enough so that you don't get a percussive wood noise on bouncy strokes but not to the point where the bow has no curve.

May 12, 2015 at 04:07 AM · This subject came up a few years ago, where I wrote:

"I'm a strong advocate for a relatively loose bow. I would say that if an average pinky could just about get through in the middle, between the stick and the hair, that's plenty.[I like the way someone else put it above - that at the middle, the space between the hair and the bow should about that of the thickness of the stick there.] It's healthier for the bow, as too much tightening can warp it - though with a cf bow that may not be as much of a concern. Also, a tight bow is kind of a great leveler: it obscures the qualities of different individual fine bows. You're playing with the hair in a sense, more than with the bow. You get your strength from the tautness, true. But subtlety, elasticity, flexibility, etc. are lost. With a looser bow, you get your strength in a different way - by working with the camber, the internal curvature of the bow, that should still be very much in evidence when the bow is tightened for playing. It lends itself to a more subtle, eliptical bowing technique.

I only know of one great violinist who played with a rather tight bow - Kreisler. But he was never comfortable in the lower half of the bow, so the upper half, with extra tightening, had to do assume all the burden. He also used mainly Hill bows, as he did not want to warp Tourtes, Pecattes, Voirins, etc. Heifetz used an average tightness. Elman used a looser bow, as does Rosand, a strong advocate of same. Nothing wrong with their sounds, qualitatively and quantitatively! And I just reviewed several different sections from my Milstein DVD, which includes a lot of clear close ups - and I saw nothing but a pretty loose bow."

I would add that, as has been pointed out, it does depend to some extent on personal taste and the nature of any particular bow. It's also related to another controversial aspect that also has come up in the past - the degree of bow tilt that one uses. With a flatter hair and a bow angle at or approaching 90 degrees, the hair can be looser. With an angle of 45 degrees the hair would have to be tighter, as the stick would rub against the strings. My own bowing approach is a synthesis of aspects of Auer, Franco-Belgian and Dounis. Most of the time my tilt averages about 60 degrees on down-bow, a little more tilt on V. However, depending on the nature of the music I will sometimes tilt more or be more flat-haired. I find it easier to spring with a looser bow but for stacatto I find that a bit of more tightening helps.

May 12, 2015 at 10:01 PM · My guage is pretty simple. If I draw long bows with my typical pressure and the hair touches the stick, it's too loose. It it doesn't move much toward the stick, it's too tight. I find about 1/2 way between the two is about right.... season to taste.

May 12, 2015 at 11:32 PM · Greetings,

an older generation violinist who used tight hair? Michael Rabin. Take a loo at the video of

him playing the Scubert Sonata. The switch to tight hair that took place after Oistrakh for many players in Russia is exemplified by Zhakar Bron and his students. That makes me wince too, but you can't argue with the sound. (Except I like Rosand's sound......



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