bow pressure and speed affects intonation?

June 27, 2015 at 06:14 PM · So lately, I've noticed that my altering the bow speed or pressure can dramatically alter my perceived sense of intonation. I've noticed this more on my instrument than other violins that I've tried recently. Is this normal, or is something wrong with my violin?

Replies (44)

June 27, 2015 at 06:54 PM · Normal!

When a string vibrates, it is more tense than when it assumes the "bulged" position than when it is straight, so the pithch will rise. Also, a lowish tension string will be more affected by higher bow pressure than a high tension one, as it bends more under pressure.

June 28, 2015 at 07:08 AM · Adrian's pits is spot on but too technical for me to follow without a can of red bull first.

Espicially in the high poisons on the e string , too much bow weight and a note can be distorted anything up to a semitone....... Lots of players have gut wrenching intonation because they don't realize the bow not the left hand is the problem.

ps my spell checker uses too much bow weight

June 28, 2015 at 09:13 AM · Putting high poisons on the e-string will certainly distort one's perception of pitch. :)

June 28, 2015 at 09:54 AM · but you`ll never get rats in your violin case.

June 28, 2015 at 11:12 AM · Buri - You have a spell checker????? Who knew. ;-)

June 28, 2015 at 11:53 AM · It's an experimental prototype sort of one that spills in a verie artisical way.

June 28, 2015 at 05:13 PM · I'm sure "adrian's pits" are spot on.

June 28, 2015 at 07:07 PM · >Buri - You have a spell checker????? Who knew. ;-)

even monkeys have the right to work.

June 28, 2015 at 07:11 PM · The bow speed and pressure does matter quite a bit when it comes to intonation. If you don't believe me, you can try it for yourself. Play like a third or something with a light and fast now, then play the same notes with a heavy and slow bow. You will find that the intonation is actually different. So personally, when I play a difficult Bach or something with a lot of double stops or lots of chords,I play with a fast bow with moderate pressure.

June 28, 2015 at 09:11 PM · Pitch distortion very often boils down to speed vs. pressure. The more pressure that you exert on the string, the faster the bow needs to go. The less pressure, the slower the bow. If you are bowing slow and pressing too much, you'll get distortion. If you are bowing fast and not pressing enough, it's more of a wispy thing but still not so satisfying.

June 28, 2015 at 09:17 PM · So does this in any way mean that I should practice my scales with a sort of detache bow movement in order to get an accurate sense of intonation?

June 28, 2015 at 09:21 PM · I think it simply means your ear is getting better. Good sign!

June 28, 2015 at 10:10 PM · But you can play a slow bow with pressure if you are close to the bridge.

June 28, 2015 at 10:22 PM · True! Though there's still a speed-pressure formula near the bridge, it's just different.

June 28, 2015 at 11:16 PM · Believe it! I found this funny video from Michael O'Gieblyn that proves the point rather succinctly. Skip to 1:45 for the money moment.

June 29, 2015 at 05:30 AM · Call me dumb, but exactly how does he get the D# in Fur Elise?

June 29, 2015 at 08:18 AM · Just by "choking" the string!

June 29, 2015 at 06:46 PM · Duh??

June 29, 2015 at 07:50 PM · Hud???

June 29, 2015 at 08:33 PM · It's the ear that effects intonation. It should respond to what is heard.

June 29, 2015 at 08:35 PM · Alright, by pressing so hard that the string can't vibrate as fast as it should.

June 29, 2015 at 09:00 PM · Ah! I'll have to try that.

June 29, 2015 at 09:59 PM · Greetings

it's the brain that responds to intonation . The ear only responds to being tickled.

It's simple really. What happens when you squash a bug?

It goes flat.

What happens when you squash a string?



PS what happens when you you squash a hamster?


June 30, 2015 at 12:06 AM · yeah I've been experimenting think left hand pressure can also dramatically affect tone quality in some ways.

June 30, 2015 at 04:26 AM · Love that video, Nathan!

June 30, 2015 at 03:39 PM · Aha! I can choke the D string. No luck with the others - could that be because I'm playing all gut?

June 30, 2015 at 04:35 PM · Try low tension cheap Chinese strings. They are great for making a choking sound.

June 30, 2015 at 04:54 PM · It's not a choking sound it's a semi-tone step down.

June 30, 2015 at 07:55 PM · I said choking the string, not the sound.

June 30, 2015 at 10:15 PM · Choke the string and you will get a choking semitone down sound. It is not possible to choke the string without producing a choking sound.

July 1, 2015 at 09:48 AM · Maybe with enough bow-speed?

I'm not going to try, though.

July 1, 2015 at 10:26 AM · Why not?

July 1, 2015 at 11:19 AM · if you keep your mouth closed the choking sound is muted...

July 1, 2015 at 11:38 AM · On the other hand it's not nice to be sick all over your desk partner!

July 2, 2015 at 01:26 PM · I play violin with no bow pressure a la Primrose. On my Dominant strung violin more pressure = lower pitch. Working today with an electronic tuner it's glaringly obvious.

July 2, 2015 at 02:27 PM · It's a bit obvious I know, but you can adjust your intonation if bow pressure reduces the pitch. I suppose some might make this adjustment all the time, maybe without thinking about it.

July 2, 2015 at 03:34 PM · Pressure does the opposite on a clavichord. How confusing.

July 2, 2015 at 05:23 PM · Hi,

Some thoughts...

Pressure affects intonation because it bends the string and/or inhibits vibration. There is no need for pressure. Pressing the fingers into the bow adds, in addition to affecting intonation and resonance one thing: tension.

Different violins react to different bow speeds because of the resistance caused by the top plate. Example, Del G├ęsus with thicker plates require a slower bow than Strads which have thinner plates. Some Strads respond best with the lightest bow stroke possible. Projection is the result of many factors, not the least of which is resonance: how the top plate is stimulated and how the back collects and focuses the sound.

Some people do sound post adjustments to allow pressing, and some string are more forgiving to it. But, in the end, this has nothing to do with projection.

Part of the misunderstanding comes in how sound is produced in terms of physics. The bridge actually rocks from side to side from the string's stimulation which makes the top plate vibrate. So, anything that inhibits this vibration will affect the purity of the sound, the naturalness of the vibration and consequently the ability to resonate and project, not to mention intonation. That is why, bowing is not an "up and down" phenomenon by actually a side to side process. The cleaner the process, the better the result.

Pressing the fingers into the bow, and therefore the bow into the string, is in essence analogous to strangling the throat and vocal chords of a singer, which is why the result are kind of similar.


July 2, 2015 at 10:01 PM · Christian

"Pressing the fingers into the bow, and therefore the bow into the string, is in essence analogous to strangling the throat and vocal chords of a singer, which is why the result are kind of similar."

I think we are talking small degrees here but I was interested in a comment by a well established teacher on Youtube recently. He said that when we talk about bow contact we are not necessarily meaning the hair on the string but perhaps rather the contact of the fingers on the bow. This, after much thought, seemed like a relevant comment, and I do think the relationship of the pinky and the first finger on the stick are a sensitive contact point, or points.

He also mentioned the technique of not moving anything in the hand at the start of a bowed note for a fraction of a second so that the note starts cleanly. Of course once the bowing is on the move and down bows follow up bows the fingers should be flexible and move at times.

Both these techniques plus the ones where we constantly monitor the bow sound, and speed and weight, are essential for a good sound.

Of course there should never be tension in either the left or right hand. As soon as tension is there it effects intonation and sound. Vibrato for instance can cause a lot of tension, if not performed correctly.

July 3, 2015 at 03:15 AM · Hi Peter,

I agree and thanks for the comments. I humbly think that bowing originates more from the forearm than the hand. Weight and speed are certainly elements that go together, but pressure to me is a different thing, and where most problems occur. I haven't seen the videos you mention. But I certainly would be interested.

Vibrato is a good point. Tension is again the result of pressure, as with the bow, by the thumb pressing into the neck of the violin. Not pressing with either thumb eliminates pressure in either hand, and usually solve many problems of tension.


July 3, 2015 at 06:53 AM · Christian, are you saying you do only play with the weight of the bow? Yesterday, for the first time, I started pressing. Is that wrong?

July 3, 2015 at 10:17 AM · Hi,

Bud, the weight of the bow with the weight of my arm/hand. On my violin, I certainly don't have a choice as the difference is immense. Violinists in recent times have and are using much more pressure as many modern strings will take it or require it. In the past, this was not the case. In the end, it is about what works for you and your instrument. However, at the root, there is still a basic way in which instrument work on a mechanical level, which is what I wanted to bring up above.


July 3, 2015 at 11:50 AM · Christian

Here is a link to his site

but you might be better to look for his classes on youtube. (Robert Rozek).

It might have been lesson 5?

July 3, 2015 at 12:28 PM · Bud, the weight of the bow with the weight of my arm/hand.

That makes good sense to me.

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