Shakey bow hand

July 23, 2015 at 04:01 PM · I'm new to the violin at 6 months now and I am an adult learner in my early 40s however every time i try to play in front of my teacher or somebody my bow hand shakes a little which does cause a certain amount of skating on the strings. I do sometimes suffer with nerves but most of the time I'm ok. Is this something I can overcome with time or should I choose a different musical instrument which doesn't involve using a bow. Hope somebody can advise.

Replies (24)

July 23, 2015 at 04:48 PM · Try a search here on "shaky bow hand". There is any amount of useful threads to browse through.

July 23, 2015 at 05:06 PM · It's very common, and I certainly don't think you should give up.

When I returned to the violin three years ago, my bow often shook in lessons. Now it never does.

I was shocked because the shaking took me by surprise and I couldn't stop or control it. It's the anxiety inside transmitting itself to your muscles through your unconscious mind.

I sometimes still get nervous and have the odd shake when playing in front of friends. But every year my husband & I have played a duet at our dancers' New Year Ceilidh - the first year, my hand shook badly; the second time, I got a couple of bow shakes, and was able to get the better of them; this last time, none at all.

You need to go on - play in front of people - and start to feel relaxed. There are also some physical tricks that can help, and some people recommend eating bananas beforehand, though I can't say it ever helped me.

If you google 'bow shake' on YouTube you will probably find some helpful videos.

Good luck!

July 23, 2015 at 05:14 PM · A lot of it will settle through practice of bowing. You can spend a lot of time just bowing open strings, monitoring arm and hand relaxation, straightness of bowing, fullness of sound, evenness of sound and all kinds of different things. Then you just need to bring it out in front of others and test it out. My bowing still needs work (and it's really something to never stop working on), but I don't get the bow shakes that I used to.

So you build technique, and you also build confidence that your technique is there.

July 23, 2015 at 05:57 PM · beer

July 23, 2015 at 11:07 PM · Beta Blockers

July 24, 2015 at 12:52 AM · I have this too; I don't feel nervous at all, it even does it when I'm playing just by myself. It's gotten less as my bowing technique has improved. My teacher says he's had a few other adult students with the same issue but he says it always works itself out over time. If you enjoy playing the violin I would not give up because of that!

July 24, 2015 at 06:14 AM · Hi to everyone who responded back, will forge on with a combination of Beta Blockers and beer, only joking and I suppose only time and experience will tell, thanks again.

July 24, 2015 at 09:28 AM · Im an adult learner as well. I started 9 months ago.

I had those shakes and often bounces in the middle of the bow untill about a month ago where I stepped up my bowing a little bit.

I think what fixed it mostly was when I started to use my pinky a lot more when i reached the frog.

Theres a shift in balance and those fingers need to learn their flexibility.

That and "Being the bow" is something I hear often haha...

July 24, 2015 at 10:42 AM · The biggest cause is caffeine, particularly coffee. To avoid the shakes in the bow, eliminating all caffeine (and sugar) is one of the only solutions.

P.S. EDIT - anything technical, such as pressing the fingers into the bow, or raising the shoulders on either side will cause trembling. There is also the mental side - fear and nerves - but that is harder to address.

July 24, 2015 at 10:56 AM · The shaky bow is a very common occurrence, either from inadequate technique, nerves, or both!

Regardless of nerves or technique, it's also good to mention one very important thing to check is the tension on the bow. If the hair is too tight the bow tends to bounce on the strings and the slightest tremble of the hand will be amplified into heavy bouncing on the strings, so make sure your bow is tightened properly. I actually had this problem when I first started to play so whenever someone mentions "shaky bow" I always bring it up. ;)

If the problem is technique, practice, practice, practice, and practice some more the right technique! It's really the only way around it.

If the problem is nerves, you need to desensitize yourself to the situation that makes you nervous. Again, I think repetition is the way to go about it. Try some relaxation techniques. Relaxing is the key! Adults for some reason are notorious for having tension issues when learning to play the violin.

My grandfather had a glass of wine before going on stage, to help with nerves, but those were different times, and he was Italian. ;)

Don't give up on playing! This is a problem that you can overcome! :)

July 24, 2015 at 11:12 AM · Any tension or stiffness in the bowing arm, from the back, neck and shoulder to the fingers, can often manifest as a shaky bow, so try to feel as relaxed as possible, starting with posture (and this is where you'll need input from your teacher). Think of the entire arm as a soft and very flexible piece of thick rope, like a ship's hawser, as my cello teacher once told me.

Practice slow bows, up and down, for the full length of the bow, just using arm weight and minimal muscular effort and paying particular attention to balancing the bow with the fingers when in the lower third. Your aim should be to eventually do a 30-second (or more) up or down full bow stroke with even tone and without any bouncing or trembling. It will take time, but when you can do it - as you will - then you will have gone a long way to acquiring mastery of the bow.

July 24, 2015 at 03:58 PM · Again a big thank you to all have responded back will keep plugging in.

July 24, 2015 at 05:21 PM · LA Associate Concertmaster Nathan Cole wrote some good blogs about this, with videos. Even if the specific exercise might be different from what you need at the moment, it's useful to hear what he says about larger muscles and the whole mechanism of the bow hand and arm. Here are those blogs:

Nathan's safety move for bow shakes

and

Nathan's 'safety move' for soft starts and bow changes at the frog

July 24, 2015 at 06:34 PM · I was just being a bit glib...

It could be the bow, it could be you. Some folks have what is called a Nonessential Tremor, meaning that it isn't really related to a disease process. I have a couple of friends who have it, and know a couple of players who have it. One, a nurse, underwent a procedure via Gamma Knife and it solved it. Not suggesting that...

Stimulants (your coffee and tea and not just the caffeine) combined with a twitchy bow won't help.

You can read about Beta Blockers use in treating performance anxiety. I could explain the mechanism of action, but you can find that and apply it to your "tremor".

Have you considered visiting your local violin shop and asking to play a bow that might be considered a bit more on the stable side? My violinist friend with the tremor owns a number of really nice bows, and his tremor is most visible when he plays his Simon. I can't control the Simon. It shakes and wobbles from end to end for me, but he has used it over the years to teach spiccato! His tremor is much less obvious with his lesser bows.

July 25, 2015 at 06:44 PM · Teacher anxiety is a problem for some people, and getting rid of it needs practice.

'Practice, Practice, Practice' retraining your mind:

-Mistakes are ok.

-"I will make mistakes and this is not a bad thing."

-You're there to learn, not judged.

-practice regularly with the mental image that your teacher or others are in the room.

etc.....

Remember to practice this regularly until this cortisol boosting memory is suppressed.

July 26, 2015 at 02:56 PM · Beta blockers are helpful for reducing or even completely eliminating tremors or shakes due to excess adrenaline (performance anxiety or "stage fright") and interestingly, they can also reduce familial ("essential") tremors. Often a very smal dose (as little as 1/4 a normal prescribed dose.

If you have the problem when playing alone (simply when practicing) the problem is likely essential tremor. If you only have the shakes when playing for others it is a performance anxiety problem. It is entirely possible for these shakes to happen with no feeling of nervousness - but if it happens more than once it is likely one will become nervous about this phenomenon and some fix will be sought.

It is easy to understand that one wants to do a perfect job and impress an audience, but when playing for a teacher or coach (in fact, for anyone you know is better than you are) you can safely assume they have seen and heard all the mistakes before and you will not likely impress them, so there is no reason in the world to be anxious about it and every reason to simply concentrate and play your best and benefit from the learning experience they provide.

Andy

July 27, 2015 at 08:39 PM · Nathan is right in the video that it is important to have some muscle, and using a dumbbell can help build your biceps, forearms, and other stabilizer muscles to maintain smoothness in the bow. Contrary to what Dorothy DeLay said about weights being bad for violinists, I think they are very good for violin playing. I curl a set of 45 lb dumbbells regularly. The great cellist Janos Starker I remember advised one of his colleagues (who was having tremors) to pick up a chair or a bag to strengthen his arms.

I think the main problem in bow shaking stems from when the tilted angle of hair is flipped to the flat angle. Joseph Silverstein's solution to avoiding this unwanted tremor is to stay on the tilted side of the hair for the entire length of the bow. I tend to like to play on the flatter side of the hair. It's easier for my sound to carry when doing this, so I do not flip to the tilted side really ever and I avoid the tremor most of the time this way, unless I have a big cup of coffee before playing. :)

July 27, 2015 at 10:05 PM · A cellist is not the one to give advice about shaking arms to vioiinists, not even the great Janos Starker!

The muscles used and body positions for violin playing are much different than for cello.

Weight training is certainly good for building strength, but the few hours recovery time that may be needed can really cut into music practice/playing time or any other fine-muscle activities you have to do.

Working with light weights might work - it depends on what your problem is - the right doctor and physical therapist might chart a better course.

Andy

July 28, 2015 at 01:20 AM · I think we could all learn a thing or two from Starker. Many of his concepts can be applied to violin playing.

What's the definition of 'light weight'? For me doing 15 lb curls or 80 lb bench press is not a challenge, for others it might be ideal. So it is completely individual. Weights are great if you stretch, work out with proper form, and give each muscle group at least 48 hours rest between work outs. Most classical musicians or teachers who have told me weight training is bad, I've noticed, aren't in the best physical shape and live unhealthy lifestyles (smoke, drink, and eat lots of doughnuts/cookies etc.). Just my 2 cents.

Christian Vachon was absolutely right above by the way about coffee and sugar stimulating nerves.

July 28, 2015 at 02:23 PM · Would Beta blockers inhibit speed?

Dave

July 29, 2015 at 04:39 AM · I don't know because I've never tried beta blockers. A close family member of mine takes them for high blood pressure which is what they are really for.

July 29, 2015 at 01:35 PM · Beta blockers do not inhibit speed of playing at all.

Andy

July 29, 2015 at 09:41 PM · I have been on beta blockers for the past year for migraine and cardiac stuff. I always had a mild essential tremor that worsened with performance but I hadn't considered medication for that. Now that I'm a user, I can't believe how much easier the bow control is! As Andy says, it doesn't affect speed, if anything it enhances because of the increased control.

Please note, these are prescribed. I take them every day, so the benefit for me is as much in the practise room as any occasion.

August 16, 2015 at 09:46 PM · https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L1w5KdUxteg

Listen to the interview at the end, sorry, I couldn't resist.

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