Bow Holding Technique?

May 29, 2004 at 05:51 AM · I'm curious how many people learned the "make a circle with your thumb and middle finger, and put your thumb in the space between the frog and leather" technique. It was what I was taught but is apparently not the right technique. I'm having trouble getting rid of my bad habits! My teacher is teaching me to flatten the hand and lock the bow in the fleshy part of the middle finger with the thumb on the leather, relaxing the first and last finger. Just curious on how the rest of you hold your bows, and what you were taught.

Replies (29)

May 29, 2004 at 06:07 AM · Clare, there are several schools of holding the bow but the quick answer is that there are actually fewer "wrong" ways to hold the bow than there are "right" ways. If your teacher's suggestions are leading you to a greater flexibility with your right hand's fingers, if it's improving your sound and your technical facility with bowing techniques like spiccato, sautille, cole, martele, etc. then it's the "right" way for you.

My mother holds the bow in a completely unique variant of the St. Petersburg school and, since it allows her to do absolutely anything she needs to do with color, technique and gives her total flexibility of the hand, it would be a fool indeed who would critique her grip as not being a textbook version of a given school.

But, for what it's worth, I was also taught to hold the thumb opposite the middle finger and resting on the space between the leather and the frog. The trick is to not hold the bow in your fingertips, and to not stiffen any of your finger-joints.

May 29, 2004 at 11:59 AM · I was taught the way you describe... but my bowhold developed as I matured. In my own teaching I'm a little more specific about things, particularly with adults, but I've found that even 'flexibly challenged' students have gotten to grips with it (so to speak) over the first few months.

May 29, 2004 at 03:56 PM · Whatever the bow hold, I strongly feel that some kind of _explanation_ has to be given as to WHY the hold is wrong. The teacher can't just say: "It's wrong because it's wrong." The whole point of Flesch's pedagogy was to develop the student's ability to find personal solutions adequate to his/her anatomy. Resting the thumb on the leather gives the thumb-middle finger pincers a fulcrum point w/ a larger diameter than between the frog and the leather. But the advantage of doing this has to be clarified.

May 29, 2004 at 10:14 PM · Hello, i have only just started learning, so the bow hold is being reviewed every single lesson. My teacher is always looking to see that my index is relaxed, sticky grip for the next two fingers and rounded little finger. I swing the thumb under until it comes to rest naturally, usually somewhere on the leather. And that lasts for, oh, a couple of bow strokes before my little finger flattens and I lose my sticky finger grip. Oh well.

May 29, 2004 at 11:44 PM · Emil: I would be fascinated to hear more details on your mother's grip.

Clare: I am not an expert but from everything I have seen, read, and experienced, I tend to agree with Emil and Sue; No bow grip is particularly 'wrong' and with practice and observation (and the help of your teacher of course) yours will develope to best suit you over time.

For my part, I was taught to hold the bow as Emil describes.

My biggest issue is an over-exageration in lifting the pinky when going towards the tip; The result is that on the way back down, I have to compensate for the excessive movement required to place the pinky back on the stick. This can have makes staying on the sound point very difficult, thus leading to poor tone production. That is what I would call a 'bad habbit'. However, I am aware of this and am taking steps to remedy it.

Sharelle: Yeah, I had that problem too when I first started. Don't worry though, with regular practice, your dexterity and sensitivity will develope and the problem *should* take care of itself.

Since Buri is out for the weekend, I'll have to do his advertising for him: Check out 'Basics' by Simon Fischer for a ton of good excercises (not just for bowing, but there is a whole section on that alone).

May 30, 2004 at 12:26 AM · Not to make too much light of the issue, even a messed-up bowhold is usually correctable with supervision (read nagging) and effort. I had a very young beginner student a few months back who was so tense and resistant, her warped bowhold was the least of my worries. Now she's relaxing and having fun, and her previously weird, claw-like grip is actually resembling a decent bowhold of its own accord.

For my part, I used a conventional bowhold, utilising all finger-functions, until I hit university in my early twenties. Then I went for a few lessons with a local teacher, who pinpointed my inflexible fingers. Although I couldn't afford weekly lessons and my practice habits were slack, she overhauled my bowing over the few months I studied with her and now my fingers are at my beck and call. So don't panic about this kind of thing; as Ryan says, in a sea of rights there are few wrongs, and most of it's fixable anyway:) Btw, I seat my thumb tip in the space between leather and frog...

May 30, 2004 at 04:59 AM · Thanks all for your comments. He did explain why the way he is showing me is better. It allows me to relax my fingers, rather than having the bow at my finger tips, the stick is held closer into my hand. Also, this allows me to keep my pinkie relaxed and not stiffen. The other bad habit is using my fingers to reverse the bow direction in a whipping motion. Ha ha, you can't do this if the bow is held inside your hand. It feels awkward right now, but I'm sure the way I was taught and practiced while young was hindering my progress. I remember when young that I was certainly not getting a good full sound, but rather wispy, and was always over the fingerboard, although nagged at a lot, but never corrected. I'm thankful my current teacher thinks it is worthwhile to correct everything rather than to let things slide (so to speak).

May 31, 2004 at 08:05 PM · Hi, Clare: putting your thumb in the space between the frog and leather helps it to locate itself. Besides, it is closer to the frog, which gives the hand more control. There is also an issue of tone colour. The higher you go up the stick, the softer the tone (as Baroque style requires). If you put the thumb on the leather, the hand may move upwards w/out you realizing it, since the bow is never static in the hand. The space between the frog and the leather is a useful reference point. Maybe it's a matter of spreading out the fingers a -little-?

June 1, 2004 at 12:43 AM · Greetings,

I agree with Tristan on this one. I am ratehr out of touch with the way most people play these days so I am wondering if anyone can point to eithe rplayer swho use this appraoch or references to it in the standard literature. I am not convinced this way is much advocated.



June 1, 2004 at 03:03 AM · wait all of yall are explaining awkard ways to hold the bow. i thought you're just supposed to fist it and wrap all ur fingers in between the hair and the stick +P but honestly, when i play slow bows, my fingers seem alot more flexible and when i play faster and/or louder passages, i tend to feel my own fingers squeeze harder on the bow. people always tell me to pull the bow. can anyone explain this concept?

June 1, 2004 at 03:08 AM · Yes. When you are drawing the bow across the strings, think about *pulling* the sound from the string rather than pushing the sound out and squashing it. What you should be aiming for is not a compression. Think about the action of pulling back the arrow in archery.

June 1, 2004 at 03:19 AM · so should the bow physically ne making an arch like a U while it goes against the strings? i have a vague understanding of the "pulling." the pulling i understand would mean there would be no pressure at all and just fast bow

June 1, 2004 at 03:21 AM · Greetings,

Daniel, if you want to sensitize yourself to the maximum required ampount of pressure on the string from the bow hair then try this exercise.

Place the bow on the string in the middle and begin to apply downward pressure without moving the bow. After a certain point you will here a slight click. Repeat the procedure until you can produce click at regualr one second intervals. The point of pressure at which this click is produce is the maximum the string will take to produce a good sound and it may well be a lot less than what you are using right now, especially if you are just sticking the fingers between the hair and the stick...

Repeat this exercise in all parts of the bow and experiemnt with different distances from the bridge,



June 1, 2004 at 03:58 AM · Greetings,

anyway, going back to the original discussion here is an extract from Gerle- The Art of Bowing:

`Another seemingly minor, yet very important and often overlooked condition of a secure and effortless bow hold is the extent of the space between the leather grip and the ridge of the frog. When the bow hair is stretched to its playing tension, this space should be about a quarter of an inch, just so that the thumb can LEAN AGAINST BOTH (my caps)and get support from either side. If this space is too wide or too samll, or if the leather grip is worn off, there is nothing to prevent the thumb from slipping, giving the player the same sense of insecurity...`



June 1, 2004 at 05:02 AM · i hope u know i was kidding when i said i just wrap my fingers in between the hair and stick....and mr brivati(?) i just tried your method, and it never clicks until my hair touches the stick from the pressure. i was wondering maybe my bow is too loose? its tight enough that none of the hairs are dangling out but its not taut teacher said its easier to make bigger tone with a looser bow?

June 1, 2004 at 05:29 AM · Greetings,

there are diffent schools of thought on how tight the hair should be and it is another of those -no real correct- answer isssues in which the claims that either very loose hair or very tight produce more tone are not concrete. However, it does sound like you may have the hair a little loose. Would having the space between hair and stick being the equivalent of the diameter of the stick be a useful guide?



June 2, 2004 at 05:16 PM · The thumb tip between the frog and the leather is one of the few "constants" among the "variables" in the bow hold except for two cases (1) to obtain a softer tone in Baroque style playing and (2) as a temporary sensitizing exercise, after which one returns to the space between the frog and the leather.

Flesch distinguishes between the Franco-Belgian and the Russian holds by referring to the stick's contact point on the side of the index finger (bow tension is also a factor). The Galamian variant is also related to the index finger position.

The middle finger and thumb alignment is a complicated issue Fisher discusses. His concern is to avoid tension in the thumb.

The ring finger tends to be somewhat neglected, but is as critical as the rest in tone production and bow balance.

The pinkie may rest on 2 different places depending on the bow tilt. If the bow hold favours flat hair, it is more effective for the pinkie to rest on the octagonal surface directly over the frog. Otherwise, in the FB hold in particular, w/ tight hair and greater tilt, the pinkie would rest on the octagonal surface to the right (clockwise, looking down the bow from the tip).

Mere finger placement is NOT, however, an adequate way to address the problem IMO. What is needed is a "functional" approach (i.e. in which the role of each finger is undestood and consciously controled). The exact location of the finger is only relevant in so far as it enables it to function properly. The basic problem w/ learning this is that we first place the fingers and then try the bow strokes. Ideally, it would have to be in the reverse order: first understand what the bow stroke requires, and then adjust the fingers.

Fischer recommends sensitization by isolating the fingers (i.e. bowing w/ some fingers raised) but this has limitations when applied to different bow strokes. The colle' exercise can also be good for the fingers but becomes harder the deeper the bow is in the hand (Russian hold).

You can think of the bow hand as a spider balancing itself on the frog's "back". All of the "legs" of the spider help to keep it in place. The weight of the frog is then distributed evenly w/in the "spider"/hand and the center of gravity can be felt in a point beyond the wrist.

June 2, 2004 at 12:25 AM · just to confuse you i actually move my thumb about a bit depending on what im playing, up to about and inch and a half foward

June 2, 2004 at 12:43 AM · Good post, Tristan, however you may find there are those who disagree about the frog/leather issue (I'm not one of them, btw) - the teacher mentioned in the title post is an example. My father showed me a book about bow selection today. Written by an expert, it was absolutely impenetrable; contained PhD-style calculations of girth and curvature and the effects produced - hardly user-friendly! But what interested me was the author's assertion that the thumb goes in the nook in the frogwith thumb over the top, i.e. holding the frog rather than the stick. Although the writer is clearly an expert in his field, he stated that this is the hold most commonly used. My dad pointed out that he may have been describing what is now considered very old school technique... however, the book was published in 1981. Just an example of the differing opinions on this matter.

June 2, 2004 at 02:35 AM · Buri, could you please get the reference (author, etc.) for us? Placing the thumb in the frog nook has the disadvantage of limiting the thumb's flexibility and it slips easily. The tone gets somewhat harder. I tried that some yrs. ago.

Giving it a try now, I would say that if the middle finger is tucked in on the other side of the frog's nook, then slippage could be prevented. The stick seemed to contact the index finger more naturally between the middle and the nail joint, suggesting a FB hold. Does he say anything about this? Anyway, checking this thoroughly requires going through the bow strokes and seeing what happens to each one.

June 2, 2004 at 03:16 AM · Greetings,

Tristan, my referecnes are all from Gerle`s book on bowing. I am quite inflexible about where the thumb should be placed and concur with you 100%.

Sue was talking about the `nookie` as usual,



June 2, 2004 at 03:23 AM · Owen, you must be a real ninja of the violin. Maybe you could teach us how to create that ninja smoke screen to disappear during a recital or any other unfortunate musical situation!

June 2, 2004 at 03:24 AM · I think someone mentioned that this could be an exercise to break me of a bad habit. My hand does tend to creep up the stick as the thumb does not have a static reference point, but I do believe my little finger is no longer stiff like before, which is probably the point of the exercise. Maybe when playing one would adjust the thumb placement depending on what type of music and balance point one is trying to achieve. Does that sound believable or does anyone do this?

June 2, 2004 at 03:26 AM · Nudge nudge wink wink... The book I referred to is by Balthasar Planta - and as I said I don't agree with him either. But it makes you wonder, doesn't it...

June 2, 2004 at 07:18 AM · I am often amazed how threads just seem to pop up at the right time. Suffice it to say I just happened to spend most of today's practice playing with different bowings/bow holds...

Tristan: Yes, Owen is our resident ninja...Seriously though, I was reading your (excellent) post and the part about how the desired stroke necessitates the finger placement was truely interesting. I am in complete agreement with you there. My normal approach is to try and replicate a text book example of X hold and then attempt X stroke, but the experimention process of todays practice was truely enlightening. Also, the players physical makeup (arm/finger length) and even equipment (bow length/balance) can have a major impact on a the results. That said, such an aproach as you suggested seems to me a great way for each individual to address their own unique circumstances.

Clare: Fischer actually has a great excercise for your 'roaming hand' in 'Basics'(Buri feel free to correct/elaborate):

While doing long, slow, full bow strokes, try to 'climb' up the bow with your fingers and thumb and when you get near the middle of the bow, climb back down, all the while maintaining steady bowing.

It seems sort of counter-intuitive be moving the hand when your object is to keep it from moving, but it certainly helped me develope an awareness of where my hand was on the bow and it's ramafications.

June 2, 2004 at 11:34 AM · Just as a matter of principle, the ideal technique is one in which maximum of effect is achieved w/ minimum effort and movement. So, if you can play the strokes w/out roaming, according to this principle, it would be better. This does not mean that roaming cannot be very instructive as a preparatory exercise.

Owen says he roams up to an inch and a 1/2 up the stick. Then he must go up to the other edge of the leather, where it joins the coil. If we include those who place the thumb tip in the nook of the frog, that would be quite a range (and we're talking post-Baroque playing here).

The argument for Owen would be that if he wants a softer tone, he can roam up the stick, then go down to the frog for a harder, biting tone. If he uses different bows, he can adjust by roaming. So we would have to ask Owen in which situations does he roam up and down. Perhaps it is worth to sacrifice simplicity for the added expressive range.

June 2, 2004 at 06:18 PM · What about some gypsies who put the thumb on the nacre ,not touching the stick but the frog itself. I use sometimes this technic for very tensed pupils

June 2, 2004 at 09:41 PM · it more or less depends on the piece, its hard to make generalizations although i could say in general baroque i'm a little farther up. Pieces like the third movement of the bach sonata 1 i'm as far up the stick as i would go, whereas something like the last movement of bruch i might be almost holding the frog

June 3, 2004 at 05:08 PM · Owen, that's fine, to play Baroque up the stick, but the question was whether you "roam" up and down the stick as you play a _single_ piece. That would be the novelty.

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