Shaky Bowing

August 3, 2004 at 05:42 PM · Hi, guys! I'm 21 and I've just started learning to play the violin. I've been playing for three months now and I have a recurring problem - my bow quivers when I draw it across the strings, particularly when I'm on the upper half of my bow. I've tried pressing the bow down harder (this takes away some of the quivering) but it still produces a slightly shaky sound. I've also tried bowing with no pressure from my index finger, but the bow still shakes.

Moreover, a friend who has also been playing the violin for several months now commented that I "look tense" when I bow. As to why I do, he cannot particularly point out.

When I asked my teacher, he gave me an exercise of bowing really slowly (8 counts per bow) but my bow still quivers. He just told me to practice my scales everyday, and eventually, the quivering will stop. It seems like a good idea, but I still don't know WHY my bow quivers.

Help! Can anyone please tell me what I can do? Thanks.

Replies (43)

August 3, 2004 at 06:11 PM · my shaking seemed to just stop over time, but it still occasionally happens if i'm nervous or tense. so definitely look into methods of relaxation like deep breathing, and try using a more relaxed grip on both the bow and the instrument

August 3, 2004 at 06:36 PM · hey ya! i have encountered students with the same problem. what i can say is concentrate on gravity. figure out a way to hold your violin so that the bow simply rests on the strings, let gravity do the job. and with the index finger of your bow hand, press down as you bow. and think gravity as you bow. you may end up having a different way of holding your violin for each string. look at yourself in a mirror while doing so.

have you figured out how to bend your bow wrist accordingly as you bow? that could be a factor too.

anyways, i will be curious to hear about what you think of my suggestion. please let me know!

good luck!

August 3, 2004 at 08:09 PM · Breathing is particularily important in making your bow stop shaking. When you feel your bow shaking, just breathe in deeply. It's a trick that the Tokyo quartet uses.


August 3, 2004 at 09:49 PM · it's possibly a tense bow arm that is causing your bow to shake as you play. i've seen many beginners have that problem.

August 3, 2004 at 11:14 PM · Yea I've been playing for a while. And that always happens in Auditions and Performances. I still quite haven't figured out how to control my nerves yet. but thats another discussion...

August 4, 2004 at 05:35 AM · Claire, First thing you have to control is avoiding shoulder tension. Do you use shoulder rest? Anyway, check if you have some discomfort when you hold violin: your chin should rest on the chinrest lightly, without any preasure; don't tence muscles of your neck. Choose chinrest and shoulder rest which fit to you right. Check your left hand posture: your fingers should be placed on the strings with own weigh; also, check position of your thumb.

The most common reason of shaking bow is tension in shoulders. So, it's a very good idea to breese deep in, then out to lower shoulders. I don't advocate pressing index finger.

Often the bow starts to shake when we change moving shoulder on moving arm. To avoid it, lower a little elbow. And try to understand, that all parts of right hand: shoulder, arm hand, wrist, fingers don't work separately, even if, for example, a teacher asks to use only arm part. Feel your violin and both hands as a one unit.

One more thing... your speed of bowing depends on power of preasure: the more speed needs less preasure. So, start practicing with fast bow. Good luck!

August 4, 2004 at 07:23 AM · Perhaps your wrist is too tight. When you bow, you should see your wrist bend down for an up bow and upwards for a down bow. It should be a comfortable movement; try it without a bow and watch your wrist move. Then try to incorporate it while playing. Holding the wrist straight is a common reason I've seen for shakey, scratchy bowing.

August 4, 2004 at 09:47 AM · Thanks for all the tips, guys! :) I'll try them in my next practice - that's tonight. I'll keep you posted soon.

By the way, since some of you brought up tension (Wall Wu) and relaxation (Chris L), can anyone give relaxation tips/ techniques for a smoother, more relaxed bowing, both for loud and soft sounds? Thanks again!

August 4, 2004 at 05:05 PM · to work on getting rid of tension, visualize that your bow arm is like a heavy bean bag resting on the bow which is resting on the violin ( you should almost feel your upper arm sagging. Try drawing the bow across the strings a few times without worrying about making an awful sound or finger position. Try to keep that relaxed feeling as you attempt to bow properly. I have also found Suzuki's approach very usful for situations like yours where he starts out with short and stacato bows instead of long bows. For some people this really works until they feel more comfortable with their instrument. Also there was an excellent article on bowing in fiddler magazine winter 2002/03. It was written by Hollis Taylor and titled "The Practicing Fiddler - Right Hand 101". You can probably get it on their web site.

August 4, 2004 at 10:58 PM · You may have a "nervous bow". If so, this has nothing to do with you but rather with the dynamic characteristics of the bow that predispose it to a slight but visible bobbing up and down as the bow is drawn across the strings. You may be able to verify or disqualify this possibility yourself by experimentally adding a tiny mass (such as a bit of beeswax) to the (top of the) stick at various points along the stick. (The beewswax is easily wiped off and will not harm the bow.) If the nervousness goes away at some point, it is the bow, not you, that is the origin.

August 5, 2004 at 10:10 AM · Carl Flesch says tilt the bow towards you (ie the further edge of the hair more 'into' the string than the edge closer to you) to get rid of the right-hand vibrato.

August 5, 2004 at 02:37 PM · I have found in students that sometimes a shaky bow is due to a lot of tension in the right thumb.

It seems as if we have covered everything except for tension in your big toe!

August 5, 2004 at 08:06 PM · Relaxation can certainly help to reduce tension/shaking, but I found out that under conditions of extreme nervousness, it can help to hold the bow very tight, especially with longer bows, because with the RIGHT use a tension, so can block tremors, especially from the arm. But be careful, it s a emergency action, and don't practise it too much, because its not very healthy for your muscles of course

August 8, 2004 at 10:04 AM · Thanks to your suggestions, guys, my bowing has improved. :) Now my bow only quivers in the middle, but not on the entire upper half, as before. What do you suggest I should do to get rid of this completely? What may have I overlooked? Also, I noticed that it is particularly harder to get a pure tone in the notes in the A string than in any of the other strings. Why is this so and what can I do about it?

Lastly, a few of you do not advocate pressing with the index finger to make my bowing louder. What is the effect if I press this finger on the bow? What do you suggest instead? Ms. June Rhee suggested that I rotate (or pronate) my arm, but I did not get her instructions clearly. What exactly can I do? Thanks again for all your assistance, guys. :)

August 8, 2004 at 01:21 PM · Long slow bows.

As you repeat long slow bows, the full length of the bow, feel your shoulders, and arm relax.

When you change direction at the tip and the heel, don't dig in, just change direction. Maybe even stop for a split second.

This exercise works, and usually pretty quickly. It teaches your arm where your bow needs more or less weight, and gives more control over the bow even at faster speeds.


August 8, 2004 at 09:09 PM · Hmm. I went to a festival this summer, and I talked to my teacher there about bowing posture, theory and such. What school of bow grip are you using (franco-belgian, russian, or german)?

I also had a new technique explained to me, which greatly improved my tone, which my teacher called "big tool-little tool". At the upper half of the bow, you use the part of the arm between elbow and wrist [little tool]. When at the lower half you use the upper part of your arm more [big tool]. and your wrist should stay flexible the whole time. It's REALLY hard to describe without pictures or soemthing. Has anyone else heard of this method?

August 9, 2004 at 12:29 AM · Hooray, another adult beginner! :)

I'm 26 and I've been playing for about 2-3 months also. I'm on a mission to spite all those violin teachers who say I can't learn because I'm starting as an adult. (Although I've only had one teacher and she's very supportive)

I occassionally suffer from the bow shakes also... but it's not as bad as before. Here's a couple of reasons which I've heard which cause the shakes:

1) Too much arm tension

2) Wrong bow hair tension

3) Not drawing the bow in the correct plane

4) Not concentration on bowing technique (Happens especially when focusing on intonation or reading the music).

I also found that a lot of the shaking stopped as my wrist and finger action improved (on bowing hand)... still a long way to go though.

Best of luck!

August 9, 2004 at 10:19 AM · Hi, Jake. I'm interested in the Big Tool-Little Tool technique you posted. Can you explain it more in detail? I can't understand it, especially the Big Tool part. I'm hoping you have the pictures you mentioned. ^_^

As for the bow grip I use, I'm not sure what school it is. I'll have to ask my teacher. But the basics of my bowhold is that I have to form a circle with my thumb and middle finger.

Thanks again. ^_^

August 9, 2004 at 12:28 PM · Hey where has Buri been? On vacation!

August 9, 2004 at 03:45 PM · Maybe it's not your bowing!My bow has always been shaky and I have progressed quite a lot since I started. I reckon it's because it's a cheap beginners bow-fiberglass. I hope to get a better bow next week.

One-Sim :)

August 9, 2004 at 03:53 PM · Yes, even I've noticed the huge difference a bow can make...and my new bows are still only in the higher end of what would be considered 'cheap' bows ($200-500).

August 10, 2004 at 08:45 AM · Buri left this board after a stupid incident with another member...she annoyed him to much and he left...a true loss for this site

August 10, 2004 at 12:08 PM · One factor which might eliminate a trembling bow is to position the violin level with the floor. This makes the bow ride securely on the string. The right hand fingers and forearm are then freed from clutching or tightly gripping the bow.

With the violin level, place your bow on the D string, and try bowing a few strokes with only thumb and fore-finger ( under its middle joint!! ) and guiding the bow. Then gradually lightly add the other three fingers.

This is a great tension reliever.

Ted Kruzich

August 12, 2004 at 07:08 AM · Do not move the right wrist too intens when change from down stroke to up stroke or other way.

Example: striking down your wrist points right then when you finally you strike upwards don't change the wrist poisition yet until you've reached the part of the bow which you can concider the middle.

August 13, 2004 at 06:55 PM · Im not sure if anyone mentioned this yet or not but simon fischer's book "basics" suggests using thumb counter pressure. I used to press down with my first finger and now i see this is a mistake.

August 13, 2004 at 10:37 PM · You should consider getting a heavier bow..

I had the same problem - then I got a different bow and it went away.

August 14, 2004 at 01:46 AM · But, consider the problems that can come with a heavier bow (I had one for years):

right-hand muscle tension

decreased agility

harder to bounce....

August 14, 2004 at 04:10 AM · Sometimes it is the quality of the bow. I had a crummy bow that I could do nothing with and my teacher thought it was just me. What a world of difference just to get a better bow.

August 14, 2004 at 06:29 AM · hmmm...maybe your thumb has too much of a counteraction and thus it distorting the 4 fingers pressure on the top. Thus when your arm shakes when your nervous so does your bow. Try reducing thumb counterpressure...but always...always make the thumb flexible and subtle, never stiff.

August 15, 2004 at 12:56 AM · Wow, Beverly, no fair about your teacher!

Let this be a lesson, if you are a student and you can't get the bow to bounce or do some other trick, hand it to your teacher and say, "I've tried has hard as I can, might it have anything to do with my bow?" If it is you, and not the bow, at least the teacher can show you where the right spot is, as that can be different on different bows, too.

August 15, 2004 at 02:45 PM · Beverly, I agree. You better let your teacher try your bow. ^_^

Yes, regarding my bowing problem, I've also looked into that. Some of my other friends who play the violin said that my bow isn't that good and they also had problems when they tried my violin. I tried using their bows, and I sounded better.

But when my teacher used my bow, he still sounded good. Oh, well...what do you guys think?

August 16, 2004 at 03:40 AM · Hi, Claire!

The last few posts stress the importance of good dialogue between students and teachers.

Far too often, the student-teacher relationship becomes a one-way thing, because the student feels inadequate and/or the teacher feels technically superior.

Truth is, no two violins sound alike and no two people will play the same instrument the same way.

Talk to your teacher. Tell him how you feel when you play, what emotions are going through you, and what parts of your body feel awkward when you practice. Also ask your teacher to look at how you hold the violin and bow.

August 16, 2004 at 05:07 AM · Incidentally, I was using a heavy bow for years until only recently.

I went through a series of teachers, all of whom agreed that the heavy bow I was using was "standard" and just right for me.

However, when I recently changed to a lighter bow with a lower center of balance (nearer the frog) I was able to play better spicatto, largo, etc. plus better dynamic control :-)

It was a serendipitous but truly ground-breaking discovery for me!

August 16, 2004 at 10:49 PM · this has probably been mentioned but right now im too lazy to read the responses (yes i admit it, cut me slack im tired). a, tension tends to make you shake, the more comfortable with both arms you are the less likely you are to shake at all. also remember what galamian said about the fingers acting as shock absorbers to dampen any bounciness that may occur in your bow.

August 17, 2004 at 06:06 AM · Just plain weakness can also cause shakiness, though, especially at places like the frog. There's no substitute for the daily scale exercises with big, long bows.

August 19, 2004 at 08:43 AM · Right on, Laurie!

There's really no substitute for daily scale practice.

August 25, 2004 at 10:21 AM · Suggest the following: spend 1/2 hour a day doing 60-second bowings (8-count is not going to be enough). Buy a cheap digital stop watch at a local discount sporting goods store, and start with 15 second bows, working up to 60 second by the end of the first week. Do not worry about tone or volume; rather, focus on a smooth bowing played parallel to the bridge. Play in front of a mirror to make sure. Then add 15 minutes each of Casorti (Technique of the bow) and Sevcik (School of Bowing Technique, Part II). You'll quickly find your "shaky bowning" will disappear. This will become the most valuable hour of practice you ever do. If you have time for nothing else, do this.

August 27, 2004 at 05:11 AM · Yup, I agree with Richard :-)

August Casorti's "The Technics of Bowing" is great and a must-have. The prolonged bowing that Richard mentioned is included in the book; it's at the very end and is described by Casorti as one of the most essential bowing techniques.

Casorti also rightly points out that practicing this particular technique can do wonders for a player's overall development.

August 27, 2004 at 10:21 PM · Richard, do you not feel that it's asking too much of any beginner to produce a 60 second bowstroke?

No one has mentioned the possibility of psychological tension... Claire, do you feel at all nervous in your lessons? Do you have any other symptoms of anxiety, like dry mouth, sweating etc? Also, do you have a good relationship with your teacher? I've had teachers I was so terrified of I literally quaked at the knees for the first several lessons, even when I thought I was relaxed. It's not that uncommon.

August 28, 2004 at 04:13 PM · Good question: Can a beginner be expected to do 60-second bowstrokes? I think so. Will it sound like a 60-second bowstroke played by a 25+ year professional player? No, of course not. But will value be gained by aiming "that high" -- yes, i think so. And each day the 30 minute routine is done will be easier and better than the last.

Yes, Casorti has a section on this, that includes the use of left hand fingering; but what I am recommending is a bit different: do the 60-second bowing on open strings. Do ten minutes on G (the bow will feel like it's 10-pounds heavy at minute 8 or 9), ten on the E (shaky will be even worse at first), and 5 minutes each on D and A (or, better, 10 minutes on combined D and A, like a double-stop).

Improvement will be rapid.

August 30, 2004 at 05:31 AM · Guys,I can't thank you enough for all your tips! ^_^ I'm happy to tell you that the quivers in my bowing are almost gone. My bow just shakes a little during my first few strokes, but goes away completely after that.

Now I know that tension was not the only reason why my bow quivered a lot before,especially during lessons.Sue was right - I did have some psychological tension.Whenever I make a mistake like this shaky bowing during lessons,I tend to get more tense and make even more mistakes! I also realized that my bow shook more during the morning (when my muscles are still adjusting to the violin) than in evenings.My lessons are during early morning before work,so that partially explained my shaky bowing then.

My concern with my bowing now is producing a louder sound in the 'forte' sections of my pieces. Some of you mentioned pronation, and I understand the concept but I still don't know the proper distribution of weight to make my bowing louder, yet still smooth. A member here e-mailed to advise me about the use of back muscles to make bowing louder, but I'm still not sure how this works.

Thanks again!

August 30, 2004 at 09:45 PM · one thing i did to get rid of my shakes is to place the bow on the string at various points along the bow length and stand stationary for a minute, breathing deeply. it's very important not to hold your breath while playing violin but too many of us do exactly that. doing this forces you to concentrate on where you do and don't breathe properly.

October 11, 2004 at 06:39 PM · I've recently discovered this phenomenon while playing. On the downstroke my bow will exhibit a bouncing characteristic near the middle of the bow. I've only had a chance to try this on one other bow. Both bows have not been rehaired and are at least 10 years old with a slight warp in them. Neither of these are high quality bows. Could the physical characteristics be the reason that there is a bounce? I'm certain that I am relaxed and I've tried a variety of pressures (index finger, pinkie, bow speed variations). Perhaps it's time I picked up a quality bow?

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