Alternative bow-hold for beginners?

February 17, 2005 at 06:19 AM · I took in a new student a couple of weeks ago and asked him to play a piece from Suzuki book 2 that he'd been practicing. To my astonishment, he held his bow with the thumb underneath the frog instead of the usual spot between the frog and grip. Either he is an unusually bright kid, diligent, or it's not very difficult to change over. I gave him a lesson on the proper way to hold the bow, and the next week he returned, already using better form than any of my other students.

Tell me, how many of you teach a different hold to young beginners? Why would you teach it this way? Or, if you don't, why not?

Replies (16)

February 17, 2005 at 06:26 AM · Yes, I do this, particularly for the very young beginners. I like them to place the thumb on the right edge of the outside of the frog. Placing it on the edge gives their thumb that feeling that it will have in the future, being on the stick, by the little nub of the frog and the grip. And the thumb must still be BENT, which is ever a problem with all beginners, it seems.

Why this beginner bow hold? It has to do with muscle control and development. I have tried starting the young ones (say, seven and under) with the "real" bow hold and found that they have a much more difficult time developing a proper bow hold.

With the thumb on the outside, they gain a measure of control by having the space there. They also develop some strength, and they get into a habit of keeping the space between the index finger and the thumb rounded.

I would recommend it. Somewhere before the middle of Suzuki Book 1 is where I introduce the "Big Girl" or "Big Boy" bow hold.

I do not think it is as necessary to do this with adults or older children, but of course let your judgment guide you. If the adult has a particularly weak or uncoordinated right hand, it may be helpful. Conversely, some kids might not need this "first step," but in my experience, most do.

February 17, 2005 at 09:28 AM · Thanks, Laurie. At first, the sight of it repulsed me, like seeing a crippled filly. And then I was amazed at how easily his hold transformed into the regular hold and wondered if this might be a legitimate teaching method, after all. The only thing is, he is twelve, and in book 2. He was way past the need for this bow hold.

February 17, 2005 at 05:06 PM · I too am a fairly recent convert to this way of teaching beginners; having read about it, I tried it in my own playing over a period of a few weeks and couldn't find any disadvantage to using it. I don't believe it makes a bent thumb any easier for beginners to achieve, but it does create that essential feeling of space within the hand. I'm also finding that combining it with the corn-pad 'pinky house' is producing good results.

Having taken over a large brigade of young students at school, I'm recommending many of them revert to this alternative method as a way of alleviating a poor bow hold before trying it again.

February 17, 2005 at 05:46 PM ·

February 17, 2005 at 06:32 PM · I use it too and complelety agree with Laurie and Sue.

I like to place sticker with smiling frog on it for thumb placement. I try to find stickers made from velvety paper, so kids like to touch this frog.

February 17, 2005 at 07:00 PM · I use a beginner bow hold with the bent thumb all the way underneath and against the hair and the pinky draped over the stick, similar to a cello bowhold. Sometimes I describe it as a "paw" bowhold. This gives them an organic feeling of playing with natural armweight, and eliminates the need to produce sound by pressing with the first finger. Later, we go to the "professional" bow hold by moving the thumb inside and the pinky on top.

The first time I saw a student with this bow hold, I was definitly freaked out! Having taught it for a few years and seeing the ultimate results when they get to the professional bowhold, I'm absolutly a believer in this system.

February 17, 2005 at 08:30 PM · I don't teach too many young beginners but this is definitely an accepted method for teaching bow hold.

I have used it occasionally myself and for any level player who has somehow "lost" the feel for the openness, weight and relaxation of the right hand.

I have the student play some scales, some rapid detache', maybe a reel or two. Then keep the hand pretty much the same and move the thumb back to the stick. It can often fix a goofy looking right hand when it is hard to figure out just what is wrong. Hands are so complicated.

February 17, 2005 at 09:11 PM · I was taught (Suzuki) this way about (gulp) 23 years ago, and it worked fine. I don't recall having any trouble changing over to the normal hold, so I'd give a vote of confidence for this procedure from a student's point of view.


February 17, 2005 at 10:33 PM · Folks,

Check out Mark O'Connor. He uses that bow hold. You'd be hard pressed to find a better violinist in jazz, swing, bluegrass, whatever. An amazing talent.


February 19, 2005 at 09:28 PM · Interesting comment about Mark O'Connor. His playing is fantastic. I wouldn't think he could get enough flexibility and rotation with that hold.

I certainly wasn't advocating playing that way; just experimenting and learning.

March 21, 2005 at 09:31 AM · WELLL..... i learnt with the beginner bow hold your talking about when i was 6 and i remember trying to change to the normal way SOO hard. i remember feeling as if there was no way you could hold it without droppnig it, it felt so out of control because with the beginner hold i could grip the bow. personally i think learning to grip the bow is the WORST possible thing for a child to learn. obviously everyone else has had possitive experiences but i haven't had any trouble teaching any of my begginers the normal way, ESPECIALLY the younger ones. i admit i do have trouble reminding them about bending the thumb but i find the best way is to remind them and just touch their thumb so they do it themselves rather than havnig something restricing them. like wise with pushing the left hand palm up onto the neck. my teacher put a cloth in my palm so i physically cuold't grip but i think it's much more effective to occasionally tap their hand so they do it themselves.

March 21, 2005 at 09:40 AM · Yes, a lot of old-time players use that hold: they call it the "Kenny Baker" hold.

Seems to help with short-bow shuffles. The thumb doesn't get so tired.

But it doesn't help with long bows.


March 21, 2005 at 02:06 PM · I saw a teaching site that explained that this bow hold made it easier for the TEACHER to see what the student was doing. In my mind, that would be a poor reason because whatever a student is taught to do should facilitate the student's progress, not the teacher's ability to assess that progress. If however it is considered one of a series of steps to help a student ultimately do the correct thing, it would be valid as long as the student can easily make the transition between the two bow holds when the time comes. I imagine it would even feel like a "graduation", like when in public school we got to use thin pencils instead of fat pencils and finally pens like the "big kids". Come to think about it, the thin pencil/fat pencil analogy might explain why Suzuki invented that hold. Didn't he start with much younger children than had been the custom?

March 21, 2005 at 02:56 PM · As a kid (I started at 8), I learned to hold the bow with the thumb on the outside of the frog. I remember being anxious to switch to the "advanced" bow grip, and had little trouble doing so. Sure, it was a little awkward at first, but I don't recall it being a problem.

Now that I have students, I decided to teach them the way I was taught, and have gradually figured out why -- it's simply easier to hold the bow steady with the thumb on the outside. The kids and even adults that I've taught have agreed that it's easier that way. Because it's easier to hold and control the bow, it's easier to learn a good tone earlier. With a kid or adult with a decent ear, it's important that they like how they sound, and that their tone is good enough to discern good or bad intonation as well.

March 21, 2005 at 03:24 PM · Hi,

When my son started playing at age six (1.5 years ago), I showed him a few things before he went to his first class. One thing I showed him was how to hold the bow. When he got to class, the teacher was teaching the under-frog technique. Since my son was already using the regular way, she left him alone (but kept at him to curve his thumb). He had no problem getting to a "good tone". Now, I daresay, he is something of a virtuoso ;-). He has far more work to do on "Pizza Wrist" than anything with the bow.

I was puzzled by this new bow-hold--why is it necessary etc. But it is also worth noting that there is more than one way to do most things. In addition to Kenny Baker and the others mentioned, I have seen Celtic players hold the bow entirely on the tinsel, and they sure do play better than I ever could.

The fiddle is more than one instrument--and so there is more than one technique.



March 21, 2005 at 03:24 PM · In an historical point of view.Michel Corrette,violonist at the King Louis XIV'court in the years 1750, described two bow holds.

_ The Italian one where then the thumb and fingers touch the stick at the 3/4 of the bow ie not at the frog but higher toward the tip.

-The french bow grip .Index,major and ringer fingers touch the stick above the frog ,the thumb is under the bow hair,and the pinky touch the inside of the stick behind the frog

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