Arched back thumb

February 19, 2005 at 08:41 PM · My son, 8 year-old's thumb tends to arch back instead of bending especially when he comes to faster passages. I tried to let him hold a small bouncy ball in his thumb to prevent it for awhile but he said it's uncomfortable. Is there any tip to fix this? I want him to get rid of this habit before it's too late. Buy the way he is a lefty. Does this add to his tention when playing the fast passages? Please help me!

Replies (68)

February 19, 2005 at 09:39 PM · Does his thumb go toward the fingerboard or away from it?

February 19, 2005 at 09:49 PM · Which hand are you referring to? If it is in regard to the right hand there are many ways to holding a bow. Left hand positioning is also very personal. If you watch Perlman his thumb reaches far past the fingerboard and sometimes bends back.

February 19, 2005 at 09:58 PM · You didn't mention if it was left or right but I think it sounds his right thumb you're talking about. Correct? The arching of his thumb the other way is a good indication the he's squeezing too hard with his thumb. The right thumb should only be supplying the mininmum amount of counter-pressure necessary to keep the bow in the hand. Many students have this same tendancy--to press too hard with the thumb. It's not surprising that the tension in his hand increases when he plays fast passages.

Maybe your son isn't practicing those passages slowly enough and so his bow feels a bit out of control.

A nice bent thumb under the bow is directly related to that curvature of the other four fingers that makes for a good relaxed bow hold.

Besides that good form, it's important to develop the ability to flex that bow hold by curling in the fingers (which causes the thumb to bend further) and also by pushing out the thumb (which causes the fingers to extend slightly). The range of movement should never be so much that the fingers or thumb ever "lock" straight.

When I started violin my teacher had me practice this with a pencil before trying it with my bow.

If I'm wrong and you're actually talking about the left thumb, the same basic idea applies. He's probably squeezing too hard with his thumb on the neck. There are various excercises that I'm sure he and his teacher can come up with to work on this. One would be to put the scroll on the wall (or even better, a cork bulletin board) and play slowly with the thumb relaxed and NOT touching the neck.

Hope that helps a little.

February 19, 2005 at 11:17 PM · That's right nate, I was gonna say that after the direction that the thumb went was clarified.

February 20, 2005 at 02:48 AM · I am so sorry everyone. I didn't even realize that I didn't mention if it was right or left thumb. That's how much panicking I was :-) It is his right thumb actually. Peter, thank you for your advise. I'll try your suggestion. I know the middle finger and the thumb are supposed to be making a circle. His teacher and I remind him time to time he needs to relax his thumb. He wouldn't dare talk back to his teacher, but if I remind him at home he gets very defensive. Should I keep bugging him or is there any way he can correct himself?

February 20, 2005 at 04:33 AM · Peter basically said it all but I do the exact same thing that your son does, especially in big chordal passages(like the whole Shosti cadenza for example) and one thing my dad told me to do is to feel like that middle finger and thumb connection is a loop(my dad said it was like a seesaw) going back and forth on every bow. They are kind of sending energy to each other and helping to support each other. Also keeping the weight of the bow more on the back of his hand(near his pinky) might help too. Your son would have to be unbelievably patient to try some of this stuff(it took me years to listen to my dad and I'm still not doing it right) but I hope it helps. Also, I'm basically a lefty(pretty ambidextrous, but I write lefthanded) and I really don't think it adds to any tension. Its just a habit that I've gotten into to lock my thumb in that position.

February 20, 2005 at 06:35 AM · Jiji there are many ways of holding a bow. I hold the bow in quite a unorthodox way and I think I sound pretty decent (not to toot my horn). I think a bow hold is much like a batting grip there are really so many different ways. Even amongst the Russian players for instance look at the difference from Milstein to Heifetz's hold much like Canseco held the bat almost vertical while Darryl Strawberry kind of twirled the bat like Bonds does. They're all great!


February 20, 2005 at 06:31 AM ·

February 20, 2005 at 07:16 AM · Josh, that loop thing sounds very intriguing. I love the energy exchange idea. Wish it weren't too late to take the violin out again.

February 20, 2005 at 11:02 AM · how do you hold your bow Nate? might be interesting for us to find out....



February 20, 2005 at 04:55 PM · Hi Paul,

I hold my bow kind of in the Russian school style. My teacher Mr. Friedman called it the "prodigy hold" he said many players that started at age 4 or 5 like I did played on bows that were usually too large so that would make those players in the beginning compensate and develop the habit of almost holding the stick on the base joint of the index finger like Heifetz, Rabin, Elman, or Kavakos. Interestingly enough this grip that has been classified by many as the "Russian bow hold" was not something Auer made everyone do. When Mr. Friedman once asked Heifetz at a lesson what the Russian bow grip or what the Auer system on bowing was Heifetz said he had no idea. Heifetz after that said "You hold the bow different from me Erick but it works for you."

Since we're on the subject of the thumb my thumb is pretty straight or bent at times when I use a lot of pressure. I wouldn't advocate my own way on someone else however if I were to ever teach. As I stressed before it is very personal and what I feel comfortable doing and the same bow grip I've used for the last 15-16 years now.

February 20, 2005 at 06:42 PM ·

February 20, 2005 at 11:08 PM · thanks for that Nate, very interesting. talking of thumbs, i had a viola teacher once who consistently used a lot of thumb pressure, to the extent that he always kept a rubber tube slid over the bow stick, just in front of the frog to cushion his thumb. i occasionally see cellists use this as well.


February 20, 2005 at 11:26 PM · Greetings,

I sometimes find that not enough attention is paid to what is going on with the right hand thumb from the beginning or even that a clear explanation of what it can and can`t do has not been given.

For example, I have often heard the expression `make a circle, ` or `ring` and this has, in my opinion, cause a great deal of trouble.

First of all, raise your right hand in front of your chest with the fingers nicely curved and the the thumb relaxed. there is no circle whatsoever, andif there is you need to fix it ;) What we can say is soemting like a box with the top letf hand corner squashed or a right angled triangle with a bulging hypotenuse or ... You get the point? Just take a look. In in order to create some kind of cirlce one would have to roatate the thumb at the base jointso thta the middle joint of the thumb could point at the floor. this is extremely unatural, uncofortable and er, silly.

The implication of this is that one does not `put the tip of the thumb` on the bow at all. To do that you have to screw the thumb under. What one actually places on the stick between the thumb leather is the top right hand corner of the thumb tip. Taht is a major difference. Only by placing the thumb in this way can the joints open and close confortably as the bow approaches the point and vice versa.

The effetc off the midlde joint of the thumb pointing at the floor is actually created by the pronation of the forearm (anti clockwose rotation of the hand and arm as a single unit) but the relationship of the thumb hand and fingers barely changes from that shape mentioned right at the beginning of this response.

One of the most aggravating aspects of teaching beginners bowing is not the beginner but the shoddy bow they have bene given. Almost invariably, the hair, quality of stick and position of thumb leather (usually to thin if it hasn@t fallen off anyway) make a huge space between the thumb leather and beignning of the frog so the beginner feels (quite righly) very insecure and starts gripping as well as placing more and more of the tip of the thumb on the bow in a kind of unconscious desparation.

There are rubber tubes and grips one can buy which provide a more helful support to the end of the thumb. You might try contacting Shar for example,



February 20, 2005 at 11:48 PM · That is quite enlightening, Buri. One thing I've surprised myself at wondering about (why in the first years did I not even think about these things?) - given that all bows are hexagonal in that area, even when the stick is round: does that corner of the thumb actually go directly underneath or on the first "hexagon" to the side? I've found myself sometimes on the edge between bottom and hexagon but that's obviously painful because it's an edge. I have a feeling that the answer might be different with the Russian hold so I'll have a close look at my next lesson. At the moment I'm trying to improve thumbish things.

February 21, 2005 at 12:02 AM · Greetings,

I don`t know. At thta level it may become more dependent on the individual structure of the hand. If i have big fat thumbs with a sloppy end then a lot more `top right hand corner` is going to be connetced with the bow,



February 21, 2005 at 12:06 AM · :0)

Buri, I read your post with horror knowing I tell my students exactly that. But you are completely right of course.

The thing is that youngsters and even adults (especially double jointed ones with no developed muscletone in their hands) can't even make that box once they hold the violin or bow. Their joints collapse and squeeze in. I think they need to try to rotate the thumb the way you described a little just to build up that strength and openness in the hand that we, who have played many years with that shape, take for granted. ;-)


February 21, 2005 at 12:27 AM · Buri: Not how much of the corner of the thumb: which hexagon of the bow .... generally speaking?

Lisa: I have noticed a "collapse" but I think it's a directional thing somewhere rather than only a strength issue. Still experimenting. For certain technical things I'm still hung up on one idea. Some technique forms itself over time simply as a person becomes stronger and more adept, flexible, etc. In other cases something stronger can serve as a crutch for something weaker and then the imbalance never heals itself or it even grows. When there is an interfering habit rather than just an annoying one, or a hand that functions but "looks funny" (which is o.k. but 'annoying' because who wants to look funny) - that's a thing I won't accept and don't want to live with in athe long run if it can be changed. The "something about the thumb" falls into that category.

February 21, 2005 at 01:08 AM · Greetings,

Lisa, no need to be horrified. I think there is a veyr slight sense rotation as the thumb moves under the hand fromthe forefinger to the midlde finger. Maybe that is what you are rfeerring to?

It is when we start intentionally trying to roate the thumb in order ot gt the whole tip of the thumb on the stick which I am cautioning against. Thebottom line is , as always, the teacher helping the student find what works best for them.

In either case the thumb can certainly collapse inwards. It only requires an object to press against



February 21, 2005 at 01:16 AM · There is the other thread about teaching a "beginner hold" where the thumb initially goes under the frog. Is that in part to prevent that kind of collapse as well as the explanation of keeping an openness (I've never quite understood what might "close")?

February 21, 2005 at 01:34 AM · Inge, if you straighten the thumb or fingers in bow hold, *that's* closed - you'll see you don't have the circular cavern within the palm anymore.

I took an adult for her first bowing lesson the other day, and although she adopted a good bow hold relatively easily, her hand tensed up. I got her to shake her hand and let it flop in front of her body, and bring the thumb gently in towards the middle finger. I popped the bow in her hand, and bingo! Perfect bow hold. This doesn't work for everyone, particularly little kids, but there are plenty of ways to do it. Sometimes I draw pen lines on my students' fingers as a guide for where to place them on the stick.

February 21, 2005 at 02:04 AM · Gretings,

the pen lines are very helpful I think. I need someoen to do it for me when I have a hangover.



February 21, 2005 at 02:05 AM · Buri, I wish I had more knowlege about how to hold a bow. I want to explain to my son in a way he understands. I don't want to lose him along the way. So the right upper corner of your thumb is supposed to be touching the bow. Am I correct? I am so sorry I'm sounding like a total L@ser:-) And I didn't realize until you mentioned that many cheap bows sometimes have thin grips that makes it hard for the player to hold it properly. This might be adding to my son's struggle with his thumb because he told me his thumb slips right through the frog and the bow hair. I will need to check into this.

February 21, 2005 at 02:21 AM · Hi Jiji,

If your son's thumb is straight and he's attempting to make the elusive 'circle' with the middle finger, he will indeed find that his thumb slips through to the other side of the frog. Once you've checked for the bend, make sure the middle finger is wrapped *over the top*, overlapping the thumb. So the thumb nail should be directed towards the first crease of the middle finger joint, with the bow stick between them.

Buri, I'm surprised no one did it when you were still out for the count... one of my friends had his eyebrows shaved in this fashion once.

February 21, 2005 at 02:19 AM · Greetings,

you don`t sound like a l@ser at all!;)

In a well set up bow their should be a gap of 4 or 5 mm between the edge of the frog and the thumb leather, the corner of the thumb touches the stick and a aprt of the pad slightly further into the middle will naturally touch the frog.

In essnce it is th ecreation of this gap betwen leather and frog that should prevent the thumb from slipping through betwene the hair and stick (very common) or and the insecurity that leasd to a spontaneous gripping by the thumb.

One thing I sometimes do as an emergency measure becuase i wear out thumb letahers veyr quickly, is to get a band aid and wrap it around the leather, thereby building it up a little so it helps to prevent the thumb slipping,



February 21, 2005 at 04:56 AM · Buri,

If your thumbs are that big, how can they slip through? LOL



I have my little kids make a circle first - touching the thumb lightly to the inside of the first knuckle of the second finger. Then take that shape of the thumb and put it in place on the bow, while holding the bow with the other hand (or you holding it). Don't even attempt to get the other fingers on until the thumb is in place. Make sure it is curved and resting on the inside of the bow - you definitely don't want it slipping through. Then slide the second finger down until it just touches the top of the silver (ferrule). Everything else goes from there.

There are pictures of it in the Adventures in Violinland books (1C is the bow book). The same pictures are photographs in the Galamian book. I like the metaphor that Shirley Givens uses: the thumb is the captain and the fingers are the sailors of the bow ship. :0) Of course, the captain must sit in his chair to direct the sailors and you can't sit in a chair if you are straight and stiff as a board. (That image might help.) But don't dispair. Children have to practice this hold over and over again - it is hard! And then they'll learn a little and come to something hard with the left hand and forget about their bow and have to relearn it again. So give it some time, relax, let the teacher do his/her job (or find a better one) and wait for it to come together. The worst thing you can do in a learning process is to try to push the results faster than they can come. Your son will get it!


February 21, 2005 at 05:15 AM · Greetings,

Lisa I am all thumbs.

But, this is my point. It aint a small circle!

I spent the lunch break looking at it and concluded thatwhen the whole shape including the fingers and space between were viewed one could actually see an elephants head.

Of course, my main teacher was Rorstchast (or whatever that dudes name was)



February 21, 2005 at 05:17 AM · Greetinngs,

incidentally, one of the causes of the thumb being over stressed etc is the little finger. If the little finger is also too straight or collapsed and the other fingers are not far enoug over the stick then the thumb is going to be over straight and liable to collapse. One way of resolving the little finger problem is to put the fourth finger further over the stick than you have been doing.

I also find that players even up to quite an advanced level do not use sufficient depth in their bow hold or recognize that the depth of the bow hold may change for deeper to mnore with the fingertips depending oin the sound required, but that is a litlt eout of the purview of this discussion,



February 21, 2005 at 05:39 AM · ROFL


You've been in the far east too long.

Well, it is a shape that looks like a circle if you just glance at it and feel the roundness of your hand gently. So there. LOL

Actually the strength in the shape comes from the inverted arch that is created in the inside of the palm when you make that rounded, rectangular, elephant shape.

OK, I have to admit this (don't send the copyright police after me please). There is one of the beginning VIOLA books (All for Strings, etc., etc. don't know which one, maybe someone can tell me) that has a GREAT pencil exercise in it with really good drawings. I use those pictures to show my students a nice hand position.

If you think of putting the pencil (or wood of the stick) sort of diagonally across the first knuckle of every finger, then curving the second and third around the pencil at the first knuckle, then moving the pinkie to the back edge - closest to you, and just continuing to let the first finger lie on top. Then tuck the thumb (curved) to the inside of the pencil just in front of the second finger (some of these books say that the thumb makes a "smile"). You've got a great position. To check it, pull it away from yourself. Your fingers should gently prevent the pencil from being pulled away the same way a baby's fingers reflexively curve around an adult's finger when it is placed into their hands. (we all do it when we see a little baby's hands - think of how they curl their fingers around yours.) The finger on the bow that does the most "pulling" inward toward the palm is the ring finger. (The more the ring finger makes contact with the frog and gently pulls towards the palm, the easier it is for the thumb to curve and release tension.) A lot of beginning string books say that the pinkie, when placed this way forms a "McDonald's arch." It is a high arch above the other fingers. If you have that, and if the knuckles of your hand across the top are relatively flat, then you've got the beginnings of a great bow arm. (in my opinion, of course!)


February 21, 2005 at 05:39 AM · Greetings,

I alwys thought a Mc Donalds arch was the shape of your gut while lying on your back after being brought up on hamburgers,



February 21, 2005 at 05:42 AM · Ah, I just edited some more... go back and read again.


Haha funny, funny man! LOL

February 21, 2005 at 04:50 PM · Lisa, Buri, thank you for the great input. I'll try the bandaid thing until he gets a better bow. I guess I'm gonna keep bugging him about the thumb. Lisa, it is true, you fix the thumb grip and now you are concentrating on the left fingers and the right thumb goes back to where it was before. We're gonna keep working on it until it comes naturally. It is so great to have guys like you to help me who has no experience in violin so I can guide my son in right track. Thank you! Before I posted my question on this thumb issue, I thought of wrapping his thumb with scotch tape to keep his thumb round!:-)

February 21, 2005 at 06:52 PM · Lisa: One step closer to something that's been bugging me - i.e. "the collapse". (Your arch = strength is interesting & enlightening).

Problem: Thumb collapses at 2nd joint from bottom, i.e. where thumb & hand meet, but not where thumb & wrist meet. Clue: Collapse happens when pinky needs to counter weight of bow. Why? Extrapolation? I have a feeling that the collapse hampers something. Pinkie strength?

February 21, 2005 at 08:23 PM · Hi Lisa,

It is great what Buri and you wrote about ring finger and how it affects to thumb curving. I've never noticed it before. I just checked it on my bow hold and see how it works for improving students' thumb position. I have a picture of holding a pencil in the book "Strictly Strings". Though there is a nice show of preparation correct thumb position on a bow's stick, I completely disagree with this drawing of 'glued' rest fingers. I always say to my students that there is air between fingers. So, I should better use the picture from 'All for Strings' or...

Inge, maybe, it may improve the problem you asked about: As Suzuki trained teacher,for the very beginners instead of using a pencil, I connect 3 small chopsticks using tape or glue, to widen an area of holding stick. Or we can attach rectangular shaped eraser to pencil (to imitate a frog). Probably, this hold may prevent from collapse of thumb's 2nd joint (I've seen this very rare flexibility of this joint from some people). I'm not sure, but try it. (Read the thread "Alternative Bow Hold for Beginners" in the 'teaching' section).

February 21, 2005 at 08:48 PM · Thanks, Rita. I'm already familiar with the hold both from an old Suzuki book and Mimi Zweig's site. I just went back to it but it makes no difference --- possibly aggravated. It doesn't seem to make a difference what hold I use, going from the deepest Russian to a rather shallow hold. But I think something basic is going on that should be changed.

What I see happening is that as soon as there is counterpressure from any finger, maybe especially from the 4th (not sure) the very bottom joint (the whole length of bone) that joins the wrist to the hand collapses into the hand. If I curve the thumb outward a bit to stop that then that "bone" stays but the joint itself still collapses: maybe there is a twist to the thumb (?).

I can do all my basic bowing quite well and effectively, but as I move on to other types of bowing I can really feel that something isn't right in that department. It might be that I'm relating to the wrong "octagon" of the bow with the fingers, or a host of things. I have a feeling that this is something I've been doing from the beginning but it never made much of a difference before.

February 21, 2005 at 09:13 PM · Inge, try this: hang down your right hand/arm. Relax completely. take pencil, or 'my chopsticks', or.. with your left hand and gently put into still hanging down right hand in the place where you hold the bow (don't move right fingers). Does your joint collapses? Between which fingers or across what finger is your thumb? Here is your natural position for bow hold.

February 21, 2005 at 09:35 PM · Jiji, something that I don't believe has been mentioned yet, and I forgot to: you might try getting the bow hold (especially with the pencil) sorted with the palm facing up first, then turn the hand over once it's all good to go.

About the circle/elephant dichotomy, a couple of colleagues and I often use the bunny head thing: place your thumb to inside of middle finger/ring finger knuckles (as suggested by Lisa and Buri) and stick up first and little fingers=bunny. Great for little ones.

February 21, 2005 at 10:56 PM · I've done that too, Rita. Basically I have a good looking bow hold. The collapse doesn't happen until I actually have some kind of counterpressure going on. I have a feeling it has more to do with what I'm doing from where with what. That's why I was focussing especially on Lisa's "inner arch" idea. But I'm not sure it's there either.

OK, I just tried something. If I have my right hand just being there with a relaxed curve in the thumb, and then press down on with a finger on the MIDDLE of the inner pad but near the nail toward the top joint, I get the collapse. If I press on the outside edge of the thumb, which should not be doing anything with the frog, collapse + twist.

Scenario 2: If I place a (left hand) finger between thumb and middle fingers like a bow, and want to push that finger into the middle fingers. a) If I push or apply pressure from the top two joints, nothing bad happens. b) If I push using the muscle of the bottom joint and keep the top curvy part of the thumb passive like something not alive, then I get the same thing.

Re: Scenario 2: For a long time the feeling of reaching or any motion in the thumb came from that bottom part of the thumb, and the top part was "dead" and inactive just like in "b". It's possible that I have interacting with the bow and the fingers from the wrong part for a long time. Since my hand was mostly immobile and inactive, it didn't affect finger action & wrist action that much, because there wasn't really that much.

I just have a niggling that this might matter, and it just bugs me.

February 21, 2005 at 11:18 PM · Greetings,

you see, you see, you sceptic doubters! I knew there was an animal in there. Trust a true blue British Lass to stand up for truth and animal rights.



PS Best not to mention it to Peter the air gun fiend.

February 21, 2005 at 11:33 PM · Well, that doesn't help me much. We already have a bunny and he refuses to sit on the bow. Said something about an allergy to frogs and toads.

February 21, 2005 at 11:51 PM · Inge, when your bunny opens its mouth, it should not press jaw, otherwise it might break own teeth (if the only it doesn't meet Peter ...)

February 22, 2005 at 12:28 AM · Inge:

My heater broke last night, been trying to get it fixed, no time until later when my fingers will freeze to the keyboard. But, short:

Thumb collapses because pinkie not doing its job and thumb muscle is just weak. One of my very double jointed students tore her ACL tendon and asked her physical therapist about her thumb during rehab. He gave her an exercise: touch tip of thumb and pinkie, making another circle, whose shape Buri will dispute. Press together - there is your arch. That muscle must be very strong in the thumb. You must bend the joints out and ALMOST lock them (I emphasize that word to avoid the wrath of an AT devotee). Also, the fingers are very firm on the bow. (Sorry Rita, I disagree with all that air.) I shake my students hands three times: limp (yuck), firm (yay), and rigid (no, no, no). Firm is the way to go (also no comments from Buri). :0)

The important thing for the pinkie to be able to work is for the ring finger to be pulling in. (To check if you are doing this, hold bow parallel to ground and lift first finger - if bow falls, you weren't using your pinkie.) Sue, I agree with the upsidedown palm - I use it all the time. Do that with the pencil, then pull the end of the pencil with your ring finger to your palm until it touches (the thumb must really bend to do this and the index must not be curved around the pencil, preventing movement, which by the way, could be one reason your thumb is collapsing). It is a good exercise to feel the job of the ring finger. But the best one is just to try to pull the pencil away from yourself and gently resist with your fingers. Do you have your pinkie on the inside of the bow stick or on top? On top doesn't have enough stability for the thumb to work. (Pinkie and ring counteract each other: push/pull) OK, that wasn't short. Gotta go now.


PS: where thumb joins wrist - don't think about it. Keep wrist flat the way I advocated for the left hand also. So from knuckles (flat) to wrist to elbow is a straight line.

February 22, 2005 at 12:36 AM · Lisa, I've cut, pasted and printed. You won't believe this - yesterday I began creating that pinkie-pushing-thumb exercise! Now when I do it as you suggest, I see and feel that the top two joints of the thumb are also involved and I like this. I've only become aware of the top end of my thumb a short while ago - it's kind of hard to explain if you've been playing all your life. I've actually been doing a lot of things on the keyboard (substitute piano) in the same area, all for the sake of finger independence, pinkie strength and reaching, feeling the mobility of the thumb coming from the front to unlock it etc. and it's starting to come together.

An important thing about the thumb and pinkie exercise. It should be a real circle, right? If the top joint of my thumb is at all flat, then I get that other kind of push that constricts the hand, and incidentally the pinkie is then less round. I think that simply doing this exercise will give my thumb the feeling of roundness that it will want to keep, and later on the extra strength will allow it to keep doing what it is supposed to do.

The other side of the equation is the pinkie. I had a hunch that it is very weak. I remember when I first started playing the violin, how weak my LEFT pinkie was. Whenever I raised and lowered it, it would snap and unsnap as though on a double hinge and as it became stronger, it wouldn't do that anymore. The RIGHT pinkie has that snap-unsnap feeling to it. No, my bow would never fall out of my hand if I held the bow parallel to the ground, BUT I'm rather certain that the pinkie would have its "helpers" in the form of the 2nd & 3rd fingers. When the pinkie acts, they act with it. I checked that out a few months ago by putting my left hand inside the right to feel "who" was doing "what", and in this way I also got to see what it felt like if the pinkie alone leveraged the bow (not necessarily when held at the frog - I experimented at different points along the bow) and it was a different feeling. I felt back then that something needed tweaking into the right direction, but there were still some thumb issues and other issues in the way. One can play the way one plays, until one finds something better.

I've been doing a study that features whole bows, string crossings over two strings etc. and in the course of it I will always "catch" a different problem that involves this part of the hand. I learned for example that while I would never have a grating sound at the frog, I was basically "lifting up" the bow with my hand. In the same way, dynamics were being squashed because I would press the dynamics right into the hand and away from the bow. It's all part of the same manoeuvre involving the middle fingers. But I will work on each aspect separately one at a time. I've found a bit of a solution through Fischer's exercise of pressing the bow into the string with the 1st finger at various parts of the bow and "noticing" how at the frog there would be no counterpressure from the thumb. Except in my case there was tons of counterpressure. So by using the bow in such a way as not to feel the counterpressure, I began getting that interaction with the thumb to be normal -- through the feel of it. It is how my bowing initially was the first year. Now if I "swallow the pressure into the hand" when doing something dynamically, I'll pop over to the frog, look for "no thumb counterpressure", catch the feeling again, and keep going. Over time it will become a habit.

This whole thing reminds me of an old tent we had that had four separate poles meeting in the middle. You pushed one pole up, then the next one would look crooked, so you moved that one over and eventually the whole tent would start looking less crooked, but it still wasn't right. The thing is that you couldn't just work on one pole, or the whole thing would collapse. They were all interrelated.

This is going forward, and has been going forward for some months now which makes me feel quite good.

February 22, 2005 at 01:09 AM · Lisa, about air... you will agree if you look at the picture I mentioned. Or you really advocate squeezing fingers on the stick? I don't think so...:) No more 'air' I put except of my last posting where I kept in mind that there takes place an extra counterpreasure between thumb and pinky. which might be one of the reasons of collapsing 2nd thumb's joint.

Lisa, I am really sorry about your heater. I live in an old house where no one heater can help to get rid from winter cold... Hope you fix your heater soon:)

February 22, 2005 at 01:16 AM · OK, what glue and what air are you two talking about?

I found: "Though there is a nice show of preparation correct thumb position on a bow's stick, I completely disagree with this drawing of 'glued' rest fingers. I always say to my students that there is air between fingers"

Do you mean side by side? 2nd & 3rd finger? OK, I know, Galamian wants a space "like the hand hanging down the sides" - so that must be your air.

But you have reminded me of another kind of "glue". Sometimes it looks as though some violinists' fingerpads at the tips are glued to or near the frog like with little magnets. There are times recently when I feel the "something" (it's not weight, exactly) down into that area for certain kinds of smooth long bow strokes that something nice is happening to the sound, the interaction of fingers and bow, the whole movement etc. Which makes me think my hand might be "top heavy" for the higher parts of the fingers. (I'll worry about that some other time - unless it's part of this particular story).

February 22, 2005 at 01:36 AM · Greetings,

you are rtight Inge. The data that controls bowing is processed through the branch office of the brain: the fingertips. Very often bowing problems can be solved by focusing attention on the feeling of the pads on the stick. The illustration of this point: When you reach for a cup of coffee what leads? Do you think about the height of your elbow and what your shoulder is doing?



February 22, 2005 at 01:43 AM · So ... excuse my shouting .... ARE THE PADS ON THE BOW AFTER ALL? .... arrrgghhhh!

(How I hope nobody saw when I wrote "fingertips" instead of "bow" before my rapid edit. Howling with laughter.)

And the shoulder coffee cup elbow thing .. don't even go there. No, one shouldn't. I want to throw things.

February 22, 2005 at 02:01 AM · Greetings,

a rule of er, thumb.

Think tip: thumb, pinky

think pad: ring finger or IBM.



February 22, 2005 at 02:21 AM · And middle finger just kind of floats in the air? Of course I realize that a lot of this depends on other factors - depth of hold, type of bowing, type of sound etc. Would I be right in assuming that some people don't touch the frog with their pads at all, but that there is a certain feeling to the fingers as though they are "just about to"? I'm somewhere in the sense of where my "leanings" are and this is something I'll have to find for myself.

February 22, 2005 at 02:32 AM · Personally, I find I feel exactly what Buri just described; in fact, although my ring finger lies on the stick on its crease, and my middle finger on its central section, because my fingers are wrapped right around the stick , I can feel the frog against the pads of these two fingers. Very helpful for stability and tone, I find. Inge, hope this is some use. Don't panic!

And Buri, I don't know which books you were brought up on, but in my day Peter *was* the bunny; I thought it was Mr MacGregor with the air gun...

February 22, 2005 at 03:29 AM · No panic, Sue - Retroactive frustration. ARE there people whose fingers do NOT touch the stick but just kinda float?

There is in this an interesting insight. Technique, positioning, etc. brings one so far ... but the FEEL and what one is supposed to be feeling for: the feeling one is reaching for, is also paramount. If you're reaching for the wrong goal, well you'll get there, but er - it's the wrong goal. As long as I'm heading in the right direction I don't mind the length of the journey. But when I sense that I'm not, then I want to stop and not do anything until that has been turned around.

The Peter with the airgun has something to do with dogs and stuff - old post before Christmas - quite bizarre & let's not resurrect. ;-)

February 22, 2005 at 03:31 AM · Greetings,

stick with gluey not floaty except for special effetcs.



February 22, 2005 at 03:11 AM · I almost always touch the stick with middle and ring fingers'pads and sometimes with point finger's pad, but my hand is very flexible, I touch it mostly light, sometimes more firm, but never press, depending on what kind of sound I am going to produce... I can compare this feeling with touching a string, or 'touching a sound' with finger pad instead of bow's hair... I feel that my bow is just my hand's extention. I almost don't touch a stick when I play short spiccato with crossing strings (for example, 2nd Sonata Ysaye, 1st presentation of Dies Irae).

February 22, 2005 at 05:40 AM · Greetings,

well there is a spectrum from superglue to flour and water,



February 22, 2005 at 08:49 PM · PROGRESS!: This goes directly to Lisa's thumb-pinkie circle. Here's how it's connected, Lisa (and anyone interested).

Since I had strayed from my bow hold I recently had a review of how it was originally formed, and THAT in turn also got me to see what misperception I had picked up from there. My bow hold was taught by laying the bow across the flat of the hand while palm-up (I think somebody else on this board sometimes does this too). In the next step, the thumb meets the fingers to form the bow hold while the fingers are still in their appropriate position to the bow. It is at this point that mischief occurred. The hand would have to start closing somewhat and the fingers curle around the bow while the thumb meets the bow. But what if you try to bring the thumb up to the bow while the fingers are still flat? So the habit I must have gotten into was to squish the hand in from the pinkie side, bringing the fingers over sideways while the hand was still straight so that the thumb could reach the frog. It creates a hand shape that is a little bit skinnier and less rectangular-wide. I had been looking at this shape for a while and thinking something wasn't right there, and I started noticing how "wide" everybody else's bowing hand seemed to look from that aspect. But still generally speaking from the outside my hand looked o.k. More than one person has actually been impressed by the way it looked a while back. It just wasn't functioning that well.

So I've been practising for an hour, trying to softly play a lyrical piece (first couple of bars) and fade out of the final note nicely, and didn't like the sound at all. O.k., it's a new piece and I'm not quite accustomed to going in and out of harmonics in that position and that can affect bowing.

I looked at my right hand and the thumb was curved and not straight, everything where it was supposed to be, but still that collapsed flat look to the bottom joints of the thumb and that skinnier look. I remembered what Lisa wrote "there's your strength in your thumb". I kept my hand the way it was and put thumb and pinkie together. The pinkie would have to be flat, or it could be round at the top but stretched out and reaching forward to touch the tip of the thumb. And with the pinkie stretching out and reaching forward, I had my not-so-wide hand ... the thing that had also been bothering me as not right. It was also an uncomfortable position for forming a circle with pinkie and thumb.

So then I stretched out my hand and formed the circle like I did yesterday when I didn't have a bow. Now the inside of my hand was nice and expansive from knuckle to knuckle. I kept that shape and went back to my bow hold. The collapse in the thumb at that joint was gone, and the pinkie felt differently. I began my piece again and there was a lovely new sound as well as a different feel to the bow in my hand!

I've had to stop everything to make supper and am trying to remember more. I seem to remember: Lisa, in this relationship, does one in a way "feel the roundness of the thumb through the pinkie"? I didn't have enough time to spend on it.

Indirectly the pinkie-thumb circle has given a solution. In my case it was this habit of bringing the fingers over sideways to present the bow to the thumb. Of course the habit itself would have stopped the thumb from becoming strong, or the pinkie from becoming strong. Maybe that's even why the middle fingers were "helping" the pinkie.

It will be hard work to stay out of an old habit (sigh). Maybe the pinkie-thumb "exercise" will make it happen faster.

February 22, 2005 at 09:46 PM · Inge:

That is interesting, but I'm a little worried. No, I don't feel the circle between pinkie and thumb - more second finger.

Try what you said in the beginning about laying the bow (use a pencil first though) across your flat fingers, palm up. But make sure there is a 45 degree angle for the bow from top of palm. In other words, don't lie the bow parallel to palm. It should sort of cut across top knuckles (frog closer to palm, tip pointing away). Then use your other hand to hold the frog as you curl your fingers around the stick. (No thumb). Aim for what Sue said that the crease of the end knuckle would wrap around the wood. Push the frog into your fingers to create resistance. What should happen is your two middle fingers should kind of cling to the wood and wrap around the frog. The index finger doesn't do much except allow that to happen, and the pinkie can then be moved to the inside of the stick. Use your ring finger (with the gentle resistance) to pull the frog to your thumb. Don't reach your thumb to your fingers. Keep pushing the frog away from yourself to force your fingers to become active rather than passive. See how that works and then write me back. Later.


PS. When I'm practicing/teaching to get a good bow hold, I play with a strong sound. If you try to play softly before you've really got your hand the way you like, invariably you pull the bow up from the string, either by making fingers limp and using wrist or tensing shoulder in some way.

February 22, 2005 at 11:57 PM · Hi Lisa, not to worry. I worded myself badly. I meant that there was something in the roundness of the pinkie from the beginning of that exercise that allowed me to feel the roundness of the thumb where there was supposed to be roundness. I have the circle between my thumb and middle finger.

I don't tell my whole story because it is too long. I had quite a few abilities that I lost. How this came about is complicated: partly because of a very, very bad instrument and then what I did about it. For some things I just need to find my way back. I think this thing about squishing the hand together to bring the bow sideways to the thumb is a habit I might have had from the very beginning. When I was a beginner I had a strong sound nonetheless, I could play dynamically (cresc., decresc., piano, forte, accents etc.) and later I lost much of this because of other things, mostly in changes in stance etc. But when I was a beginner I was not learning things like upbow staccato, and this is when you notice mistakes in the hand. When I started learning staccato, I found myself going back to string crossings and simple bowings and embarking on this journey.

I will experiment with what you are saying about the ring finger bringing the bow to the thumb. What do you mean "push the frog away from yourself"? Do you mean push the frog away from yourself with the thumb?

No, I don't play softly by making my fingers limp. I only did that for 3 or 4 months in the bad year when I was "experimenting". Now I don't experiment anymore. I only try to find the things that are still blocking me from what I have been taught to do .... like the slightly curving in hand that can't really be seen. But at that time I read the philosophy of "everything has to be totally relaxed everywhere". I know some people believe in this philosophy, some people are against it, and one person wrote that it made a mess for him. When I went through the "everything relaxed" stage I had a limp bowing hand. Actually, if you make EVERYTHING limp and relaxed, you create a dead weight for the body to hold up - at least that was my experience. (It seems I made all my mistakes in the 2nd year and learned a lot from them.) But now everywhere I go back to what I had in the very beginning ... when I can find my way back.

I am happy, in any case, about the better sound and maybe a solution to the thing with the thumb.

March 10, 2005 at 07:56 AM · Wonderful idea Ben. Except if a person is trying to dig themselves out of a deep hole, maybe the exact words don't come. That exchange between Lisa and me helped move things light years ahead. Should I be brief, explore only one facet, possibly the wrong one, and not be helped? I can be extremely terse in my own area of expertise. I know enough there to be able to pinpoint things in three words or less. But not here. Perhaps since I am frequently guilty of wordiness, I should remove myself from the discussions. Better?

March 10, 2005 at 08:42 AM · "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture."

-Steve Martin

March 10, 2005 at 01:41 PM · Thank you Benjamine. But it really did seem to be. Look at where your post landed, and my confusing verbosity. I've just come out of a forest of accumulated misconceptions to a degree that it's beyond funny. With most of the dead wood cleared away the healthy branches can sprout. Some day what I write will even make sense.

Actually, I wonder about the wisdom of terseness. So often I seem to glean my best insights not from what a person has told me, but some little thing they mentioned on the side.

March 11, 2005 at 12:06 AM · Greetings,

Noam Chomsky was/is one of the greatest and most concise debaters in history. On a number of ocassions I have seen him turn round to US TV pundits who have just uttered the ubiquitous`Mr Chomsky, could you tell us your position on xyz in thirty seconds before we take a commercial break...` and pointedly remark ` do you really believe serious issues can be reduced to a twenty second sound bite?`



March 11, 2005 at 12:17 AM · Verbosity rules! Tersissimo.

March 11, 2005 at 12:37 AM · Bravo,



March 11, 2005 at 01:16 AM · Mama mia. We`ve been rumbled. To earn my place on the witless protection program I am gonna turn states evidence.

This list is actually run by the Mafia. As the current Godawfulfather my Conbriolieri inlcude Sue, Lisa, Mariam, Owen, Nick, Max, Mattias, and Inge. These are not their real names- if you wanna know the real names just add vabenelinguini to the end. Of course they express my opinion. Whatta da hell do you think the Mafia is about? You tink we wanna some brains here? Justa between you and me, some of those ladies used to be guys but dey crossed me up and we hadda do a little operation or two....

Paison, times are hard and dose double crossing rats from de Russian Mafia keep muscling in an trying to change de staus quo ya know?

but dey pick up on dis Omerta business soon enough.


March 11, 2005 at 03:29 AM · Greetings,

well I suppose removing the post I responded to was probably a good idea since it insulted the intelligence of everybody on this list. But it kind of leaves my response floating around in space.

Life is seldom perfect.


Buri da capo

And now it`s back....

March 11, 2005 at 06:37 AM · Doggone Buri,

I followed your directions and went back to the beginning, but I got stuck in all the words...


Lisa Capone

March 11, 2005 at 10:52 AM · Mama mia

you gotta dat 'cozy nostrils' problem again?



March 11, 2005 at 08:39 PM · No, its a pair i'teef!


Lisa Madonna

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