Shaky bow

May 28, 2005 at 12:28 AM · During performances when there are soft, gentle, quiet passages, my bow will shake, because I'm nervous. During more loud, energetic sections I don't have this problem. I don't have the problem when I'm practicing, only when i have to perform.

I was wondering if anyone could give me advice on how to have more control over my bow, even when i'm nervous. It would be much appreciated.

Replies (20)

May 28, 2005 at 02:37 AM · I think this is pretty common with most people when they're nervous. It takes a lot of control to play softly, slowly, and with a beautiful sound.

Practice playing softly a lot is the answer, at least for me. Learn exactly where your bow needs to be- if you shake a lot and it's bouncing quite a bit, you might not be using the right amount of weight (otherwise known as pressure, although you don't want to be tense on the bow) or not at the right sounding point. Just keep practicing that as much as you can.

As for the nervousness, you can try lots of different things. Some people find meditation works, or reading books about it, or light warming up. If you only have this problem when you're really nervous, it might not deal much with your technique. However, watch what happens when you play quietly when you practice- you might be able to solve it then!

May 28, 2005 at 05:40 AM · One of the most thoughtful and potentially useful analysis of nervousness I've read was something Keith Hill posted here or linked to on his site. Search on his name. Also, don't overlook a potential hardware problem (bow too springy). I've been nervous enough to phase to light but I can't ever remember a shaky bow.

May 28, 2005 at 05:08 AM · This happens from tensing muscles to hold the bow away from the string while playing too soft. I notice this happens around the frog area where it's a little more uncomfortable to control. The shaking can be also caused when the hair is flipped to the side at the frog which is bad bow technique to put it bluntly. If you play with flat hair on the string with a full sound this shaking won't occur. I think it is also important to remember a full sound on stage only means you are audible at the back of the concert hall. This element is something I have to say Zukerman really understands.

May 28, 2005 at 07:18 AM · to continue:

very often: a LOT of shakes you here youself, are not audible at ALL in the hall and especially not in the last row. I could never believe it UNTIL i heard some "shaky" recordings of myself from some distance

May 28, 2005 at 07:22 AM · some more advice:

be sure that the high of your elbow is corresponding with your bow hold; if its right, you experience a kind of feeling as if you are pulling the sound with the tip of your elbow (instead of shoulder)

be sure that your posture is ok"

very important: a verry slight knee bend and your head up (think about somebody pulling you at the tip of your head) this relieves some tension in the shoulders as well.

the last: check your shoulder rest; when you still have to raise your left shoulder, your right site won't be relaxed and in balance as well

I know many more trics but have to go! (sorry)

May 28, 2005 at 05:45 PM · Eat a banana before you perform....that'll help calm your nerves a bit.

May 28, 2005 at 08:03 PM · Is your thumb tense? The most common human reaction to when your bow starts shaking is to tense your thumb and fingers up in order to stop the shaking, but that only worsens the situation. Try relaxing your hand (especially thumb). And make sure you are still applying weight to the string, even if you are in a pianissimo section. The weight on the string can be just from your bow, and when you need to get loud, you can add more weight from you arm.

May 28, 2005 at 09:41 PM · Oh yes I forgot to mention to take some inderal! JK sorry..

May 29, 2005 at 07:37 PM · Hey Nate - what is Indera? thanks

May 29, 2005 at 08:16 PM · There are many back-discussions about beta blockers (Inderal or Propranolol being the most commonly prescribed). The reason for taking this is physical. Some people get physically so adrenalized that no amount of proper technique can control the shaking. But if this is something that has not shown itself in other aspects of your life in relation to nerves or heartrate problems (Thachachardia for instance), then I'd have to say that it isn't the answer. But I take it. I shake some days for no reason. I shake practicing sometimes. And I need it on stage. It has made my violin career possible. As for the technical advice in this collumn, it is all very good. In struggling to overcome shaky bow problems while performing (drugs can't fix it all), I have come to some of these realizations myself. Also, do a lot of experimenting with very slow bows on open strings. Adding fingers and vibrato covers up the issue. There will very likely be a point in your bow stroke that bounces a little bit. Isolate that point of balance. Figure out the cause. Also, something that might help. I used to use very little bow when I started to shake and to try to play quieter. I have found that switching to an almost flautando bow and pulling it faster, using more bow, and just letting my bow hand relax and to not try to make it quieter makes it easier. Automatically makes me relax. So it might be shaky, but not for the whole phrase. It irons out. The nerves get less unmanageable when I hear that it is going away. Sometimes a phrase can come across as beautiful and serene and quiet even if it is being played at a little higher volume level. Don't try too hard to play with "one bow hair". That kind of playing will come on its own, but you cannot force it. If you try to force it, as mentioned, you will be physically trying to pick the bow off the string and play lightly, which really makes the shaky muscles even more tense. Shaking is a combination of adrenalin, fast heartbeat, and tension in the arm, wrist, hand, fingers, head, neck...basically your whole body. Good luck. I know how huge of a hurdle this is to overcome. The more advanced your playing is, the more frustrating the problem as the pressure on your performances becomes greater.



May 29, 2005 at 09:00 PM · Hi, Aisha.

I used to have a lot of problems with this myself (still do now, just not as much!) Everyone has said some helpful stuff.

What helped me most is what my teacher taught me about breathing. I'm not sure if you've learned this, tried this yet, etc..It sounds like a simple thing, but it's amazing what it can do for your playing.

Breathing right... Before you practice next time, stand still for a moment, and breath. Instead of breathing through your chest, focus on breathing from the bottom of your stomach. Take slow, controlled, deep breaths. Do that for a few minutes every day in between practicing.

Next, play something familiar to you that you know well, and focus on the breathing while you play. It was harder for me than I thought it would be. But I found that overall it made my playing smoother, easier, freer...even when I was not nervous my sense of rhythm improved.

And of course, this breathing and centering yourself controls your heartbeat, and most importantly for me, my shakes.

Even my shaking was in part mind over matter. Before I "learned to breathe" (a lot of people hold their breath, or barely breathe at all during performances...) I once just told myself I could control it, and I did.

Of course, I get amazingly nervous and frightened still. Glad I've got lots of time for more experience to really learn.

Anyway, hope this helps some, at least! Good luck with everything!

May 29, 2005 at 10:14 PM · Sally I was just kidding around about taking beta blockers to relieve bouncy bowing. Good bow technique is the way to avoid this and also by avoiding to play too soft will alleviate the problem. Bob made some great suggestions about not locking joints and letting the weight hang.

May 30, 2005 at 12:27 AM · Why is it "sadly" that you mentioned beta blockers? There is nothing sad about it at all. Maybe you have never needed it, but for a small population, it is the difference between having an opporitunity to reap the rewards of accomplishing something on the violin...and not. Would you deny someone this because of something physical? Yes, technique. I agree. But sometimes that is not the whole picture. I feel strongly about this and don't want to start an argument as this has been debated and discussed before.



May 30, 2005 at 01:19 AM · Hi,

Oddly enough the problem is probably there in your practice, but it becomes prominent because it is magnified during the stress of the performance. You need to monitor the sources of tension in your practice to try to do as little effort as possible.

Nate is dead on when he said: "This happens from tensing muscles to hold the bow away from the string while playing too soft." Bingo! That's it. The main cause is holding the bow too tight. Try to hold the bow as little as possible in soft passages allowing it to rest on the strings of the violin, and just moving it. And whatever you do, start from the string, to help you relax your hands further. If you watch the greats like Heifetz and Oistrakh or Szeryng for example. You will see that they all do this.

Hope this helps.


May 30, 2005 at 03:06 PM · Jennifer,

Your first post is dead on! Great information there.

However, I think you misread Nate. He wrote "Sally" not "sadly". *grin*


May 30, 2005 at 03:18 PM · Sorry Nate! I did misread. I should wear my glasses when I'm at home...they are uncomy so I remove them when I walk in the door. Anyway. Maybe I was a bit touchy as well. I hope I didn't offend you.



May 30, 2005 at 07:07 PM · Haha no worries Jennifer, I can be a little opinioNATEd myself : )


May 30, 2005 at 08:48 PM · Ouch....

May 30, 2005 at 09:27 PM · Thank you all for the advice! I really appreciate it.

When I practice I do let the weight hang. I don't play really softly with the bow, but instead I use a different sounding point. So when I'm playing soft passages I still maintain a good tone. I really think the breathing that was suggested will help a lot. Although when I'm practicing, I am relaxed and let the weight hang, I do probably tense up when I'm performing. Breathing would definetly help to relax that tension.

Again, thank you all!

May 30, 2005 at 11:33 PM · try drinking loads of beer......

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