Straight Bowing Problem? - Remedy

May 22, 2018, 12:19 PM · Who would have thought that pushing and pulling a bow over strings straight i.e. parallel to the bridge could be so problematic?

I for one didn’t. But I soon discovered the reality: it is, I imagine, like trying to thread a piece of cotton through the tiny eye of a fast moving needle. Impossible!

Except of course that all things are possible – including learning to bow straight.

Okay, I’m a beginner with maybe 160 hours ‘playing’ experience and I soon enough came to know that if you can’t bow parallel to the bridge (yes, I appreciate there are times when bowing at an angle is required) you’re not going to produce tuneful sounds with a good tone.

We all know in our heads what to do but the difficulty is turning the ‘know’ into ‘know-how’. And now I just don’t ‘know’ but I’m also ‘doing.’

The solution to the problem of ‘skewed’ bowing is, in common with many of life’s problems, simple. I’ve sorted out my problem, thanks to Lora at Red Desert, and therefore so too can anyone. The way to sort out this problem was given freely to me and so I too pass it on freely and with the hope that it encourages all who have this issue to not give up. Inside of 3 weeks I’ve gone from being a ‘skew’ bower to a parallel bower.

Here’s what to do next: visit Bow Arm Mechanics - YouTube

Lora at Red Desert Violin is a gem and responded to my request for info on another matter and really knows what she’s talking about.

Replies (13)

May 22, 2018, 4:57 PM ·
I think you'll find this interesting.
May 24, 2018, 12:27 PM · Hi Nina,


I'll check it out - appreciated.

May 24, 2018, 2:41 PM · Will,

I don't remember the exact blog post but there was one by Laurie recently that offered some suggestions on improving bowing,

This is really basic bio-mechanics. You move the bow by extending or contracting the lower arm at the elbow - not the shoulder. For partial bowing in mid bow that is easy. Once you bring the Frog up to the strings or extend the bow to the tip you tend to go sideways. The key is your wrist.

As you bring your frog towards the strings you need to bend your wrist towards your lower arm (bringing it "in"). The opposite as you extend your lower arm, your wrist needs to bend a bit backwards. These are not extreme moves, just enough to keep the bow moving straight.

Watch some videos of bowing and practice bowing in front of a mirror. There are also devices that you can attach to the violin that make a narrow path.

Like all things violin it takes concentration and practice as well as patience. FWIW: when I'm learning a new, and particularly difficult, passage my straight bowing goes away and it's pretty ugly with lots of rosin on the fingerboard. Once I work it out though, the bowing returns. Everyone has some facet of playing that bedevil them.

May 25, 2018, 4:15 AM · Also a beginner, but what I found helped in straightening the bow was fairly simple, once I discovered the cause. In my case, it was too much shoulder involvement. Considering the length of the arm, any unnecessary movement in the shoulder is magnified by the time it reaches the fingers (which are holding the bow).

The solution for me was to spend a few days only bowing with the upper half of the bow, concentrating on the using the forearm and wrist to keep the bow straight, and keeping the shoulder still. Once I had the feel for the straight bowing with the upper arm, I practiced full bowing again. This time I could feel when I was incorporating the shoulder on the lower half of the bow, but now I knew how the forearm was supposed to feel and could tell when it was getting out of whack.

As you say, once you determine the cause the fix is simple. In my case, it only took a week or two to sort things out.

May 25, 2018, 6:11 AM ·
May 28, 2018, 10:31 AM · It is important to know Why we want to bow straight. If the bow hair is at an angle, not 90 o to the string, the bow will pull towards the fingerboard or bridge, off of the ideal point of contact. All of our natural limb movements are circular. To get a straight motion we have to do rather complex compensating motions; Depending on the bow hold and bowing style, some combination of bending the right wrist, moving the right elbow, and a pivoting inside the hand. At the advanced class, some players will intentionally let the bow be not straight, to keep the bow hair where they want it. Every good player uses a mirror at some point to train their bow arm.
May 28, 2018, 12:44 PM · It is odd that Galamian, who is behind a lot of the modern teaching on how to keep the bow straight, and whose ideas are heavily promoted by Zuckerman in masterclasses which can be found on Youtube, says in his book that ideally the bow should be slightly angled (tip closer to fingerboard level than the frog). As a general notion, he is wrong, of course (if I may blaspheme for a moment), although there are times when in videos you see the greats, Heifetz, Milstein, angle the bow that way to achieve good phrasing.
Edited: May 29, 2018, 3:14 AM · He, Galamian, wrote expressly, in two seperate places in his book, that the tone was better when the bow was angled that way. I think one should keep that this is Galamian saying it, not just anyone.

My teacher advocates this. Another doesn't , although he thinks that this might be because the angle induces more friction of sorts and thus the tone has more edge. He prefers a blooming tone without that edge.
I've posted about this previously here

Here is Julien Rachlin where he pretty much says exactly the same thing:

Ricci talks about this angle issue (circa 24:50) albeit with the downbow not upbow away from the body.

I've noticed that there are violinist who bow consistently towards the body, ie at the angle described.the trajectory is straight, but angled relative to the bridge.

Then there are violinist who bow parallel to the bridge save for the last inch or so when they consistently 'round off the tip', ie bow is not straight.

Then there are violinist who are consistently parallel to the bridge...and their bowing strategy (degree depending on arm length, in lower half of the bow: forearm pronation, pushing out/ in elbow, wrist bent,even bow stick towards you) is studied to execute this. In fact, there are elements of the latter even in the angled bowing but to a lesser degree (being that the bow direction is more towards the body on the downbow).

These are all good players yet with very different bowing strategies. This leads go the conclusion that it is not the orthodoxy of one or the other that matters but rather that one stays on the same sound point (as mentioned before) and that one doesn't lose power at the tip.

I would also argue that ergonomically, bowing at angle invites less stress and possibly injury, bowing straight incurs thd motion of the elbow moving forward and backwards with increasing arm and wrist pronation..that invites tension. With exagération even the shoulder could be pushing out.

Conversely, the ability to keep the bow on a sound point is easier with a straight bow...and this is why i now believe a straight bow should be taught no matter what choice one takes later on. Bowing straight will yield a more tangible feel for the bow-arm system which will educated all other strokes in different directions.

This is just the rumination of a non expert btw :) so take with a pinch of salt

May 30, 2018, 2:09 AM ·
May 30, 2018, 2:15 AM · George:" You move the bow by extending or contracting the lower arm at the elbow - not the shoulder."

Will: Hi George,

You have,in those few words, 'hit the nail on the head' and stated that which I have learned from watching the tutorial from Lora at Red Desert.

Isn't it (nearly) always the case that the simplest explanation is the solution to a proble that seemed very complex?

May 30, 2018, 7:21 AM · You definitely move your shoulder, though, unless you have really long arms. But the elbow is the primary mover, but the shoulder moves a little especially when you are near the frog.
May 30, 2018, 7:30 AM · A reason for having the slight angle with the bow is that it ensures when crossing strings you have the correct sounding point, in other words closer to the bridge on the e string, then gradually farther away on the A,D,G. I,by the way studied with Galamian.
May 30, 2018, 9:35 AM · Bruce, thanks for the insight, I hadn't put it together that way before.

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Yamaha Violin Finder
Yamaha Violin Finder

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

Corilon Violins
Corilon Violins

Warchal Strings
Warchal Strings

International Violin Competition of Indianapolis
International Violin Competition of Indianapolis

Dimitri Musafia
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Metzler Violin Shop

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Bobelock Cases


Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Los Angeles Violin Shop

Pluhar Violins

Potter Violins

Pro-Am Strings Ltd

Violin Lab

Violin Pros

Wangbow Violin Bow Workshop