Am I being taught Martelé Bowing the wrong way?

June 29, 2018, 6:29 AM · Hi!
I was recently introduced to Martelé bowing technique and this is where I have been the most confused since I started learning the violin.

The internet, the many numerous videos on Youtube would describe the action of this technique as follows: 'Apply pressure and press the bow into the string for a fraction of a second then releasing it'. This is supposed to produce a rather strong sound compared to legato for example. Lets use the video below as a reference point for what I think ought to be the correct technique:

Now my problem is this: My teacher has taught me Martele technique in a different way. She asks me to 'Hold the bow by the hair(as compared to the normal convention of holding it by the stick and grip) and press the hair into the stick.'
I found this extremely odd and nowhere have I found anything to support this method. As much as I dislike doubting my teacher, I do not want to learn the wrong technique.

I'm sure you all can perfectly address my concern!

Thanks in advance!

Replies (25)

June 29, 2018, 7:30 AM · If your teacher is suggesting you hold the bow by the hair, then I suggest you get a new teacher.
June 29, 2018, 7:38 AM · I've never heard of that either.

Is your teacher a classical violin teacher? I know some very good country music players hold their bow in similar of way but I don't think even they actually put their thumb directly on the hair. They place it under the frog.

Edited: June 29, 2018, 10:07 AM · I am going to guess that it is an exercise to aid in learning to do the Martele and not the actual stroke. Are you sure this is how they teach it?

June 29, 2018, 9:29 AM · Are you sure you understood your teacher correctly? Hold the bow by the hair? I have never heard of such a thing. Touching the hair under any circumstances is a terrible idea.

I agree with Christopher; if this is truly what you have been told, then you need to find a new teacher.

Edited: June 29, 2018, 10:41 AM · No, that is not correct at all! In fact, for a Martele' stroke, there really isn't a difference in the way the hand holds the stick.

I would ask your teacher to explain this again -- perhaps something was misspoken or misunderstood. If they insist that you hold the bow by the hair, it may be time to explore other options for a teacher.

How to correctly do Martele'? It's really at the front of the note -- a crisp "bite" on the front of the note, after which the note is played normally. To do this, we need to apply weight to the bow before the stroke begins, and then release immediately after the note sounds. This will create an initial crispness to the note, after which you have a more normalized stroke/sound. Mechanically, you will usually see the bow/hair come closer together as the weight is added.

Good luck with your Martele'!

June 29, 2018, 10:42 AM · I can’t even picture what that would be. If you held the bow by the hairs, you’d be playing with the stick on the strings (I.e. up-side down!), that makes no sense. Perhaps you (or your teacher) mean something else.
June 29, 2018, 11:31 AM · Thanks a lot for your responses!

And no I definitely did not misunderstand. Allow me elaborate a little more: What I was told was to keep most of my hand on the stick, but keep my thumb underneath the hairs so that I am literally holding both the stick and the bow. Thus, when I am playing a Martele' note, I am supposed to 'pinch' the hairs towards the stick to create the 'bite'.

I'm certain that this is incorrect.

June 29, 2018, 12:28 PM · Most definitely incorrect.
June 29, 2018, 12:32 PM · Got it! Thanks a lot Mary and everyone else. Will keep this mind as I progress further. Cheers!
June 29, 2018, 1:40 PM · Hmmmm, it may be that she's trying to get your hand to do something specific, and that this isn't the end goal she has in mind.
June 29, 2018, 3:44 PM · Erik, seriously, what could possibly be gained by instructing the student to move his thumb over to press against the hair? I'm at a loss with this one.
June 29, 2018, 6:19 PM · Lol, hard to say Mary, but I still think there's a real possibility that there's more to know here.

It may be that his muscles are currently unable to fire at an appropriate speed to properly execute a normal martele stroke, so she's training the small muscles of his thumb and forefinger to push against the hair of the bow to create a "springback" effect that may facilitate the "burstiness" needed for this movement. I could see this working because if we're not used to feeling the natural springiness that is built within the structure of the hand itself, we need an external spring (in this case, the hair pushing towards the stick) to push against to help the hand to "Get" feeling of a spring.

This would never be necessary with a student who has average or above-average nerve speed necessary to do explosive movements effectively (striking vs pushing, slapping vs patting, martele vs detache, etc...) but the OP may have slow nerve speed that needs to be developed in order for the martele stroke to be successful. So the thumb-on-hair thingy might just be a temporary tool to get the small muscles of the hand to be more explosive.

It may also be that his hand is struggling to relax enough to do the martele stroke because his grip feels insecure only holding the stick while simultaneously attempting an explosive movement. I'm sure you've witnessed how "grabby" people can get when combining explosive movements with trying to hold onto the bowstick normally (because they feel like they're going to drop the bow). By giving his hand something bigger to hold onto, it may allow him to feel what it's like to do the stroke with a more relaxed grip, and the teacher's goal may be to first have that "epiphany" in the muscles of the hand before bringing him back to holding the bow with a regular grip.

Some people have truly atrocious motor skills and coordination (mainly adults who are just starting and haven't ever done another motor-intensive task in their younger lives), and with these people it is necessary to do unorthodox things in order to get their body at a level of operating efficiency that allows certain techniques to happen.

This could be like any other "dry exercise" - like vibrating the top of the violin (as opposed to the string) when we start learning wrist vibrato - where the goal isn't to actually play this way, but to simply have the muscles "realize" what they're trying to do and then to evolve this into the proper movement.

My main point is that we don't really know anything here: we don't know how coordinated the student is, how long he's been attempting this stroke, or his teacher's history with the student (and their subsequent efforts to try and work around some of the inherent issues that the OP may have).

I also find it strange that the OP asked us first, instead of simply asking the teacher to explain why they might be doing it this way. I always find it highly suspicious when students ask the internet first and their teacher second (nothing wrong with asking the internet, but at least give your teacher a chance to explain themselves first).

June 29, 2018, 8:22 PM · Hi Davansh,

I've seen teachers who taught that bow stroke in the manner you described, albeit it was for teaching very young children (like age 4).

"Touching the hair under any circumstances is a terrible idea" — I disagree.

It was common performance practice in 17th century to have the thumb under the bow hair (as well as under the frog later on as described by Corette.)

Granted nowadays we don't just play dance music of 16th and 17th century and we want more finesse and finer bow control for more complicated music (hence thumb under the stick becoming the standard bow hold), but there's a lot to gain by practicing different bow strokes in non-standard holds (holding the bow at the tip,, etc.)

Thumb under the stick or hair — either way the essence to playing martele is the same. Good luck!

June 29, 2018, 8:31 PM · Dorian Fu: I agree with you - the non standard grip seems to work best for dance music. I once experimented & tried an absolutely new grip. I swear I would get blasted by a shotgun by the look of my fellow violinists as I was struggling a grip using my toes.
June 29, 2018, 8:44 PM · I suggest you have your teacher demonstrate that, so that you can be sure the words that you are hearing match the intended action.
June 30, 2018, 2:59 AM · "It was common performance practice in 17th century to have the thumb under the bow hair (as well as under the frog later on as described by Corette.)" (Dorian Fu)

As I understand this was done to "tighten" the bow hair before bows with a screw were introduced. But outside period performance with a modern bow I don't know why one would teach martelé this way.

June 30, 2018, 3:14 AM · Hi Katarina,

I don't teach martale that way myself, I'm only reflecting that I have seen other teachers who introduced the bow stroke (I think if I read correctly) in the manner OP described. Perhaps OP's teacher wanted to show the connection between the fingers going down into stick and the thumb going up, and placing the thumb under the hair highlights that sensation...we will have to ask OP's teacher for clarification, I can only speculate.

And I also find it fun and useful to practice bow strokes holding the bow in funny ways. But I think I agree with your sentiment I wouldn't start of a student learning martele that way.

"As I understand this was done to "tighten" the bow hair before bows with a screw were introduced." > On clip-on bows that I have played on, they already have sufficient tension already (by adding leather or something if the climate is making the hair floppy.) I don't believe the thumb was on the bow hair primary to "tighten" the bow hair. One can find plenty of iconographic evidence of chin under the stick on clip on bows too...

July 1, 2018, 9:50 AM · I think it's likely that what the teacher is using is an intermediate step--just a pedagogical device. Perhaps the teacher wants the OP to feel the bite of the hair. Whatever the case, changing the grip like that in the course of normal playing would be an impossibility.

We all use intermediate methods. Just think of teaching vibrato, or spicatto, or shifting exercises.
I would simply ask the teacher.

July 1, 2018, 4:34 PM · The reason to avoid touching the bow hair is so that oils from your skin don't get on the hair, making the bow slick there and attracting dirt.

If you don't mind a slick, dirty spot on your bow hair, then touch away.

July 1, 2018, 4:42 PM · You would be touching literally half an inch of hair from the frog, which is a spot we never use anyway, so I think we're all good...

That part of the bow hair gets dirty eventually anyway without me putting my thumb there, I don't think OP's teacher's teaching method will ruin the bow.

Edited: July 2, 2018, 2:54 AM · I agree with Scott: I think it's a trick to awaken the right sensations.
July 2, 2018, 9:27 AM ·
I find this to be a really good exercise to add more focus on releasing the thumb after an accent stroke. This is being added to my anti-tension toolbox.

Thank you Devansh for posting this question

July 3, 2018, 1:27 AM · Thank you all for the responses!

I will try to bring it to my teacher's notice that the technique of Martele' bowing she has been trying to instill in me is something that is unheard of. Irrespective of this, I'll be learning the correct technique.


July 3, 2018, 9:11 AM · Devansh, may I make a suggestion:

You need to approach this with your teacher respectfully. Don't say, "People on the internet say they've never heard of this." Instead, say something like, "Could you help me understand what I will learn by moving my thumb to the hair," or something like that.

Your teacher is your teacher and in the end, we are all strangers on the internet. People have brought up ideas in this thread that would not have occurred to me--I'm not necessarily convinced, but some valid points have been made--and it's possible that what your teacher has in mind is something that did not occur to any of us.

July 8, 2018, 6:22 PM · Hi All i am new but hoping for some advice. I just bought an expensive pernumbucco german bow. Feels great and sounds great. I noticed though the thumb leather is quite long and for my small hands this means my index finger doesnt ever touch the silver winding. Is this an issue and should I have bought a bow with a shorter thumb leather? Or is it all up to personal preference? I suppose mu question is am i missing out on anything in using a bow where my index finger remains completely on the thumb leather?

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