Bouncing Bow

Edited: July 8, 2018, 9:11 AM · Yes, this is yet another bouncing bow thread. As others have posted on this board, my bow bounces on the downstroke, usually around when the middle of the bow reaches the strings (though it can start even at the frog if I'm not careful enough). I have read through the suggestions and they are basically: make sure there is no tension in your arm, and do the exercises from Casorti. Now that is great and all, but what if the problem is the bow?

I had a cheap (~100$) carbon fibre bow, and decided to upgrade in order to reduce this issue. I chose yet another carbon fibre bow (why? because of my budget, and because where I live the only option to me is to order through the internet, and carbon bows should have a more consistent quality to them).

So I got a carbon fibre from a maker that is highly regarded by this discussion board (cost about ~400$, so it clearly should be an upgrade from my previous no-name bow). No improvement, in fact it is even more prone to bouncing than my original bow. Maybe I just was unlucky and got a one-off, poorly made bow?

There probably isn't much advice one could give me. It's obvious that the best option would be to go to a luthier and try out a number of bows to settle the issue, but there aren't any in my city. Would me continuing to practice on this bow (till I figure out what I can do) be harmful to developing my technique?


Replies (21)

July 8, 2018, 10:20 AM · I have a bouncing bow as well. I hate it and have been saving up for a new bow. I find more frequent rosining and reducing the hair tension reduces bounce, but it still is there. If you find the bow still bounces try another bow. I don't think technique will help it. I've tried dozens of other bows and no bounce with the same technique so in the end I don't think it is anything I can change.
Edited: July 8, 2018, 10:57 AM · If you have a teacher, you can ask the teacher to try your bow and see if the bow is your issue.

I mean sure there’s a chance you could’ve gotten a poorly made bow, but I think it’s also helpful to do a little more introspection. How much tension is there in your right arm, and how tense is your bowgrip? Is your wrist relaxed? Are you pressing so hard with your left fingers on the board that the bow bounces? Paying extra attention to posture doesn’t really hurt. My first teacher thought my bow was problematic but my second teacher pointed out that I was super tense, and the bow could be controlled much better. When, having returned the rental bow, I bought my own bow, the balance was in fact an issue and I had to get a new bow, but only after I knew how to get the best out of the bow I had was the issue apparent.

Edited: July 8, 2018, 12:17 PM · I was going to suggest try loosening the bow tension as well. Is this new carbon fibre bow still returnable? If so I would suggest doing that and looking into Dörfler bows. There is a good selection of them under $500 made from both Brazil wood and pernambuco. I own one around the $500 and have played with lesser and more expensive ones. They are terrific value for the money and while I did choose one that worked the best for me I couldn’t say anything bad about how any of them performed.

This one below is around the $250 mark and actually was a dream to handle. I didn’t know the price of it when playing and was shocked to find out what it was!

If you endeavour with online bow shopping again, have a limited budget and the store has a good return policy I would start with these.

July 8, 2018, 2:38 PM · I imagine the problem with bouncing is that you are not gradually "pronating" as you play a down bow. Try this: Start at the frog. When you have used 1/4 of the bow remove the little finger from the bow. When you get to the middle remove the ring finger. When you have reached the 3/4 point remove the middle finger. On the up bow put the middle finger on the bow. At the middle put the ring finger back and at the 1/4 point put the little finger back on. Do this several times, then recreate the feeling of changing balance in the bow stroke without removing the fingers. Let me know if this works.
Edited: July 8, 2018, 3:01 PM · I too went through the "bouncing bow" syndrome, primarily on my down bow (specifically on the A and E string) a few years ago and did my best to work through it with the help of my instructor but soon convinced myself it must be the bow. I went through several bows of escalating value and even drove 7hrs to a violin shop to try several bows. I actually found one that not only seemed to effortlessly draw a beautiful note, but didn't seem to bounce. The problem was it was a $4000 bow and beyond my budget at the time.

Long story short, I kept working on my technique determined to correct this malady, especially seeing that my instructor had no issues with the bows I had been trying. I found that although some bows do indeed have lighter actions that I found with my inexperience harder to master, the true problem was my technique, specifically unrecognized arm and wrist tension compounded by poor bow control.

Once I finally was able to properly relax my wrist and arm, my bow bounce very rarely appeared and when it did, I knew I had tensed up again and a conscious effort removed it.

I now have been able to go back to using my previous bows without any bow bounce issues, which reinforces my opinion that my problem was technique.

FWIW, I also found switching to a less grabbing rosin helped my progress but have since now returned to my original, again recognizing that the stickier rosin just amplified my tension problem, it in itself not being the issue. My experience.

July 8, 2018, 3:36 PM · See if the Russian bow hold makes a difference. I find that that hold gives me a much stronger and more immediate control of the bow. I suggest this is because the control is direct from the fore-arm and not through the intermediary of the fingers, which now don't do anything at all. Which reminds me, the Russian hold enables pizzicato without altering the bow hold; which makes it very useful in a fast passage where a pizzicato comes out of the blue in the middle of a string of bowed notes.
July 8, 2018, 4:12 PM · The best way to get some advice would be to post a short video of your bow stroke. Just play some long, back and forth open strings.

There can be any number of issues here.

July 8, 2018, 5:50 PM · As someone who has had to suffer this and has improved on this front, I would suggest that the problem might be more likely a question of technique and practice.Having a good teacher of course makes a huge difference. Persevere and practice and you will get better.
Edited: July 8, 2018, 7:07 PM · These are my secrets in getting a good bow that fits your technique:

1. Weight of the bow
2. Suspension of the bow
3. Suspension of your hand grip

These 3 elements above are interconnected.

Think of suspension like a suspension used in automobiles (spring & shock absorber).

The weight of the bow is not just a total weight of the bow. It's the weight of each section of the bow (top, middle, bottom).

Suspension of the bow is the stretch of the bow (see how good it absorbs and transmit pressure).

Suspension of your hand grip is like both shock absorber and spring built into your hand. You grip must create a suspension like movement when you stretch and contract your grip.

It really is like holding a stick with double suspension (one from the bow & one from the hand).

If any of the suspension is not functional, you will get undesirable bouncing from normal bowing movement. This usually caused by the lack of technique or the bow just isn't suitable for your technique. A good bow makes a lot of difference.


July 8, 2018, 10:01 PM · Don't forget the hairing of the bow. If the bow has too much or too little hair it's behavior will be affected negatively. A "soft" bow needs less hair than a stiff how. The hair quality including a number of factors including range of hair thickness and various quality factors will affect the bow's performance and sound.

The stick and hair work together as a dynamic mechanical system that affects all aspects of string instrument playing.

The first time I appreciated this was the first time my Coda Classic bow was rehaired it was given much less hair and thicker hair than it had been given at the factory. This improved both its sound and all other performance factors. When I first received the bow from the tech I questioned the change in hair quantity and he informed me it had been "overhaired" at the factory.

This led me into a lot of testing of my own bows and others I could get my hands on to find an algebraic correlation between hair and stick stiffness. The one I used was based on the the optimum amount of strain of the hair for best sound when playing with each bow. (I imagine there are other ways to do it - but when you are playing around with home-made measuring devices there is a limit to how much you (I) can do.)

As for the OP's question, responses above have definitely shown that the player's skill and experience are very important factors.

July 9, 2018, 3:23 AM · I've observed that in a lot of students where the bow bounces uncontrollably, they are sometimes exerting too much force using the thumb on the bow.
Edited: July 9, 2018, 3:12 PM · Wow, thank you all for the great info. And I have to agree with what most of you say: Yes a better bow would be easier to control, but it's mainly a matter of technique on my part.

@Bruce Berg.
I tried it. While doing the exercise there is little bounce but when I go back to playing regular pieces it returns. Maybe as a long term practice routine it would have lasting effects.

@Trevor Jennings
Hah! Actually, yesterday I happened across a video explaining the Russian bow hold. ( Thought what the hell, might as well give it a shot, and... it helped reduce the bouncing. So, at least for my case, it seems you hit the nail on the head! I'll keep trying out this hold for a while, as I also like the sound of it (though it does put a bit more strain on my wrist).

July 9, 2018, 7:36 PM · Ray, I learnt the Russian hold from that video a few months ago and have been happily using it ever since. My contact point with the bow is virtually at the join of the index finger with the hand, but of course the contact point will vary from player to player. A noticeable effect of the hold, for me, is a bigger, more solid tone and easier rapid bowed passages. What is important for this hold, as with others, is posture. I don't use a SR so I hold my violin so that the scroll is more or less in line with the centre of my face. It follows from this that another important aspect of posture is a straight upright back, which is discussed on this thread: “imagine the sound coming from your back”.

Edited: July 10, 2018, 3:25 AM · You said:
"I tried it. While doing the exercise there is little bounce but when I go back to playing regular pieces it returns. Maybe as a long term practice routine it would have lasting effects."

The next step is to play full bows as follows:

You will notice that the wood of the bow is curved. With all fingers on the bow play whole bows following the curve of the bow. In other words your arm will describe an arc with tip of the bow dropping on the down bow and rising on the up bow. Thus pressure will be gradually added and released through the opposition of the index finger and the thumb.

July 10, 2018, 8:52 AM · My theory is that the bow simply magnifies the imperfections in the elbow joint (which is not a smoothly machined plane after all...).

It's likely a matter of muscular control; some combination of relaxation with the proper amount of pressure.
I doubt you can spend your way our of the issue. In my experience price has nothing to do with it.

Edited: July 15, 2018, 10:05 AM · " I have read through the suggestions and they are basically: make sure there is no tension in your arm, and do the exercises from Casorti. Now that is great and all, but what if the problem is the bow?"

The problem is not the bow, and the problem is not just the bounce at the midpoint on a down-bow. Bow bounce is due to uneven pressure on the string, which in turn has numerous causes. Improve your overall bowing technique with particular attention to the tone produced, so that it's even, and the angle in use, so that's consistent and correct -- e.g. using the sound of double-stops as guide as to when the bow angle is changing.

Apparently Casorti didn't teach this until section #19, where he wrote: "The sustained tone is at once the most difficult and the most important of all strokes." I don't get it. If it's so important, why wait until #19 to get to it? Maybe the second exercise, marked "Duration 44 minutes", might explain some of it -- there's no way that someone could be expected to sustain that at the beginning. Note however that finger movements are then added to the exercise -- this will have the effect of agitating the string and thereby triggering bow bounces if not well controlled.

So just perfect your bowing technique, J. Ray, and the bow bounce will be gone.

July 15, 2018, 10:37 AM · Duration 44 minutes? Yikes. But I agree with J Ray in principle.

Really the best way is have a teacher look at what you're doing...but even then it's not sure that they'll diagnose it correctly. I've seen a couple of teachers...according to one, my bounce was owing to too much index finger pressure(although I was hardly pressing with it) according to another, it was the thumb position that restricted the thumbs ability to extent and curve.

It's much better now, mostly owing to more practice (as J Ray stated above) which will advance bow technique. But yes, the culprit remains there, more discreet than before but still present. I think the second teacher is probably right (as per Gene's post) but my case might not be yours. Best to have an expert look at what you're doing.

July 15, 2018, 11:08 AM · Nathan Cole has a great video about this

Check it out

Edited: July 15, 2018, 3:00 PM · Nathan Cole's great, but he doesn't seem to know how to make a (in-)decent bow shake any more, and in this he might be like a billionaire advising a pan handler or an olympic sprinter teaching how to use a walker -- his advice is valuable, but I'm not sure that he has the best perspective on our problems.
July 16, 2018, 7:49 AM · It's almost certainly not the bow. My gut reaction is that this is a bow control problem. It may also be that you're playing too vertically and you should work on developing more of a horizontal bow technique.

Without seeing you play, I'd guess you need to develop more strength and flexibility in your fingers and learn how to grip the bow more lightly. Your fingers act as shock absorbers and that keeps the bow from bouncing around. A good player can have the liveliest, bounciest bow and still control it well. But again, I suspect there's nothing wrong with your bow. If anything lower-cost carbon fiber bows are not super flexible and bouncy -- they tend to be more on the rigid side of the spectrum.

Anyway, bow control might be the hardest thing in all of violin technique. The best violinists in the world still labor over it.

Edited: July 16, 2018, 8:19 AM · Hi,

This common problem can be caused by many things, but in my experience, here are some common causes that you can look at to determine if they might be the source of your difficulties:

1- Pressing of the thumbs. Like some mentioned, pressing of the thumb into the bow, or the neck of the violin will cause tension that can lead to tremor. Since they often work in sympathy, it is often worth looking at both sides to make sure one is not affecting the other.
2- Over-spread fingers of the right hand. Although this is not intended to create a debate, the idea of over-spreading the fingers of the right hand beyond the natural width of the hand, or even just the index, can cause tensions in some people that can lead to tremor.
3- Not lining up the middle finger and thumb, or the middle finger not sitting in first joint. For most hands, having the middle finger sitting in the first joint on the stick in front of the thumb (the Franco-Belgian ring concept), usually leads to a balance that calms the bow stroke. I have seen people with tremor struggle because of not lining this up, often with the middle finger either ahead of, or behind the thumb, or the middle finger to low (past the first joint) or too high (making contact with the pad of the finger rather than the stick resting in the joint).
3- Lifting and dropping the elbow at the frog. Mr. Zukerman teaches the idea that "one string, one level of elbow" and that the elbow height should be constant throughout the bow stroke on a given string. This leads to greater stability. Lifting and dropping creates instability and can lead to the bow bouncing.
4- Whipping of the fingers or wrist during bow changes at the frog. Again, can create an instability due to vertical sudden changes in the bow causing it to bounce. The bow strokes should be lateral - vertical sudden changes will cause instability.
5- Raised left shoulder. Raising of either shoulder, but more often it happens on the left side causes a tension imbalance that lead to tremor that is manifested in the middle of the bow on "down-bows." Making sure that the left shoulder is sitting down is most important.
6- Having the weight on the heels. This imbalance in posture will sometimes cause tremor because the back tenses up and the shoulders automatically raise to compensate (also causing locked knees). Making sure the weight is on the ball of the feet to support the body as well as allowing the knees to bend is helpful in this regard.
7- Over-rotation of the left elbow inwards. Once again, not to get in a debate with schools of thought, but rotating the elbow inwards causes tension that in some people will manifest with trembling bow. Allowing the arm to rest pointing down, not sideways can be helpful in such cases.
8- Diet. Things like sugar, carbonated drinks, caffeine, alcohol, fried foods or red meat that can be difficult to digest and/or are over-stimulants to blood pressure or the nervous system can cause tremor in some people. If one is sensitive to such things, avoiding these can be helpful.
9- A faulty bow. Doesn't always happen, but some bow have an instability in them that cannot be addressed through playing. Just faulty equipment that should be replaced.

Hope that these ideas are helpful in examining/diagnosing the cause of the difficulty. It can also be helpful in then finding practice material to help overcome the difficulty.


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