Thumb pressure on the bow
I occasionally consult with a friend who has a virtuoso technique. He plays everything. He has introduced me to an idea that I have not heard before. He hands me a cheap bow and asks me to play. He will stand behind me and suddenly reach to knock the bow out of my hand. If it does not fall he says that my thumb is exerting too much pressure.
It probably is somewhat tight typically compared to what it is when I consciously work to minimize the thumb pressure.
In my 56 years of playing, right hand thumb pressure has never been discussed including by a teacher of mine who guided my virtuoso friend and was the reason I know him. To be sure my virtuoso friend was pretty well fully formed when he encountered my teacher. He learned this from his childhood teacher.
The "scare me" technique is not very scientific. It may only mean I have fast defensive reflexes. But my friend plays better than anyone else I know so I think his idea deserves consideration.
My question for discussion is this: Was thumb pressure on the bow a conscious part of your training? Are you aware of an pedagogical treatises that address thumb pressure on the bow?
Science- or engineering-wise the bow is a simple beam. When being used it is supported vertically at two points by the strings and the the thumb. With a mass of only about 60 grams (slightly more than 2 ounces) a violin bow is too light to put enough force on the strings when playing to the left of the bow's CG and sometimes a bit too heavy when playing to the right of the CG (closer to the frog).
your whole bow hand should be relaxed, and right thumb should not put pressure on the bow. I don't know about pushing the bow out of the hand, but that sounds like a valid test of tightness, grip issues, or stress. Also, my teacher would disagree with the poster above- you don't need a finger to put downward pressure on the bow- sure way to kill tone. You should be able to hold the bow with your thumb on one eye of the frog, and a finger on the other, and draw a pretty nice tone. If not, it's a good thing to work on!
Surely there are varying degrees of pressure required to execute the various bow strokes. The thump pressure will counteract the pronating forearm, and everything will be determined by the weight of the bow, but the pressure will never in excess to carry out these functions....
"Relax your bow hand" is not good advice. I would listen to Andrew's explanation, that's much more helpful.
Tom, I don't put pressure on the string and I can draw the bow with the screw between my thumb and two fingers with a reasonable sound . But thumb pressure when holding the bow does not necessarily translate to pressing on the bow. You could grip the bow very tightly and still draw is very lightly over the string.
We're wading into semantics here. We need some force from the thumb to counter balance the weight of the hand. Too much force, we call that squeezing (bad), not enough force, the thumb doesn't have enough support as fulcrum (not good either).
The science on this is actually rather simple.
Yes, it was part of my violin lessons but it was not like a separate module or something. I was not supposed to use excessive force on the bow and not on anything else either. Excessive force anywhere can hinder the movements you need to perform and it can be bad for your health.
The question is, what's "excessive force?" Well, if you take your bow out of your hand and there's a white indentation in your thumb from the corner of your frog, that's excessive force.
Indeed the thumb is active, even if we don't really think about it.
"It is absolutely vital to hold it (the bow) as lightly as possible - rather as one might pick up a newborn bird."
Great quote Casey!
Thank you Casey.
I don't ever think about my right thumb while playing. For me, the only time there is appreciable force at the thumb is when applying leverage through the 1st finger while playing loud in the upper third of the bow. The rest of the time, the string holds the bow. When lifting the bow to play off-the-string techniques, the thumb only has to hold the rather light weight of the bow
Casey, Menuhin does in fact work on the thumb in the exraordinary bowing chapters of his Six Lessons. Working through his "genealogy of bow strokes" I began to sound a little like him - not bad for the written word!
About Heifetz it has been said by one of his students that when he was playing and you were standing close to him, you felt afraid of touching anything, should his violin or bow fall out of his hands, such a lightness was part of his playing.
This is tentative but I find that I squeeze less when the thumb feels more secure on the stick. A slick winding (wire) is less secure feeling to me than a leather winding. I am in the process of investigating other alternatives.
An active thumb allows an almost calligraphic subtlety.
All this is fine and I agree. When great violinists play locally, in small venues where one can see their technique up-close, their bow hands invariably look very relaxed. Like the hands of corpses wagging back and forth.
Paul, we can't expect a child learning to walk to move like a ballet dancer! Or think of handwriting..
As a violin "returnee" I've had a bit of a vice grip with both thumbs that's easing now after 6 months back at it. This is despite knowing better since I played with considerably lighter thumbs before I quit some 25 years ago. I suspect there is something about developing the appropriate finger/hand muscles that makes it extremely difficult (impossible?) for newbies to hold the neck and bow very lightly.
I think it rather depends on what we do with our hands the rest of the time. We may need some time to retrieve lighter sensations. Gymnastics for the hand with a medium dense foam ball?
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