bow hand question

February 24, 2019, 10:09 AM · I have the tendency to have a straight, locked thumb in my bow hand. I am working on fixing this, but am running into a problem on the e string near the frog...

When I have a curved thumb, my hand hits the bout of the violin.

I have tried to fix this by making sure my bow is tilted as close to the a string as possible, and also that my elbow is low, but I am still having this issue.

I have run out of ideas to solve this problem! and I'm hoping someone else would have an idea as to what I am doing wrong...thank you!

Replies (20)

February 24, 2019, 10:52 AM · Playing all the way at the ferrule of the frog is usually unecessary. If your hand hits the violin, just stop before that point.

If it's a more extreme problem, it could be that you don't have enough of a bend in your wrist. But what can I tell without seeing you play?

February 24, 2019, 11:17 AM · Anita, one thing you can look at is the bow angle to the strings. Remember, all you have to do is not touch the A. Are you over-rotating the bow on the e? I find many students over-rotate the bow, especially with back-and-forth string crossing patterns. All you have to do is just barely clear the non-played string.

I just took out my violin and experimented: with the bow at minimum clearance with the A string, there is simply no way of hitting the violin with my hand, bent thumb included. I will only hit the violin if the angle is excessive.

It's true that we often over-rotate on the G string when we need to dig in. But it's probably not necessary on the E.

Playing all the way to the frog may be unnecessary, but it's one of the best exercises you can do to develop a sense of exactly how far you can go.

To most violinists, the area below the first finger is a fuzzy "no man's land," which is why we're so uncomfortable playing down there.

Try this exercise: on scales, play slowly and gently bump the ferrule visually. Now do it by visualization alone. When that starts to feel comfortable, trust me--playing just to the first finger or just under (our normal "to the frog") will be easy.

Whatever you do, yes, fixed that straight thumb joint. It's a very bad habit, and one that's entirely too common.

February 24, 2019, 11:27 AM · If your bridge top is curved so the E string is too low or the A string too high it can force your right hand into this kind of problem. Compare with another violin.
February 24, 2019, 12:14 PM · I agree with Scott about the possibility of over-rotating to avoid the A string. Over-rotating will also encumber difficult passage playing. Try playing the Bach E Major Praeludio, for example, or the cadenza section of Kreisler' Praeludium and Allegro at a nice fast speed (forgiving yourself only momentarily for lapses in intonation) and see if your thumb still bumps. I bet it won't.
February 24, 2019, 1:05 PM · Perhaps I am bending my thumb too much? Because I am playing very close to the A-string, and my wrist is quite bend, but still my thumb hits the edge.

I do have rather long fingers, including my thumb, but not outside the realm of normal! So I just can't figure it out.

I will try to post pictures...

February 24, 2019, 1:43 PM · Well, looking at pictures, my guess is my wrist isn't bent enough?

(yes, I'm in my pajamas...)

February 24, 2019, 4:57 PM · Are you trying to play with flat hairs at the frog, or with a tilt?
February 24, 2019, 5:15 PM · I'm trying to play with flat that not normal?
February 24, 2019, 7:03 PM · Play with a tilt (rotate the stick slightly away from the bridge). I can't imagine that trying to play with flat hair at the frog would produce any kind of a pleasant sound.
February 25, 2019, 3:06 AM · Ok, thanks.

So many things I don't know...

February 25, 2019, 3:56 AM · I simply straighten my thumb as I approach the frog (while playing E). Still, unless you're an advanced player it's probably not necessary to be playing in the area very close to the frog.

Try to remember - as you continue learning - that the bow hold is dynamic, meaning it changes depending on what it's doing. Although we *generally* bend the thumb that holds the bow, it wouldn't be accurate to state that it's always bent.

February 25, 2019, 3:59 AM · Ah, I just looked at the pictures. Looks like you just need to raise/bend your wrist more when you're that close to the frog.

Also, what is the make of your bow?

February 25, 2019, 4:51 AM · So, is the bow hair flat near the tip, and tilted at the frog? When does it start to tilt? And the thumb is really bent at the tip, and starts close to straight at the frog?

It's funny, from my perspective, it looks like my wrist is bent like a T-rex, but when I looked at pictures, it didn't look nearly as extreme. I will try that.

My bow says "N├╝rnberger". I bought it 15 years ago (I had been playing a couple of years, and had no idea how to choose a bow..). I chose it because, of all the bows I tried, it felt the best and had the sweetest sound. But I cannot emphasize enough how little I knew what I was doing!

Many, many people since then have told me I need a better bow, and that it's a bit "funny" and difficult to play.

Edited: February 25, 2019, 4:01 PM · The hair should be tilted at the frog and gradually flattening somewhere in the middle as you draw the bow to the tip. The thumb will be less bent when the bow is at the tip.

There are some who will argue that the hairs must be flat on the strings, but I'm not one of them. If your pinkie is on the very top of the bow it will sit flat, which is why I teach that it should be on the next flat plane toward you on the stick. Playing with flat hair will prevent one from achieving different shades of spicatto, especially of the pleasant variety. The only two times I think I ever use flat hairs is on the last page of Tzigane or for the Death of Tybalt in Prokoviev's Romeo and Juliet.

February 25, 2019, 8:43 PM · As you draw your bow you'll find it flattening out on its own. It's hard to hold it tilted at the tip.
February 26, 2019, 6:10 AM · Thanks all!
March 1, 2019, 11:49 AM · Additionally...

does anyone know how to encourage a breakthrough with the bow hand??

Of course, I am trying to absorb everything my teacher says. Right now I am focusing on feeling the contact of my fingers with the bow, and therefore the string. But in many ways, I feel there are so many variables in drawing a bow that I am lost as to how to get them to work in harmony. (When do I move my fingers, my wrist, my elbow, my shoulder, bend this, pronate that? impression is that it just needs to "click" one day.)

To that end, besides practicing various there something else I can do to understand the phenomena of a relaxed and responsive, successful bow hand?

Also, does anyone have extra long fingers and, if so, do they "get in the way"? As mentioned above, my thumb gives me problems, but I am also finding that if I drape my fingers over the bow as much as my teacher would like, my middle and ring fingers hit the strings when I'm near the frog...

March 2, 2019, 11:59 AM · Anyone?

I feel like I have tried 1000 ways to adjust things, but I cannot seem to relax my hand into the bow AND not hit something when I'm on the e-string.

March 2, 2019, 12:43 PM · Will try and get back to you about some exercises, but it may be you think of your arm in 2D, folding and unfolding in the plane of the string. The joints (in both arms) must move to keep the finger tips along a line (the line of the bow, and along the string.) Of course there are various ways of achieving this, and it depends on the angles created by your bow hold and violin hold. But think of how you can move the parts of your arm and hand around the finger tips so you can guide the stick along its path.

Looking at your pictures, you might try supinating more, letting your elbow stay more open, as you approach the bottom 1/4 of the bow.

March 2, 2019, 3:16 PM · Hi Anita,

I don't know if this might help, but for myself, I realized that one doesn't just bend the thumb, one bends the hand or all fingers simultaneously. In terms of the rest, I find personally that keeping the fingers at hand width on the bow allows me for the most relaxed hand. I find that the spreading of the index or little finger away from the other fingers and beyond hand width adds only tension. In terms of tension, then it is to keep the hand released and the main one for that is the thumb. If it doesn't press into the bow, the rest of the hand cannot contract and tighten. As for making things work in harmony, it is to realize that the hand runs as a whole not independent fingers. The bow moves out-and-in not up-and-down with the primary movement in the forearm/elbow. Thinking of the movement as one is for me the easiest way to harmonize things together.

In the end, conceptualization in the mind makes a big difference. Find the lead movement (usually the elbow/forearm) and let the others follow (like the shoulder, hand, fingers, etc.).

Hope this helps...


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