Bow tension consensus

July 28, 2019, 11:00 AM · I recently viewed a pedagog advising to adjust the bow so that the hair almost touched the stick during play. I think the intended audience was a novice. I would add facility to play in higher positions. May I have your parameters?

Replies (15)

Edited: July 28, 2019, 11:27 AM · The general rule of thumb is to tension the bow just enough so that you can just insert a pencil between the hair and the lowest part of the curve in the stick. If you need some more bounce, you make it tighter. If you want the hair to hug the string more, you make it looser.

Some people say 6 turns of the screw as a rule, but I find with different amounts of hair on your bow and different climates, the number of turns needed to get the tension you want can swing anywhere from 4 to 10. So I go by the pencil rule.

July 28, 2019, 12:33 PM · I second the above. My first teacher said there should be a smile in the middle (i.e the curve) just not how much of one there should be
July 28, 2019, 12:35 PM · I was quite tense by one teacher and quite loose by another for the same bow. Both were professional orchestral players.
July 28, 2019, 12:54 PM · I've used the pencil guide for years. As one size does not fit all, what bow strokes would need an adjustment?
July 28, 2019, 1:20 PM · If you feel right by the tip or the ferrule, you will feel that they feel "hard" there, sort of like how the strings feel "hard" if you feel them next to the bridge. As you get closer to the middle of the bow the hairs feel "softer."

There is a school of thought that the purpose of tightening the bow is to extend the size of these "hard" areas until they meet in the middle - i.e., that the entire length of bow ribbon should feel "hard." David Finckel is a proponent of this method and explains it well in this youtube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b2Y-iccq4Sg&list=PLAE1ED06AB33DF65D&index=90

There are many great players who do this, Gil Shaham being a prominent one.

Of course there are also many great players who do *not* do this. Ultimately the decision about how tight to make the bow depends on your conclusion about what kind of tool the bow is, and how best-suited a particular bow tension is for your personal system of springs.

July 28, 2019, 1:52 PM · The pencil-width guideline is a good one. A good rehair uses a hair-length that makes the pencil-width tightness the optimal one for the bow. In high humidity areas, this might involve rehairing the bow "short".

If you are playing and you are "bottoming out" the stick (the stick is touching the hair when you are using arm-weight), you need to tighten the bow a bit more.

July 28, 2019, 3:04 PM · Thanks for the interesting link. That seemed to be a lot of turns of the screw, but I don't know cello bows.

That seems to cover loosest and tightest.

July 28, 2019, 3:13 PM · An additional way to experiment— a bow evaluation trick I first saw Arnold Bone use. Hold the stick vertical with first finger and thumb. Tap the frog with your third (ring) finger. You will have bows give different sorts of resonance from each other, and that will vary depending on the tension of the hair. See if the sound of the bow also varies.
July 28, 2019, 3:13 PM · An additional way to experiment— a bow evaluation trick I first saw Arnold Bone use. Hold the stick vertical with first finger and thumb. Tap the frog with your third (ring) finger. You will have bows give different sorts of resonance from each other, and that will vary depending on the tension of the hair. See if the sound of the bow also varies.
July 28, 2019, 4:56 PM · I always do as mr Finckel seems to do in his video.
July 29, 2019, 6:49 AM · The type of hairs, the number of hairs, the spring of the bow and the strength of the bow hand all affect the response and feel of the bow.

Simply specifying the number of screw turns or the clearance between hair and bow in the middle will give different responses for different bows and players.

The advice I found useful was to start with a gap between the hairs and bow, at the middle, so that I could just insert the tip of my pinky finger. Then play a variety of bow techniques while adjusting the tension up and down until I found the "best" tension for overall play.

I then noted the clearance between hairs and bow at the middle and compare it to the thickness of my pinky finger so I can quickly reproduce the tension setting.

July 29, 2019, 6:55 AM · Tighten the bow just enough so that you don't hit the stick when playing. Playing something lush and romantic, a little looser, something more percussive, a little tighter. Watch soloists between sections or movements, they do this too. It should be more organic depending on what you are playing. Every bow will need to tighten to different tensions for different players, so no measurement(pencil width) would be adequate for everyone. Though it's a safe enough and good starting point for children. Interesting to know that tension has a massive effect on tone. I wrote an article how the tension effects tone a while back: https://adbowsllc.com/2016/01/26/how-tight-to-tighten-a-bow-and-its-effect-on-tone-production/
Edited: July 29, 2019, 9:28 AM · I tighten all my bows to a fairly specific torque-resistant feel at the screw*. This leads to a specific tightness of the hair. If the bow has been properly haired this can be related to something like the "pencil-thickness rule" for violin bows. What you feel when tightening the screw involves and interplay of the stick and hair as the hair is stretched the amount you like when you play.

It is my believe that a bow will perform best when a hair has been strained (stretched) a specific amount. The optimum strain (for best sound) seems to be about 0.5 mm (for a full-size bow length), which, for an average hair diameter of 0.2 mm will result from a force equivalent to the weight of 2.5 gram**. So for a typical hair ribbon of 150 hairs the resulting force would = about 375 grams or about .8 to .85 pound. A stiffer stick should have more hair and a softer stick less hair to partition the tension and restoring force proportionally to stick and hair.

* I play violin, viola, and cello. The bows for these instruments generally have increasing amounts of hair and sticks increasing diameter in rough proportion to the number of hairs. Thus the amount of force my fingers feel when tightening the screw remains about the same for each bow even though the actual force applied to the hair ribbon is greater for the thicker bow sticks. ("mechanical advantage")

**(Anders Askenfelt has reported Young's modulus for bow hair in the range 4.9 Gpa (GN/m^2), or about 0.2 N/mm for a single hair, with hair elastic up to about 4 N. I measured a value of 0.194 N/m or within 3% of Askenfelt - in other words, the same within potential error of hair thickness, etc.)

July 29, 2019, 11:07 AM · I seem to tighten my bow more than most here are stating. Maybe nothing crazy, but the hair is never touching the wood. I dig it.
July 29, 2019, 11:42 AM · Thanks all. I did a test with Mr Finckel in mind. Fischer Basics ex 64, 78, 86 & 88. Results: easiest with the bow tighter than usual. Closer to the setting my mentor applies to this carbon bow. Very close to the pencil guide. Humm. Guess my self rehair is up to standard. (rogain)
I am not fluent in bow, but when I tapped the frog I think it said "how ruuuude".
Thanks all for the insight.


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