Bow hold: Thumb ON leather or BELOW leather?
I have seen a lot of online instructional material that says the thumb goes below the leather, on the stick between the leather and the frog.
My normal bow hold has the thumb resting on the leather and not touching any wood at all. This seems logical to me because it allows the leather to protect the wooden stick, which is the point of having the leather there in the first place.
How do you do it? Does it make a difference due to the slight shift of the hold vs the bow's balance point?
I would think that thumb placement is determined by many things such as how much weight you put on each of the other fingers and even the size of your hand.
It can also depend on the weather!
And the bow. I tried an excellent bow last week that nevertheless had a slightly better feel when I choked up 1cm away from the edge of the frog. It wasn't really tip-heavy in the normal sense, but it had a better link to my arm (elbow to tip of bow) if I moved up a tad.
The "thumb leather" is so named for a reason. That's where the thumb goes. It is not intended to create a notch between the frog and the thumb leather, for placement of the thumb.
I usually have my thumb between the edge of the frog and leather. Depending on the bow hair length my thumb may not contact the stick much if at all. Sometimes I choke up and have my thumb on the leather to alter the balance point. Depends on what I’m trying to do. I don’t believe the bow hold needs to strict and rigid. I have seen many different holds by various virtuosos past and present. If your afraid of causing damage to the stick you may need to loosen your death grip.
The leathers on my bows go up to the edge of the frog.
As I think about it, doing this does expand the number of fantastic bows that will get good results. I shall take care to experiment more.
It's great if you always tighten your bow under the same or close environmental conditions. But when there are extreme differences between your practice, rehearsal, teaching and performance venues it is impossible to have the thumb leather edge always the same distance from the frog. That was the condition where I lived in the desert for 33 years. Less extreme, but not much better were all the previous east coast habitats where I grew up.
On. It's more comfortable and it doesn't ruin the stick. I mean, why the heck would the archetier go to the trouble of installing a THUMB leather only for you to rest your thumb on the bare stick?
I never considered the possibility of significant wear to the frog or stick. Perhaps I should rethink my hold. I always imagined more risk in damaging the violin from chin-rest and fingerboard pressure. Is there any evidence to confirm that bows can become “played-out” after many years of extensive use?
I don't know if bows can become "played out", but there are many examples of bows with extreme wear, which will always diminish market value.
Indeed David. In terms of care and maintenance, what do you recommend for cleaning the bow stick? I typically give it a wipe with a clean, dry, soft cloth as I do with my instruments after use. But the bow stick always seems to have some residual rosin. I was going to try the Hill Cleaner and Polish. What do you recommend?
My thumb is on the leather, but also a bit on the stick, and that is very common placement. It's also not possible to unwind the bow if the leather is at the stick when tightened.
My thumb placement is like Laurie's - half on the stick and half on the leather. The tactile feel allows me to know that I am holding my bow the same way every time I pick it up and while I am playing. The thumb leather and lapping are also there for the middle finger and index finger respectively.
My understanding wa s that every one would stop making bows in honor of my passing...Maybe it was the bending at the waist thingy they were talking about?
I was taught to place my thumb in the notch. I do not find it at all uncomfortable but my fingertips are well padded, not bony. I agree with Laurie that I don't see how the leather can come right up to the frog because how would you loosen your bow then -- the frog would collide with the leather. During the course that I took with Nathan Cole last summer he said that he puts his thumb directly on the leather. Watching him play, he does seem to be holding his bow farther up on the stick than I was taught; obviously it works for him. I have used the same middling "pernambuco clad" CF bow for at least five years, and I do not see any sign of wear in the notch location.
My thumb is in the notch as well, where I was instructed to place it. I "choke up" on the bow, holding it relatively high up in the old Russian style. (It matches what Bronstein recommends in his "Science of Violin Playing".)
Hey everyone! I decided to make it the weekend vote, so come on over and chime in!
To clarify, when my bow is tightened, the leather meets the frog.
How do you loosen it, Mary Ellen?
My thumb is usually placed on the leather due to my higher grip for balancing my bow better, and to mimic the lightness of a baroque bow.
“How do you loosen it, Mary Ellen?”
In the notch, a bit of the thumb on the leather, and with a Russian hold. Drilled into me back in the old days by my teachers. How much of the thumb is on the leather depends on the bow and the weather.
Maybe not a thumb-sized gap, but certainly a gap. Otherwise you can't loosen the bow. I'd say mine's about 4-5 mm when the bow is tightened - that is very typical.
For curiosity, I just measured the gap on my three good bows with hair tightened to the normal playing position. Two of them were 5mm and the other was 3mm. That would vary a little in summer heat with high humidity when the hair is looser & inclined to stretch.
On one of my bows I had to smooth down the sharpness of the notch with a bit of sanding.
I looked at the bow I was using to teach with today and it looks like about 3 mm between leather and frog when tightened. Pretty sure my other bows are similar.
Interesting to see so many people have a fixed thumb position, wouldn't it be more prudent to change the position based on the desired balance and tone production of the bow?
I like to the touch the lower part of the leather. I wonder if moving the hold up even slightly reduces the flexibility of the bow. I
For me, a higher hold also helps deal with a full-sized bow being substantially too long for me. I can't even vaguely reach the tip of the bow normally, even with the higher hold.
If you look at old bows, you’ll often see the stick worn down at the edge of the thumb grip from the thumb/thumbnail over years of use. If it gets bad enough, the area can be filled in with something like optical epoxy to level it again.
At my bows, there is only a small gap between the leather and the frog. But I use part of this gap for my bow hold - I place my thumb sort of on the corner of the leather. After practising, my skin appears to be a ittle pushed in.
I wonder if people's arms are significantly longer, on average, than they were when the violin and bow were first designed. I surmise they are. Of course there is still a distribution, like there is for everything else.
Would some people who place their thumb in the "notch", please try putting it on the thumb leather instead for a week or two, and report back? Did the bow go flying across the room or anything, or was it more like any unfamiliar technique which can't be mastered in a heartbeat?
if you bend your elbow to about 90 degrees, so your forearm is parallel to the floor, relax everything, and shake your hand and let your fingers and thumb fall naturally where they will, this gives you a good starting point for your bow grip.
I used to place the thumb on the leather, and because I have finger nails for classical guitar playing the leather got chewed up real quick. But seriously, I have long arms and the thumb in the notch against the frog is quit comfortable. This maybe due to the angle of my thumb to the stick which touches on the edge of the thumb tip, but when in the notch the thumb touches the frog in the very middle of the thumb tip. Or maybe it just feels secure enough that I'm not going to run out of bow tip, it makes an all mighty crack when it comes off the string after an up bow.
"However, there isn’t any correlation between those statistics and playing in the notch being better."
I use baroque bows for preference, so this isn't a problem for me. However, I have just checked out my bow hold with my modern (100 yr old) bow and it seems I automatically locate my thumb half on the leather and half on the wood; which must be a win-win.
Many fiddlers hold the bow on the leather or even higher up, probably because it shortens the stick and thereby facilitates rapid string crossings.
Once again, the thumb goes ON the thumb leather.
Except, David, nearly no one plays that way. It's generally partially on the leather for most people, but it's not "on the leather" completely, which is what you seem to be describing. I guess you are saying, as a violin maker, that ideally we players should all put our thumbs "on the leather." I don't agree, though, because putting it on the edge of the leather works very well to keep the thumb from migrating up while allowing mobility in all the other fingers.
David, other than preventing wear to the stick are there other advantages to placing the thumb on the leather? Is there a pedagogical basis for this thumb placement?
I think Mr. Burgess may have learned that way, and still thinks it is the standard, and the reasoning behind the "thumb" in thumb leather. He may know plenty of players who use their bows this way.
Adalberto is onto something. How did the "thumb leather" come to be called that in the first place? I noticed as I was thinking about this (and writing a different response, which I deleted), that I found myself just typing "leather" and not "thumb leather."
Interesting point Paul. Terming it “thumb leather” does not necessitate placement of the thumb. Likewise many players do not place their chins on the chin-rest or shoulder rests on the shoulder.
Makes you wonder what they call the leather on a German bass bow. I've never seen a bass player place the thumb anywhere near
I always just called it the leather. But in French the bow leather is called "la poucette", which has something to do with the thumb (le pouce). Interesting since François Torte was the originator of the modern bow. (It's also the name in French for Thumbelina...)
David yes I'm probably thinking back to my childhood when those tinsel-wound bows were pretty common.
Hard to believe so many people may be playing with a scrunched up bow hand instead of natural hand position and flowing motion! It doesn't make sense to use a fairly random placement of the leather to dictate bow hand position. Use your own hand morphology! If your hand morphology dictates thumb in the gap, that's one thing (although you should have your leather moved!), but if it doesn't, it's taking you away from good technique. Does it produce tension? I just tried it, and feels way off balance to play in gap.
Whatever you're accustomed to is what will feel balanced.
Right, Paul. I've been trying it both ways as an experiment, which is kind of fun. Playing in my usual (preferred) position, on the "gap", gives me a feeling of more control, especially for classical pieces, but for certain kinds of fiddle music, holding it fully on the leather feels somewhat freer. On the leather is a more indeterminate position, you can be closer or farther from the frog, but the bow's balance changes interestingly. The length of the leather, la poucette, varies considerably on my bows.
Changes to any playing technique will probably not be wildly successful, at first or third try. There is always a learning curve which needs to be survived, to evaluate something previously unfamiliar.
Is the stiffness of the bow greatest at the frog? By moving the grip away from the frog, is the stick itself even stiffer than it would be if the grip remained closer to the frog? I associate flexibility more with control than stiffness.
"Notch" or "throat" or whatever you call it. I was young-ish and ignorant when I inherited my F.N. Voirin violin bow and since the notch already showed signs of many, many years of someone's thumb in the notch I figured that was the way to hold it and so I did. Finally it wore through to the metal underslide.
Something like a 40% hit if you're using a new frog. Also, with old bows, you sometimes have ivory or other things that people prefer not to take across borders. I was once in a shop when a BSO violinist came in with her Pajeot to have it re-fitted for a European tour.
I agree with David that a "college try" of a new bow hold isn't going to happen in a few practice sessions. It'll take months -- months I don't really have, unfortunately. Next lesson I'll see what my teacher thinks and I'll ask him how he plays. He's not commented on my bow hold in the last five years so I'm assuming he's okay with it.
Paul, do you have your hand in a pretty static hold? Do you move the hand/fingers different ways when you play different tones? or different speeds, types of passages? Just curious. I have a pretty regular hold, but within that hold, I think the fingers and hand are free to move, although I don't do that very consciously, it just happens.
To the degree that having the thumb bent (part of Zukerman's mantra)is a good thing, my experience is that putting the thumb in the notch or at the end/corner of the leather helps the thumb to naturally curve. Whereas putting it fully on the leather makes it naturally more straight. In terms of bow control the difference in position to me seems negligible but the notch variation may have a better sound.
it's right below her mouth on the bottom of her face...
Wrong place for what??
This video shows the unusual chin position better:
Mr. Brivati and Mr. Burgess,
Looks like the chin is where it needs to be, but the chin rest is in the wrong place.....
I'm half on the leather and half off, except there are times when I want my bow to be lighter for certain things like swing jazz I may go on the leather. If I'm playing sul tasto I may go up even more. Movements along the bow can be very useful for certain things. I did play some baroque music at college and would choke up on the bow to get that baroque bow feel.