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The right hand bent thumb

August 7, 2022, 1:53 PM · What is the reason(s) for bending the right hand thumb?

Replies (7)

August 7, 2022, 2:25 PM · The following are the musings of an amateur.

I believe it is to afford flexibility, and to draw the bow into the hand where it is closer to the center of mass of the hand.

I believe the flexibility helps with a lot of bow strokes, but what came to mind first are the super-fast "micro-colle" strokes that Oistrakh (for example) does so marvelously.

When I make my hand into a shape such that the finger tips are close to the thumb tip, either both are bent or both are straight. So by bending the thumb you're enabling the fingers to be bent too. Tennis pros will tell you not to stand with your knees locked.

August 8, 2022, 11:12 AM · A bent thumb allows one to instantly change the bow tilt, the angle that the hair meets the string. If the bow hold starts with a straight thumb then the important right fourth finger is also straight, maybe locked, at the side of the stick, and can't do its' job of pushing down on the bow, With a straight thumb it is too tempting to hold the bow with the finger-tips of fingers 1,2,3. With a straight thumb the hand is flat instead of round. We want the bow to feel like it is inside the hand, rounded, like holding a baseball.
On a normal full bow stroke, at the tip the thumb will in fact be straight with the bow hair flat on the string. At the frog the hair is on edge, with a tilt of about 45 o, the thumb bent to its maximum 90 o.
August 9, 2022, 11:13 AM · the bent thumb also functions as a shock absorber.
Edited: August 9, 2022, 10:38 PM · A straight (stiff) thumb is just waiting to let the bow slip out of your hand at the worst time. I learned this the hard way at my grade 6 RCM exam years ago.
Edited: August 10, 2022, 3:40 PM · That’s a good question Bruce. I’ve always wondered this myself. My teacher Sidney Harth, who used a very pronounced ‘Russian’ bow hold, actually collapsed his thumb the opposite way, at the top joint, while applying downward pressure. He was able to draw a very robust and beautiful sound this way and also had one of the best upbow and down bow staccatos I have ever seen.
Edited: August 14, 2022, 4:33 AM · Before contact with the string, I don't "hold" the bow, I "hold it up" with a curved thumb under the stick, balanced by the ring finger over the stick, and the curved pinky on the facet just behind (Galamian). I can even raise the index and middle finger!
While playing, my thumb will be very active, against all four fingers when playing at the heel, and against the index when at the tip.
I like a rounded "cat's paw" hand, "like holding a tiny bird" (Menuhin).
My wrist is rarely higher than the knuckles, and remains flexible, allowing a "hand vibrato" motion in tremolo and staccato playing.

At the opposite extreme, all my French friends, amateur and professional,
have a higher wrist, "pinching" the stick between a straight thumb and the middle finger, and with a straight pinky. Their hands seem to me more rigid than mine...

August 13, 2022, 3:40 PM · This has been my philosophy:

Totally relax both hands. What do your finger and thumb joints want to do--be straight, or bend slightly?
I ask students to do this, then have them purposely straighten joints for a minute, then relax again. It demonstrates how much extra energy they have to use to keep joints straight. My view is that the sole job of the thumb is like that of a summer intern: just don't get in the way!

Nate: I just serviced a piano in Oregon for a guy at Yale, Joel Wizansky. He said his technician in CT has a son named Nate that plays the violin. I said, "Hey, I know who that guy is!"

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