What are the advantages of making students hold the bow with their thumb under the frog?
I recently started teaching younger children. Some of them came to me on the first lesson with this bow hold I've never seen before. The thumb is UNDER the frog, and the other four fingers barely touch the stick with only fingertips. Is there any purpose to this? Is this a pedagogical technique of some kind? I assumed it better to start them with the correct bow hold on day 1... but seeing so many children come in with this bow hold made me think there must be more to this.
One girl (14yo) has been taking lessons with her previous teacher for a year and a half and still never drawn a full bow. She has tape on her bow that ranges from mid bow to upper mid bow. That's all the bow she used for as long as she began studying the violin. Is this common practice? I thought full bow on open strings exercise is basic to beginners, but she advanced halfway through Suzuki book 1 never using more than a quarter of the bow. I was shocked but also curious if I'm missing anything.
I'm going to imagine the thought processes behind these things (because I love to opine), but I'm not a teacher:
It's the Suzuki beginner bow-hold for tiny, immature hands.
I'm an amateur player with two kids learning violin. I agree with the other responses about the thumb under the frog, and I think this approach makes sense or can make sense depending on the kid. My son transitioned from it quite nicely and easily. I do not agree with the fingers just touching at the fingertips. I would assume that's not pedagogical but simply the student approaching it incorrectly. There is a device called a pinky house, which you can either make or buy, that might help a young student's bow hold. But aside from these accommodations the bow hold should look more or less normal. Suzuki does emphasize the shorter bow strokes for young kids but I think unnecessarily. My daughter is 5 and can only play a few things, but she can do very nice long bows, after a lot of focus on this.
I think the main idea behind the cro magnon bow hold and the tapes restricting bow travel and even fingerboard tapes is to avoid agonizing too much over the details of any particular aspect of violin-playing so that the student can just get to the point, as quickly as possible, where they can grind out a tune.
I agree with the previous respondents. However I think it is time (well past time) to try to retrain your 14 year old student - but - I have heard that O'Connor may play with his thumb under the frog and lots of "country fiddlers" do too.
I don't start off with long bows right away. I use tapes. There are about 100 other things that are a priority in those first lessons, a half hour and a students attention span goes very quickly, and a long now can easily be learned later. By the "Twinkle Theme" in Suzuki they are not staying within those short tapes. Between "O Come Little Children" and "Long Long Ago", they are using the whole bow. Every teacher has their own method though. I don't think their's one right way.
This is very normal early Suzuki pedagogy. In my experience, thumb under frog is used to start for any kid who is not of easy writing age (like under 7 or so) for approximately the first few pieces in the book. Kids transition by Allegro or so to a regular bow hold, if not earlier. Most Suzuki teachers I know don’t use this bow hold for older beginners, who usually have the dexterity to start with the thumb inside.
I recently played an entire orchestral concert with my thumb under the bow. I was able to do some off-the-string strokes, alter dynamics, although my the coordination between l and r hands was just a bit off from usual (probably because I don't normally play this way, not for any other reason). The day before I had sliced off the top of my thumb with a knife. Three stitches to reattach the flap.
What Adrian and Gabriel said.
I guess Cro Magnon bow hold means "Early Anatomically Modern Bow Hold." Or something. I've seen some fine fiddlers play this way. Michael Cleveland comes to mind.
I started with this bow hold in a Suzuki class at age 5.
These days, I teach literally every beginner with the thumb under the slide of the frog (doesn't matter their age).
I'm glad I decided to ask. The comments are all really insightful. Erik's description of his early teaching days are so relatable.
Clara, the "good enough?" problem is a classic one that every teacher has (I assume at every level of playing).
Erik: I am definitely not stealing your ideas and not grabbing a notebook to write down all the intermediary steps. They are AMAZING.
"So I move on to the next piece and watch their bow drift into the depths of the fingerboard again."
Holding the bow with the thumb under the frog is very much like the old French grip circa 1600. The thumb was used to tighten the slack in the bow hair.
Haha Clara, I'm glad you found it helpful :)
Regarding taking video of a student during a lesson…
With beginners I like to use a device from "Things for Strings" (https://www.things4strings.com/for-string-teachers) that is a plastic Frog and fish that you put on the bow. It is designed so that all your fingers find the right place.
Mary Ellen, another good idea is to just use the student's phone (or their parent's) instead of yours (when applicable).
Erik, I would be very uncomfortable using a device belonging to anyone else due to privacy reasons.
When I took piano lessons in the mid-1990s in Evanston, my teacher's rule was that I had to bring a blank cassette tape with me to the lesson. At the start of the lesson, the tape went into a tape recorder on top of the piano and he pressed "record." At the end of the lesson, he pressed "stop" and handed me the tape. The sound quality is fairly crappy, but really, the education is there. And I still have the tapes!
Paul, that’s a great idea for the truly dedicated but it’s not very helpful when you want to make a quick point in the middle of a lesson. I find that after futile requests to a student regarding a posture issue, taking 30 seconds to show them what they are doing in the middle of the lesson is extremely helpful.
Paul, did you ever actually listen to those at home? How much did you use the recordings?
Erik, when I was taking the lessons I did listen to them. But Mary Ellen's point is well taken, too. Usually I wanted to review a certain thing from my lesson, and then I'd have to find that part of the lesson on the cassette, which is quite tedious if you recall that technology. Why I still have them now is beyond me. There were a couple of lessons where I felt I had learned a whole new concept and those would be fun to find and listen to again. Someday.
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