Index finger's nerve annoys me when I play

Edited: November 24, 2017, 8:36 AM · Hi, I'm having this problem lately. My index finger touches the bow normally before the first "line". These lasts weeks I don't know why I've started to feel discomfort when playing forte because the bow must be touching a sensitive area/nerve in that part of the finger and it is annoying. I don't think I'm over pressing, although last week my teacher said I should play baroque with martele stroke, and I was playing the baroque piece with too much "air", she said "like romantic pieces, and this is not romantic".

I know I've used more "force" since then, like rude bow strokes.

Have any of you experienced any kind of discomfort in the finger's because of the bow, specially the index finger?
What can I do?

Replies (18)

November 24, 2017, 11:01 AM · Maybe place your index finger on the bow so it doesn't touch the nerve. Or maybe try not to press too much and use arm weight more often.
November 24, 2017, 1:03 PM · I suspect that you are trying to produce all of your sound by pressing your index finger. Doing this will not only get you a pressed, and not very resonant sound, but also cause pain as you are seeing. More efficient would be to use arm weight and also make sure to look at other parameters which contribute to volume production, such as posture, and contact point.
November 24, 2017, 3:05 PM · Alright, I want to address this whole "arm weight" fallacy. It's a great cue and obviously almost every teacher uses it, but at the end of the day it is the INDEX that presses down, acting as a lever against the fulcrum that is the thumb. There is no such thing as being able to ONLY bow with arm-weight, since that would just be a string-change. We can use the arm (specifically the tricep) to press down, but we still have to lever the index against the bow to counteract the moment-arm that is created by the weight of the arm. It's simple physics.

I think all teachers know this, but when someone just says "use arm weight" it simply doesn't tell the whole story.

Anyways, some suggestions that might be helpful to the OP from my perspective:

1) Move all 4 fingers about 1/2" towards the tip of the bow, while keeping your thumb in the same position. In this way, your middle finger can actually HELP the index in applying downward force, since it's on the same side of the thumb that the index is. You have to do this within reason, and 1/2" is just a rough idea. Adjust the amount so that your middle finger is JUST past where the thumb is, but don't go overboard.

2) Play a bit closer to the fingerboard to get the martellato response that you're desiring without having to add excessive pressure. Once again, do this within reason. Don't go crazy and start playing over the fingerboard.

3) Adjust the contact point of your index on the bow, either towards the tip of the finger or towards the base, depending on what works. I can't get more specific than that because I haven't seen you play and I don't know what you're playing.

Hope this helps!

Edited: November 24, 2017, 3:32 PM · My admittedly amateur view of "arm weight" is that it is a convenient mnemonic device to guide the player toward coordinated/distributed muscle motions that generate better tone and control while also possibly relieving harmful strain. Therefore while I agree with Erik, I wonder if thinking about "arm weight" might actually be what Tim really needs. I also wonder whether the OP has possibly bruised himself a little and might need a cushioning device for a week or two. A bit of moleskin? A "corn cushion"? One of those rubber jobbies that covers the whole frog (which I have seen on the bows of pro cellists)?
November 24, 2017, 3:42 PM · I vote for the moleskin - a great idea, Paul. it simulates the feel of your own skin on the bow while cushioning your flesh.
November 24, 2017, 6:09 PM · Perhaps a good start is to name events properly: it is your nerve, not a nerve of a foreign object (a.k.a. IT).
Being your own body, observe, correct, observe, correct.... until your find the source of pain eliminated.
Have a break to reset your senses and then start over.
November 24, 2017, 6:50 PM · Thank you all, specially Erik, my teacher precisely last week asked me to use "arm weight", and I was thinking...

"But, at the end is my fingers, and concretely the index finger the one that is going to support all that arm weight"

Sometimes I observe that violin teachers use vocabulary and repeat sentences that make no sense if you really think about it and try to talk properly.

I've never thought about moving all my fingers towards the tip, that actually sounds great, definitely gonna test it and feedback.

English is not my main language, so may be I'm failing at explaining things correctly and properly, sorry about that.

By the way, where do you guys normally touch the bow?
First flesh section, right at the bone, or middle flesh section?

November 24, 2017, 7:01 PM · Your English is perfectly fine, Tim.

Where the index touches the bow is somewhat dependent on what you're playing and your individual anatomy. There is no truly "right way" to hold the bow. Just depends on what works for you.

November 24, 2017, 7:39 PM · Sorry to disagree with you Erik, but I don't think arm weight is a fallacy. In fact, I honestly don't press with the index, or any other finger. I actually feel that the arm/hand/all fingers weight participate as one in sustaining the sound, not the pressure of the fingers into the bow. And I don't press down with the arm muscle, it simply sits on the bow, which sits on the string.

Pressing the fingers into the bow creates only one thing in my experience: tension. A released hand is actually most important.


November 24, 2017, 9:36 PM · The index finger should be touching the bow between the first and second knuckles. From your description, you seem to be holding the bow with your fingertips.

Judging from the location of the callus on my right index finger, I am contacting the bow just above the second knuckle (or, in your terms, at the bottom of the middle fleshy section).

November 24, 2017, 11:58 PM · Christian, with all due respect (because clearly you are a good player), what you are stating is against the fundamental laws of physics.

You may not be FLEXING the the muscles of the index finger, but the index finger has to be involved in the movement. If you actually just used arm weight, the bow would simply fall down. The reason that you're able to press and still stay on the same string is because your index/thumb is counteracting the weight of the arm.

You perception is that you're using the whole hand/arm to add weight to the string, but this is physically impossible. Now, theoretically, if you were to keep your thumb in the normal position under the stick and move all 4 top fingers to be to the LEFT of the thumb, then you could use all the fingers to press into the string, rather than just the index. But a traditional bow hold only has the index - and maybe a BIT of the middle finger - on the left side of the thumb. I'm sure your bow hold is no exception to this.

The actual difference between "Arm weight" and "index pressure" is that in the former, the bone structure of the index finger is being used to press the bow down via the arm pushing down, and in the latter, the flexing of the index itself is being used to add pressure.

Do this experiment: with a completely straight arm (either left or right), face your palm towards the ceiling. Now, lift a weight in the palm while keeping the arm straight. Notice that the shoulder is doing the work in this scenario. But the elbow is still INVOLVED. The difference is that it's involved in a static - rather than a dynamic - way. This is like the "arm weight." The index still has to press into the stick much like, in our experiment, the shoulder presses into the locked elbow which then pushes the weight upwards in the palm.

Now, a similar experiment to replicate "index pressure": once again, lock the arm out with the palm facing the ceiling. Put a weight in the palm again, but instead of lifting it to the ceiling with the shoulder only, bend at the elbow for several inches, and then get the shoulder involved. Notice that the the whole arm has more tension in this particular movement.

In both scenarios, all of the joints/bones HAVE to be involved. I can't choose NOT to use my elbow to lift the weight to the ceiling. But I CAN choose not to FLEX at the elbow joint, just as I can choose not to flex with my index finger on the bow.

November 25, 2017, 1:08 AM · Where the index finger should contact the bow, depends on your anatomy, and your bow hold.
A good exercise I learned from one of Spivakov’s students to figure out the most natural way for you to hold the bow, is to put your arm in such a way that your right hand is dropping naturally towards the floor. Now, while still keeping the hand relaxed and pointing to the floor, slowly lower it down on the stick, and then take hold of the bow, there is your natural hold!

If you use the most popular hold nowadays, then your index finger should contact the bow between the first and second joint, closer to the second. I agree with Erik, and Simon Fischer has the same opinion in Basics, that instead of having the index finger on one side of the thumb, and the three other fingers on the other side, it is often better to make the hold more even by having two fingers on each side of the thumb. That way you are not only using the index finger for applying pressure.

Some further thoughts on ‘arm weight’ and pressure. Like Erik, I think arm weight is a myth. It’s not really arm weight as it is knuckle weight.
I was discussing holds with a friend the other day, and the guy is taking lessons with Boris Kushner, who is a pretty famous teacher here in Europe.
In a lesson, Kushner was explaining to my friend that when you are lowering the elbow, or the wrist in hopes of getting a bigger sound, the weight you are adding does not affect the bow. You are just putting on dead weight. On the other hand, when you lower the knuckles, then that movement has a direct effect on the weight of the bow.

To illustrate my point, I would encourage those reading this to try the following experiment. Put the bow on the string, while keeping your hand as relaxed as possible. It must barely be holding the stick. Now draw a sound. That’s your arm weight. If you want to play any louder than that, you gotta use the hand.

In addition to the lowering of the knuckles, violinists also have the gripping of the bow as a tool in their toolcase to produce a bigger sound. Those two gestures are complementary, and their effects are pretty much the same: add weight to the bow, and flatten the hair on the string.
Also, instead of applying pressure with only one finger, a better idea would be to spread the weight of the hand throughout the fingers, like Simon Fischer advocates.
I used to have big index finger issues in my right hand in the past, I was pressing with it so much it started altering the shape of my finger.
All of the above have helped me solve this issue. And keep in mind, like Aaron Rosand said, that ‘the violin is not a trumpet’ :)

My last point:
I recently switched to a Russian bow hold, which basically means the index finger contacts the stick at or after the second joint. In the Russian hold, the base arm weight sound is much bigger than in other holds. I know I will get incinerated by the other members for suggesting that, but give the Russian bow hold a try! It could help you solve your index finger issues, and besides, this hold is much easier to play.
Looking forward to welcome you to ‘the dark side’! :)

Edited: November 25, 2017, 9:34 AM · When we speak of using arm weight rather than pressure we're talking about refining eccentric contraction (deltoids) in applying the weight of the arm. When we speak of avoiding pressure from the fingers, again we're talking about eccentric contraction of the lumbricals. Everything depends on context. In the loudest, most vigorous playing there is in fact quite a bit of tension everywhere, but you want to use only what you need. In normal conditions you want to use the weight of the part of the arm you need for your size and proportions, and make sure you're not unnecessarily using pressure from the fingers into the stick. For example if you "bow in the air" too much, i.e. bow with concentric shoulder abduction/flexion + press with too much pronation of forearm and/or too much flexion of the lumbricals at the baseknuckles, or if you are seizing the shoulder by fighting concentric shoulder abduction/flexion by concentrically contracting the latissimus dorsi, thereby 'holding' or antagonizing shoulder movement, you're wasting energy and possibly taxing weaker muscles, or applying too much pressure to a very small area on the forefinger. Instead learn to regulate the weight of the arm and avoid pressing the fingers as Christian suggests.

Edit: Fischer describes one way of interaction between fingers and stick: active pronation and counterclockwise rotation of stick between thumb and forefinger (if I remember correctly, the model in the picture is flexing the baseknuckle of the forefinger while lifting the thumb.) Other ways: leave the forefinger passive and actively lift with thumb, leave forefinger passive and rotate with middle finger and thumb, leave forefinger and thumb passive and actively lift the second finger, lastly, supinate on down bows and uniformly pull with curled fingers and extended, passive baseknuckles. You can mitigate pressure through the forefinger in all styles by pulling down bows through the wrist, letting it passively extend. "Tirer."

Edit 2: Tim, in martele and most forceful strokes, though not all, you want to "grip" the string before you draw the bow, and release the grip as you draw the bow. How fast you release this pressure will determine the character of the sound. What you don't want to do is grip the string as you draw the bow, or grip before and during the stroke. A lot of what we need to learn is release.

Edit 3: another big source of unnecessary pressure in the fingers is simultaneous pressure from pinky and forefinger. Instead learn how to pivot them, alternating their use depending on where you are in the bow and the articulation you need.

Edited: November 25, 2017, 7:08 PM · Ms. Goree, this image shows my bow hold:

It's almost identical to what I do, and it's been difficult to find that becase I was going to put a "real" image but most of them showed a bow hold that I don't have/do.

So, using your words, my contact point is below the second knuckle, instead of above like you. Nevertheless, when I'm playing at the frog, I normally change this contact point and move it to the middle flesh section, like you.
I feel that when I'm playing at the frog, moving the index backwards (actually by rotating the wrist) gives a more natural hold, and when I'm playing at the tip or middle, it's the flesh section below the second knuckle, and that's where I have the problem.

Edited: November 25, 2017, 7:49 PM · Might be useful to use common terms:

or use numbers and letters:

Tip Bone = DP = distal phalanges = 1
Mid Bone = MP = medial phalanges = 2
Root Bone = PP = proximal phalanges = 3

1st joint/crease/knuckle = DIP = distal interphalangeal = A
2nd joint/crease/knuckle = PIP = proximal interphalangeal = B
3rd joint/crease/knuckle = MCP = metacarpophalangeal = C

Edit: so are we saying "above" = proximal to = toward the wrist
and "below" = distal to = toward the fingertip

November 25, 2017, 7:54 PM · Tim, you might try practicing without the forefinger for a while. Simply lift it and apply leverage through your middle finger. Once you put the forefinger back on, allow its baseknuckle (MCP) to extend immediately upon starting a down bow (baseknuckles open/extend as the wrist opens/extends, and the fingers themselves curl/DIP and PIP flex.) The more weight you pour on, the more pressure is exerted through the fingers, the more you allow the 1st MCP to extend, regardless of how you hold the bow or where the stick makes contact.
November 25, 2017, 8:55 PM · In simple English, Tim, I believe jeewon is referring to a "jellyfish hand" in her second post :)
Edited: November 26, 2017, 9:54 AM · Nope. Not really.

Something like this, to take pressure off the forefinger:

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