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students' area : holding the bow

up bow, down bow

Parts of the bow are the tip (or point), stick (wood of the bow), frog (lower portion where you hold the bow) and screw (where you tighten and loosen the bow.)

A bow that begins in a downward motion is called a "downbow" (notated in music with this symbol: ""), and the opposite is called an "upbow" (notated in music as a "".)

Common places to begin in the bow are at the tip or point, in the middle of the bow (about half way down) and at the frog (near your hand.) Also, sometimes we'll say begin in the upper half or lower half.

bow pressure & speed

Experiment with bow pressure and speed, combinations of these two things can create all sorts of different sound, heavy, light, scratchy, glassy: the more length and speed you use will create a glassy sound, if you apply more pressure, the sound becomes richer. With less length and speed the sound develops a rougher texture (especially if there is heavy pressure), in general, if you're getting a squeaky sound, try using more bow length and vary the pressure until you have something you like.

some bow exercises

Practice re-making the bow hold over and over. Emphasize good placement of the fingers, stop and shake out the right hand and start again. Do this several times until the action becomes almost second nature. Then “remember the feel” of the bow hold. Close your eyes and try to construct the bow hold from touch (while you hold the stick of the bow.) Open eyes and review:

“Was the thumb tip on the stick between the leather and the stock?”
“Rounded pinkie?”
“Some spacing of the fingers, not bunched up?”
“First finger on stick between 1st & 2nd joints?”
“Can you imagine an egg cupped in your hand (from the roundness of the hand)?”

Ready...Go! Now for the speed round. Try forming the bow hold from touch with eyes closed as quickly as possible, when done, you may open eyes. Let the memorization happen with self review.

Bow Exercises

Windshield Wipers: make a bow hold and then make back and forth large arcs with the tip of the bow. Try to resist the impulse to do this fast. Smooth and steady. Feel the weight of the bow in each of the fingers as it moves from one side to the other.

Elevators: in this exercise, the bow is kept flat from the low bottom floor, to the very top floor. Pretend there are people on the bow and they mustn’t fall off. Again, move slowly in a relaxed fashion. If nerves make the tip boggle, stop, shake out the hand and try lifting the bow while breathing in, and exhaling while the bow descends.

Space Needles: pointing the tip of the bow straight up, move the bow slowly up in a straight line. As with the elevator, this exercise requires that the wrist be flexible. Begin from the lowest point possible (without bending legs) and raise bow to highest point, always keeping the bow straight up and down.

bow hold

In beginning violin & viola, the thumb is placed at the frog just outside and resting next to the curl in the hair holder, opposite the 2nd & 3rd fingers and diagonal to the stock. The index finger touches the stick between the 1st & 2nd joints. The little finger rests somewhere on the stick of the bow on the pinky tip. Notice the curved nature of the hand in relation to the bow, all fingers work together to hold the bow with as little stress to individual fingers as possible. The pinkie should be curved, not straight.

As students become more familiar with the bow hold, a helper may be able to lightly pick up any finger (except the thumb) without one loosing the bow—so integrated is the nature of fingers working together.

Center of bow hold, thumb & middle finger

Forward slant of the fingers

Bent thumb, first (pointing) finger between first and second joints

Pinky curled, round, cupped (or shell) shape of the hand, as if you could hold an egg

"Hole" made by roundness of the hand

Bow at the frog, slight upward bend of the wrist to keep the bow straight

Bow at the tip, wrist downward to keep bow straight