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Bowing Technique


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Larry, I didn't think you were being flippant, so no worries. I thank you for your thoughtful reply.

As for her elbow, I know that there are different schools of thought. My daughter's teacher is very specific about what he wants. When she's at the frog on the E string, he wants her elbow low -- as low as it is in the photo, although maybe it's not terribly clear.

In any event, I just took your advice and popped in a DVD I have of Aaron Rosand live at Mills College and carefully watched his bow arm. I am relieved to report that he keeps his right elbow on the e string extremely low.

I highly recommend the DVD by the way. He still sounds great.

All the best.

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Dear Rivendell Fiddler,

I strongly suspect the problem you're having doesn't start with your wrist being stiff, but with a grip on the bow that's just too tight. Try making a tight fist and waving "bye-bye" like a one-year-old. Your whole lower arm and hand will work as one unit, with no bending at the wrist at all. Gradually loosen the tightness of your fist. The looser your fist is, the more your wrist will flex.

I have had quite a few earnest, self-disciplined students, generally adults, who are *determined* that they are going to hold the bow correctly! They copy me, or the book, exactly. They set their hands in that one position, and by god, it's not going to change, no matter what. (Another unintended consequence of this is that these players tend to try to shoot the bow through some imaginary path near the string, through a three-dimensional space, instead of letting the string bear the bow and thus taking care of at least one of those dimensions; the necessary friction between string and bow is greatly reduced, and the difficulty of keeping the bow going straight is greatly increased.) Unfortunately, the bow grip that's illustrated in all method books is only a starting place. The bow hand is a dynamic thing; how it looks is different at every inch of the bow. And that won't happen if there is too much muscle, too much tension in the hand.

Think of the fingers of the bow hand as having specific *contact points* on the bow, instead of gripping or squeezing the bow. Hold the bow only as tightly as you need to in order to avoid dropping it, for a while. Then your wrist and fingers should start being able to lighten up, and... well, there's a lot more. Someone recommended Simon Fischer's book. I agree, especially for someone like you who clearly wants not only to do, but to understand. You could also refer to that great old standard work by Galamian, "Principles of Violin Playing and Teaching." But best of all would be a good teacher, who understands all these things too, and can really observe and help you. Best wishes!


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Unfortunately, the bow grip that's illustrated in all method books is only a starting place. The bow hand is a dynamic thing; how it looks is different at every inch of the bow. And that won't happen if there is too much muscle, too much tension in the hand.


Exactly, you can say it again. Good explanation and good advice.

I believe,once you hold the bow correctly at start.

Allow some small adjustments, (if you) don't "worry" about it too much it becomes natural. Or sing the notes first before you play them. /yuen/

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To 4Strings' excellent advice, I would only add the following point. For me, at least, it is helpful to try to identify one thing that I can monitor as I play that will ensure that the whole system is in order. In the case of the bow hold, I find that if I pay attention to my ring finger, and ensure that it is pliant, relaxed and "alive" as the bow travels up and down, then all my fingers are relaxed, my thumb is relaxed, and everything works in sync.

I find it much more helpful to pinpoint my attention on one finger, than to to try to track everything.

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Thanks a million everyone for the awesome advice! Also, mostly to Austen, the band I am a part of now has a dvd out with some scenes of us performing, but it's mostly about our history. We play Irish music and have a ton of fun doing it. I say this because the whole band is "sefl-taughts" like me, so I would actually like Austen to hear some of us play to see how well the band came along. We're not professionals and I'm not bragging, but I also wouldn't go as far to say that self-taught is impossible Let me know if anyone would like to purchase a dvd!

By the way, no problem StringDad, you have a beautiful daughter and her bowing looks splendid! Thank you all once more!

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Aha! An interesting point to note is that Irish fiddling in particular requires much more bow-arm tension than traditional "classical" playing. Much of the wisdom that applies to the traditional bow-arm does not at all apply to many types of fiddling. Now, this doesn't mean that your playing wouldn't benefit from knowing how to bow without tension, but I wouldn't be as stressed about it.

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Perhaps if her violin were held more to the side her wrist wouldn't be quite as broken. I also can't tell if her r.h. thumb is bent--that's always very important.

The string faculty here at Shepherd is one that seems almost universally against broken wrists, and I had one when I got here. I know that the lower-elbow (broken-wrist) approach was emphasized by Suzuki. He claimed that the weight of a low elbow could allow the wrist to draw a louder and more sustained tone.

It is an argument that has yet to be finished. There are many players who play successfully with your daughter's bow-arm, but I think modern scholarship is giving more weight to the higher-elbow approach. In fact, over the past decade or so, even while Dr. Suzuki was still living, the ultra-low-elbow approach has been abandoned by most Suzuki teachers.

What it comes down to is that the r.h. is the trickiest thing in the world, ever.

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Most Japanese students in Dr. Suzuki's days learnt from Germany. So, I am not surprised that Dr. Suzuki advocated

old German Style playing (violin) low elbow kind.

AS I read from other source, there are two kinds of violin schools of playings (1) Old German (Low elbow and Frecnch bow hold) and

(2) Modern. (Higher elbow, Russian bow hold) I am sure other people in this forum can give a good description of these two methods .

Another point, stiff wrist some time is actually required in bowing, such as on-string-staccato. Non-stiff wrist are required most of time for other bowings.( incorrectly saying it that wrist should be relaxed all the time.) /yuen/

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Thanks, Lymond. The right hand sure is tricky, that's for sure. And I know well that there are different schools of thought on wrists and elbows. Still, I don't think it would be accurate to describe my daughter's elbow as "ultra-low" or her wrist as "broken" (this second term seems almost pejorative).

Actually, I'm curious about this high elbow you're referring to. How high is high? Do you know anyone who uses this technique so I can check it out?

I recently watched a DVD of Aaron Rosand and another of Hilary Hahn, and noted that my daughter's elbow is no lower (or higher) than theirs. The technique obviously works for them. I also checked out several performance clips on the violinmasterclass website and found he teaches in ways very much in line with my daughter's teacher (makes sense given the DeLay connection). Also, you probably can't tell from the photo, or maybe it's the angle of the shot, but she holds her violin about as far to the side as possible (she has very long arms), and her thumb is bent. She's never been part of a Suzuki program; her current teacher studied with DeLay at Juilliard, eventually serving as director of her technique classes; so my daughter's lineage, as Steve LeBonne pointed out to me, can be traced back to Galamian, who used a combination of different approaches.

Bottom line is that he's my daughter's teacher, he's an amazing violinist by any measure, he's got a way of doing things that works, and I admire him and his teaching enormously. At the same time, it's not as if she's studying in isolation. She attends an intense music school where periodic evaluations by in-school and outside judges ensure nothing untoward is taking place.

If this is coming off strident or defensive, I really don't mean to be. I find your comments quite interesting and illustrative of the constant debates that attend so much of the technical aspects of the violin.

For instance, the son of a friend of mine recently switched teachers (to get more lesson time), and the new teacher, a young hotshot, announced that virtually everything the little boy had been taught to date had been wrong (why are you holding violin like that, why are you using a shoulder rest, why ....etc.). A few months later, young hotshot exits the picture as young hotshots tend to do, and the little boy goes to third teacher, this one a protege of Oistrakh of all people (yes, she's quite old, but vigorous). She announces upon seeing the boy play that a monstrous crime has been committed, that the previous teacher should have his arms broken, and that the only reason the boy can play at all is because of his native ability. And so it goes. One can't help but wonder what the next teacher will say.

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My teacher is always telling me to keep my elbow at a "useful height". For me this seems to mean a height where my wrist isn't ever broken (or bent, if you prefer).

I believe that the level arm lends itself towards drawing a strong smooth tone. It is indeed possible to draw a smooth tone with a bent wrist, but from what I've seen in masterclasses and in teaching and in my own experience, is that it is very difficult to maintain perfect control at the frog.

I'll look at Ms. Hahn's bow arm again, but I don't think her wrist is ever as broken as the photo of your daughter. Of course, photos can be deceiving (e.g. I thought your daughter was holding the violin out in front of her) and her wrist may not be so broken as it appears to me.

Again, I'm sure that your daughter's teacher is excellent, and you shouldn't worry that I'm attacking his teaching--I'm just offering this up for discussion. Just to let you know, I study with Karen Ritscher who studied with Karen Tuttle (who studied with Primrose who studied with a Joachim pupil and Ysaÿe).

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