Originally published 5 Jan 2008. I really wish I had somehow been able to wrangle the bow in the picture into my life. While the current Sasano bow (I’ve had since my second year at CSUN) is wonderful, I can still remember the miraculous glide of this one. I nicknamed it “Excalibow”. A colleague had loaned it to me, perhaps overestimating my ability to make such a purchase. Perfectly crisp, seamless at the frog, resolutely bouncy when asked for any number of off the string techniques. Although a poor craftsman blames her tools, the balance and weight of your bow is something to consider when messing with fundamental stuff like the way you hold it. I have two current students whose bows are actively to the detriment of their experience with the cello. For instance, one plays with an absolute baseball bat of a stick and also manages to have a sharp frog. A sharp frog! The combination of heft and a pointed edge upon which to rest her thumb makes for a painful and clumsy experience. She’s due to turn in her rental outfit in the new year and purchase a proper instrument and bow- but you can see how there is only so much one can do with a bow that cooperates for absolutely nobody. Another student has a bow with a stick scarcely girthier than a drinking straw. As such, it’s what my friend Simon Rundlett would call “noodly”: it rolls over easily, creating absolutely no stability. The frog feels okay, but this student has developed a stressed hand and an overactive pinky that is constantly working against the other fingers. It’s a wisp of a thing: I can’t think of anyone who would benefit from such an example. I sort of wish it didn’t exist. This bow is a friend to nobody. When we go to make changes to her technique, there’s an asterisk above our efforts: *these changes may not be enough to overcome the disadvantage your current bow is causing.

For most of us, the bow is troublesome. The mechanics of grip and arm movement seem to have endless possibilities to vex us, and tension is a serious obstacle. So I say January is going to be Bow Month here on SRCB. Send me pictures of your bow grip, and tell me whether it works or not. If it needs work, we’ll check it out. If you made a change for the better, tell me how, and I’ll post it and share it, or if you want to post it on your own blog, I’ll link to it.

And if you’re wondering, my bow grip works. But it took a long time for it to be reliable, relaxed and effective. I think it was a year after I had graduated from college that the thing settled in…basically, when I started teaching full-time. The change I made had as much to do with my arm as my hand, and the end result is a highly rotated hand and an absolutely flat wrist. My grip is such that my pinky doesn’t really touch the bow very much, unless I am on the C string at the frog. My thumb is curved and the thumbnail is parallel to the floor, which is another function of the rotation. I also have a rule that the elbow should always be slightly higher than the wrist. [Edit: while most of these things are still true, my pinky (though still largely inert) is now more fully on the frog; a change that came about after writing a story (that would come to be scrapped!) about the different schools of violin bow hold. Edouard Schmieder demonstrated so elegantly that I succumbed to a bit of experimentation, eventually landing on a slightly more into-the-hand, under the knuckle position. The moral of the story? Always be open to adjustment. The only thing that is important is that the mechnanics work for you, to deliver effortless projection, clearly established technique, and a pain-free experience.]

So, does your bow grip work?


[Edit: I’d be open to doing this again, especially now that YouTube and Skype make things so easy to record and post.]

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6 Responses

  1. Thanks for posting this! I have two main problems with my bow grip. I’ve made many adjustments throughout the years and the problems go away and then pop up again later on so it definitely has not settled down.

    1) Sore thumb – Usually, I get a sore thumb if I haven’t practiced in over a week. The first few days I get back on the cello…boom – sore thumb. Also, I’ve noticed that if I properly warm up my bow arm and hand, the less likely I will get a sore thumb. Probably has something to do with flexibility. I see that there is a new post on sore thumb so I will check that out.

    2) Sore pinky joint. This one I struggle with quite a bit. I know that I seem to tense up my pinky finger so that it is almost straight. I’ve made a lot of adjustments to relax it – this works ok in scales, but when I start going through passages, my pinky finger will tend to straighten out and stiffen up my hand. Any suggestions?

  2. Thanks for posting this and all of the helpful pictures and discussion- I’m finding it very enlightening. I struggle with 2 things with my bow hold (I’m sure there’s more but these seem to be the peskiest)
    1 – my thumb starts nice and curved but gradually will get straight and I lose that nice flexible grip.
    2- the position of my other fingers starts off nice – middle finger in a very similar position to your picture, but then my fingers start moving towards the tip so that my pinky may end up on the middle of the frog –

    is that related to problem #1?

  3. Emily,

    nice blog you have going.
    Every beginner I’ve ever enountered does indeed have a bow ‘grip.’ (myself included when I started out) I’ve modified that term to bow ‘hold’; anything that helps to release the tension..

  4. Or howzabout “bow hang?” My understanding is that it’s not even a hold, it’s incomplete. Only if the string is there helping is it held.

    Take it off the string, ok, ya gotta hold it, but otherwise, shouldn’t we make the string do its share in holding the bow.

    Now, if only it were that easy with getting children to help.

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