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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Importance of proper bow hold


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Physicslawyer - Posted - 01/18/2011:  16:38:08


How important is it to have the "correct" bow hold as defined by a teacher? Are different ways of holding the bow equally accepted or is there really one standard way of holding the bow? Can you tell from someone's playing (audio recording) whether or not he or she is "properly" holding the bow?

As a follow up question, do you really have to do the "paint brush" sway to the wrist thing in order to be an accomplished fiddle player? I have seen many talented fiddle players do this and have seen fiddle players in videos mention the importance of this technique.

Thank you from a very beginning fiddle player!! :O)

UsuallyPickin - Posted - 01/18/2011:  18:15:22


A loose wrist is important. Many techniques and overall speed of bowing depends on flexibility. Bow hold is important also,the bow has to be held in a firm but flexible grip. This is done in different ways by different fiddlers. Anything, any technique you are taught is a starting place. Where you take it is a developing of personal technique. But you have to start somewhere. If only so you can grow out of it. Play long and often.. R/

ghopper - Posted - 01/18/2011:  19:53:12


Disclaimer: I'm not a teacher and still in the early stages of this journey. I'll offer this; I think there a couple of variations of the classical bow hold that are traditionally taught. Fiddlers have many creative methods to holding the stick as you have likely observed.

However I believe there are fundamentals related to all. The thumb is a fulcrum, the index and pinky adds weight as needed. I think the middle and ring fingers may help guide the bow. Although I haven't advanced to that level yet. If you are not familiar with Simon Fischer's basics, I recommend you find a copy. These aspects of the bow hold are discussed in detail. Once I grasped what the intent of holding the bow correctly was aiming to achieve, I realized that the actual placement of the fingers are not as critical as I once thought. Providing of course you have them placed in the general vicinity of what's taught. As stated, you've got to start somewhere.

The wrist will take some time to develop. Maybe years, like so many other aspects of this instrument. This video has a nice camera angle of the bow hand that illustrates is pretty decent graphic of how the wrist moves at bow change intervals. It's not as dramatic as some players wrist, somewhat subtle in fact. But very effective for the piece being played.

youtube.com/watch?v=4sd_kWBiP-8

Regards,

fiddlepogo - Posted - 01/18/2011:  20:50:55


The Thumb Under Frog variant bow hold is very common among top bluegrass and contest fiddlers.
Vassar Clements used it, and Mark O'Connor, Byron Berline, and Michael Cleveland use it, among many others.
"oldtimer" started a thread about it shortly after the Fiddle Hangout started in the summer of 2007,
and that led me to try it. I find it gives me easier, quicker string changes due to improved leverage on the bow,
and seems to give me a more immediate and aggressive attack that works really well for rhythmic shuffles.
It's also used for beginning Suzuki students, although they transition them to the normal classical hold after awhile.

In addition getting the ring finger up on the stick changed my hands angle to the bow (it's no longer parallel with the bow)
and that has improved my wrist action a lot. Being able to hinge at the wrist is important for high-speed fiddling,
because when you have it going on, you can execute the shortest sawstrokes (like unaccented upstrokes) with a flick of the wrist,
which is much quicker than trying to move the whole arm.

I'm not so keen on speed for speed's sake, but here's the deal- it's really common to find people who push the tempo of tunes at jams,
and some nervous band members speed up on stage. If they speed things up beyond your comfort zone, and your bowing falls apart,
it's not going to be fun, and you can't really say "So-and-so sped things up" without looking like a whiner.
So it pays to have some speed in reserve, because it makes it harder for others to "break" your fiddling.

At the very least, if you use a classical bow hold for fiddling, you should lift the pinky off of the bow during fast passages.
Annie Staninec is a very good classically trained fiddler who uses a conventional classical hold on longer bow stuff in Bluegrass and Gypsy Jazz,
but when she plays Old Time she lifts the pinky off of the stick, probably to get a little more flexibility.

It's kind of hard to explain exactly how it works, but I feel that having more flexibility in the wrist has helped my phrasing...
rigidity in the wrist tends to lead to rigid phrasing, and flexibility opens up more ways of phrasing... IF you can control the flexibility.

cheekee - Posted - 01/18/2011:  23:52:44


I have attended 3 workshops with Gordon stobbe about the right hand. Each time I take something more from it. I believe any improvements I have experienced are largely owing to him.

echord - Posted - 01/19/2011:  05:55:35


Violinists generally use a bow hold like the teachers teach, I think, but fiddlers tend to be all over the place. I'm a believer in holding the bow however is comfortable for you and whatever works. If playing classical violin is your thing, the particulars of "proper" bow hold may be more important, but from what I've seen of old time fiddlers, anything goes. Especially common is choking up on the bow, and the TUF position.

I personally just grab the thing in a natural way with all four fingers on top and my thumb underneath about my second finger. I also choke up about 4 inches and sometimes raise my pinky off the stick (and I generally use a 3/4 size bow to minimize the choke up).

I haven't the slightest interest in what is "proper" in fiddling. If it works, it's right. If it doesn't work, it ain't.

Sue B. - Posted - 01/19/2011:  06:35:59


If at some point you may want to play classical music, swing, jazz, gypsy, Scandinavian & possibly other styles, one of the classical bowhold variants may serve you well. It won't hurt your OT fiddling. Classical players spend a lot of time working on bowhold & bowstroke because of the variety of volumes, tone colours, on-string & off-string bowings, etc., required. Not all of that is used in OT fiddling, but are used in various other fiddle styles. A classical bowhold done well plus a flexible wrist helps tone, volume & speed, & smooths string changes if desired.

woodwiz - Posted - 01/19/2011:  07:07:33


IMHO, it's important to have a hold that works. Classical bow hold is fine, and gives lots of options for bow technique, but it's as easy to screw up as any other. I see SO many beginning and intermediate players with really tortuous looking classical holds, rigid and painful looking.

To me it seems that a relaxed hold that lets you do what you want with the bow is key. In fiddling you don't control the bow; you just guide it. You could almost bow, holding the screw with thumb and forefinger. The reason you use more fingers is to vary the weight on the bow, and to be able to pick it up if you want to. Guidance is best effected by the angle at which the bow crosses the strings.

I know a lot of people bow crooked, and use their fingers to control the contact point, but that seems counterproductive to me.

Dick Hauser - Posted - 01/19/2011:  08:21:21


You hear fiddlers who became accomplished players. Remember, there are hordes of fiddlers out there who are very happy playing, but really don't play very well. Many "self taught" fiddlers were fortunate enough to have frequent exposure to accomplished fiddlers. These individuals are constantly getting informal lessons. In addition, some of these well know fiddlers started playing at a very young age.

The standard classical grip is a starting point. And, there is more than 1 version of the "standard" grip. Players modify their grip to accommodate certain styles of playing and/or physical difficulties. It is possible (for some people) to play well and not use much wrist action. Personally, I think that is is easier to play fasterlusing more wrist action.

Some world class violinists play using very little wrist action. I have heard some good fiddlers play well and use very little wrist action. But, all the great fiddlers seem to have fluid wrist action and don't seem to be working as hard when they play.

On his DVD, Gordon Stobbe the Canadian fiddler tells the viewer to hold their hand in front of them and to "wave" from side to side. Then he tells the viewer to hold their hand in front of them an "wave" up and down like they are saying goodbye. Then he asks which motion felt most natural.

By the way, the subject of wrist action has been discussed a lot. If you go to the archives, you will find a library of information. If we ever have a "Frequently Asked Questions" category, your question should appear at or near the top of the list.

Physicslawyer - Posted - 01/19/2011:  08:49:37


Thanks everyone for the replies. I took a lesson with a fiddle player and he told me that my bow hold is "atrocious." I am only interested in flddle music (irish, old tyme, bluegrass) and am not aspiring to play classical music. I learned the bowhold from Brian Wicklund's fiddle book and just hold it the standard way. This teacher wants me to "choke up the bow" and hold it further up. By the time I was done getting it into the position he wanted, I was amazingly uncomfortable and couldn't even play anymore. Personally, I think that you should just hold it however you find it easiest where you can play what you want while it sounds good.

Now, as a beginner, I realize that I may be completely off on this. This guy is so hardcore about the bow hold that he told me he wouldn't work with me unless I perfected his bow hold this week. We literally spent an hour over skype (teachers are hard to find on LI) of him yelling at me that I wasn't doing it right. He said everything I do is useless unless I get this bow hold down. So, I figured I would open this up to opinions! :O)


Edited by - Physicslawyer on 01/19/2011 08:50:45

RobBob - Posted - 01/19/2011:  09:19:02


The bow hold for a fiddler can vary. The most important things are comfort and control.

rcc - Posted - 01/19/2011:  11:25:27


What RobBob said.

The guy's yelling at you. It sound like he's forcing you to use a non-standard bow hold. (If it's the bow hold I think it is, I think it's the hold that Rayna Gellert uses as well as number of other great OT fiddlers. But it's not for everyone.)

I think he's absolutely wrong saying that "everything is useless" unless you get his bow hold down. I've learned plenty from teachers who hold the bow differently from me.

I'm sure he's got a lot to teach. I just wonder if it's worth the baggage that will come with it.

Andah1andah2 - Posted - 01/19/2011:  11:52:27


uh oh, yelling at you defeats the purpose doesn't it. This is supposed to be fun. Something to enjoy, to counter the stresses of life. My teacher was firm on first learning her "classical" grip but didn't brow beat me.

Andah1andah2 - Posted - 01/19/2011:  11:52:57


uh oh, yelling at you defeats the purpose doesn't it. This is supposed to be fun. Something to enjoy, to counter the stresses of life. My teacher was firm on first learning her "classical" grip but didn't brow beat me.

Physicslawyer - Posted - 01/19/2011:  13:44:24


Yeah getting yelled at by a teacher who is making learning the instrument miserable is probably a mistake because then you can learn to hate the instrument itself which is ridiculous. The reason we play is because we enjoy it. As stated earlier, you can learn a lot just by watching other players and experiencing informal lessons that way.

MikeyBoy - Posted - 01/19/2011:  14:50:42


I attended a workshop led by Betse Ellis of the Wilders not too long ago. She was originally a classical violinist who is now a great fiddler. She was holding the stick about two inches up from the frog. I asked her about it, and if there was an advantage or reason to holding it that way. She basically said she moves her grip around for what seems comfortable at the moment - having an "old-time" grip vs a classical grip didn't really provide any particular advantage or disadvantage (for playing old-time). The important thing was comfort and being able to bow fluidly with a relaxed arm.

Personally, I use a bastardized classical grip that would probably make most instructors cringe, because that's what works for me.

Humbled by this instrument - Posted - 01/19/2011:  14:55:40


There is one way to hold a bow, the Classical way. Similarly, there is one way to hold your violin, one way to draw your bow across the strings, and so forth. If some of you wish to hold the bows differently and place the fiddle on your chest and look like a clown and sound worse, so be it.

With understanding and compassion,

Humbled

MikeyBoy - Posted - 01/19/2011:  15:18:03


Similarly, there is but one correct way to dance to Bumblee in a Jug while playing. Deviate at your peril.

woodwiz - Posted - 01/19/2011:  16:05:23


quote:
Originally posted by Physicslawyer

Yeah getting yelled at by a teacher who is making learning the instrument miserable is probably a mistake because then you can learn to hate the instrument itself which is ridiculous. The reason we play is because we enjoy it. As stated earlier, you can learn a lot just by watching other players and experiencing informal lessons that way.


Just in case you forgot: You are paying the teacher, not the other way around. He's the employee, so to speak. It's his job to teach you the best way he knows how, but not to be inflexible where it doesn't really matter.

It might be probative to look at half a dozen fiddlers who play better than he does, and examine their bow holds. It would certainly give the lie to the claim that his way is the "only way".

I hope you can establish an understanding, or else find another teacher. It took me a long time to find a teacher who would help me find my way, present me with objective reasons for doing things, and options as well.

jfarcher - Posted - 01/19/2011:  18:19:20


The teacher may just be wanting the student to learn properly. True, it is possible to fly a plane without the wings but you will not get very far.

This will make a great difference as to whether or not the student can progress on to more advanced techniques and be a better player. The whole idea of taking lessons is to learn something that one does not know. If the basics are not achieved, than there is a problem.

It is not so much a matter of the teacher being mean, but rather teaching a basic discipline which is necessary and attempting to establish a clear understanding of who is the teacher and who is the student.

Discipline ( and patience) is required by both the teacher and student, and to allow a student to allow a student to continue in a bad habit is a sign the teacher is not a good one. The best teacher are demanding and some do yell---it is meant to actually challenge you, not bring you down. If you have difficulties in taking that, then you are too sensitive for a professional career and will often have difficulty in taking any constructive criticism--this is a great hindrance to progress itself. Sound learning is based on personal introspection and self-criticism, as any great artist will tell you. The best defense a lawyer takes in court is to prove the other person wrong by showing evidence. If the teacher is producing fine work, it will show in their students.

A perceptive student will listen, learn, master and show the teacher the time was well spent at the previous lesson. Mastery of any skill requires that one take the advice given by those who are better experienced. Or one could just make up their own rule and get nowhere. This is what makes the difference between an accomplished player and a mediocre one. We will not get into the details of what makes a fine artist, but it is exactly the same thing that makes a fine teacher: real experience.

The voice of experience must never yell, but persuade with truth of the matter at hand. Some students hear "yelling" when they encounter the truth of the matter.

rcc - Posted - 01/19/2011:  18:43:12


That's all well and good but I have a hard time believing that a non-standard bow hold is either necessary or basic discipline.

Personally, I'd find another teacher.

bj - Posted - 01/19/2011:  19:02:36


Bow hold is extremely important when you're starting out. Paradoxically, the longer you've been playing, the less important it gets.

jfarcher - Posted - 01/19/2011:  20:41:59


quote:
Originally posted by rcc

That's all well and good but I have a hard time believing that a non-standard bow hold is either necessary or basic discipline.

Personally, I'd find another teacher.



What is so hard to believe, unless you have never been shown or done personal research on the history of the bow itself?

So the historical value is not to be considered in allowing the student to know the baroque hold along with the modern one? There is a great OT application in choking up on the bow that one never considers---faster and more precise notes can be achieved with little effort. The OT fiddlers were only really doing what violinists had already done for 3 centuries. The modern violin hold came with the evolution of music itself and was necessary for the subtle dynamic passages required in the music of the mid-19th Century and beyond. It can make the difference between scraping and singing with the bow. The greatest violinist in the history of the world used it...Paganini. There is a bit of physics involved in the whole art of bowing, which is best learned by experimentation. The bow is the "soul" of the instrument, so it is to the players best advantage to master it the best they are able. When I see a teacher condone holding the tip where the frog is held, then I would question their ability to teach.

A good teacher has this knowledge of centuries of violin playing and can explain it. The student should learn all they can, as this makes for a better, well rounded player.

It is never wise to make a judgment until you try the teacher in question.

rcc - Posted - 01/19/2011:  23:38:35


I've got no problems with any bow hold anyone wants to use when fiddling. Heck, even playing classical. If they can make it work for them, more power to them.

But I think it's wrong for anyone to insist that any one bow hold is necessary for futher instruction to be of value. We have many examples of great fiddle players that use a wide variety of bow holds that all play incredibly well. I wasn't aware that Pagannini used the baroque hold but it wouldn't really surprise me.

So when I hear of a teacher who insists that "everything is useless unless you get this bow hold down" and refuse to work with a student until and unless the student moves to holding the bow a specific way, I have a hard time thinking of that teacher as a truly good teacher. He may have good things to teach. But I dont think he's a good teacher.

rcc - Posted - 01/19/2011:  23:49:07


To get this conversation back to bowing, the "standard" classical bowhold is a very versatile bow hold. It's probably the most versatile and used properly, can give you the most and most precise control of the bow. Which is why it's widely used in the classical world.

However, as has been mentioned, there are variations within the classical school. And the classical school is easy to screw up. Probably easier to screw up than some of the popular alternative bow holds like holding the thumb under the frog (TUF) or choking up on the bow.

My personal feeling is that every bow hold is a compromise. Each aims to make certain things easier at some cost. The cost may be that other things are harder. Or that the bow hold itself is more difficult to master.

So my advice is figure out what you want out of your bow hold and pick a hold that fits with what you want.

oldtimestrings - Posted - 01/20/2011:  07:37:21


quote:
Originally posted by RobBob

The bow hold for a fiddler can vary. The most important things are comfort and control.


Exactly. Classical violinists use more sophisticated off-string techniques and do other things that require a different kind of finesse. That's why the classical bow holds have developed, and that's why they are taught ( and yes, there is more than one type of classical bow hold). While some highly accomplished fiddlers in Bluegrass and other more "advanced" styles use some of these same techniques, many great fiddlers don't ever use them, so they don't require the same kind of bow hold. Speaking for myself (I'm NOT calling myself a great fiddler, BTW), I don't really use my RH pinky at all on the bow, simply because nothing I do requires its contribution, and I find I have an easier time keeping my wrist loose when I have my pinky freely extended.

M-D - Posted - 01/20/2011:  09:49:47


I'll go with RobBob's comment, and Ray's advice, regarding figuring that out.

My pinky, as well as ring-finger, are most frequently completely disengaged from the stick.The only get used if a re-set is needed, or an off-string move is needed. The use of these fingers is never a thing I think about. I just do what's needed, as needed.

Some people surely do love to complicate this fiddling business, as though it's not already a complex thing.

Learner - Posted - 01/20/2011:  13:45:31


quote:
Originally posted by Physicslawyer

Thanks everyone for the replies. I took a lesson with a fiddle player and he told me that my bow hold is "atrocious." I am only interested in flddle music (irish, old tyme, bluegrass) and am not aspiring to play classical music. I learned the bowhold from Brian Wicklund's fiddle book and just hold it the standard way. This teacher wants me to "choke up the bow" and hold it further up. By the time I was done getting it into the position he wanted, I was amazingly uncomfortable and couldn't even play anymore. Personally, I think that you should just hold it however you find it easiest where you can play what you want while it sounds good.

Now, as a beginner, I realize that I may be completely off on this. This guy is so hardcore about the bow hold that he told me he wouldn't work with me unless I perfected his bow hold this week. We literally spent an hour over skype (teachers are hard to find on LI) of him yelling at me that I wasn't doing it right. He said everything I do is useless unless I get this bow hold down. So, I figured I would open this up to opinions! :O)

Do you also have the DVD for Brian's first book, PL?

It's helpful to watch him bowing, not just to read about it. If you donj't have his DVD, I'd recommend buying it. You can get it separately from the book. I got mine from Amazon, I think.

As far as your teacher is concerned: I guess that there are "technique purists" amoung OT teachers, not just classical ones.


Edited by - Learner on 01/20/2011 13:47:56

Dan Gellert - Posted - 01/20/2011:  16:59:12


quote:
Originally posted by ghopper


However I believe there are fundamentals related to all. The thumb is a fulcrum, the index and pinky adds weight as needed.
... <snip>...
Once I grasped what the intent of holding the bow correctly was aiming to achieve, I realized that the actual placement of the fingers are not as critical as I once thought. Providing of course you have them placed in the general vicinity of what's taught. As stated, you've got to start somewhere.



Yeah!

To Physicslawyer, I say: When it comes to bowing, apply the first half of your handle way more than the second!
Like dancing, acrobatics, or baseball, it all comes down to forces, bodies in motion and all that other Newtonian stuff, but accessed through intuition rather than mathematics.

Physicslawyer - Posted - 01/20/2011:  17:06:03


quote:
Originally posted by Dan Gellert

quote:
Originally posted by ghopper


However I believe there are fundamentals related to all. The thumb is a fulcrum, the index and pinky adds weight as needed.
... <snip>...
Once I grasped what the intent of holding the bow correctly was aiming to achieve, I realized that the actual placement of the fingers are not as critical as I once thought. Providing of course you have them placed in the general vicinity of what's taught. As stated, you've got to start somewhere.



Yeah!

To Physicslawyer, I say: When it comes to bowing, apply the first half of your handle way more than the second!
Like dancing, acrobatics, or baseball, it all comes down to forces, bodies in motion and all that other Newtonian stuff, but accessed through intuition rather than mathematics.



You're speaking my language
I'm going to look into using the bow as an example when we do torque in class!

rafa - Posted - 01/20/2011:  17:26:48


I dont know all that much but I don`t believe there is a certain way to hold your bow. You have to make it work for the situation. I play lots of waltzes and the classical hold feels good. Then things will pick up and I find my hold 2 inches up from the frog. Then under frog for string crossings and then I find I`m back in classical. Heck , I figure it depends on the tune and its requirements.

fiddlechickpatti - Posted - 01/21/2011:  09:29:51


Hiya,

I'm brand new here and though I'd add my $0.02 CDN.

Since I've been teaching at fiddle camps, I've had to analyze my bowing and have discovered that there are a few key things that need to happen in order to do whatever it is that I'm doing.

1. All the fingers, including the thumb, need to be bent.
2. The grip has to be relaxed in order to allow the fingers to move on the stick.
3. The three main contact points are the fleshy part of my index finger, the tip of my index finger, and the upper right tip of my thumb. The rest of my fingers aren't doing a whole lot, and truth be told, most of the time aren't even in contact with the bow.

I also seem to have a very relaxed wrist and have little arm movement. It's all in the wrist and fingers for me.

I don't remember learning how I was taught to hold the bow. I was 4 and now my age starts with a 4 so it was a long time ago, but it was with the Suzuki method.

Patti

slimman53 - Posted - 01/21/2011:  09:53:49


There are so many great fiddlers on this site( I wish that I was one of them). Find one that you like, imitate their hold. If it's not comfortable, try another and another and another......... It could work?

rye straw - Posted - 01/21/2011:  09:54:28


i realize there are a ton of ways to play this instrument and many here being self taught learn from players they admire..i think this could be as good a starting point as any... just playing... lots of will let you develop a sense of what is comfortable to you in the early stages of playing.. as you begin to develop your control of the instrument and develop a feel for what feels comfortable then that is progress... then as you progress in your playing things begin to change.. bow holds begin to make sense for how you wnt your fiddling to sound..you just cant get certain pulses,string crossings,upbows,double stops, shuffles etc without your hold changing and evolving somewhat from what your original hold consisted of..for me just playing, and lots of it , is what will develop your own comfortable hold.. and then as your playing begins to progress and become more complicated incorporating more finesse and style you start to get a feel as to what is demanded of your bow hold to get the sound you want out of your playing...

its so interesting to me how progression occurs...as long as you play alot you will come to a more comfortable way of holding your bow and start to realize how important this aspect of your playing technique really is..but it just happens on its own..as long as you stick to it.. if you aspire towards a certain style of playing whether more rythmic bowing patterned type playing eg. n. carolina, so, kentucky...then you are going to find that a certain fluidity to your wrist is most optimal.. more melodic eg. e.kentucky fiddling may require a something totally different from your hold..maybe not as much fluid wrist motion.. but in most fiddlers i really enjoy and admire , they seem to have a fairly loose wrist which allows their playing to sound very full and driving...

all subjective.. just play and find out what works for you and what dosent...but you gotta play... alot to find out and allow your hold to evolve as your playing progresses...

i love this instrument!!!!!!



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