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Bow Hold Revisited-- How bj got her groove back

Posted by bj on Sunday, November 21, 2010

I've been playing over three years. I now have fairly decent bow control compared to my first or second year in. The mechanics of tone, percussiveness, and speed have been, if not quite mastered, at least internalized to the point that I can at least much of the time play without having to analyse every little thing that goes into tone production or the way to achieve speed or keep the groove going.

About 4 or 5 months ago I had decided that I wanted to produce a fuller tone. So I revisited my bow hold and experimented with different ways to make my tone fuller. I finally settled on the TUF hold (Thumb Under Frog, for those who don't know.) Yes, my tone is fuller. But lately I've been very dissatisfied with my playing. I seem to have lost an important edge, the thing that made my playing . . . MINE. I couldn't quite put my finger on what was going on, until I watched some stellar performances last night at the Jalopy Theater.

Talk about fiddling talent! Wowza, it was a feast for any fiddler who wants to get better! And it ran the gamut from the classically trained Craig Judelman of the Dustbusters and the Ether Frolic Mob, to the self-taught playing of Walker Shepard of the Dustbusters and the Ether Frolic Mob and the extremely electic playing of both Jane Gilday and Peter Stampfel of the Ether Frolic Mob.

These folks are cookin' with gas from the minute they hit the stage. The GROOVE is amazing. Whole lotta foot stompin' going ON!

Craig's playing is definitely informed by his classical training, but no one would ever call him anything but a fiddler! His groove is solid, even though he's the one who thinks nothing of playing the really notey and more hornpipey stuff at a breathless speed. His accents lay a good percussive groundwork throughout his playing. He's a strong user of rhythmic bowing patterns, unlike the others, and very much a downbow fiddler.

Walker is  . . . Walker. His playing is so grounded in the earth that I often find myself looking at his feet to see if they've somehow sprouted roots. He's the least flashy of the fiddlers, but what he does with his bow lays down such a solid groove that toes can't help but tap when he's playing. Walker also downbows more often than not, but seldom, if ever, uses pattern bowing.

Jane and Peter defy description, but both have one thing in common. The groove. The percussiveness. The rhythm. Both are totally anarchical in bowing direction, and neither ever use pattern bowing.

What's the one thing, besides the rhythmic groove, they all have in common? They all have a thumb-on-stick choked up bow hold. Even Craig, despite his classical training.

I've been playing up a storm this morning. And I've been using thumb-under-stick choked up, which was a bit of an adjustment at first. Bottom line-- I've got my groove back.

Now, that doesn't mean I'm never using TUF. I think for more lyrical pieces, such as slow waltzes, it definitely gives the right feel to the piece. And if I ever do move into playing bluegrass it might be useful, it has more of a bluegrassy smooth sound.

But for breakdowns and reels and maybe even the faster hornpipes, and especially for those pieces with lots of bowrocking I'm definitely back to the modified choke up thumb-on-stick hold, though maybe not as choked up as some who use it.

It's easier to be percussive, to play drums with the bow, when you are closer to the center of balance. Also easier to bowrock and do the bass swing-over. And I have much more control over beating on the strings (yeah, I love to literally play drums with the bow!) And my speed inched up a bit with the change.

So, bottom line is that different bow holds will give you different results, depending on what is informing your playing. I think you need to feel comfortable with any one of the different bow holds to get the results I did. I am, with a small bit of adjustment time, though I think I can eventually work towards a smooth segue from one hold to another. More tools in the fiddler toolbox.

Something else I think I found. After using the TUF grip and learning what the tone can sound like using it, I am getting better tone out of the choked up grip, though it is still thinner than TUF. It is better than the tone I used to pull with the choke-up, though, and I'm glad I went through this period as long as I did. I think it showed me something about bow mechanics I wouldn't have learned otherwise. And though I already knew this, it showed me all over again that Oldtime is all about the rhythm. Anything that weakens your rhythmic drive is taking away from your ability to play this music. So I'm willing to let the tone suffer a bit to get that groove back.


25 comments on “Bow Hold Revisited-- How bj got her groove back”

Rene Says:
Sunday, November 21, 2010 @12:53:35 PM

I've chocked up quite a lot lately and it has helped me considerably. I wonder how much of mine is due to short arms and tiny hands. Seems like I also have a more relaxed arm.

janepaints Says:
Sunday, November 21, 2010 @2:50:47 PM

ya ever see some of the bowholds mike seeger used? IMO fidddling (and almost everything else) is, essentially, individualistic, alchemic, shamanic, mysterious, hainted, illogical, limbic, spiritual, intuitive, 'second-nature'd' the stuff of blessings, gifts and providence.

Mandogryl Says:
Sunday, November 21, 2010 @4:52:03 PM

Well said, Jane, as usual.
Myself? I like to hold the darn thing on the frog.
It gives me more bow to use. I can use every bit of it I can get.

bj Says:
Sunday, November 21, 2010 @5:13:36 PM

Stephanie, you can use the whole bow if you choke up.

Jane, I'm my father's daughter. Did I ever tell you the story of how I learned to work on cars? Dad wouldn't teach me, since it was (especially back then) "unsuitable" for a young girl to learn. So I waited until they went away for the day and took my car apart in their driveway, essentially making him teach me how to put it back together. Deconstruction and reconstruction is second nature to me. Mumbo Jumbo isn't. I'll leave that to you. ;-)

M-D Says:
Sunday, November 21, 2010 @10:43:09 PM

I'll go with what Jane said. :o)

Humbled by this instrument Says:
Monday, November 22, 2010 @6:08:24 AM

Yeah, I'm with M-D who's with Jane.

bj Says:
Monday, November 22, 2010 @6:28:38 AM

Looks like Jane missed her calling . . . Reverend Jane Myung Moon . . .

I BELIEVE! Can I get a witness?

Cyndy Says:
Monday, November 22, 2010 @9:45:43 AM

Loved your comments, and yeah, I think Jane's right.

Curious related thing. I've been playing a bunch of cross-tuned WV tunes this past month and I never really think much about anything except whether or not it's sounding the way I want it to. And you know what? I notice that my hand has crept up the bow away from the frog in a mysterious sort of way. Must be true!

ChickenMan Says:
Monday, November 22, 2010 @4:37:51 PM

I tried TUF for a while, and still mess with it, but I like the feel of the stick or something. I thought I was using a 'classical' type of hold that occasionally creeped up the stick until I recently video taped myself. The low angle of the shot and where I stood wound up giving a look at my bowing by showing the exact straight line of the bow with my hand doing a 3D movie in and out towards the lens. It turns out I really hold it about a 1/2 inch from the frog and when I get going, I immediately lift my little finger as if I'm drinking tea. Go figure.

bj Says:
Monday, November 22, 2010 @5:18:36 PM

Billy, you just won brownie points for not agreeing with Jane . . . ;-)

Oh, and I lift my pinkie too . . .

FiddleJammer Says:
Monday, November 22, 2010 @5:22:51 PM

I get better leverage on the stick. And, have been using a more classical hold for the past 2+ years. But, I really do like the idea of many different ways to hold the bow. All will produce different sounds and styles. Adds a little flavor to the genre. :-)

bj Says:
Monday, November 22, 2010 @5:29:42 PM

My (current) hold is classical. As long as you ignore the choke-up and the pinkie in the air, that is . . .

Humbled by this instrument Says:
Monday, November 22, 2010 @5:45:41 PM

I throw my pinkie in the air. It's my way of waving to my fans.

bj Says:
Monday, November 22, 2010 @5:47:21 PM

How far do you throw it?

ChickenMan Says:
Tuesday, November 23, 2010 @10:33:38 AM

And do you "wave it like you just don't care"?

bj Says:
Tuesday, November 23, 2010 @10:42:27 AM

And do they scream for any other body parts?

ronwalker49 Says:
Wednesday, November 24, 2010 @6:18:58 AM

Hi bj...Many years ago an old fiddler (Harold Staggs) told me to hold the bow TUF and I took his advice...It took me a couple of years to really get comfortable with it, but I think it was the best advice that I ever got from anyone....After more than fifty yrs, I can hold the bow anyway I choose but TUF is my first choice most of the time...

eerohero Says:
Saturday, January 8, 2011 @5:09:59 PM

Well, this sounds quite interesting, I might try it too, yet if it takes a couple of years, forget it....

eerohero Says:
Sunday, January 9, 2011 @1:49:06 AM

THanxs ,bj, this really works, TUF, priceless tip, I doubled my speed on Lee Highway Blues with it.

bj Says:
Sunday, January 9, 2011 @3:54:02 AM

I'm glad it worked for you, Eero! Funny, I had to get away from TUF to get the speed back. Just goes to show we're all built differently.

eerohero Says:
Sunday, January 9, 2011 @6:34:13 AM

I know the reason for it, it depends where you`re using it, I used this for speed in a part, where Im jumping from two strings to two other strings in a furious speed, You may call it Orange Blossom Special shuffle, most of the players do.well, this was the Key to it (For Me),a Lighbulb experience !

bj Says:
Sunday, January 9, 2011 @6:43:42 AM

I love lightbulb moments!

Andah1andah2 Says:
Sunday, January 9, 2011 @6:44:16 AM

BJ, did you ever really lose your groove?

bj Says:
Sunday, January 9, 2011 @7:04:17 AM

At least once a week . . .

eerohero Says:
Sunday, January 9, 2011 @5:34:35 PM

arent we all doin` just that, few admit this.....its a part of the Game

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