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Bow Hold Revisited, Part Two

Posted by bj on Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Last night was the Easton Jam, a good one, as usual.

We played in the key of A to start out, and in that key the tunelist has mostly reels and faster tunes that really dig in. I was using the choked up hold for most of this part of the jam and it was working well, though I did find myself making adjustments that could be made more easily when listening to the sound within a circle of players. I've now got better tone with the choked up hold, and can really get the groove going.

Then we switched to the key of G, where there are a few more lyrical tunes, like Hollow Poplar. I found myself switching automatically to TUF when playing those, and it worked well.

Making the switch was easier than I thought, didn't take as much of an adjustment once I got used to doing it. And I LOVE  having another tool in the toolbox, one that can now be used fairly effortlessly. Funny how I agonized over bowholds a couple years ago, and now I can just use any of 'em in a relaxed and effective way. The woodshedding has really paid off in that regard!

And I noticed something.

When I play with TUF, the bowhair is tilted. Mechanically it pretty much HAS  to be, it's very tough to get the bowhair flat on the strings when using TUF without losing my grip on the bow, at least for me and the way my hand is constructed. That tilt on the strings is what gives that sweeter tone. But it also takes ALL of the edge out, and makes it sound too  . . . violinny. In other words, appropriate for some tunes, but not at all appropriate for most of the oldtime tunes I play.

But that's not all that's going on with TUF. The bow balance and leverage is different, allowing the bowhair to have more pressure on it without the hand having to impart the pressure, the weight of the bow is doing the work.

That pressure and tilt can be duplicated with the choked up hold if you have the control, which it seems I do at least to some degree finally though it can always be better. Too much pressure and you get the bad noises, so control is critical. You then have more versatility in being able to rotate the bow and give that pretty tone in places and flatten the hair to give that phat and rough tone when you need to really lay into the tune. And I find that most of the time during the jam my bowhair was more or less flat, but maybe favoring one side just a bit, a good compromise position that gives the rhythmic bow a good strong pulse.  However, the tone on tilt, though very, very good, is just a bit thinner than when using TUF, probably because of the balance/leverage thing (but I'm wondering if different bows can compensate . . . time to go bow shopping? Wonder if a bow that's heavier at the tip will do the job here.)

Anyway, it'll be interesting to explore this further. And I'm glad I'm far enough along in this journey that it's fun instead of agony. Geez, it wasn't that long ago when any change I made in bowhold was accompanied by WEEKS of adjustment, agony, screetches, scratches, squeaks and other assorted sonic pain! So there's a lesson here for those of you whose feet aren't as far on the path. It does get better. It does get more fun! I'm having a blast with these discoveries!

13 comments on “Bow Hold Revisited, Part Two”

ChickenMan Says:
Wednesday, November 24, 2010 @1:31:01 PM

I agree with what Jane said. Oh, wait, wrong blog. :^)

bj Says:
Wednesday, November 24, 2010 @1:52:50 PM

Well, you WERE on my good side . . .

Humbled by this instrument Says:
Wednesday, November 24, 2010 @2:34:39 PM

I agree with ChickenMan, too,...oh wait....

ChickenMan Says:
Wednesday, November 24, 2010 @5:14:12 PM

Okay. Seriousness.................................................................. ...
It's cool you've got the feel for the bow like this. And AMEN to the living through the noise.
IF one focuses on just a couple of things (at different times even) - bow angle, sweet spot -
they will see almost immediate improvement in the noise. At least on the open strings. Hee, hee.

Are you finding yourself freer in your bowing now that you've got a new skillset to work with?

I have been working more single strokes (saw strokes) into my playing since my ears hear them
in the playing of so many of my current influences - Ed Haley (even though John Hartford calls him a
long bower, I hear more singles than slurs), John Summers, Allen Sisson, really just so many of the
78rpm recordings I've collected. I've not abandoned shuffles by any means, but working on saw stroking
has made it easier to throw a string of them into a tune to add the kind of spice that keeps it interesting.
It's fun to throw them into the entire A or B part sometimes - like you might hear the Skillet Lickers do -
for the craziness of it all. New tools are fun to use.

bj Says:
Thursday, November 25, 2010 @9:10:14 AM

Yeah, at least on the open strings. ;-)

The "change up the bowhold" thing has given me a bit more freedom, yes, though I'm in the early days of exploring what it all means. I just wish I could change up the bowhold from one bit of the tune to another, now THAT would be really sweet!

I need to sawstroke more. I do work with it a bit every day, but you need to do it a LOT for the lefthand/righthand timing coordination to get really smooth. I'm much better at it than I was six months ago, but I still could be a lot cleaner there.

Re the sweet spot. I'm blessed with a fiddle that has such a huge sweet spot that I can get sloppy. Maybe not a good thing, but my three other fiddles are less forgiving that way. I tried out a fiddle not that long ago that was really wonderful, but the sweet spot was so very narrow, that it would take a whole lot more discipline and woodshedding than I would want to devote to it! Luckily, though it was close in quality, it wasn't better than the fiddle I love.

FiddleJammer Says:
Friday, November 26, 2010 @8:58:36 AM

Erm... the bow sweet spot?

bj Says:
Friday, November 26, 2010 @12:46:20 PM

No, at least that isn't what I was referring to. I was talking about the fiddle's sweet spot, that "best place" to play on the strings, though you can use places that aren't best for effect. I assumed that's what Billy was talking about. Maybe not, but I guess he could have been referring to a bow's sweet spot, though I don't feel bows that way, since the whole thing is good for different sounds and purposes.

ChickenMan Says:
Friday, November 26, 2010 @5:00:45 PM

Fiddle sweet spot.

FiddleJammer Says:
Friday, November 26, 2010 @10:40:04 PM

Supposedly, the point where your bow will balance on your index finger, and equidistant on either side is the place that will get the best vibrations. Not always right in the middle, depending on the weight of the frog hardware and wood shape.

bj Says:
Saturday, November 27, 2010 @5:06:30 AM

When I'm choked up I'm not playing on the same place on the bow. Close, but not the same. Has to do with where I feel the balance once my hand moves, and what I wanna do with the bow, ie bowrocking. Also, sometimes playing nearer the tip feels better. Not all the way, but in that 2/3rds of the way up place that feels good.

There are two bows I play routinely. Both have that balance point in almost exactly the same place. I have five other bows. They're all off that spot at least a bit, one quite a bit. I have to wonder, if I went bow shopping, if I'd come home with another bow with the balance point in the same spot as the two I've been playing.

bj Says:
Saturday, November 27, 2010 @5:21:05 AM

Oh, and Terri, that balance point shouldn't be in the middle.

"9.5 inches is a balance point that seems to be suitable for most violin players. Naturally, there are personal exceptions and allowances made for each specific stick.

The general concept is that if the balance point is too close to the frog the bow will feel "tip light," meaning that the bow can tend to swish around and not track or dig in well towards the tip. The opposite, "tip heavy" can track well at the tip, but can be sluggish on quicker passages and more exhausting to play with.

Viola bows do generally have a balance point slightly greater than 9.5 inches.

This is a subtle business. The relative stiffness, overall weight, and "quickness" of the bow can also affect the player's perception regarding balance.

John Greenwood, Bowmaker"


I just measured. Both my players have their balance point at 9.5" measured on the stick, give or take a sixteenth, without including the adjustment screw.

carlb Says:
Saturday, November 27, 2010 @7:47:26 AM

BJ, Actually, if the point of balance is closer to the frog, the bow will be heavier at the tip, not lighter. At least, that's my interpretation of what I think the physics of the situation is.

FiddleJammer Says:
Saturday, November 27, 2010 @8:12:51 AM

Yup, that's what I was saying, BJ... "Not always right in the middle". I did my time choking up the bow, and my hand still seems to creep that way. But, I had a little lesson with Jake Krack, who says bows have evolved over all these many years with the physics designed for the best leverage near the frog. He converted me over to a more classical hold with that logic. I'm not saying it's right for everyone, but it does seem to make it most likely that I'll be sawing around my sweet spot with the least amount of effort.

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