Bowing "in the string" v "a very light grip"

Home Forums Fiddle Lesson Forum Fiddling Techniques and Playing Advice Bowing "in the string" v "a very light grip"

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    • #6584

      In a “classical bow hold” the weight of the arm (or some of this weight, as needed), can be applied to the strings through the bowing hand’s index finger. If you don’t extend this finger up the bow and position it to lie across the top of the bow (and then down the side) between the first and second knuckles, then people suggest you’re just sliding the hair across the strings. Apply even a little weight, and you are “bowing in the string”, and producing a controlled tone.

      This seems to contrast with the very light (or loose) bow hold, and index finger barely extended, of the Celtic fiddle method.

      Is it better to work at more finger movement and more hand relaxation with the classical bow hold, or to learn to also use the “fingers barely holding the bow” approach of some Celtic fiddlers?

    • #6587

      Hi Graeme – may I humbly chip in to say that if your wrist is lovely and loose there will be plenty of weight in your hand to sit the bow on the strings enough to get them moving and “push air around the room”- and you can still give a bit of a boost with the forefinger even if you are holding the bow lightly. Best of both worlds ?

    • #6588
      Casey Willis

      Hi guys. I would say that if you’re going for a true Trad Irish/Celtic approach, the lighter grip (and the way Kevin Burke describes his hold) is probably the way to go.

      That being said, I’m a big believer in achieving as much control and power as possible in the more “classical” approach you describe, Graeme. Leveraging that thumb, index and pinky finger to control bow weight is the way to go in my book.

      I’ve found that I get much better, consistent tone by using a classical grip. Although I’m guilty of letting my pinky finger slip off occasionally..


      • #6632

        You shouldn’t feel guilty about it 🙂 There are great fiddlers who don’t seem to use their pinky very much; check out Celtic fiddler Mairead Nesbitt’s bow hold in this video:

    • #6650

      Thanks, Ulla. It was very pleasant to listen to this video, and I know what you mean about Mairead’s bow hold. Very “fiddlerish” here: but, I’ll bet she didn’t do that in her graduate and postgraduate classical violin exams!

      In such a performance the sound is so “doctored” by the mixer who had loaded this sound with “suitable reverb” and used the graphic equalizer toys to get the sound the audience wants.

      The contrast in approaches to bowing is illustrated by looking and listening carefully to the three instructors on this site. Hanneke shows a particularly strong influence of classical training, I think, as does Casey, as he writes above. All three have ways of being excellent, mind.

      Please understand these are just comments I offer, and are not meant to be criticisms or evaluations or preferences.

      The whole topic was triggered in my mind when I watched the Gordon Stobbe bowing video, and to my mind he was suggesting a bowing technique (fingers straighten on up-bow and curve on down-bow)that was exactly opposite the classical technique (fingers curve on up-bow, straighten on down-bow), and it set me thinking about which path to follow.

      At this point I am finding I can get a lot of finger and wrist “action” if I play my short Celtic bowings at the centre of the bow. My wrist in particular is much tighter if I try to bow quickly at the tip, which is where I have moved away from recently.

      Anyway, these are just innocent musings, and I might change my mind entirely in a few weeks. All the best.

      • #6654

        I guess you are right about the “doctoring” of Mairead’s sound 🙂

        I have seen Danish folk music fiddlers hold the bow the same way and in the same place as Mairead does, but I am sure that there is not ONE corrects way of bowing; you just have to find one (or more?) that work for you and your instrument and the type of music that you are playing.

        It seems to me that the very light bow hold is perfect for Irish tunes, whereas the more forceful Scottish style needs more, well, force.

        I use the classical bow hold, because, being a viola player, I sometimes need to put a fair amount of pressure on the strings (e.g. bow triplets on the lower strings), and that it easier for me to do with the classical than with the “fiddler” bow hold.

        Best regards,

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