How much bow do you use?

How much bow do you use?

I was recently criticized for only using the top third of my bow when playing and have been trying to correct it by using the entire bow when appropriate. My question is how many people use the whole bow and how do you control it when bowing fast (mine either starts to bounce or veer off towards the fingerboard). Any suggestions for practicing?

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Re: How much bow do you use?

Couple things:

1) try to play a note evenly, from the tip of the bow to the frog, and then back again. You’ll find that you’ll make subtle changes in how you hold the bow in order to keep the tone even.

2) get yourself parallel to a mirror, and see that the bow is parallel to the bridge for the entire length of the bow.

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Re: How much bow do you use?

My favorite local fiddle player uses only the last third of the bow. I love the way he sounds. That said, I tend to play in the middle more. I think the only important thing is to get a good sound, regardless, and yes the most efficient way is to make sure you’re bowing straight up and down. Watch that elbow.

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Re: How much bow do you use?

I hold the bow about a third of the way up (at the balance point of the bow) so I’ve only got 2/3rds left anyway. I play centred around a point about 1/2 to 2/3rds of the way up this leftover 2/3rd (if that makes any sense), but use the entire 2/3rd, minus an inch at each end.
I have no idea what I’ve just typed.
By the way, using the entire bow just doesn’t suit ITM. Fine for classical, but if you force yourself to use the entire bow it sounds unnatural. Having said that, it’s good to practice using the whole bow (for good tone), long note scales or whatever, doesn’t really matter. As above, make sure the bow is perpendicular to the string. If you can make a good sound consistently for long bows, then when you play shorter bows it should sound even better.

Re: How much bow do you use?

I’ve heard Sean Keane, of The Chieftains, suggest that it’s silly to not make use of the entire bow. I don’t think you’ll get a solid consensus on this question.

Re: How much bow do you use?

I’ve taken a few lessons from Dale Russ here in Seattle, and have seen him play many times. He only uses about 2 inches of bow, close to the tip, and manages to get a very even rhythm. It’s also easier on string changes. However for me, it’s hard to get used to (classical training).
Also, I took some workshops from Patrick Orceau. He uses only the upper third of his bow. In fact he said he only rosins the upper third.
For fast jigs and reels, it’s easier with small bows, hard to get a full bow in on one of those 8th notes.

Re: How much bow do you use?

Bowing is a very personal and idiosyncratic thing. Leopold Auer, the great 19th century violin teacher, even noted that people did not agree on how to use the bow. I usually hold the bow close to the frog, because I get a better tone that way than when I hold the bow higher on the stick. The majority of my bow strokes are short, but there are times when I use the whole bow. I seldom rest my pinky on the stick, but I find that if I feel the bow is about to skip that the pinky will stabilize it. If your bow veers toward fingerboard, it sounds like you should adjust your shoulder and elbow position—and watching yourself in the mirror is a good way to diagnose and fix that problem.

Re: How much bow do you use?

Bob is spot on— as Kevin Burke says, the bow is there simply to make the strings vibrate and-within reasonable bounds in trad. playing—there are as many methods and styles as there are opinions. But as another icon has said "It’s all in the bowing". Take your pick—(!) —as long as you and your audience enjoy, and the lilt and stresses are there,who cares ?

Re: How much bow do you use?

What I meant by "using the entire bow" was using lots of bow frequently. Sure, all of the bow does get used at some point, but 95% of the time its more economic to use a small region of the bow. Which bit (lower down or higher up) you use obviously depends on your style.

Re: How much bow do you use?

There’s two reasons to be able to use as much of the bow as you can.

Because of there being more weight on the strings when you play nearer the frog, you get more of a growelly attack to the articulation of the notes, scatchier triplets etc. So it’s usefull to have this vareity of sound, cleaner at the tip, and dirtier, more agressive at the frog, and everthing in between.

And, It’s good to be able to play whole lines with all the articulation simply done with the fingers, cuts rolls etc. And the more of the bow you are comfortable with, the longer the lines done in this way you can get away with.

It’s all about having as many different ways of articulating the notes as possible so you can reduce repeating yourself.

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Re: How much bow do you use?

Another reason is that using the whole length of the bow enables you to produce a bigger tone when required (a faster-moving bow over a longer length).
Yet another reason is that using plenty of bow tends to give the player confidence. And it looks good.
Holding the bow some distance up from the frog tends to reduce the volume of tone available. I believe a reason why some players like to hold the bow some way up the stick is that it seems to give some of the feel and balance of a real baroque bow. However, the real article gives a different sort of articulation to the notes, and this is difficult to achieve otherwise. I suggest that some "short hold" players might like to try a real baroque-style bow for playing Irish music.

Re: How much bow do you use?

I remember a great line from Kevin Burkes at a workshop he gave, "Your mother paid for the whole bow so use it!"

Seriously, James Kelley according to a friend of mine, suggests that you should never limit your bowing style by playing on only one part of the bow. He regularly divides the bow into 3 sections with tape when teaching and tells to to work until you can play the tune properly and completely in any one of those 3 sections. This will add to your skills and it keeps you from being limited by your bowing habits. Naturally, once you’ve conquered the entire bow, then you’ll play the tune where you can get the sound you are looking for, for that specific tune.

Re: How much bow do you use?

Lots of good comments on your question.

I use a lot of bow. I like the sound of long notes sometimes. I especially like the odd places where I can play a D along with the open D, or a G with the open G. But not all the time. Sometimes it sounds good to turn the first triplet in a jig into one note. Or the first four notes of a reel. If you do it all the time, though, you would get tired of it. But its nice to have the ability to do it when you want.

Knowing how to use the whole bow actually gives you more control even if it seems like you’re a little out of control while you learn to do it. The speed of the bow along with pressure give you a range of tone that you can play around with. I use a lot of bow playing polkas because I want to get the sound the speed and pressure give.

Hopefully, you have a teacher who is giving you constructive criticism. A good teacher will get you through this. Good luck.

Re: How much bow do you use?

I saw Bob himself mentioned Sean Keane a player that surely uses the whole bow even in very fast tunes. But as Kevin Burke says "It’s many ways to play right". If you have watched The Chieftains DVD "Water from the well" you see them play a set with The Kilfenora Ceilidh band were Tommy Peoples plays. At one side you see Sean Keane play the entire bow on the other side you see Peoples play mainly at the tip of his bow. Both of them are considered as fiddle masters.

Re: How much bow do you use?

hands up who thinks Keane plays better than Peoples?

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Re: How much bow do you use?

I use most of my bow. Not all at once, because you have to move it pretty fast and don’t get as good a sound. Use a little, but move around the bow.

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Re: How much bow do you use?

Give…me..,
All of it, all of it,
not justa bit of it,
None of your quarters, your thirds or your halfs…
Name that SONG.
No hints no you oldies mouldies

Re: How much bow do you use?

The discussion ‘The less bow the better’ I started on may 29th 2002 may be helpful.

Re: How much bow do you use?

can’t provide a link because the search function doesn’ t work properly. I downloaded the discussion back in 2002, so that’s where i found it.

Re: How much bow do you use?

I tried to get a little free advice from a fiddle teacher once and was told that you should use all of the bow, but concentrate on playing mainly in the middle third of the bow to get the best tone.

Re: How much bow do you use?

I know he doesn’t play Irish traditional in a traditionally Irish style, but I reckon that Aly Bain is the ultimate bowmeister. His bowing is so fluent and relaxed it is quite beautiful to watch (you do need to see him live to appreciate this). He plays fast reels with a great tone, and has strathspey bowings and fancy off-the- string hornpipe bowings all at his command. He plays reels very square though, so maybe his bowing is not suited to a dotted style of playing. He holds the bow at the frog and has his pinky on a lot of the time. He uses the middle of the bow mostly in fast tunes, and the whole bow in airs and strathspeys. Seems entirely comfortable with the bow, from tip to frog.

Re: How much bow do you use?

Ah, yes. Aly’s bowing is unusual. Not only does he use the whole bow, he also keeps it traveling – so much so that he can’t sustain a note very long without changing direction. I think that’s partly where his great rich tone comes from.

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And, I agree, very cool to watch.

Re: How much bow do you use?

Thanks JerryH !