bow holds

bow holds

I have been fiddling since the late 70’s, but off and on, so all told I guess I have around 10 years under my belt.
My accordion teacher, who also does a tunes class that I attend with my fiddle, suggested a RADICALLY different bow hold that he learned from a classical Hungarian violinist: to hold at the grip,with a circular hand position, bow slightly angled.
That is more like what my first fiddle teacher, Frank Ferrell taught me. Dale Russ, teacher #2, taught me a different grip, which I currently use and am comfortable with: with the frog held with the flat part of the thumb, so that I can exert more pressure to improve my tone.
Granted, the tunes class teacher noted that my pinky was locked, and I am working on this.

But after searching the threads, I believe that James Kelly holds his bow similarly, with the thumb on the frog. I think it’s great for control, and for volume changes…and I still have freedom at my index and second finger, for triplets.
Any input? I am leaning towards keeping the current hold, relaxing the pinky and letting this slide on by for now.

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Re: bow holds

Not quite sure how you mean lees, I was taught to hold the bow with the thumb under the wood in front of the frog (between wood and hair), and the thumb nuckle bent.
Lately, I’ve been holding it further up the bow, 4inches from the frog, seems to be better balanced there. Thumb under gives infinate control of bow weight.
If I’d been taught by Dale Russ, I’d be using his tecnique for sure, though.

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Important thing is to ensure that the whole of the bowing arm is relaxed from the shoulder to the fingers. If the pinky is straight and locked onto the stick the whole hand and wrist is automatically stiffened and rapid bowing movements have to be done using the lower arm - a very inefficient action which also causes the bow to diverge from its proper parallel-to-the-bridge motion, and this affects tone production.

It depends on the individual of course, but the pinky should only touch the stick lightly and it is basically used to help balance the weight of the stick when you’re playing close to the frog, which doesn’t seem to be done all that often in ITM fiddle. I’m not conscious of using my pinky at all, either on the fiddle or cello. If the hand is relaxed and you’re using the fingers as well as the hand to control the bow you’ll probably find that you’ll lift the ring finger occasionally without noticing it. Some players can be seen sometimes using only one or two fingers with the thumb.

Someone said in a thread which I haven’t been able to track down that you should think of your fingers as caressing the bow and the bow as stroking the string. This is probably one of the most useful and succinct descriptions of bowing I’ve come across.

Where you hold the bow - at the frog or further up the stick - is a matter of personal preference. It is useful to note, though, that ITM is basically baroque music, and in the baroque period bows were shorter than they are now, so for some people (myself included) it feels natural to shorten the bow by holding it a bit further up the stick. I tend to use the baroque hold when playing the cello if the music is from the Bach - Mozart era, but it would feel most unnatural if I used that bow hold for post-baroque and modern music.

trevor

Re: bow holds

American contest fiddler Chris Daring sells a "do-hickey" that fits on the bow and is great for training that pesky little finger to curve nicely. It works regardless of where you put your thumb. Check out:http://www.texasfiddling.com/BowGenie.html
I have no connection with this outfit.

Joe

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Do you know Chris at all, Joe? She’s a lovely lady — she’s the one who invited us over to her house for a session. Great fiddler, too!

Zina

Re: bow holds

Another tip for getting a relaxed bowing arm is to think of it as a heavy infinitely flexible rope, and that you’re getting the tone as if the weight of this "rope" is helping you to play into the string rather than on its surface.

trevor

Re: broke&diddly

while i agree with the personal preference aspect of bow holds,Trevor,i was a bit fazed on your statement that baroque=irish trad music.
i’ve listened to a bit of both and while there may be a few similarities here and there i don’t think they warrant a direct comparison.what do you think?
are there any groups/recordings where you can find this? if so,i would like to give them a listen,
best wishes,dave
ps,lees: good luck with your efforts and all that but unless you want to do radically different things with your bow than at present and if you’re happy and painfree with your current hold i would give second thoughts about a change.

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Zina,
I just finished writing an article for Fiddler Mag about Chris. I got to interview her at length on the phone. She is a fascinating lady with lots of great ideas about teaching.

Joe

Re: bow holds

Hi, Lees. I think that you will eventually find that the thumb on the bottom of the frog gives you more power, but less subtlety/control, especially when playing in the bottom half of the bow.

I played for years with my thumb on the bottom of the frog, and eventually wore a hole right through the mother-of-pearl inlay. A few years ago, I switched to the thumb at the frog and stick, and have found more control.

cheers,
scottythefiddler

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bigdave

Although modern ITM doesn’t sound much like Bach, Handel or Vivaldi (that great baroque trio), it is in fact a direct lineal descendant of that music. Most baroque composers, at some time or another, wrote music that was closely based on dances of the period. And baroque music, when played properly, is highly ornamented. Ornamentation in ITM may very well be one of our closest links to the playing of the baroque period.

trevor

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Hey lees,

I’m thrilled to hear that another master fiddler recommends a ‘thumb on frog’ bow hold. I’m a big fan of Dale Russ, but have had a difficult time finding more of his CDs (perhaps you can help me with that). I’ve been concentrating on the ‘thumb on frog’ bow hold since July of last year and I believe it’s the best hold for creating a genuine old-style Irish sound.

Your decision to change your grip would have to depend on your decision to change your sound. I believe the more classical style grip would be appropriate for a Texas swing fiddler or a modern Irish-rock (re: Donegal) style where speed and flashyness is essential.

Still, us ‘thumb on frog’ grippers are the minority so we can expect plenty of great players to try to mend our errent ways. I’d say keep at it it!

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Joe, Chris is a wonderful teacher — her students absolutely adore her, and she is concerned with everything about them, not just their music…she’s famous for going the extra mile for students who need help outside their music. She and her family play together, and wow, they are just fantastic folk, generous in every way. They’re the kind of musical family that you could base musicals around. She was extra welcoming to us, complete foreigners to her musical style, and was extremely gracious with our ignorance of her own musical genre. I’m extremely happy to hear that she’s going to be featured in Fiddler Mag, and congrats to you on the article! If you want to send me a copy, I’ll post in on the web for you…

Zina

Re: bow holds

Thanks for all the input. I have been experimenting, and I hate to say this, but yes there is more control with the new position…at least it is helping my hand to relax and give it more freedom. BUT
the strength of tone is lessened ( at least for now: we’ll see if I need to find the zone with the new position) Sometimes that may be a good idea, when you need a more delicate touch depending on the tune and the players you are with..I am still exploring.I don’t strive after the Donegal style, so that is important to note. But some crispness will definitely improve my playing, I know after listening to a tape of myself a couple of nights ago (arrgh).

Caomghin:It’s been a number of years since I took lessons with Dale, and hopefully I have not distorted his suggestions. He is recording with Hans Araki now, the group is Setanta, and they just released a new CD this winter. I do believe they may have a website. Somewhere I may be able to unearth tapes I made of a great house session at my place with Dale that happened around 20 years ago, and my lesson tape with him.

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Ohhhh! Please, please! Can I have a copy if you find those tapes?? I’ll trade ya some of my stuff!!!

Say, lees! Maybe try one last thing on with the TOF (Thumb On Frog) and see if it improves control. Anyway, I know I’ve been having a problem with this and I have to keep reminding myself.

It seems that either bow hold you choose, it is necessary that the thumb curve into the bow. You may notice that your thumb is doing just that with your new bow hold. If this is true, try to make your thumb curve in the same way, but in the TOF position.

I typically get very unsatisfied with my playing until I look down and discover that my thumb has gone flat against the frog. Changing the angle of the thumb helps control. Admittedly, that relaxed, floppy wrist is forsaken with TOF, but the power and control over every note is the benefit.

Thanks for your post. I bought three albums of Dale Russ yesterday because your post reminded me. He’s probably the most overlooked master ITM fiddler in the world.

Oh yeah! Also try wacking a bodhran for a few minutes before you fiddle. Just tried that a few days back and it REALLY loosens up the wrist. Fun too!

Re: bow holds

I just can’t help wondering if some of these bow holding problems are a by-product of the fact that modern bows are so long - unnecessarily so, imo. Back in the days of the baroque (early 18c, approx) bows were significantly shorter, and clearly suited the type of music that was played. Perhaps the tendency for many players to hold the bow some inches away from the frog is an unconscious attempt to shorten the bow to be more in accordance with the music we play, which has a direct lineage back to the baroque.

The modern bow length was, I suspect, chosen to cope with the technical virtuosity demanded of players from the late classical period to the present day - although I must admit I haven’t really properly researched this topic. Most itm fiddlers use a fairly restricted length of the bow most of the time, and if you’re going to use the whole length it is more likely to be when playing slow airs.

A year or so ago I was wandering round the trade stalls at a local folk festival (in the UK) and I was invited to try out an electric cello. It was a very exciting and enjoyable experience, but that’s a story for a more appropriate thread sometime (the firm was "Bridge", and their website is www.electricviolins.com, if you’re interested). The point I’m making is that they gave me a 3/4 length cello bow to use, the only one they had available, and I remember thinking how great bow it was to use, and at no time did I find its shorter length inconvenient. Perhaps we should seriously consider using shorter bows for itm playing.

trevor

Re: bow holds

My friend Emily, a wonderful viola player, has a 1/2 size bow that she keeps in her case specifically for playing Irish tunes in the car when traveling with her quartet. She said the exact same thing you just did, Trevor.

zls

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I

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Re: bow holds

I’m posting this little item here because it’s relevant to bows, though not necessarily to bow holds, and this is currently the most obvious thread.
A couple of evenings ago at a session I met a very fine fiddler whom I’ve met before once or twice, but we don’t often see him in Bristol because he’s usually off doing gigs anywhere in Europe, UK or Ireland. I noticed this time that his bow hair was black. After some banter about what boot polish he was using as rosin - he said Kiwi, I thought it was more like Cherry Blossom - he revealed that he just had his bow rehaired with the black horsehair that is generally used for double bass bows. This hair is a lot coarser than fiddle bow hair and he claimed it’s much more suitable for gig work and he doesn’t need to apply so much bow pressure (there, I knew I’d get in something relevant to holding the bow!). Has anyone come across double bass bow hair being used on a fiddle bow by other players, or had experience of it themselves?

trevor

Re: bow holds

Neat stuff Tish! More!!

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OK, in response to 2 shouts of encouragement… here’s the link I was thinking of:

http://www.zvonar.com/PamelaGoldsmith/articles/Transitional_Bowing.html

There’s a bit of reading but it’s not too heavy. A precis of one of the more interesting bits (towards the end of the article) is as follows:


The basic bow stroke of the Transitional period was the ‘non-legato’ stroke. Because of the ‘give’ of the hair, the bow does not produce the full tone immediately at the beginning of the stroke, but only after some finger pressure has been exerted. There is a momentary softness followed by a crescendo in each stroke… the modern bow makes the connections much more easily. The older bows quite naturally produce spaces between the notes. Regardless of the speed of the notes (which can be quite fast), each note is clearly articulated because of the space between the notes.

Not much there on bow holds after all, but perhaps it’s of interest anyway.

Zina, every few years in Sydney the newspapers re-start the "silly things people do while driving" story up again… I’ve heard of someone driving whilst drinking coffee and talking on a mobile phone, and of a woman driving a Moke whilst breastfeeding, but I’ve never heard of anyone playing viola in a car - I hope someone else is piloting! Or is your friend involved in that newest form of street crime, the drive-by viola recital? *grin* (dives under desk to avoid flying viola cases)

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Re: bow holds

LOL — no, generally someone else is driving while Emily is playing the fiddle. She says the short bow is great because that way you don’t hit the window or accidentally knock the car out of gear… 🙂