What is the best way to hold the bow? How tight should the hairs be? Any suggestions? What do you think?

Having problems, I am.

Re: Bow

I posted this explanation on a previous thread. It’s the best I’ve been able to explain it, so I might as well get some use out of it! 🙂

The bow hair should be just tight enough so that the curve of the bow is still concave throughout all its length, and with about 7mm or 8mm clearance in the middle.

Having said which, I’ve seen some amazing fiddlers who have their bow hair ‘tighter’ than this, except that when you look further into it, it appears that actually it isn’t tighter, it’s just that they’re using an extremely light bow, and tightening the hair up so that the bow is convex and behaves like a baroque bow.

Re: Bow

There’s no one perfect bow hold. There’s the basic classical hold which is a good starting point, but most players tend to vary bow hold according to what’s needed.

For instance, you might use a basic clasical hold with all fingers down for some things and only the thumb and first two fingers on other things. You also might choke up on the bow in some cases. And the tilt of the bow may vary from note to note.

The standard classical bow hold is a good place to start, do a search for violin baics and you’ll see lots of examples of this.

I brought up different bow holds for different situations to make the point that a bow hold shouldn’t be rigid and absolute; if your pinky wants to come up at certain points of a tune, let it. If it feels better to hold the bow higher up on the grip, do it.

As for hair tension, it should be just a little more than enough to keep the hair from touching the stick when you’re playing. So it depends on how much bow pressure you use.

Re: Bow

The classical bow hold is only really good for classical music, otherwise it’s just annoying. More trouble than it’s worth. Basically, just put your thumb in the little inside bit of the frog* where the hair comes out, and curl your other four fingers over the top. You’re unlikely to lift the bow off the fiddle much in Irish music, but if you do, just put your little finger on the end to balance it.
Some people don’t hold the bow at the end, but about a quarter of the way up it, but I’ve never seen the point.

Re: Bow

*Frog: the end of the bow, where the tightening mechanism is. Don’t ask me why.

Re: Bow

"The classical bow hold is only really good for classical music, otherwise it’s just annoying. More trouble than it’s worth. Basically, just put your thumb in the little inside bit of the frog* where the hair comes out, and curl your other four fingers over the top."

Ummm…that IS the classical bow hold…

Re: Bow

"Some people don’t hold the bow at the end, but about a quarter of the way up it, but I’ve never seen the point."

A lot of fiddlers do that, it’s what I meant about choking up on the stick. It provides better balance and speed when playing near the tip.

Re: Bow

I suppose there must be exceptions, but normally when I see people holding the bow a quarter way up or more, their tone is thin and weedy and they mess up crossing strings.

As far as I can see, most good fiddlers hold the bow properly, with basically the same hold as classical players use.

Re: Bow

I’m by no means an expert on this, but my teacher is. He showed me how to play using the classical hold and also holding the bow further up the stick. He told me this gives a beginner better control but shouldn’t be practiced exclusively. When your bowing control is natural, holding the bow higher up creates a different sound. He demonstrated and it was a huge difference in the sound produced.
What I’m trying to say is, I have been told that there is no ‘right’ place to grip the bow but rather a right place to grip the bow for whatever sound you are trying to achieve.

Re: Bow

*which* "basic classical hold"?

There’s at least two: Franco-Belgian, and Russian. There’s a huge, major, blinding difference - in the fomer, the first finger touches the bow near the first joint; in the latter, it’s near the second joint.

*ducks* (this is real information by the way, even though it looks like a parody - I was told it in great earnestness by more than one teacher…)

Really though, you can’t lump all classical players together with one bowhold just like you can’t lump all fiddlers together with one bowhold. The middle two fingers are probably wrapped around the stick. The first finger isn’t terribly far from them. The thumb probably flexes so that it’s curved at the frog, and extended at the tip. The pinkie is curved, and depending on hand shape, size and even how the fiddle is held may be right next to another finger, may be somewhat extended, and may not even touch the bow during certain bowstrokes. There are certain problems "the" classical bowhold is designed to solve that ITM doesn’t have to - sautille (sp?) strokes , off-the string playing, and more volume - so there’s probably a bit more flexibility…


Re: Bow

A couple of informative web links about bows:
1. A short, general overview.
2. A fairly detailed review of bows from the baroque era onwards.

My impression is that a baroque bow (as illustrated - NOT the Incredibow design!) could be very suitable for playing Irish fiddle music, which, after all, comes from the baroque period. Are there members here who have good experience of using baroque bows?

I suspect that the tendency of some fiddle players to hold the bow several inches up the stick (even with an Incredibow, as I’ve witnessed) is a subconscious attempt to get back to the lightness and control over fast music that the baroque bow would have. Doing this does, however, have an adverse effect on the tone, as Ben has pointed out.

The modern bow was developed in the 19th century to cope with the virtuoso violin technique of the period (as kick-started by Paganini) and its fairly rapid assimilation into orchestral music down to the present day. A lot of what the modern bow is capable of is overkill for playing Irish music.

Re: Bow: Classical Grip

"The classical bow hold is only really good for classical music, otherwise it’s just annoying. More trouble than it’s worth."

I must disagree. Stéphane Grappelli, the greatest jazz violinist who ever lived, insisted that a good standard classical grip is essential. I know of no disadvantages whatever in adopting the classical bow-grip, and it is certainly no trouble. In general, the modern bow is best balanced when held in the way it was made to be held. Some of the best players I have heard held the bow just 2 or 3 inches higher than the standard grip and still had extraordinary control, but they used only the top third of the bow (at least for dance music). But many of the older generation of players I know do have a vaguely ‘classical’ bow-grip, (though the forth finger often comes off the bow for rapid triplets!) The most important thing is to keep the thumb bent. A good picture of how the thumb should be positioned is available here:

Re: Bow

Two fingers - thumb and index. I rarely have to use more than that.

Re: Bow

"Two fingers - thumb and index. I rarely have to use more than that."

Wow, that’s pretty extreme, though I’m not doubting that it can work. How do you put pressure on the bow? Do you put your index finger higher than your thumb?

Re: Bow

Nevermind, I picked up a bow and got it. The second joint of the index finger is of course higher, and that’s where the pressure comes from. I couldn’t picture the hold right until I put a bow in my hand.

Re: Bow

I have a partial answer to the question in my previous post. There is a fiddle player in a band in my area who uses a baroque bow. I don’t know whether she is a member of this forum.

Re: Bow (tension, rosin, and baroque bows!)

I’d recommend fairly low tension in the bow hair, because that way its easier to keep the bow on the strings without having to press down on the bow. In general you should keep your hand pretty relaxed, and let the bow move a bit under your fingers when you play. They always say, draw the bow across the strings, or push and pull the bow using it own weight, don’t press it into the strings! (Though I occasionally find that for pipey bow ornaments a little pressure makes it easier!)

Also, use good rosin! Bad rosin is a curse, the rosin sticks the bow to the strings so good rosin is very helpful. And you can get good rosin for very little money. I like Melos light coloured rosin, but there are lots of good rosins around.

On the question of baroque bows for Irish traditional music: In Baroque violin playing, there was a strong distinction between the sound made with the down bow and that made with the up bow. For the strong beat you go back to the frog and play it with the down bow, the up bow is considerably quieter and waeker. This is quite the opposite of the practice in Irish and Scottish music where the up bow can frequently take the strong beat. So perhaps the bow is not really designed for our type of playing! Also, the baroque bow is meant for strings of a much lower tension than modern strings, but I’ve not played more than 5 minutes with a baroque bow and never on modern strings so I really can’t tell for sure.

There’s a really good book on baroque style, technique and performance: Baroque String Playing ‘for ingenious learners’, by Judy Tarling (from The Parlay of Instruments). You can find it at

Re: Bow

Further to what I said above about baroque bows, I pinched the following information from a very interesting web-site:

“Baroque bows had less hair and less tension then their modern counterparts. They were also weighted quite differently. As a result, they did not have the sustaining capabilities of today’s bows, and the sound naturally decreased when the bow was drawn from frog to tip. However, Baroque bows were perfectly suited to making quick, short strokes and allowed for a great variety in articulation.

… "You may have noticed that there was little uniformity early on. This is partially because people and places were somewhat more isolated than today. Bow holds were no exception: in 17th- and 18th-century France, violinists could place their thumbs on the hair, on the frog, or under the frog. The Italian hold placed the thumb on the stick. The way violinists held their instruments varied widely as well.”

You can find the full article here, along with lots of fine information on differences in violin construction and performance through the ages and across countries: