where is your bow hand?

where is your bow hand?

I always used to play with my hand up the bow a bit toward the fiddle, I self taught so it became a (?bad) habit, but I found I could play faster with more control and put pressure over the bow for the bite when needed (trying to play like tommy p. pretty much!)

Starting back at the fiddle now after years and wondering should I torture myself trying to hold it nearer the grip (which seems unnatural to me).

Are there any top fiddlers that hold the bow away from the grip or in other weird ways? is it worth investing time trying to hold it ‘properly’? What do you guys do? Just interested to know

Cheers

Re: where is your bow hand?

There are many players, good and bad, that play with a non classical hold and vice versa … each to his own.
But bows evolved to be held at the frog for many good reasons so if you do not want to be restricted it’s worth pursuing.

Playing a fiddle is completely unnatural 🙂

Re: where is your bow hand?

A quick poll by image search on some great players gives a pretty strong result, to my mind, but hey, your choice.
Up the stick is fine for knocking out a tune as easily as possible. Dare I say it, lots of old English traditional players used to play like that…. But try it for a slow air……

One thing that looks awful is when classical players hold the bow up the stick to look more trad, it’s like a fake accent!

But there are some very fine players who hold further up the stick. I think there was a discussion about Cape Breton style here recently.

Re: where is your bow hand?

Referring exclusively to bow hold when talking about "up the stick," of course.

Re: where is your bow hand?

would most just hold with the thumb and two fingers near the grip then? I went on youtube and tried to do the classical hold and it was bloody awful. I think i’m going to invest a bit of time after reading your comments and try and keep it near the frog (it always slips up when I get into it though!)
thanks for the help so far, v helpful

Re: where is your bow hand?

I learned how to hold it the "classical way", ie right at the frog with a straightened pinky applying pressure as well. However, after seeing trad plays play up the stick without the pinky, I decided to try it that way and I ended up preferring it. For me, it feels lighter to the touch and more "flexible" - good for playing lots of notes quickly. The classical hold feels too restraining or something, I don’t know. Everybody is different, and it’s all down to what feels good for you.

That said, there’s no harm in learning the classical way, because that particular hold will not impede you learning any other type of music, however learning only the "trad way" would!

Re: where is your bow hand?

I am self-taught and started off holding the bow up the stick. At the beginning, the bow seemed about a mile long and ever so hard to control. Holding it further up made it feel much lighter and shorter. After a lot of experimenting I ended up using something very close to the classical hold, which now works best for me. The tip of the curved pinky sits near the screw and gives me a lot of extra control.
I noticed that a lot of fiddlers lift their pinky and sometimes also the ring finger when bowing triplets or other fast passages, but otherwise have all fingers down.
Niamh Dunne (Beoga) has her thumb on the underside of the frog. Seems to work very well for her, though I can’t see how! And she is also an accomplished classical player, as far as I know.

Re: where is your bow hand?

Overall, as in the learning years you get the position for which the bow was created in origin, you should mostly use the classical way. Your right hand should retain a kind of "memory" of that fantastic light control of your forearm, wrist and fingers that even if you go trad-playing up the stick for some time or only for some tunes you can exchange both ways producing a good tone.
However, apart some donegal’s fast-fiddling and old-time american bluegrass I would remain on classical also for trad considering plenty of aspects also related to the specs of the bow you’re using (lenght, total weight, point of balance, flexibility etc..), so not only depending on the player…

Re: where is your bow hand?

Plenty of different bow hold debates in ’ classical ’ technique too . If you have a straight pinky it’s always going to cause trouble as far as I can see . better not to use it at all .
I would aim for a natural , flexible paw with no finger straight - let your hand hang off wrist in mid-air - thats more or less how it should be for comfort , but with a bow attached !

Re: where is your bow hand?

A typical classical hold is a very comprehensive one and is aimed at having total (and I mean total) control over the bow, so that downward pressure / counter-pressure, and backand forth rotation can be applied, in an instant.

To much deviation from that will limit what you can do, although it might not affect playing Irish trad that much.

Re: where is your bow hand?

Beginning to think that the Baroque bow might be a great answer for some people . I had a go with one recently , it was light and easy . There are different ways to hold and play with this bow too , but some people hold them a bit up the stick for sure . No weight at all on the pinky , good for rhythm and speed .
Anyway , cant help thinking Baroque’s more akin to traditional fiddling than music for the later- developed classical bow . Reckon it makes sense , its all from the same era .
btw , If I had a baroque bow or used a modern bow ‘up the stick , I’d want a leather pad put up where I wanted to hold it , like the one on a modern stick at the frog . To help a light secure hold .
No need to struggle with the classical hold at all if its a pain . ( I really like it , but it has to be really loose and flexible to work . I reckon this might be an easier way in ) .

Re: where is your bow hand?

"No need to struggle with the classical hold at all if its a pain."

It shouldn’t be if you do it correctly, and (all else being equal) should be perfectly comfortable.

That said, some of the top classical musos are raving about the baroque bow 🙂

Re: where is your bow hand?

You could go the whole hog and use the French baroque grip. The French grip was pretty much universal amongst dance masters across Europe during the baroque. The first three fingers rest on top of the stick as normal, but the thumb is on the bottom of the frog (on the hair as it passes under the frog of a baroque bow or on the slide of a modern one) and the pinkie is tucked UNDER the stick, in opposition to the other fingers. Holding the bow that way feels surprisingly natural, gives great control, and is perfect for the heavily accented dance music of the time (think English Morris dances) but I doubt if it would give you the speed needed for ITM.

Re: where is your bow hand?

From what I can gather the balance and over all feel of a baroque bow is similar to playing up the stick on a normal bow. This leaves me wondering if switching for up the bow to a baroque bow reduces the advantage of the simplicity and ease of the ‘up the stick’ grip, and puts you back at dealing with all the extraneous stuff that pertains to the classical grip. I certainly wish I could spend some time with some baroque bows without having to do an ebay crap shoot.

Re: where is your bow hand?

I like using my baroque replica bow, but best of all I like using my three-quarter bows, which are light and wieldy. I hold them just an inch or two up from the traditional hold, so I’m still in contact with the frog, and with my pinkie on the stick as per normal classical. I don’t bow right at the end of the stick like some players do, but more in the middle and I find this combination of bow length, bow hold, and bow position on the strings maximises my control. I also don’t pronate my bow away from me as I was taught at school (and as my baroque violin teacher does), but instead play it with flat hairs on the string for a more in-your-face sound.

(I play Irish, English and Scottish tunes but my ambitions lie in Scottish, which requires vigorous bowing often using the whole length, and whipping about for strathspey rhythms, so control is very necessary, if not yet fully achieved!)

Everybody is different - do what feels best for you.

Re: where is your bow hand?

Interesting takes on baroque bows ! Must experiment with them some more .
I agree Jim Dorans , classical hold shouldnt be a pain , I wouldnt change from it ( except maybe a bit of baroquing to see how it alters the feel ) and I think its a great way to hold the bow . But I think the trouble lies with that pinky question . I reckon it should always be flexible , never rigidly straight . If someone is taught to have it straight , there are going to be problems with hand relaxation . And then in fast playing its going to look and feel like hard work . Surely thats why people figure out that by playing up the stick they lift the weight from the pinky , and free up the whole hand . To play with a classical hold at frog , the pinky has to learn to stay free , flexing with the whole hand . Then its easy . Thats my take on things anyway !

Re: where is your bow hand?

Sorry , post script ! Ive come across plenty of people who just cant get that pinky to be flexible - for various reasons , maybe just thats how their hand is made . Beginning to think that they might love this light baroque bow especially .

Re: where is your bow hand?

When your fingers are double jointed ‘straight’ isn’t really an option, though ‘flexible’ takes on a whole new dimension.

Thanks for the link to that article Jim. It was pretty convincing. I really should get off the fence and buy one already.

Re: where is your bow hand?

I saw Altan in concert in early March and Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh had her hand well up the stick - plus, her bow was so tight it had almost a reverse bend in it like a baroque bow. And speaking of baroque bows, Ciaran Tourish was using what looked to me like a transitional bow. It had that modified duckbill head on it and the funny looking frog. It also had an adjuster screw on the end. Ciaran held it in a traditional bow hold as opposed to putting his thumb on the hair. Both fiddlers’ wrists were a little stiffer than say, Kevin Burke’s but man, can they play!

I’ve also seen Natalie MacMaster hold her bow up the stick and at the frog.

Re: where is your bow hand?

That French ‘thumb on bow hair’ hold is a whole other thing ( read about it , havent tried it out . And isnt the French baroque bow made differently anyway ? No tightener , your thumb does the tightening ? . You get rhythm with the thumb in a different way I think . Too far down Baroque route for me to contemplate just now ! Anyway , will that style be right for reels ? )
Just thinking about the sort of bow that tightens in usual way .
The other big advantage I can see is that the fingers wont be touching the bow hairs any more when playing up the stick . Makes lots of sense .
Thanks for good baroque info .

Re: where is your bow hand?

Cheeky Elf, thanks for the link! I thought I saw an adjuster screw on the end but I guess not. Interesting bow.

Re: where is your bow hand?

I guess you would use whatever bow works for you, for everything that you play.

Re: where is your bow hand?

If you want to see a good bow hand, look at Donell Leahy (Husband to Natalie MacMaster), he is considered to be one of the most technically proficient, and overall best fiddlers in the world. I was lucky enough to have his guidance starting out. He suggests playing close to the frog, with all of your fingers bent, and in contact with the tips. The main holding pressure should be between between the thumb and middle finger, and the pressure on the strings should come from the knuckle closest the hand on the index finger. The wrist should be loose when you play. Practice holding the bow at your side paralell to the ground in your finger tips, and clench them so that you lift the bow. This builds control, and strength. Natalie will be the first to tell you she doesn’t hold the bow as well as Donell, but rarely any Cape Breton fiddlers hold it properly, however the style allows for this. For hundreds of years there has been no classical training, so fiddlers were left to find their own ways. Some Cape Breton fiddlers that have mastered the bow hand would be Kimberly Fraser, and Kyle MacNeil (from the Barra MacNeils). There are some, but it is rare, however masterful control of the bow hand isn’t considered one of the top priorities in Cape Breton music, many of the greatest fiddlers the island has ever seen held it what some would call "wrong".

Re: where is your bow hand?

I should also note that Donell Leahy is known for playing some of the most challenging peices of music, in the most challenging of ways. So for him is is necesary to hold it the way he does. It all really comes down to your style, if you can get away with being a great fiddler with only 3 fingers on the bow, then I think that’s what you should do, In my opinion it’s all about how you want to sound.

Re: where is your bow hand?

I think Donell Leahy is a very good player. I think he has a pretty ‘normal’ bow hold - one that works for everything he plays - both on and off the string.