Some would argue that along with the Cello, and not forgetting the Viola; the Violin is the finest instrument on the planet. Although, perhaps I should add that it applies only when it is played well.
One of the things that makes the sound so spectacular is the way you bow the Violin. So, let’s take an in-depth look at some tips for better Violin bowing.
- A Unique instrument
- There Has Been Plenty of Time
- Instruments With Strings
- Poor Bowing Techniques – The Physical Issues
- Poor Bowing Technique – The Sound
- Go The Distance
- Some Basics
- Practice Should Not Be Routine
- Your Personal Learning Curve
- Personal Tuition
- Mirror, Mirror, On The Wall
- Use Your Phone
- Let’s Talk Specifics
- Keep The Bow Flat
A Unique instrument
All instruments that need to be bowed are special. They are special-sounding, but they are also special to play. And they are not the easiest instrument to learn. The technique is vital to create the sound.
It is an instrument for which the Masters wrote Concertos. Bach wrote two, Mozart at least five. But also Beethoven, Sibelius, Tchaikovsky. Mendelssohn, Brahms and, of course, the wonderful Bruch Violin concerto.
There Has Been Plenty of Time
Since the days of the Amati violin school in Cremona in Northern Italy, the techniques have been perfected. So, where Giuseppe Guarneri and a certain Antonio Stradivari were students became the focal point of the Violin. The Violins made in that period are still the finest instruments in the world.
Plenty of time then to arrive at the point we are at today. The techniques have been formalized and taught, although you do sometimes get some variations. Yehudi Menuhin standing to play the Bruch concerto doesn’t look quite the same as Vanessa-Mae playing “Storm.”
Instruments With Strings
There are, of course, plenty of instruments with strings. But not that many that involve a bow. And it is the bow that can often cause the most technical difficulty. The proper Violin bowing technique is important if you are going to get a great sound. The way you bow is vital to your performance, but it also has some other serious issues.
Poor Bowing Techniques – The Physical Issues
What happens if your bowing technique is not so good? From a physical point of view, you might not think much. You might find your arm, wrist, or maybe your shoulder hurts a bit. But then you think that you will get used to it after a few hours of practice.
But it is far more than that. The ergonomics of playing the Violin are important, and your teacher will advise if anything is wrong. There are three important issues to consider when looking for tips for better Violin bowing.
- The alignment or shape of your wrist and arm.
- The incorrect motion of the arm, wrist, and shoulder.
All of these technical faults can cause physical issues that could become chronic. Chronic meaning perpetual. These will affect your playing career.
Poor Bowing Technique – The Sound
Have you ever heard someone practicing the Violin and just thought, “ouch”? That is probably because their knowledge of the technique of bowing is poor. If you have the wrong technique, then the results will be very noticeable. Some things that can result from poor Violin bowing are as follows.
- A weak sound.
- Inconsistent intonation.
- The bow will bounce off the strings unintentionally.
- It will create those sounds that send neighbors running to sell their houses.
Correcting any issues and making sure your technique is solid will create the sounds you want.
Go The Distance
This is going to take some time, and you need to be prepared to go all the way. If you do, then the results will be startling. But it is not going to happen overnight. It is going to take time to develop correct Violin bowing techniques.
We are going to look at some specific tips soon. But before we do, there are some basic things we can mention. The first, of course, is practice. Now, let me clear something up before we start. You will have heard the expression, “practice makes perfect.” Got one word to say to that – rubbish.
Practice Should Not Be Routine
Practice does not make perfect. “Good” practice makes perfect. Poor practice makes you worse. I have heard the expression “routine practice.” But there is nothing routine about practicing an instrument.
There must be a set target in mind of what you want to achieve that day. Or, if it is a longer-term goal, how far do you want to go along that particular line?
Your Personal Learning Curve
Let me digress very briefly here. This is just my opinion, but I don’t believe that you can master the techniques of any bowed instrument from the internet or books. The internet especially is flooded with “experts” who are going to teach you “everything.”
These sites are okay for observation, and they may help in certain ways. But I don’t think you should base your tuition plans solely on them.
One-to-one lessons don’t come cheap. And usually, the better the teacher, the more expensive they are. Nothing wrong with that; if you want quality, you usually have to pay for it. But how does that sit with your budget?
If you can only afford one lesson every 6-8 weeks, it would still pay big dividends. What are those dividends? Below are some reasons to get a violin teacher.
- A teacher will get to know you and your style.
- They will know any technical problems to watch for and correct them?
- A teacher will set you realistic targets.
- They will follow up on how you are progressing.
- A teacher is only a phone call away if you don’t understand something.
Therefore, they will be able to sort out any problems each time you have a lesson. So, if you start to develop bad habits you are unaware of, they will nip it in the bud quickly and put you back on track.
Mirror, Mirror, On The Wall
Professional dancers will spend hours in practice watching themselves in a mirror. Constantly analyzing what they are doing to make sure everything is perfect.
This can be a useful exercise for those who bow their instruments. You will know what Violin bowing action should look like. You can see if it looks right or wrong.
The more you practice properly, then the more the muscle groups in your arm recognize what they have to do instinctively. Building this “muscle memory” is important.
Use Your Phone
Most phones have video. Use it. Film yourself playing and then play it back. A great way to use this piece of equipment. Let me emphasize once more, this is going to take time, but it will be worth it.
Let’s Talk Specifics
So, let’s look at a few things that you can check yourself to make sure your bowing technique is moving in the right direction.
Holding The Bow
Holding the bow correctly is vital. Too much pressure and the wrong angle will affect the sound. Comfortable and relaxed but firm and stable is the name of the game. Let’s find the right grip with some tips below.
- Bowing hand with the palm up.
- Touch your middle finger with the tip of your thumb.
- Turn your hand over, so the back is facing up. That should be the correct position to create with the bow in your hand.
- Take that shape and rest part of your thumb on the “frog.” The other part of your thumb resting on the stick.
- Three fingers of the hand will naturally curl up over the stick.
- The other finger sits on top of the stick gently.
Elbow At Right Angles
This is an exercise you can practice in front of a mirror.
- Place the bow on your A or string third from the left.
- Make sure you are about halfway between the bridge and the fingerboard.
- There should be a square shape from elbow to bow to shoulder.
As you bow across all the strings, the same square shape should exist.
Bow From the Middle
That is the middle of the bow and also the middle distance between the fingerboard and the bridge. On the bow, do not play too close to the frog and keep the movements smooth.
Keep The Bow Flat
You will have seen how professional violinists tend to tilt their bows occasionally. Don’t try to copy that technique in the early days. They have mastered their bowing style, and there are reasons for that action.
For the beginner, it is better to keep the bow flat as it plays the strings. This will give you good control and sound depth. Later on, when your technique is established, you can make slight adjustments as they do.
Bowing is vital, and the quality of your bow is important. A decent budget carbon fiber bow is this Fiddlerman Carbon Fiber Violin Bow 4/4. For those that prefer wooden bows, there is this Forté Plus Brazilwood Violin Bow. And some Rosin, which you will always need, try this Natural Rosin Light for Violin, Viola, or Cello bows.
Need a Great Violin or Violin Accessories?
Then check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Cremona Violins, the Best Violin Rosins, the Best Violin Strings, the Best Violin Bows, the Best Student Violins, and the Best Violin Cases you can buy in 2023.
You may also like our handy guides on How to Replace Your Violin Strings, Tips For Tuning Your Violin, How Are Violin Strings Made, Easy Violin Songs for Beginners to Play, and How Can I Learn to Play the Violin on My Own for more useful information.
Tips For Better Violin Bowing – Final Thought
Playing the Violin is what you could call a gracious experience. It demands great technique, and part of that technique is your bowing action. Practice hard; it will be worth it.
Until next time, let your music play.