Thumb position on violin bow

Arlene said: Oct 1, 2015
Arlene Patterson
Suzuki Association Member
Longmont, CO
13 posts

At what stage do you think a student should be encouraged to move bow thumb from below the frog to the proper position?


Brecklyn Smith Ferrin said: Oct 3, 2015
Brecklyn Smith Ferrin
Suzuki Association Member
Kaysville, UT
28 posts

I’m not sure what others do, but I move it around Perpetual Motion.

Jennifer Visick said: Mar 12, 2016
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
998 posts

To my mind, the point of having the thumb outside is to allow a child of a younger age to begin playing when their hands are not yet developmentally ready to hold a bow with the thumb inside.


  • the student appears physically ready (basic bow control without excessive tension, and displays some basic independent control over individual fingers)

  • (I’d guess students are almost always physically ready age 7 and up, are probably ready between ages 5-7, and are unlikely to be ready if under age 4)


  • Usually sometime in the middle of book 1

and either

  • just before teaching whole bows or lower half bows that go up to the frog, possibly (for violin or viola) at the Allegro level


  • when the student asks

whichever comes first.

  • the student is an older beginner (teenager or adult) who is not a practice partner/home practice coach/model for a young child to copy

in which case

  • start with the thumb inside or move it inside as soon as you see fit

Side note: a class with Ronda Cole introduced me to the idea that the very youngest beginners (age 2-3) are also probably not ready to perch the pinky on the stick, and if you start them with a sort of paw-shaped bow hold that is relaxed, they can quite easily make the move to thumb inside & pinky up at the same time, later on.)

Cynthia Faisst said: Mar 13, 2016
Cynthia Faisst
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki Early Childhood Education
Irvine, CA
127 posts

As a rule of thumb (pun intended):

I check for the following issues:

  1. Do any of the knuckles of the bow hold buckle or flatten?
  2. Does the thumb or tall finger keep sliding away from each other?
  3. Does the thumb have difficulty recoiling on the way back to the frog?
  4. Can the student play early pieces without using the pinky or ring finger?
  5. Can the pointer finger keep his seat belts on and eyes on the road?
  6. Can the student control the roll of the stick with the thumb?

This does not include other issues about the bow arm. The idea is to simplify the bow hand so you can spend more time addressing large muscle groups such as the arm motion and set up. I find that the thumb on frog bow hold also helps to strengthen grasp, balance and finger roll ability. I do lots of activities with this bow hold to help students with finger lift and retraction in the finger joints.

Since I do not reject students of any age 3-90 or with special needs, I have students potentially at any age with widely varying abilities. Sometimes I have an older beginner with very weak upper body skills or an adult who has a very stiff hand or a gimpy thumb (where the joint closest to the hand collapses)

Rather than assume anything about the age of the student I take them through a series of non-threatening activities during the first few lessons to determine what they can do with their hands and their body. This process was delightfully refreshing for one of my adult students because her memory of her brother’s lessons was that of watching someone impose the final prescription for a bow hold on her brother from the beginning. If learning to play the violin is a process we can engage our students from the beginning and ask them to listen to their bodies at every stage and contribute their own feedback.

Let me know if I might have missed any issues for the rule of thumb that might come up.

Ms. Cynthia
Talent Education Center: Suzuki Violin
Director of Santa Ana Suzuki Strings located at the
Orange County Children’s Therapeutic Arts Center
Volunteer, bring music to under-served communities around the world. Create Sound Investments and Futures.

Pam said: Mar 13, 2016
Pam Hatley (Hunter)
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki in the Schools
San Jose, CA
12 posts

Hi Cynthia,

What a wonderful checklist for the bow thumb! I too have students 3-70. Would you please share some of your non-threatening activities to assess what they can do with their hands and body?



Vasuhi Klinker said: Mar 14, 2016
Vasuhi Klinker
Suzuki Association Member
12 posts

A lovely 72 year old lady just signed up for violin lessons. She studied violin in school for 6 years and loved it but her husband was not into cultural things. He recently passed away and to alleviate her loneliness she’s opened up her violin and wanted lessons. I would dearly love to help her but she has arthritis in her hands so anything you can pass on to help me help her in the non-threatening exercises you use, would be so appreciated.

Laura Burgess said: Mar 15, 2016
Laura Burgess
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
32 posts

I have a viola student of similar age and she has improved immensely over the past two years. I look at it like an adjustment to the way we make accommodations for the growing student. For example, stretching the hand gently in playing position to get ready to play an octave. Gradually, increasing relaxation of the hand, to improve vibrato using Mark Mutter’s “bobble heads”. I think her goals should be your guide. Then having her do the listening and giving gentle step by step bridges to the goals. I would also encourage her to make sure she has got as much help as she can for the arthritis. My doc gave me a simple vitamin supplement that helps keep my fingers mobil. Some folks just say oh that’s part of aging and don’t treat it except for pain meds.

Emily Anthony said: Mar 16, 2016
 Violin, Viola
Jamestown, RI
8 posts

Can you tell me please, what are Mark Mutter’s “bobble heads”?

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