Bow hold, tactile awareness

Alan Duncan said: Feb 22, 2016
Alan Duncan
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
63 posts

I’m looking for advice about the violin bow hold.

The context: My daughter is a 7 year old who is playing the Seitz concerti in Book 4. Her bow hold has always been a bit of a struggle; but as she is doing more off the string, requiring more finger flexibility, it has exposed some chronic issues with her bow hold. It is not unusual to find her with the fingers several centimetres up toward the tip by the end of the piece. Every teacher who has worked with her has noted the tendency. So far, the advice I’ve gotten is to take careful notice of the bow hold and have her stop and reset before allowing her to continue. After a few years of doing this, I’d like to say that there’s been consistent improvement; but no, there’s not.

The hypothesis: I think the solution is in developing more tactile awareness of the middle and ring fingers in contact with the frog. I’ve taken videos of her bow hold in action; and I’ve come to the conclusion that the middle finger first loses contact then drags the other fingers with it upward toward the tip.

The questions: Does this sound plausible? Does anyone have more suggestions about developing the sort of tactile awareness that helps keep the bow hold in place while still pliable enough to do all of the things that are demanded of it?

Phankao said: Feb 22, 2016
Phankao WanPiano, Viola, Violin
128 posts

Could it be that the Index finger is gripping upwards? Not the middle? And hence the others follow? Check if the bowhand thumb is stable too—relaxed and bent and always there, instead of straightening (and loosing it’s place).

My 7yo had that until sometime last year. We just joked that he was not supposed to do baroque bowhold, and did start working on flexible fingers and palm/wrist of bowhand and keeping the bowhand thumb bent and stable, and his bowhand moving upwards stopped happening.

Holly Blackwelder Carpenter said: Feb 22, 2016
Holly Blackwelder CarpenterInstitute Director
SAA Board
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
College Place, WA
87 posts

One question: what sort of grip does she have on her bowhold? Is it all one piece of plastic or does she have a separate leather and metal binding? On some bows, there is just one texture all the way, so there really isn’t much to “alert” the fingers that they have moved.

With some students I have put a “block” on the bow for a few months to keep the fingers from creeping so that the correct position is maintained until the hand senses it, then I take the block off and typically it does solve the problem, i use this as a last resort, and always with the intent to remove it within a few months.

Holly Blackwelder Carpenter
Director, Japan Seattle Suzuki Institute
SAA Board of Directors

Alan Duncan said: Feb 22, 2016
Alan Duncan
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
63 posts

Thank you both for taking a moment to reply.

Phankao—it’s possible I may be missing something with the index finger. It doesn’t seem like it’s leading the march up the stick, but I may be missing something.

Holly—the bow is form a Brazilian maker. It has a leather grip and windings above. We aim to use that transition as one of the more or less fixed points in her bow hold. I see what you mean about the textural difference as a tactile cue. For now, I’m just having her do some slow bows on open strings trying to have her build an awareness of the sensations by alternately removing and re-placing fingers on the bow. Maybe, it’s just one of those things that takes time.

Linda said: Feb 23, 2016
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
Modesto, CA
7 posts

I would really look at the thumb. Is it strong, bent, and then are the 2nd and 3rd fingers really holding on. I have fashioned a large rubber band on the frog to cover the middle fingers to keep them on before. Most of the time I have not had a problem. Letting this problem continue so long makes it worse. You can also put a piece of paper under the 2 middle fingers so she has to hold on to it. If it falls, she has to stop and do it again.

Alan Duncan said: Feb 23, 2016
Alan Duncan
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
63 posts

Linda—thank you. In our practice, I’m trying to make this a focus so it doesn’t get perpetuated. The thumb looks good. Your suggestion about the piece of paper between the middle fingers is brilliant—a way of cultivating enough pressure by bring obvious awareness to it.

Laura said: Feb 23, 2016
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
Stanton, MN
25 posts

Hi Alan!

As I have been trying different things with different students, I have been having some success this winter with this issue. Here are the main points that I have been working on:

Placement of the fingers – I have been marking dots on the students fingers right behind the first joint in there first, second and third fingers. I emphacize feeling that first joint wrap around the stick of the bow.

Thumb- I have a student or two (or more……) who have to think about keeping a bent thumb and this solves the problem of the wandering grip. If they need a tactile focus, I asked them to bend enough that they can feel the bow hair and to concentrate on feeling this contact as they play an easy piece.

Flexible wrist: concentrating on the feeling of lifting the wrist as you near the frog has been very helpful to keeping the fingers curved and in place.

Email me if you want to chat about this some more. miss you!

Edmund Sprunger said: Feb 23, 2016
Edmund SprungerTeacher Trainer
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
Saint Louis, MO
97 posts

I’m following this thread with great interest. My students tend to have quite a nice sound and free, easy bow arms. Their bow hands also creep up the stick a bit. In general, I notice that the creeping goes away as their playing develops and more demands are placed on their fingers to get active for this or that bowstroke. On occasion I address it, but I’m not sure my addressing it is what causes the change.

So…a creepy bow hand may be a sign of flexibility. It may be a positive sign. I have sometimes used the paper trick someone mentioned, but I don’t like the tension that results from it. I’ve also tried putting a piece of moleskin under the pinkie as a way to anchor the hand in one place, but I didn’t find that trick particularly helpful either.

Bottom line: is the what’s happening in the bow hand Mr. Duncan is writing about a sign of a problem, or an indication that things are developing nicely? I’m not sure. As I said, I’m following this thread with great interest…

PS
There’s also something else I’ve done—taught the kids to crawl up and down the stick while they’re playing an open D string. That tends to develop the capacity to get the fingers back where they need to be. It’s something that develops a useful flexibility. I’m always cautious about teaching “a position” for anything in playing, because everything needs to be free to move when playing.

Edmund Sprunger
sprungerstudio.com
yespublishing.com

Kirsten said: Feb 23, 2016
 Violin
103 posts

Hi Edmund

About this bow crawling exercise:
This is a very fun idea and I love the concept. I tried bowing from the frog this way and the sound was shaky and jumpy. When I bow just from the middle to the tip and back, I can sort of do it. I am crawling my fingers just up past the silver binding and then back down to the thumb grip. I take about 4 seconds from middle to tip and then 4 seconds back. Is this the right way?

Is it possible to get a smooth legato sound with practice?

Kirsten

Anne Brennand said: Feb 23, 2016
Anne Brennand
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
Boulder, CO
39 posts

Hi all. Great topic thread. Here is a cellist’s perspective, for what that’s worth.

Alan, I want to honor your initial observation, which I thought was great. You wrote: “The hypothesis: I think the solution is in developing more tactile awareness of the middle and ring fingers in contact with the frog.”

I see this again and again with cello bow holds. The tall finger especially likes to come forward or off from the frog, which causes the whole bow hold to creep up. If I have a student feel the inside of the finger joint, really feel the pointer and tall fingers making a fork shape against the bow, and along with the thumb, forming a firm triad, that helps their hand. If I can then also anchor the pinky—all this tends to help form a better bow hold posture.

It’s so strange for the student to realize all this, but then find that the hand does not play the instrument, the arm does that. I agree that a loose bow hold is not necessarily a bad thing. It just needs to be in place enough that the arm’s action can be transferred successfully to the string.

Anne Brennand, cellist and cello teacher

Alan Duncan said: Feb 24, 2016
Alan Duncan
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
63 posts

Thanks to all for a wonderful discussion.

Mr. Sprunger: I appreciate your observations. The “creepy” bow hand is definitely a by-product of pliability of my daughter’s bow hold. A couple experiments with the paper trick were interesting and echo what you observed. After some trials, she was able to consistently maintain contact; but at the cost of tone and relaxation. Of course, it’s just an exercise, I suppose. (Thank you, too, for all your contributions to the world of Suzuki parenting; your advice is always on the back of my mind during practice.)

Anne: Thank you, too. I appreciate your note about the bow hold as a transfer mechanism.

Michelle Kathryn Suhr said: Feb 24, 2016
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
Cape Girardeau, MO
5 posts

This is a great topic! As a young Suzuki student, my practing job during my semester of observation was to make 100 perfect bow hands every day. Which I did faithfully, and by the time my bow got to the string, I had a picture perfect bow hand. The PROBLEM, however, is that I never developed any flexibility in the fingers, and by the time I got to graduate school I had to re-learn everything. Now, as a teacher, many of my students have the straight pinky issue, which, I think is more difficult to correct than the creeper. I’m with Ed on this one: It might be a sign of nicely developing technique! Furthermore, my teaching experience has shown me that some people are just more natural at the tactile awareness than others. I haven’t figured out why that is yet, but, what I do know is that fine muscle memory is vital, and therefore the bow hand technique should not be avoided because it is difficult or scary. Kudos to you as a parent for tackling the issue!

Sue Hunt said: Feb 24, 2016
Sue Hunt
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
391 posts
Doodlebows

Doodlebows

Sometimes the sound of the bow on the string can sabotage your efforts to train the hand. Here are some flexibility exercises that can be done away from the instrument, using the bow or a pen or a doodlebow.

Handwriting
Make a beautiful bow hold.
Hold bow vertically touching left palm with the winder.
Using fingers only, write your name with the winder
Check bow hold.
REPEAT!!

Liftoff
Make a beautiful bow hold.
Hold bow vertically touching left palm with the winder.
Using fingers only, lift the bow.
Check bow hold.
REPEAT!!

See Saw
Make a beautiful bow hold at the balance point, or on a pen.
Hold bow horizontally.
Pushing alternately on 1st finger and pinkie, see saw.
Check bow hold.
REPEAT!!

Spider Dance
Make a beautiful bow hold.
Hold bow vertically OVER A SOFT SURFACE.
Dance the fingers on the bow.
Check bow hold.
REPEAT!!

Weight Lifting
Make a beautiful bow hold at the balance point, or on a pen.
Hold pen horizontally.
Lift and lower it by flexing then relaxing the fingers
Check bow hold.
REPEAT!!

Jennifer Visick said: Feb 24, 2016
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
997 posts

So… my own bow does this, sometimes! But not as much as it used to. And it tends to happen the more flexible/relaxed my bow hold is. Raising the level of all different kinds of right hand techniques, or expanding the different kinds of bow strokes I am able to easily access, is my go-to when I notice this starting to happen.

I think I agree with Edmund Sprunger in that I’m not so sure it’s a bad thing when a student’s bow hold is flexible enough for this to happen. I think I’d much rather have students with this “problem” than with the opposite problem of hanging on too tightly to the bow.

So, if this were me (or my student), I would probably go with bow exercises like crawling up and down the stick, first off, then on the instrument, and use Sue’s suggestions above for a bow hand warm-up.

I’d also introduce (or go back to) some basic collé or pre-collé exercises (if you’ve not done this yet, ask your teacher, and maybe take a look at some online videos - Kurt Sassmanshaus has a few good ones on violinmasterclass.com - if you don’t know what collé is)

Try starting work or pre-work on other bow strokes where the thumb takes a more active role could be helpful, too. (Up bow staccato, or chopping, etc.)

Or, another approach would be to try whole bow long bow exercises. If your hand is creeping up the stick too far, it becomes more difficult to get to the frog, which ends up motivating one to pay attention to staying near the frog.

P.S. It just occurred to me—what if the student used one of the tiny teaching bows—the 6 or 10 inchers with a full size frog (”twinkle bows”?)—as an exercise to play review work on? It might be easier to notice when you realize that a few inches means you’re halfway up the stick already…

P.P.S. external stuff—like the “block” Holly mentioned (Holly, what do you use for “blocks”?), maybe a rubber band above the winding that one is not supposed to touch—could help for a limited amount of time.

Alan Duncan said: Feb 25, 2016
Alan Duncan
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
63 posts

Ms Hunt and Ms. Visick:

Thank you for additional suggestions. My daughter was a little apprehensive about doing collé out of fear that it would exacerbate the loss of contact, creeping, etc. All things in their own time.

I think that the off-the-string exercises seem sound—building strength, awareness and flexibility in isolation where the left hand work isn’t distracting her.

We’ll talk with her studio teacher. I should mention that we have had the most wonderful teachers and that mostly I’m trying to understand the wider context. Thanks to all.

Richard Franklin said: Mar 19, 2016
Richard Franklin7 posts

Could it be that the Index finger is gripping upwards? Not the middle? And hence the others follow? Check if the bowhand thumb is stable too—relaxed and bent and always there, instead of straightening (and loosing it’s place)

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