How to fix a very bad bowhold

Emily Anthony said: Jun 21, 2016
 Violin, Viola
Jamestown, RI
8 posts

I have a student, a boy finishing 3rd grade, who has been part of my after-school class (a small group of 5) for one year. Prior to that he had group or private lessons somewhere. When he started with me his bow-hold was thumb-under and leaning backward. I changed this to thumb-inside, hoping to encourage more hand pronation, but it’s just gone from bad to worse. By now his index finger is extending up away from the others, almost parallel to the stick, and the thumb of course leaning back on its underside. It is a true “fork-hold.” He can only move the bow 4 to 5 inches at the frog—there is no possibility of opening his arm to draw the bow out. The sound is pretty horrendous. This is a shame because he likes the violin, and plays with good pitch and good concentration. He also enjoys his piano lessons. This past Jan. his mother asked me to give him private lessons once a week, which I agreed to, hoping that I could address his bowing problem. Since he couldn’t make any change that I (very gently!) suggested, I ordered a bow-buddy. Unfortunately this went over like a lead balloon. He was so upset when I put this black thing on his bow ( I should have ordered a bright color, perhaps) that he began to cry. The boy’s mother is a psychiatrist, and she asked if I could hold off on trying to make any changes; her hope was that he would self-correct as he grew more mature. I know this won’t happen without some intervention—his habit is totally ingrained. I see him quitting in favor of a band instrument after one more year of this. But meantime, If anyone has a helpful suggestion for me, I would be most grateful.

Emily Anthony

Brecklyn Smith Ferrin said: Jun 23, 2016
Brecklyn Smith Ferrin
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
Kaysville, UT
29 posts

That’s a tough one! My first thought is, what if you tried having him correct your bow hold? If you made a bad bow hold, would he “fix” it for you? That might be a good first step.

Timothy Judd said: Jun 24, 2016
Timothy Judd
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
Glen Allen, VA
56 posts

Have him shake out his right hand and then drop from the wrist with complete relaxation. This natural, relaxed shape of the curved fingers essentially is the bow hold. Turn his had over with the palm up and allow the fingers to naturally curve around the bow without any squeezing. Encourage him to persistently reset this way every time the bow hold goes out.

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

Take it one teaching point at a time. Give him a bow hold teaching point to do and use games to reinforce it every day between his other practice tasks. e.g can you keep a bent pinkie on the bow while writing your name in the air with the bow tip? It is easier for a child to make and maintain a vertical bow hold. A horizontal stick puts a lot of strain on beginner fingers.

You mention 2 problems.

-1 A locked bow arm. Take the time to encourage a spaghetti arm (cooked, not raw). There is a straight bowing book which has several games in it, like the elephant trunk game. Reach out in front of you with your trunk (bow hand) for a treat and bring it back to your mouth.

-2 An extended 1st finger. I’m sure you have patterned the correct bow hold, but there is a lot for a youngster to remember here. All of the fingers work together to make a secure relaxed bow. I use a little mouse toy from the pet store as my bow policeman. He is very soft and gentle and absolutely loves soft relaxed bow fingers.

1 Soft lazy Mr 1 just dangles over the bow.
2 Hugger fingers pointing one towards the silver and the other towards the hair. Their job is to hug gently.
3 Round pinkie sitting near the hugger fingers, just behind the top face of the bow.
4 Bent thumb pointing back towards the pinkie, making a V shape against the bow, not a L shape.
5 Mouse hole inside the bow hold must be soft and comfortable.
6 Straight wrist.

These 6 teaching points are all contained in the 36 Beginner Bow Hold Games 5 star bow chart which will keep him focussed over 5 or more weeks. There are, as the title suggests, 36 amusing games to practice maintaining his good bow hold away from distractions of trying to make a sound on the instrument.

Examples are,
Counting
Make a beautiful bow hold.
Hold for a count of ten.
Can you do it in another language?
Check bow hold.
REPEAT!!

and
Target Practice
Make a beautiful bow hold.
Slide hair elastics off the bow
on to a target plate on the floor
Check bow hold.
REPEAT!!

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