Bow angle..


said: Sep 14, 2006
 20 posts

Hey there, another question from me :)

I had my first lesson last week and what an eye opener that was! My technique has improved greatly and I feel I’m getting better every day. Huge! He did the whole suzuki thing when he learned to play so I’m in good hands. Still, watching him play was interesting. He’d tilt his bow so the wood was facing away from him instead of keeping a flat angle that I thought was right. I asked him but he couldn’t really give me a good answer as to why. Does anyone here know? Is it easier to play with a tilted/angled bow?

Thanks :)

Gabriel Villasurda said: Sep 15, 2006
Gabriel Villasurda81 posts

The short answer: almost nothing is always.

There are four hinges or groups of hinges in the bow arm. SHOULDER, ELBOW, WRIST, and FINGERS. At some time in the bow stroke, all these hinges move. The permanent tilt of the bow must mean tension in the wrist.

We need to bend the wrist as we approach the frog. Otherwise the bow tip will trace a circular path with the tip ending up over our left shoulder. This requires a tilting of the bow stick away from the bridge. The amount of tilt will depend on the relative lengths of the arm bones. On the downbow we return the wrist to a flat angle at the middle. As we approach the tip, we have to bend the wrist a little downward as we extend the elbow and straighten the arm. Keeping the wrist tilted or flat now will result in the tip riding toward the scroll.

Keeping any single hinge frozen is to be avoided.

Exceptions: when the player wants a very soft, feathery tone. With the hair tilted, not all the hairs are touching, so the tone is gossamer. Moving the contact point to a place over the fingerboard would enhance this.

No player plays with this tone all the time. We want a whole broad palette of tone colors. Certainly we want the hair flat on the string in broad detache strokes (as in Handel) at the forte level.

Remember the main job of the right arm: to govern the path of the bow hair to the string at a 90 degree angle so that we can control weight, speed and placement (contact point).


Gabriel Villasurda
Ann Arbor MI

said: Sep 17, 2006
 20 posts

Thanks for this fantastic reply, Gabriel! This forum is great :)

Jennifer Visick said: Sep 19, 2006
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki Early Childhood Education, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
1068 posts

Gabriel Villasurda

The permanent tilt of the bow must mean tension in the wrist.

Overall Gabriel’s post is great: no single position is always the correct bow hold, posture, stance, or angle. Rather, playing the instrument well means moving through a series of positions which include various kinds of bow tilting, etc., etc.

However, I don’t believe that a general predisposition towards tilting the bow stick away from your face necessarily means that the right wrist has got too much tension. The tilt can be achieved by rolling fingers as well as wrist tilting/tension.

Something interesting (to me) is that when I picked up a cello for the first time, I couldn’t get a very good sound until my cellist friend pointed out that I had the stick of the bow tilted away from my face—on the viola or violin, this bow hold would have been fine, with the stick aiming the hair “towards” the bridge. But on the cello, this means the stick is closer to the bridge, thus aiming the hair “back” towards the fingerboard—and when I tilted the bow just slightly so the hair was closer to the bridge instead, I got a better, more solid sound. On the cello, everything is “backwards” from the viola or violin…. Anyways, my theory is that a slight push towards the bridge can help tone quality. I have observed a large number of excellent players do this, without excess wrist tension.

said: Sep 19, 2006
 20 posts

Thanks for your additional thoughts, Rainejen. I agree with the logic of your reasoning regarding wrist tension.

Here’s a new question for you!

Vibrato: Prior to taking classes I’ve been noodling about on my own, trying to find the proper vibrato technique. I finally settled on the wrist vibrato which seemed universally accepted and generally easier than the arm vibrato. Now my teacher wants me to change to arm vibrato. I had great difficulty adapting to begin with but now it’s getting there, but I am confused… many violin sites advice against learning the arm vibrato, saying it’s “seldom used” and difficult to master. Looking at videos of great violinists I admire, it seems that the majority of my favorite players have adapted the arm vibrato technique (the wrist is aligned with the arm). What vibrato technique is taught in traditional Suzuki teaching? Why do people advice against it, and what are the culprits (if any)? So far I’ve found that the violin doesn’t shake as much with the arm vibrato, making it easier to maintain a solid tone (since the bow pressure is more even). The vibrato has less of a trembling feel to it and appears to be easier to do on the 4th finger. In other words I’m finding few if any downsides to it. I’d love to hear people’s opinions on the different vibrato techniques, as well as a reason for their own personal preferences.

Community Youth Orchestra Of S CA said: Oct 10, 2006
 Violin, Viola
70 posts

On violin or viola, the bow is played with a (changeable) degree of tilt away from you for many reasons. Two I can think of right away:

  1. The amount of bow hair used affects the tone quality as well as volume.
  2. At an extreme angle, the bow is actually farther away from the string when weight is applied, allowing the stick to flex more, increase tension on the hair, and create a bigger sound.

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