The Ups and Downs of Bowing


In this month’s workshop, we looked at bowing action, and some bowing patterns for a simple reel.


We started off by looking at the bow hold, and did some exercises to work on the flexibility of the wrist and fingers.


  • Hold the bow horizontally in front of you, using the left hand to support the bow tip. Lift each of the fingers of the right hand one at a time, and replace on the stick of the bow.
  • Hold the bow at the frog end, and hold it vertically in front of you. Using the fingers, ‘walk’ the hand up to the tip of the bow. Then ‘walk’ the hand back down to the frog end.
  • Hold the bow vertically in front of you, using your usual bow hold. Use the first finger and pinkie to rotate the tip of the bow backwards and forwards (like a windscreen wiper). The bow should be rotating around the thumb, which acts as a pivot. Try to do this without moving the wrist at all


  • Hold the bow at the balance point of the stick, so it doesn’t tip in either direction. Hold it out in front of you horizontally, using your usual bowing arm. Do a ‘kiddy wave’ with the bowing hand, using just the wrist, so the bow moves up and down, staying parallel to the floor throughout.
  • Repeat the ‘windscreen wiper’ action in the finger exercises about, but this time use just the wrist to move the bow.
  • Hold the bow with your usual bow hold. Hold it vertically in front of you, and slowly move it upwards towards the ceiling like a rocket launching. Keep the bow perpendicular to the floor all the time. Bring it back down again, still keeping it vertical. It will be essential to use the flexibility in the wrist at the highest and lowest points to keep the bow tip moving in a straight line up and down.

We played up the A scale a few times, starting on the open A string. We were playing the eight notes of the scale as 8 quavers in a single bar of a reel.

We tried out using single bow strokes for each of the notes, then tried slurring the notes together in pairs. We then moved on to bowing a 1 down 3 up pattern, starting on a down bow on the open A. Because the notes are equal lengths, and we were fitting 3 notes on the up bow and only one note on the down bow, the bow has to move much further and faster to play the notes on each down bow. This has the effect of emphasising the note on the down bow.

It’s also possible to play a 3 up 1 down pattern, with the down bows falling on the 3rd and 7th note in the scale. This pattern has the effect of emphasising the offbeat when played in a reel. To get into this pattern, start playing the octave or bar on an up bow, and slur the first 2 quavers together, then play a downbow. From then on, the pattern is 3 up 1 down.

We then tried out playing each of these patterns while tapping our feet on the beat. We worked on getting a clean start/end to individual notes, and then played while focusing on what the person on either side of us was playing, aiming to blend our playing together with one another.

We learnt the reel Buntata Sgadan (Tatties and Herring). We started off learning the tune with a basic bowing pattern that put down bows on the beat throughout the tune. I’ve added the music to the music page, with this basic bowing pattern marked. We then tried adding a 3 up 1 down bowing pattern in the B part of the tune.  I’ve uploaded a second copy of the music  with this bowing marked.

We played through the reel several times, tapping our feet on the beat, and focusing on playing in time with one another. We tried out playing with our eyes shut, so we could really focus on listening to the others in the group as we played.

We went back to playing a scale, and tried out playing it using just the tip of the bow. Then we played the scale using the heel end of the bow. There’s a big difference in the tone between the two.


We also worked on transferring the weight of the arm into the bow and fiddle strings. We started off by putting our bows down and plucking an open note on the fiddle. We hooked a finger over the string, and used the weight of the arm to pull the finger  downwards, until the tension caused the finger to come off the string. Then we moved to digging the heel of the bow into an open string, and allowing the weight of the arm to transfer through the index finger and into the bow. Eventually the tension causes the bow to move on the string. Doing this creates a seriously scrunchy noise! It helps give a feeling for the ‘bite’ when the bow really connects with the string.

We split into pairs, and continued to work on how to transfer the weight of the bowing arm into the bow. You can see the details of how we did this exercise in this post from a previous workshop, under the heading ‘Tone and the bowing arm’.

We tried out playing the A scale using just the frog end of the bow, and getting the bow to ‘bite’ into the string with each note, creating a very distinct scrunchy start to the note. Then we tried playing the scale delicately, using only the tip of the bow, and taking a little of the weight of the bow using the pinkie in a ‘pivot’ action against the thumb. This  helps with exploring the extremes of sound that are possible with a fiddle! Having control over the volume/tone of each note will give a basis for introducing dynamics into our playing.

We went back to playing Buntata Sgadan, exploring possible dynamics in the tune.