How to hold a fiddle bow
Why your bow hold is important
Having a comfortable fiddle bow hold which allows you to be in control of your bow is the route to developing confident playing, creating a good tone, and playing with precision. There are no absolute rights and wrongs with this – a bow hold that suits one person may not work for someone else. What is important is to avoid any tension in the hand or arm when you are holding the bow in place on the fiddle. To achieve a relaxed hold, all the the fingers must be relaxed. You’ll find that muscles in the forearm will contract in order to tense any one of your fingers in your bowing hand. So if any of your fingers are tense when you’re playing, you’ll have tension right up the bowing arm. Any tension will really affect the tone of your instrument when you play.
So getting your bow hold comfortable from the early stages of learning can save you a lot of fiddle-induced anguish later on!
Parts of the bow
Fiddle bow hold guide – where to hold the bow
Fiddle bows are designed so that their weight is balanced when the bow is held at the frog end. When you first start playing, it can be tempting to hold the bow further up the stick, as initially it gives a feeling of having more control over the bow. However, as your playing becomes more proficient, you’ll also find that it makes some things more difficult (or impossible) to do. Getting comfortable early on with having a fiddle bow hold that’s close to the frog end of the bow will pay dividends as you work on learning new playing techniques further down the line.
How to hold the bow
The thumb should be bent, and slightly tucked under the stick of the bow, right beside the frog. Keeping the thumb bent will help to keep the forearm relaxed. To test this, try holding your bow with a bent thumb, then tense the thumb and ‘lock’ the thumb joint straight – you’ll feel the muscle in your forearm tensing up, and some tension in the upper arm/shoulder – it’s amazing what a difference a relaxed thumb can make to your whole bowing action!
If you’re holding your bow off the fiddle, it’s necessary to have a certain amount of grip in the hand so the bow doesn’t drop to the floor. As soon as you place the weight of the bow onto the strings though, the fiddle is doing the work of holding the bow up. So your bowing hand becomes nothing more than a ‘guide’, and the thumb and fingers can be completely relaxed.
Drape the 1st, 2nd and 3rd fingers over the front of the bow, and spread the fingers fairly widely, so the index finger is quite a bit forward of the position of the thumb, and the pinkie is on the very end of the bow. If you have the bow sitting in the joint of the index finger that’s closer to the palm (the second joint down from the finger tip) you’ll be able to have much more control of the bow without needing to tense the hand at all. The tip of the 2nd finger should be placed opposite the thumb.
Once the fingers are draped in a comfortable position, the wrist should be slightly rotated anticlockwise (assuming you are holding the bow in your right hand). Rotating the wrist in this way frees up the wrist to flex naturally as the bow is moved through a full length of a stroke. This wrist flexibility is important, as it allows the player to move the bow in a straight line perpendicular to the strings, throughout the length of a full bow stroke. Keeping the bow’s motion straight in this way is an important part of creating a good tone when playing the fiddle.
How the hand and fingers interact with the bow
The bow hold is not a static thing! Once you have a comfortable and relaxed bow hold, you can move on to investigating how the hand and fingers interact with the bow to help create good control over the bow, with precision playing, and the tone you want.