Dreaming about a smooth beautiful violin tone? For beginners, it’ll take some practice to perfect your bowing technique and stop the “squeak.” Here, violin teacher Naomi Cherie S. shares a few tips…
When it comes to your violin tone, there are a lot of things that go into creating the perfect sound. You need to have the right bow weight, on the right part of the bow, at the right speed.
But did you know that your bowing technique can also affect your tone?
Check out these five ways that your bowing technique can impact your sound!
How Many Violin Bowing Techniques Are There?
There are four main families of bowing technique:
The way you hold the bow and move it across the strings can produce a wide range of different sounds on the violin. Different bowing techniques can be used to create different textures and effects, from smooth and legato to staccato and pizzicato.
Within each family there are various sub-techniques that can be used to create different sounds. For example, spiccato bowing can be further subdivided into staccatissimo, staccato and legato.
By experimentation and practice, violinists can develop their own unique sound by combining different bowing techniques. With so many possibilities, the potential for creativity is virtually limitless.
The best way to learn all of these different bowing techniques is, of course, to take violin lessons with a qualified insturctor. They’ll show you the ropes, along with other important aspects of playing the violin (like what you see in the video below):
Violin Bow Technique Terms
If you’re just starting out on the violin, or if you’ve been playing for a while but never really focused on improving your bowing technique, it’s important to start with some basic exercises.
These will help you develop the muscles and coordination necessary for smooth, even strokes.
Many beginners find it helpful to start by simply holding the bow in their right hand and moving it back and forth across the strings. This helps you get a feel for the weight and balance of the bow, as well as how much pressure is needed to produce a clear tone.
Once you’re comfortable with this, you can move on to more specific exercises, such as working on different strokes (e.g., legato or staccato) or playing long, sustained notes. With regular practice, you’ll soon notice a big improvement in your bowing technique.
Common Violin Bowing Technique Mistakes
So you’ve learned the basics on your violin. You know how to hold the violin and the bow, you’ve learned where all the notes are, and you’re getting pretty good at reading notes and rhythms. But… your playing still isn’t sounding that great. It’s squeaky, inconsistent, and patchy-sounding, and you’re just not sure what to do to fix it.
If this sounds familiar, we’ve whipped up a list of tips and tricks to perfect your bowing technique, which in turn will improve your tone. Just remember, these aren’t quick fixes. But if you stick with them and practice often, you’ll start to notice great improvements!
To get started, check out this quick summary of five ways your bowing technique affects your tone. Then keep reading below for even more tips!
Bowing Technique Problem: Holding Your Bow Incorrectly
You may have had some basic training on how to hold your violin bow, or maybe you’re self-taught. Either way, it’s a good idea to go through your bow hold and make sure each finger is positioned correctly.
Even if you’ve perfected your bow hold from the start, over time your fingers can creep out of place and cause issues. It’s important to remember that the way you hold your bow has a great impact on your sound, so constantly check in to make sure you haven’t developed any bad habits. Here are the basics on proper bow hold:
- Your thumb goes on the little rounded bump you see on the black part of the bow, and should be flush up against your thumbnail. Your thumb should be bent.
- Your first finger wraps around the grip (the plastic or leather part that wraps around the stick near the frog) and should bend at the main knuckle to hook onto the bow stick firmly.
- Your middle finger sits on the frog. Make sure your finger wraps around the frog and reaches down to the bottom edge of the frog where it squares off.
- Your ring finger goes right next to your middle finger and should cover the white spot that’s on your frog. It should also wrap around the frog, along with your middle finger.
- Last but not least — your pinky is very important for balance and sits right on top of the stick. Make sure to place it on the wood, not the metal screw at the end of the bow. Watch to make sure that your little finger, like all of your other fingers, is curved.
Visual learners, check out this guide to holding a violin bow for more details.
Bowing Technique Problem: Not Bowing Straight
Playing with a straight bow is the another major factor that will impact your sound. Watch some videos online of professionals in orchestras, or soloists. Are their bows straight, parallel with the end of the fingerboard and the line that the bridge makes? Or is it making a diagonal line? Odds are, it’s straight for the majority of their performance. This is a huge goal to master as a beginner.
Here are some tips to ensure you’re bowing straight:
- Practice in front of a mirror daily and watch to see whether you are playing from your shoulder or from your elbow. You should be playing from the elbow, opening and closing it like a hinge; leave your shoulder as still as you can.
- Try the “wall trick”: Lean up against a flat wall so that the area on your arm from your shoulder to your elbow is flat up against the wall. This will force your shoulder and elbow to stay still. Once you get used to the feeling, back away from the wall and see if you can hold the position. Do this several times a day, and check a mirror to make sure you stay in that position.
- Imagine you’re driving the bow hairs across the strings as if there were an invisible road laid out straight over a slightly curved hill. What would happen if the car tires went diagonally on a slippery road? You might hear a screech — same sound your violin makes when you play with a crooked bow!
Bowing Technique Problem: The “Bouncing Bow”
If you’re a beginner violinist, you know what I mean when I say “bow bouncing problems.” This is a common issue, even for people who’ve been playing for a while.
Here are some tips to combat it:
- Think of your first finger as a hook that can dig the bow into the violin string to absorb bow bounciness. When the bow starts to bounce, lean your first finger into the stick to deaden the vibration and smooth out the stroke. (This is a good trick if you’re in the middle of a performance and you need an immediate fix when you feel your bow starting to bounce!)
- Experiment with varying pressure from your first finger to the bow stick through to the violin string. You’ll notice that if you dig into the string too hard you’ll get a gritty abrasive tone, and if you press too light you’ll get a patchy, inconsistent tone. Look for the middle ground.
Bowing Technique Problem: Uncontrolled Bowing
If your bow strokes feel and sound out of control, take a step back and use small bow strokes instead. Consider starting with about five inches of bow. The area of bow near the frog is closest to your hand (the bow’s main power source) and can come off sounding too harsh or heavy-handed; the tip of your bow is farthest from the power source, so it can sound weak and be hard to control. The middle of the bow is the safest zone to play in.
Playing with tiny bow strokes may feel silly at first, but hearing your instrument sound a bit more under control can give the confidence boost you need. Once you feel like you’re sounding more stable, gradually increase your bow span. You may want to do this exercise over the course of a few days or weeks until you start to feel more comfortable.
Bowing Technique Problem: The Tipped Bow
Beginners sometimes tilt their bow forward or backward, so that only some of the hairs run across the strings. For a thick, even tone, flatten your bow so that all of the hairs are touching the strings. This will ensure that you get a full tone. This also helps the bow balance on the strings.
How Do You Bow Properly?
Bowing is an essential technique for all string players, and it is important to learn how to do it correctly from the beginning.
The bow should be held in the right hand and positioned so that the middle finger is placed at the center of the bow hair. The thumb and first two fingers should then be positioned behind the frog, with the first finger resting on top of the second.
When starting a bow stroke, the hand should be relaxed and the wrist should be slightly extended. The arm should then move forward smoothly, using the shoulder as the main source of power.
As the bow reaches the string, the hand should begin to rotate so that the pinky finger ends up underneath. This will help to create a smooth, round sound.
Finally, as the bow leaves the string, the hand should relax and return to its original position. With practice, this sequence will become second nature and you will be able to produce a beautiful tone on your violin.
Violin Bowing Technique Exercises
There are a number of exercises that can help violinists to improve their bowing technique.
One helpful exercise is to practice playing with a metronome. This will help to ensure that you are evenly bowing across the string.
Another exercise is to practice playing long, sustained notes. This will help you to develop a smooth and even tone.
Finally, it is also helpful to practice drawing the bow across the string in different directions. This will help you to develop a more flexible technique.
By practicing these exercises regularly, you will be able to greatly improve your bowing technique.
Violin Bowing Techniques for Beginners
One of the most important aspects of playing the violin is learning the proper bowing techniques.
For beginners, this can seem like a daunting task. However, with a bit of practice, you’ll be able to produce a beautiful sound.
Apply these five major tips to your everyday practice, and you will see and hear great results with time. Have fun exploring your violin, and be sure to check out my profile if you’re interested in online violin lessons with me!