Lecture 2: Learn to hold the violin bow properly and avoid the most fatal mistakes.
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Lecture 2: Learn to hold the violin bow properly and avoid the most fatal mistakes.

August 16, 2019


Welcome to our next lecture! Here we’ll
be talking about the bow hold. To make it a little easier at the beginning we’ll
start with finding the position of the fingers on a pencil. The pencil is smaller than the bow, it’s
lighter, and easier to coordinate, so if you don’t have a pencil handy, stop the
video, grab a pencil and come back. I assume you did that. One of the most
important things about the bow hold is the position of the thumb! The thumb is the foundation of
a good bow hold and there are several reasons for that. I’ll explain them in a
moment, but before that, I would like to give you the basic directions about the position
of the thumb. It touches the bow with its very tip and it’s bent in this direction.
Again, it touches the bow with the very tip and is bent in this direction.
To relate to this a little bit easier think of keeping the same curve, same natural bend of the thumb which you will have when holding an apple, or a tennis ball, or
cup of water. Ok, so let’s get back to the reasons the position of the thumb is so
important. To begin with, if you bend the thumb to the other direction and place the bow
on the flat part of the thumb, it will be locked and you won’t be able to move it
freely. Because of that, all the rest of the fingers will have less flexibility. On the other hand, if you bend it like this it will be in the middle of its range of
motion and you’ll be able to change its angle freely, depending on the different
ways you would be using the bow. It might not seem like a big difference, but
really, playing the violin is about little details and precision. Another
reason the thumb is the foundation of a good bow hold is based on the fact, that
anatomically, it’s that thumb side of the arm, that is making most of the rotation which we use while playing. So, let’s briefly look
at this. Here is our hand. Most of us have five fingers. I know, you already knew that. However, there is something not everybody
realizes. The fingers are much longer than we usually imagine. They actually
start all the way at the wrist and since we done see half of them, hidden,
covered by the skin of the palm of the hand ,sometimes we forget about this part
and we don’t use it. And it is very important to use the fingers in their
whole length, because there are much stronger and much more flexible when we
do it. Here is an x-ray of our hand, so you can visualize this a little easier. I will stop here and won’t spend more time on that, because I
don’t think it will be relevant to everyone, but if you’re interested in
getting deeper into the anatomy of the arm let me know in the comments
section and I’ll make another lecture specifically designed on that topic, describing bone structure, basic muscle
movements, types of rotations and their connection to violin playing and so on. Let’s
now look at the two major movements of the right arm that are used in violin
playing. The first one is flexing and extending the arm, most of us are usually
quite familiar with this one. And the other one – the rotation of the
arm. So, we well spend a little time on that and we’ll do a few exercises. Let’s
actually do them together. Extend your right arm hold it with the left hand
and start turning it to the left and to the right. You will notice that the thumb, this thumb,
goes easily under the fingers and on top of the fingers. When the arms is extended
the rotation will come all the way from the shoulder joint. Be careful not to lift the shoulder, you
don’t want this, you want the shoulder nice and relaxed, and the arm rotating all the
way to the left and to the right Okay, now let’s change this movement a
little. Put the arm next to your body and hold it there, so the movement is
generated only in the elbow. Again turn your hand to the left and to the right
and see how now you can’t really turn your thumb all the way under the fingers. What that
means is that in order to have very natural way of holding the bow, we need
to rotate the upper arm to a position where the forearm is in the middle of its
range of motion. So many times at the beginning, we see not enough rotation in
the upper arm and the forearm trying to compensate with the rotation making this
whole part tight and very easy to get tired. Of
course, I don’t want to say that the shoulder should be over-rotated, but just enough that
the position of the forearm is natural We will talk about how to fine tune this when we put
the bow on the strings, so don’t worry if it seems too complicated. I just
wanted to explain it now, so you have a little more time to think over it, to
sink in, before we start using it. Let’s go back to the thumb. The third reason the thumb is the foundation of a good bow hold, is the simple fact that it’s the only finger on the lower side of the
bow, all the rest of the fingers seat on the top side of the bow, so whatever the
other fingers are doing, the thumb counteracts from below. It’s the pivot, the
central point of this mechanism. When the thumb is supporting well, the rest of the
fingers can relax and do their very delicate job of creating subtle nuances
without extra effort. If the thumb is not supporting the bow sufficiently from below, then the
rest of the fingers have to take over and compensate for his lack of support.
Instead of balancing the bow on the tip of the thumb, instead of supporting it, we
start holding it. That means that the fingers are engaged not only in the process of manipulating
the bow, but also in the process of holding the bow, which makes their job much more
complicated. So, don’t think of holding the bow so much as balancing and
supporting it. So now that you understand the
importance of a correct thumb position, let’s practice finding this position
together. Hold the pencil with your left hand, relax your right arm, shake it a few
times, bring it up, turn it slightly to the right and to the left stop when the thumb is under the fingers,
bend the thumb just a bit, and without moving the right hand bring the pencil to the
tip of the thumb. To make it easier to keep your thumb bent, hold your hands almost at the level of your eyes. Push down with the pencil slightly, feel the response of the thumb, find a
place which feels very well supported. Very good! We’ll do it again, so we make
sure you do this correctly. Remember, it’s very important that you bring the pencil,
or later on the bow to you hand, or the violin to your body and not the other
way around. Ok, shake your right arm to relax, bring your hand up, move your thumb on top of your fingers under the fingers, stop there, bend the thumb slightly and
bring the pencil to the tip of the thumb. Push down with the pencil, find a place
which feels comfortable, well supported. If you feel that you need a little more
time to figure out the position of the thumb, go back and do these a few more
times. In the next video will continue with placing the rest of the fingers.

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  1. I realize this is a three-year old video, Dr., but I'm hoping to get your input on an anatomical problem I seem to have. I'm a beginner, and I have recently noticed that my bow thumb is not naturally rotated like yours and other instructors that I've watched on Youtube videos. If I position the tip of my curved thumb on the bow like you suggest, the rest of my hand wants to naturally rotate to be completely vertical to the bow, with the back of my hand pointing to the tip. If I lower the hand to be parallel to the bow, my thumb tip rotates so that the bow rests on a point where the cuticle meets the nail, my thumbnail pointing directly to the bow tip (the thumbnail is vertical to the bow). I hope I'm making sense. Because of the fact that my thumb doesn't bend like normal human beings, the bow tends to slip off the thumb very easily. I'm assuming it's because the thumb tip is not positioned correctly due to my anatomical anomaly. What would you suggest that I do?

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