My first lesson and holding a bow

I had my first lesson on May 15th. It was a thrill! My instructor’s name is John O’Neill from Carson Valley Violins. His wife, Nelle,  is a luthier and she makes high end violins. Both of them have been playing for many many years so they know what they are doing. I told John that I used to play the violin in Jr. High School a long time ago. Some things would be familiar but I know that I would be beyond just a “little rusty”. Maybe “rusted shut” is more like it! He handed me a violin and helped me get into position with the right bow grip, posture, etc. It felt very exciting to be holding a violin again! I think he wanted to figure out what I’m capable of so he challenged me. He told me to play back what he plays. Basically, follow along! Thankfully he picked something simple: Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. All I could do is watch his left hand fingers and his bowing. Even though the melody is simple it was hard work keeping up with it after a 25 year absence! By the time our lesson was over my entire back was wet with perspiration.

The hardest part of the lesson was getting a good bow grip. Even now, many a couple days afterwards, I am having a hard time holding the bow. Maybe I couldn’t understand John’s instructions but I could not make my hands and fingers bend into the shape he described. I found something in between “totally wrong” and “totally right” that was somewhat comfortable and seemingly stable.

Here are some pictures of my bow grip. I used my bathroom mirror to take the first few pictures. There’s a funny reflection because the camera didn’t know if it should focus on the front surface of the mirror or the back surface that is reflective. Then I just sat down on the floor and faced the camera.

First, the front. You can see the funny reflections from the mirror. If you think this looks backward then you’re right. Remember, it’s a reflection in a mirror. I put my pinky on the screw and I push down on it to help counterbalance the weight of the bow.My two middle fingers go on the frog and I try to cover up the decorative dot with at least one of them. Sometimes I come close to putting my middle finger into the curved notch. My forefinger rests on the padded grip. I remember from Todd Ehle’s videos that I should aim to make the inside of my knuckles the contact points. My thumb is a whole different story. I cannot arch or curve it. It comes straight out and sits in the inside of the curved notch.

Here’s another shot of the front. Now I am sitting on the floor of my bathroom. The perspective is correct since this shot is a head-on view of my right hand. Hopefully this shot is more clear. If my fingertips look like white it’s because I’ve been squeezing the bow for about 10 minutes with no support from a violin. They usually aren’t this tense. You can sort of see the thumb but now lets look at the back.

Getting a picture of the rear of kind of hard. How do you capture the angle of your hand and fingers? You can see my thumb is almost straight and the tip of it is right in the curved notch of the frog. I read and seen in some places that the thumb needs to be turned and curved such that the knuckle is in the strings. Other places say the knuckle should be in the notch. Beginners can “cheat” and hold it under the frog all together. So where the heck does it go? Some of me wants to say I am over thinking things. Just put it where it works for you.

So, is this right enough?


3 comments on “My first lesson and holding a bow

  1. Diane and Bob G says:

    Hey Boris. So here’s the deal. Your whole bow hand is too low on the stick!!! You need to move the whole hand forward (up the stick). As a reference point your pinky should be perched over the dot (pearl dot) of the frog!!! Now wonder your bow is bouncing alot…your hand is too low on the stick and you don’t have enough weight in the bow where it’s needed. Do not over tighten the bow hair…this will also make the bow bounce. The one thing that I do like about your bow hold is that your 1st finger,, the index finger is nice and curved over the stick. Use your index finger as added weight into the bow by curving your wrist and forearm of the right (bow hand) more turned to the left…imagine turning a door knob towards the left! Give that a try…move the whole hand up the stick, rest the pinky (keep if curved, NOT straight) over the frogs eye. One more thing. the thumb has to be bent at the first knuckle from the thumb nail. It needs to be bent to act like a spring for the bow hand. When the bow hand is doing an up bow, the right wrist needs to be bent as well…I tell me students think of it as a nose punch at your going up bow…the thumb should be bent as well when the bow is in the up bow stroke and straight when the bow is down at the low end of the down bow stroke. Hope that helps.
    Diane in SoCal.
    When you have your next lesson ask your teacher about this. Also, check out Beth Blackerby’s site on bow hold… I get to teach at her workshop this July in Austin. Todd will also be there and spend the day with us at the workshop…fun, fun, fun.

    • chainoil says:

      Thanks for the feedback, Diane. I will try a higher bow grip and hopefully post an update.

      • Diane and Bob G says:

        Hey Boris…check out the website: the beginner stuff is free and look at the video on bow hold that Beth posted. I will be teaching this July at the violinlab workshop in Austin…two classes on:
        Fiddle by Ear! Learning tunes taught by hearing the notes played and not having the sheet music. Stay tuned. Diane

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