Beth Blackerby, holding a bow, and her videos

Diane commented on my last post that I should take a look at violinlab.com. The site is run by a lady named Beth Blackerby. I hope I spelled her name correctly. She offers lots of online videos and resources for the beginning violinist. Not everything on her site is free. Some videos can only be viewed by joining her site. The price is not too bad. If I hadn’t sunk so much money this month into getting some violins and into the start of my lessons then I would join in a heartbeat. For now I have to cool my jets a bit.

Anyhow, one of the free videos that Beth offers is on how to hold the bow. It is available on Youtube as well.

I found this video very helpful. Beth uses good camera angles to capture exactly where her fingers are and how she got them there. Be sure to check out her other videos in her Youtube channel.

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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, ┬áis 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?