The Advanced Player’s Bowhold

It’s natural in the early stages of violin studies to focus on left hand skills. After all, there’s little worse than playing out of tune! Then as string students give more attention to mastery of the right arm – the creator and controller of sound – things really start to improve. The reason, of course, is that so much of tone quality, note duration, note speed, articulation, shape and colour comes from the violin’s magic wand – the bow.

Sarah Perricone

Sarah Perricone

Since I posted Making a great bowhold for beginners, several visitors to Teach Suzuki Violin asked how Suzuki taught the advanced player’s bowhold.

Suzuki was very particular about where each finger is placed on the bow, and trained us to use flexible finger motion actively in our bow strokes. As a prerequisite to flexibility, the fingers need to be shaped and positioned correctly, as in Sarah Perricone’s perfect bowhold above. (You can watch Gwyn Cole’s delightful cameo of Sarah on Vimeo at the end of this post.)

Let’s review the basics.

Finger Shape and Place

  1. Position the thumb between the two middle fingers, taking hold of the stick just in front of the frog at the leather binding. The right edge of the thumbnail touches the stick and the fingers wrap over – no further than the pads. The back of the hand is relatively flat.
  2. The index finger rests on the stick at the first joint. Suzuki emphasized stable arm weight rather than muscle pressure for producing powerful tone.
  3. The second finger, slightly ahead of the thumb, forms the upper part of the fulcrum.
  4. Third (ring) finger curves around the stick.
  5. The little finger curves and sits on the stick, not too far from the ring finger.
  6. Hold in position with everything soft and relaxed, and a little space between fingers.


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Making a great bowhold

Learning to make a great bowhold from the very beginning has great benefits down the track, enabling exquisite control of the bow techniques that determine shape and colour in music.  And practising it correctly during the first couple of weeks is crucial, as with any new skill.

I teach bowhold at the first or second lesson to both parent and child, first teaching the parent how to make it, then the student and finally teaching the parent how to teach it at home – going over it until I’m confident they will both get it right every time. Practised carefully every day, reinforced at the Saturday class and reviewed at subsequent lessons, it quickly becomes a habit.

Here’s the 5 steps I use:

  • Place child’s right hand, palm up, on my left palm;
  • Position the bow on the student’s hand with the two middle fingers at the leather;
  • Ask them to place place their thumb (corner) between these fingers and bend it;
  • Place little finger – curved softly – on the stick;
  • Turn over and rest the bow on left shoulder, checking that knuckles are flat and soft, little finger is curved, thumb bent and in position.

Why do I teach it with palm up? It keeps the child’s hand relaxed and the knuckles soft. Members can view a short video at this link – bow hold of me teaching it to a young child at the group class. If you haven’t already done so, please register as a member to view it.

bowhold 4

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Cheers, John

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