How to Hold the Bow
1. Using a washable marker, place a dot on the inside corner of your right thumb as well as the inside corner of your middle finger.
2. Practice positioning your hand in the shape of The Rabbit's Face (see below) before placing your hand on the bow. You mayalso practice by holding a pencil.
3. Placing your hand on the bow, place your middle fingers around the bow and your thumb curved so that the dot on the inside of your thumb touches the inside of the bow. Your index finger should lay down at an angle and your pinky should sit on top.
4. Your hand should be relaxed so that your fingers are flexible. Now you can experiment with some of the games listed below!
Once you have obtained a correct bow hold, then you can work on keeping a straight bow as you play your violin!
Straight Bow Exercise
Step 1: Place the right side of your body against a wall. Raise your right arm and bend your elbow to form a square with your arm in front of you. The four sides of the square include your body, upper arm, lower arm and eventually the bow.
Step 2: With your right upper arm against the wall, move your arm back and forth like you are playing your violin. This motion will look like a gate opening and closing. Your arm can move up or down vertically and in towards your body, but it cannot move out of the box away from you.
Step 3: Keeping your arm against the wall, hold the bow and move it across your left shoulder like you are playing your violin. By keeping the wrist relaxed, you will notice the source of the bowing motion is now from your elbow and wrist.
Step 4: Place your violin on your shoulder in correct posture to keep the box formation with your arm. If you do not have correct posture, then you will not obtain a straight bow with this exercise! Play something simple (A scale) to stay focused on keeping the bow between the bridge and the fingerboard in a straight line using the motion of your elbow and wrist.
Step 5: Step away from the wall and repeat Steps 1-4 in front of a full-length mirror to make corrections and adjustments to your bow while you play your violin.
Practice this exercise daily in order to train your right arm to play with a straight bow!
Bow Hold Games
1. The Rabbit’s Face
This can be practiced even without holding the bow to start with! Using the bowing hand, bend the right thumb, then bring the middle and ring fingers down to meet it, (just as you would when holding the bow.) Instead of bringing the index and little fingers down, keep them raised in the air. Give them a wiggle, and these are the rabbit’s ears, the other fingers make up the shape of the teeth. This can be practiced substituting a pencil instead of the bow. Next, try the same thing using the bow. It is a good idea to look in a mirror to see the rabbit’s face. The object of this is that the fingers which make up the teeth are the ones that hold the bow the firmest. The ‘ear’ fingers are used to balance the stick. This helps the pupil realize the role of each finger.
2. “Up Like a Rocket” song with Motions
“Up like a rocket, down like the rain.” (up and down)
“back and forth like a choo-choo train.” (side to side)
“Round your face like a great big sun,” (circle around your face)
“Round and Round like a great big drum,” (circle in front of the belly)
“Up on the roof top to have some fun,” (on your head)
“Check your pinky,”
“check your thumb.”
3. Creepy Crawly Spiders
Hold the bow vertically using the correct bow hold, and slowly and carefully crawl up the bow stick like a spider. Try to maintain the basic bow hold position as far as it is possible, making sure that the thumb remains on the opposite side of the fingers. Stop when you get half way up the stick, and then crawl back down to the frog again. The object of this exercise is to increase strength and independence for the fingers, while ensuring flexible fingers, which is vital for a good bow hold. And it makes everyone grateful that they finish off back in the bow hold position, which by now should seem a little easier than before they started!
4. The Seesaw
Hold the bow out in front of the body horizontally, while maintaining the correct bow hold. Now begin to alternatively push down on the first finger, so that the bow dips down slightly to the left, and then push down on the little finger, so that the bow dips down to the right. Repeat this several times, trying to keep the fingers bent. Again, this produces strong and flexible fingers. These two fingers are fundamental for balancing the bow stick.
5. The Upside Down Seesaw
This is the same as the previous exercise, but flip the bowing hand over, so that the bow stick is now pointing to the right, and the hand is now upside down. This is slightly harder than The Seesaw, as the hand is now supporting the entire weight of the bow.
6. The Windshield Wiper
Hold the bow out in front of your body horizontally, while maintaining the correct bow hold. Using your thumb as a “fulcrum,” move your bow back and forth slowly like a windshield wiper. You will feel the pressure points between your index finger when the bow is on the right and the pinky finger when the bow is on the left. You can apply this when playing with long bow strokes on your violin. For an even tone, you will apply more pressure with your pinky at the frog and more pressure with your index finger when you are at the tip of the bow.
7. The Soldiers Stand to Attention
This one is another good exercise for the pupil to see the role each finger plays in the bow hold. As before, hold the stick in front of the body so that it is horizontal, and one by one lift each of the four fingers off the stick in turn. (Not all at the same time obviously!) This again shows which fingers are used to grip the bow, and which are important for balancing the stick. Strength, finger independence and flexibility are once more to the fore.