By Michael John Sanchez

Did you know that most of the bad sounds that come out of the fiddle have something to do with what’s going on in your bow hand? Properly holding the bow is one of the most important parts of playing the fiddle.

Placing your fingers properly

Placing your fingers correctly on the bow is the first step in getting a clean and beautiful bow stroke. Here’s how to establish the perfect bow hold:

  1. Hold the bow with your left hand on a 45-degree angle, with the stick of the bow positioned above the hair of the bow.

  2. Bend your right-hand thumb and place the thumb tip into the groove of the bow.

    [Credit: By Rashell Smith]
    Credit: By Rashell Smith

    Placing your thumb too far into the groove promotes tension against the bow. Place it on the thumb’s right edge.

  3. Place the tip of your pinkie on the screw of the bow, keeping your finger slightly curved.

    The reason why you start with the bow tilted is so that your pinkie will lie on an angle on top of the bow.

  4. Lay your fingers over the top of the bow, keeping them curved.

Notice how far the index finger is on top of the bow.

[Credit: By Rashell Smith]
Credit: By Rashell Smith

Here are the three points you should always remember:

  • Thumb bent and the tip placed in the groove

  • Pinkie curved on the top of the screw

  • Fingers curved over the stick

Don’t focus on putting your fingers in the perfect spot (to the millimeter) and get frustrated when your fiddle doesn’t make the right sound. Putting your fingers in the right spots helps get the bow hand relaxed, but ultimately, what you’re doing with the grip is what matters.

Keeping your fingers curved

Follow these steps to make sure you know what your fingers should look like on the bow:

  1. Put down your fiddle/bow.

  2. Let your hand fall to your side and notice the way your hand forms naturally.

  3. Take notice of the curve of your fingers.

This is the natural, most relaxed position your hand can be in and the exact way you want to curve your fingers on the bow. Don’t let your fingers straighten out, no matter how much you want to do it!

Staying on top of the bow

Staying on top of the bow instead of being to the side is very important in making the bow loose and relaxed. By having your fingers curved over the top of the bow (with your pinkie perched on the top), you’ll be able to use your index finger properly and get the cleanest sound possible. This isn’t easy to do.

Holding versus gripping the bow

Something has to guide the bow back and forth so that you can make a sound on the fiddle. Your natural reaction when you start moving the bow is to grip the bow too tightly and use the wrong muscles to guide it.

Each of the fingers in your hand has the ability to press up against the bow, but the only one you actually want pressing significantly and guiding the bow is the index finger. Every other finger should be relaxed as can be and not be pressing hard up against the bow.

Take a look at the “banana thumb.” This position gets its name because the thumb is pressing against the bow and looks like a banana in the process. This is a tendency you want to avoid.

[Credit: By Rashell Smith]
Credit: By Rashell Smith

It’s also very easy for your pinkie to press up against the bow and it unfortunately causes the bow not to do what it’s supposed to do.

Lastly, your middle two fingers can also press up against the bow, which really can’t be seen, only felt. This also causes the bow not to do what it’s supposed to do.

So how do you test to see whether your bow is too tense? Grab a friend and try out the bow tension test!

  1. Grab your bow and set it on the fiddle strings.

    Any spot will do.

  2. Adjust your bow grip and have your friend grab the bow around where your bow hand is at any random time, trying to move it in a circular motion.

  3. Ask your friend whether there was any restriction in her trying to move the bow quickly in this circular motion.

    If there was any tension, try adjusting again.

Keep this drill in mind because it will be helpful as you get more advanced. A good time to use this drill is when you learn how to cross strings, or really for any new technique that you learn.

Adjusting the bow hold

As you begin to stroke the bow, you’ll notice your bow grip changing quite often. Because it takes a bit of pressure to power the bow back and forth, it will seem appropriate to tense up your fingers to make it all happen.

When you start to do the bow stroke, your hand will move back and forth based on what section of the bow you’re using. Sometimes you may be at the bottom of the bow, and sometimes you may be going toward the very end of the bow. While executing these movements, your mind will undoubtedly be thinking about other techniques, which can make you forget about the bow hold.

Here are some of the things that can happen, even if you start with a perfect bow hold:

  • Your thumb begins to press against the bow and forms a banana thumb. Don’t let your thumb change from the curved position.

  • Your pinkie begins to straighten out. Always keep your pinkie curved!

  • Your fingers start to make way to the side of the bow instead of being directly on top of the bow.

Check out how some of these bad habits can happen when playing the fiddle.