By Michael John Sanchez

Most likely, the very first note you play on the fiddle won’t sound the way you want it to. That’s totally normal, even if you have an intensive musical background. The first day you start moving the bow is one of the hardest (sounding) to get through, but don’t worry, you’ll get better with practice.

Check here to start moving the bow across the fiddle strings and then follow these steps:

  1. Set the bow at the contact point and make sure you have a proper hold on the bow.

  2. Pull the bow downward toward the end of the bow (the tip).

  3. Push the bow back up the other way toward your sticker.

    Keep the speed of the bow as consistent as you can. It’s very easy to cut the stroke too short by going too fast or being so tense in your arm that it’s hard to move. Stay relaxed!

Be sure to use your index finger to power the bow back and forth. Many times, the fundamentals of using the index finger are hard to do, especially when there are other important things to consider, like bending the wrist and keeping the bow straight.

Keep these key points in mind when beginning to move the bow across the strings:

  • The number-one bad habit of beginner fiddlers is gripping the bow too tight. Make sure that you don’t change your bow hold finger pressure when you move the bow. Hold the bow as if you have a baby bird in your hand.

  • Try getting to the very tip of the bow, even though doing so may feel uncomfortable. This is important; you get a cleaner sound when you spread things out by getting to the tip.

  • Keep the bow speed as consistent as you can and always keep the bow moving.

One of the toughest things to get used to (and something that will probably feel more foreign than anything you’ve ever done before) is keeping your bow straight when you start moving the bow back and forth. Your arm isn’t going to like the fact that it needs to extend out to be able to do this properly.

The perspective of looking down at the contact point when you begin the stroke causes some problems. You can’t really see what you need to see. Find a mirror or get someone to watch you play from the side to make sure your bow is going straight across the strings.

Some new fiddlers find that they lose control of the bow when watching themselves in the mirror. Consider video recording yourself so you can concentrate on what you’re doing and then viewing how well you did it. This is also a good way of watching yourself progress.

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

Keep the angle of your fiddle at 45 degrees so that it’s comfortable to get to the tip of the bow. If your arm is totally extended when you’re at the tip, you’ll most likely change the angle of the bow and not be straight across the strings. Watch yourself in the mirror (or video recording) to make sure you’re keeping the bow straight.

If you find yourself having trouble keeping the bow straight, you can try using a bow-right tool — a metal clamp that clips onto the fiddle and forces beginners to keep the bow straight across the strings. Go to Superiorviolins.com to see what a bow-right tool looks like.

With so many beginner techniques to work on, it’s nice not to have to think about the bow straightness so much. Before you know it, you’ll be taking the bow-right tool off as you feel more confident in how straight your bow is going.