At some point, nearly every stringed musician finds themselves facing issues of bow-hold tension. Relaxed is our natural state, and having a relaxed bow hold is not only good for our playing, but also for our bodies. If you think about it, we don’t have to do anything or activate anything within our physical body to stay relaxed. That means we can maintain a natural, relaxed bow hold by not adding unnecessary activity to it.
When we look up “what causes bow-hold tension,” we typically find a list of cliché answers. Common results tend to focus almost entirely on the fingers alone, and often ignore the rest of the bow-arm, which the bow hand is responsive to. From the Franco-Belgian bow hold to the Russian bow hold, bow-hold tension affects all bow techniques! Let’s dive into some tips for reducing your bow-hold tension.
One source of bow-hold tension results from the upward force of our bow arm. It often gets overlooked because it’s so common. To varying extents, some portion of every violinist’s and violist’s bow arm will always push upward—against gravity. Why do we even attempt to battle against gravity? Simply because no bow hold can bear the full weight of a completely limp right-arm and still sound OK. So we push upward, with different portions of our arms at different times, to allow the bow hand a manageable amount of weight. This keeps the hand in control—until it gets tired!
The truth is, many of us push upward too much. This usually results in a varying degree of lack of bow pressure. We then compensate that lack of bow pressure with our bow hand, pushing down with our fingers. This type of tension invades nearly every individual’s bow technique at some point, and intensifies the tension for any bow hold. In my experience as a teacher, having worked with students of all levels and ages, this is the most-common source of bow-hold tension. So, how do we avoid bow-hold tension?
Identify what is causing the tension.
First, we need to obtain a full understanding and awareness of why and from where that particular tension is coming from.
Work with gravity!
We want to allow the bow arm to stay somewhere around 90 percent limp and relaxed, letting gravity do the work when it comes to bow pressure.
Keep an eye on your elbow.
The best way to achieve a fruitful relationship with gravity is by ensuring that the right elbow is always, always, below the bow-arm’s wrist—even on the G string. Additionally, when the bow is at our side (visualize when you’re bowing the E string), you’ll also want to make sure the elbow is to the left and closer to the body.
In the end, gravity is not going anywhere. The more we work with gravity, rather than waging a constant battle against it, the better off our bow hold will be. Our bow hold’s job is to control the distribution of pressure. When it comes to providing the pressure, however, we’ll leave it to gravity.