How to Bow Smoothly on the Violin: close up & slow motion | Violin Lounge TV #453

by | Dec 15, 2021 | Bowing Technique | 10 comments

Sound like your favorite concert violinist!

Learn the exact bow arm mechanics and finger movements of a professional violin bowing technique:

Do you wonder why your favorite violinist sounds like he/she sounds? How he/she makes seamless bow changes with a beautiful tone? 

It’s not magic, but a combination of subtle finger movements and bow arm mechanics. Learnable skills! In this video I will show you EXACTLY the secrets to bowing smoothly like a professional violinist and how YOU can replicate this in your own playing.

Also I’ll go into why different violinist have different bow holds and how to find the best bow hold for you plus a BIG mistake I see a lot of violin players make that holds them back in their progress.

4 Finger movements of professional violin bow technique

What almost nobody sees when watching a concert violinist are the four different subtle movements taking place in the fingers of the bow hold. They smoothen the bow change and keep the violin resonating. This is a game changer if you want a fluent bowing technique and a great sound.

The first movement is the vertical curving and stretching of the fingers. 

The second movement is a horizontal movement with the fingers. 

In this way you can make short bow strokes just with the fingers, which is called finger bowing and I’ve got a whole video on that right here. It will greatly improve your bow technique.

The third movement is the tilt of the bow. With this you control throughout the bow stroke how much hair you use. Try tilting the bow a bit a the frog and you’ll probably get rid of a jerky scratchy bow change at the frog.

The fourth movement is pronation and supination. This is the lower arm movement you make when turning a key. Pronation is used at the tip, where you need extra weight in the bow. Supination is used at the frog, where the bow is heavy and you want to lift weight OFF the bow to prevent scratches. In this way you can create a consistent tone throughout your bow stroke. We also use pronation for accents, dynamics and balance in the bow hold.

With these four movements you can shape the sound of your violin, like a painter mixes his paint to create beautiful colors in his art.

The fingers function like a spring system avoiding jerky movements and scratchy sounds.

Does it seem impossible for you to make these movements while bowing?

The problem might be in your thumb. This is an important little detail that’s easily overlooked, because you don’t see the movement when you see someone play. It holds back a lot of violin players that come to me to improve their bowing and sound.

A locked thumb can really mess up your sound and also inhibit the movement in the other fingers. 

Make sure the ball of your thumb is soft and your thumb can move a little bit along with the bow strokes. Just as in the left hand technique, the thumb is the counterplayer of the other fingers. The bow rests on your thumb.

However, if you don’t have the right bow arm mechanics and arm position, these four movements won’t work to get you the bow technique and sound you desire. Watch the video above for the exact arm movements and learn an important rule of thumb in violin playing that will help you a ton. 

Before we move on, I want to explain a bit about the finger action in the Franco-Belgian bow hold vs the Russian bow hold:

Franco-Belgian vs Russian bow hold

You’ve probably noticed I have a Franco-Belgian bow hold. What’s best? 

The main difference between the two is that in the Franco-Belgian bow hold your index finger rests on the bow just before the second knuckle. In the Russian bow hold the index finger rests on the bow right before the base knuckle. Because of this, the hand naturally tilts a bit in the direction of the tip and the pinky is a bit straighter. 

In the Russian bow hold, because the arm is a bit above the bow and you naturally have more pronation, it’s easier to create a strong sound in the upper half.

In the Franco-Belgian bow hold it’s easier to lift weight off the bow at the frog and create smooth bow changes there.

That being said you’ll notice that there are great soloists playing with the Franco-Belgian bow hold AND the Russian bow hold. Some even switch between them halfway their career. This proves that it’s possible to play on a very high level with both holds. You’ll have to find out what fits your right hand best.

Regardless if you have a Franco-Belgian bow hold or a Russian bow hold, the finger movements are the same. They just look a bit different and generally in the Russian bow hold the movements are more subtle.

A big warning:

Mainly in adult beginners I often see a rigid bow hold with a stretched or even collapsed pinky, that is impossible to move and they call this the Russian bow hold. However, in the Russian bow hold all the subtle movements mentioned are possible and necessary to create a good sound.

Bow hold must be functional and can look very different, but it’s not relative. Your fingers must be able to do their individual work. If you’re wondering if your bow hold is good, use your ears instead of your eyes and let your ear guide you to improve your sound.

Bow arm mechanics

Now you know exactly what to do with your bow hand fingers, let’s tackle the bow arm mechanics. The arm moves differently in the lower and the upper half, your elbow position is different per string and different tempos of string crossings require different technique. Let’s go:

Lower half vs upper half

When bowing in the lower half your upper arm is engaged. You curl your fingers and bed your thumb when moving towards the frog.

When bowing in the upper half your lower arm is engaged. You stretch your fingers and extend to bow all the way at the tip.

Whole bow

When using the whole bow, you make a combination of these movements to create a consistent tone throughout the whole bow stroke. Smoothen the bow changes with the finger movements we’ve covered in the beginning of this video.

Slanted bowing

But what if you can’t reach the tip? Then slant your bow a little bit. Even if you can bow absolutely straight, slanting the bow at the tip is something a lot of performers do and can smoothen the bow change.

String crossings

Slow string crossings are made with the upper arm. When you place your bow a bit above the middle, you’ll see a square: the violin, your body, the upper arm and the lower arm. If your elbow is too high or too low, you won’t have this square. This is called the Galamian square. When doing slow string crossings you tilt this square from one string to another. 

Just an exercise: make this square, keep your bow still and tilt the square from one string to another. Learn the arm position for each string.

Now an important rule of thumb in violin playing: the higher the speed, the less of the arm you use.

As you’re making fast bow strokes, you use less of your arm and more of your wrist and fingers. 

String crossings can be done with the upper arm, lower arm or just the fingers. In fast string crossings back and forth, use just the wrist and fingers to maintain control and play in full speed.

Hi! I'm Zlata

Classical violinist helping you overcome technical struggles and play with feeling by improving your bow technique.

Now you know the exact mechanics of bowing smoothly like a professional violinist!

Go and practice them with a pencil, play on open strings and slowly integrate them and automate them: first in slow easy scales repeating each note until you’re 100% happy, then in etudes and then in pieces.

Maybe you discover that you know what to do now, but you have difficulty learning it. In my program Bow like a Pro I coach violin players from beginner to professional level world wide to learn to apply these mechanics in their playing. I have a step by step curriculum and personal guidance. If you want my help, please check out bowlikeapro.com

Now how about spiccato, ricochet, flying staccato and all the other bow techniques?

You might be wondering. I’ve made this wonderful video explaining 24 different violin bowing techniques with examples. Watch it right here if you’re interested.

Share your questions and insights from this lesson in the comments below!

10 Comments

  1. John

    thank you- very helpful

    Reply
    • Zlata

      Happy it’s helpful, John!

      Reply
  2. Paula

    Zlata, this tutorial is very clear and really helpful. Unfortunately, it looks easy but requires a lot of practice to get it right! Thanks a lot. I look forward to starting the Bach course.

    Reply
    • Zlata

      Happy it’s helpful, Paula. Indeed it’s all much easier said than done and this takes years of practice and exercises. I’m looking forward so much working with you on bach!

      Reply
  3. Dan beaver

    Excellent. Wished I had seen this when starting my journey. To guide and aspire to.

    Reply
    • Zlata

      I’m happy it’s helpful, Dan!

      Reply
  4. Deborah

    Thanks Zlata for the video lesson.

    Reply
    • Zlata

      Thanks for watching, Deborah!

      Reply
  5. Mark Berlage

    You are such an insightful and gifted musical educator Zlata – heel erg bedankt!

    Reply
    • Zlata

      Graag gedaan, Mark!

      Reply

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