When teaching beginner violin students how to hold the bow, many teachers focus solely on the hand and fingers, understandably. They'll (hopefully) tell you to keep your fingers rounded and thumb bent, and demonstrate a proper hand shape that is ideal for good bow technique. The fingers' position on the bow is very important, which is why it is discussed first and foremost. However, you may find yourself in a place where you have been playing for a short while and your bow hand and fingers are all consistently where they should be, but you are still unhappy with your overall tone, ability to stay on a single string, balance throughout the bow stroke, and more.
Which brings me to the one thing that is often overlooked in the great bow hold discussion: the relationship between the bow arm and bow hand. You see, just like with the left hand/arm, there are many elements working together in the right hand/arm to develop a proper setup and consistent, reliable technique.
As someone who has been teaching the violin for over a decade, I've noticed that there is a strong propensity people have to hold their bow in such a way that their fingers are all positioned correctly, but their wrist is up, their elbow is down, and as a result, their fingers are nearly fully extended, as though they are afraid of the bow, and are trying to keep it as far away from themselves as possible! What this does is it creates extremely limited mobility, and doesn't allow the right hand to be relaxed, thus maintaining loads of tension - the one thing we violinists/fiddle players must avoid in order to truly play well.
So how do we fix this? Well, the answer is actually quite simple, but does require a bit of dedicated attention, especially if you have formed a bad habit that needs to be reversed.
1. Stand in front of a mirror, and go into playing position with your violin and bow.
2. Set your bow on the A string, and try lowering your knuckles and wrist (not your arm), allowing your fingers to settle into the bow. You should feel increased finger-bow connection, and as though you are holding the bow with more of your fingers, rather than just the finger tips.
3. Now, check the mirror to see what kind of a line your arm and hand are forming together. If they are not forming an even plane, as though you could set a pencil on your wrist, then perhaps you need to lower your wrist and/or knuckles a bit more, or raise your elbow to meet the level of your hand.
4. Play a sustained open A on a down bow, keeping an eye on your arm/wrist, and feeling for the finger/bow connection, then repeat on an up bow. You might find yourself wanting to adjust your fingers, but try to maintain solid contact the entire time, then assess your finger position to see if anything does need to be adjusted at all.
This will take a bit of practice and patience, but if you take the time to pay attention to the relationship between your bow arm and bow hand each time your play, you will be surprised at how quickly you notice a positive change in your overall tone, ability to change strings, transition from one bow direction to another, and many more benefits.
So, I encourage you to try this today! You just may find that this one change makes all the difference in your violin playing.
To see this technique demonstrated, watch the video below!