How to Hold the Violin Bow for Kids

It seems weird, how you're supposed to hold the violin bow, doesn't it? However, the bow hold evolved over many many years of musical people refining it more and more. It's pretty important to hold the bow correctly.

Why hold the bow right?

There are several reasons to hold the bow correctly, from the first time you play:

  1. You'll be able to do more advanced bowing techniques (such as bouncing the bow or slurring) more easily sooner
  2. You won't get as many weird aches and pains from playing for awhile
  3. You'll have a lot more control over what the bow is doing (well, eventually you will)
  4. You'll set up some great habits immediately so you'll be playing the music you want to play sooner!

How should you hold your bow arm?

It's not just your bow hold, by the way. Your entire arm plays a part.

Here's a quick rundown on what you need to know:

  • Relax your shoulders as much as you can. Don't let that should creep up to your ear! Why? Because it'll send that tension all the way down your arm and make you tired sooner.
  • Try to just let your arm follow what your hand is doing. Meaning you don't have to stick your elbow in the air or keep it tucked in. Just tell your elbow to "Act normal!"
  • While you're talking to your elbow, tell your wrist the same thing. It doesn't need to stick up a bunch or bend down either. Keep it at a relaxed position.
  • Let your arm, elbow, and wrist move. They can't stay locked down. They work together, like when you're swimming.

How should you hold the violin bow?

Finally we come to the violin bow hold itself! At first, you'll find you have to adjust it a lot. Your hand is still getting used to holding the bow. You may get hand cramps (pains) at the base of your thumbn and your fingers might get sore. Just take a break them come back and try again!

Each finger has a job in the bow hold. Let's look at each one:

  • Thumb. The thumb supports everything. It's kind of like the thing that holds up a teeter-totter. Your thumb should be slightly bent, not straight. That's something my students usually have to fix a lot.
  • Pointer finger. This finger is used to dig into the stick of the bow. It should be bent, naturally. It drapes over the stick of the bow, usually just between the two knuckles.
  • The middle finger and the finger next to it. These guys keep everything stable. The bow stick shouldn't be able to roll around with these two on duty. Keep them relaxed and rounded (slightly bent).
  • The pinky finger. This is a challenging one. Your pinky will usually be on the top of the bow stick. It's arched up (bent) and you put the tip of your pinky on the bow stick. You'll want to straighten your picky. Try to resist that.

That's not the whole story:

When you're playing, the thumb will push up a little while the point finger pushes down. It starts with a motion like you're turning a door knob to the left. Your pointer finger digs into the stick of the bow and your thumb pushes up. This makes the hair of the bow dig into the string, to make the sound louder.

To put this another way: Hold the bow on a string and, without bowing, rotate your wrist just a little to the left. You'll have to push up on your thumb and down on your pointer. You'll see the bow's stick dip closer to the bow hair.

How should you move your arm?

This only covers how to hold the bow, not how to actually move your arm.

Try to keep any bowing you do straight. That means your bow and the string should make a plus. The bow should always be perpendicular to the strings.

How do you do that when it's 4 inches from your nose? With a mirror! Go and find a mirror. Play in front of the mirror. Make sure you watch yourself play from the side (meaning you can see the bow moving up and down and you see the strings side-to-side).

Here's an image from an old book by Karl Courvoisier named The Technics of Violin Playing. This is the "plus" I was talking about! Note how this player's bow hold changes depending on where the bow is.