Introducing the bow

Early fiddle bows were arched wooden bows with black or white horse hair stretched between the two ends. Today's bows are longer with a downward curve. The hair is tightened by turning a screw at the nut or frog but NOT so tight as to straighten the downward curve.

To ensure friction with the strings the hair is rubbed with resin which deposits a fine powder under the scales of the hairs. When not in use the hair is slackened to preserve the spring in the curved stick.

The bow is not pushed back and forth in a stiff vigorous manner but is controlled through flowing movements which produce maximum rhythm and dynamics for minimum effort. To achieve this start by taking hold of the bow as shown in these photos and video clips.

Hold the bow vertically in your left hand with the hair towards you. Clench your right fist and then release it to discover its natural relaxed shape. Then raise your hand and place it as shown here with the bent thumb between stick and hair (touching the hair). The fingers are curved around the stick and point down to the ground. The tip of the little finger is touching the back of the stick (not visible in the photo).

Now release the left hand and rotate the stick so that it is balanced on the soft pad near the end of your thumb. See-saw the bow on the pivot of your thumb, as in this video clip, using the tip of your little finger to take the weight of the bow.

Try moving the bow horizontally with a flexible wrist. Note the paint-brush or bouncing a ball movement of the hand and wrist. The back of the hand is tilted to face the top end of the bow. The hand is pulling and drawing the bow along rather than pushing.

During the up bow arm movement (to your left) the wrist is raised. Note this in the photo below and in the video clips. During the down bow arm movement (to your right) the wrist is lowered. Note this in the photo below and in the video clips.
Take up your fiddle and rest the bow on the strings with the bow balanced and pivoting on your thumb and with the first finger resting on the top of the stick. You can then rotate your wrist so that the first finger presses the stick down towards the hair and strings.

Use just enough downward pressure to prevent the bow moving and making a sound if you move about the room or turn from side to side.

To learn how to control the bow start by playing long straight strokes, at a right angle to the strings, parallel with the bridge, and changing strings by raising and lowering the upper arm. Check that your bowing is straight by looking at a mirror placed to your right. Make sure that the wrist remains flexible so that it can rise and fall at the end of each stroke when you change bow direction.

You can alter the steepness of the bow angle to play each string separately or to play two strings together as in this clip.

When moving the bow across the strings to produce sound you can increase and decrease the volume by moving the bow faster and slower and/or increasing and decreasing the pressure.

When you are happy with the basic control of the bow this web tutorial includes a series of bowing exercises on the open strings. These are designed to help you develop a range of different bowing techniques and bowing patterns important in making fiddle tunes come alive. You can work on them at the same time as making a start with learning some introductory fiddle tunes.
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