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Improve your violin playing by following my bowing tips!

Violin bowing technique, the way in which you bow, is critical in your development as a violinist.

Robert Gerle wrote in the preface to The Art of Practicing the Violin: 

”It is the bow technique which will largely determine the artistic category of the player”.

So in this post, I’ll give you my best violin bowing tips and exercises, and explain to you everything you need to know to improve your bowing.

bowing tips - violin straight bow

Why Would You Want to Improve Your Bowing Technique?

The three most important reasons to want to improve your violin bowing technique are:

  • the overall quality of your playing – poor bowing has a great effect on how your violin playing sounds. Improper technique will cause your bow to bounce and produce inconsistent tones that can sound weak.
  • scratches and squeaks – using too much or too little pressure or speed often causes scratchy sounds or some squeaks.
  • injuries – improper hold or tensing up your right arm when bowing can lead to chronic pain.

And, although bouncing bow will be something you’ll want to learn later in your violin journey, when you’re beginning to play the violin, the most important thing is to learn the basics of bowing like the correct bow hand hold and bowing straight.

So, before we dive into the bowing tips and exercises, let’s review your bow hold – it’s the base for improving your bowing technique.

Your Starting Point: Proper Bow Hold

The violin bow hold that I teach to my students is the Franco-Belgian bow hold. Take a closer look at the photos to see how you should place your fingers on the bow.

bowing tips - Bow Hold
bowing tips - bow hold side view
bowing tips - Bow Hold below
bowing tips - Bow Hold knuckles

If you’re just starting to learn to play the violin and need in-depth instruction on how to do the Franco Belgium bow hold, make sure to read this blog post: How to Hold a Violin Bow: The 6 Steps to a Perfect Bow Hold with the Bunny Method inside!

This is the most frequently used hold but if you are curious to know what are other bow holds, check out my post: The Most Common Violin Bow Holds. There’s also a section for fiddle players!

Bowing Tips: How to Produce a Good Tone with Your Bow

There are four main things to consider to produce a lovely tone when bowing: bow speed, bow pressure, point of contact, and the direction of the bow stroke.

Let’s examine each of these aspects.

Bow Speed

The speed at which you draw the bow affects the tone of the note. It is directly linked with bow pressure, more on this in a moment. First, listen to three examples of different bow speeds.

Bow pressure

The amount of weight you use pressing down on the string when drawing the bow is the bow pressure. A fast bow requires more pressure. In contrast, a slower bow requires less pressure.

Compare the sound in the following video examples:

Point of contact

The location of the bow between the fingerboard and the bridge should be in the middle to create the best tone. Playing too close to the bridge may produce a scratchy tone (although in some violin bowing techniques, it is actually needed to play closer to the bridge). By comparison, playing too close to the fingerboard will sound hollow, airy, or flat.

Download my free Contact Point Guide below to learn how to use different contact points:

how to bow straight violin - Contact Point Guide

FREE Contact Point Guide

Improve Your Contact Points Technique

PDF

bowing tips - bowing Directions

The direction of the bow

In a perfect scenario, we should bow straight on each down bow and up bow. But, the bridge is arched and the height of the string is varying. So to create a beautiful tone, the bow strokes should be drawn in a very slim figure 8 pattern.

To do the figure 8 with your bow, push the bow slightly toward you on the up bow and pull the bow a just little bit away from you on the down bow.

Tip: When bowing, your elbow and wrist should move independently of your shoulder. When all three are relaxed, you will have more control over your bow.

If you need some tips on how to bow straight, read my post How to Bow Straight on the Violin – a Beginner’s Guide.

As soon as you learn the correct bow hold and know what are the parameters of creating a good tone with your bow, the next step is to learn various bowing techniques.

Improve Your Violin Bowing With These Exercises

There are many exercises you can do that will improve your bowing technique. I recommend the following for my students. You may find them both useful and fun!

One-minute bow exercise ⏰

Try to draw a long and straight bow stroke.

  • Begin at the frog and end at the tip of the bow.
  • The trick is to time yourself and see if you can build up to making the bow stroke last a full minute before you reach the tip.

It doesn’t need to sound nice, most likely it won’t.

  • Keep the equal pressure
  • Bow parallel to the bridge
  • Focus on your bow hold.

In this exercise, this is what is important. Not the tone.

When you’re able to bow for one minute, don’t stop! You can extend the time and try to bow even slower. My students at Julia’s Violin Academy were able to reach incredible records of 5’15” and 9’45”!

Seven elbow levels exercise 💪

Try to draw long even bow strokes on open strings in the following pattern:

  • Start on the E string.
  • Next, bow two strings, E and A, together.
  • Move on and bow the open A string.
  • Now bow both the A and D strings together.
  • Following, bow the open D string.
  • Then, bow the D and G strings together.
  • Finally, bow the open G string.

Remember to repeat the exercise in reverse order!

Do some mathematics 🤓 – divide the bow

When playing multiple notes on one bow stroke, calculate your bow division ahead of time, so you know exactly how much bow length to use for each note.

You can practice dividing the bow by playing this exercise:

bowing tips - division of the bow exercise

Do two things at once 👯‍♀️

Practice different bowing techniques while you play your scales.

Start with two-note slurs and play them evenly. Then practice three-note slurs. Continue with four or even more, and see for yourself how many notes you play on one bow stroke!

Tip: To make your string crossings easier when practicing scales, switch strings with a down bow when moving up the scale. Then use an up bow when crossing the strings coming back down.

Practice Detache and Legato violin bowing 🎻

Here are two exercises that you can download to practice two basic bowing techniques: detache and legato.

Detache – Wohlfahrt Op.45 Etude No. 1 excerpt

Violin bow - Detache-Wohlfahrt Op.45 Etude No. 1 excerpt

Detache Bowing Exercise [PDF]

Practice detache bowing

PDF

Legato – Wohlfahrt Op.45 Etude No. 8 excerpt

Violin bow- Legato-Wohlfahrt Op.45 Etude No. 8 excerpt

Legato Bowing Exercise [PDF]

Practice legato bowing

PDF

These exercises are from an etude book by Wohlfahrt, which is available for free to all students at Julia’s Violin Academyclick here to download the 60 Etudes by Wolfhart.

Final Note

The violin bow is to a violinist like a pen to a writer or a paintbrush to a painter. It is the tool we use to create art, tell a story through sound, and paint a musical picture through color and tone.

It is more than worth the effort in your violin journey to try and perfect your bowing technique. I hope that this post with my best bowing tips helped you improve!

And, if you like this post and my tips, you may also like:

What is your biggest struggle connected to bowing? Leave a comment below to let me know, it will help me prepare for you even more useful tips & exercises to improve your playing.

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