One of the hardest things about playing fiddle is mastering the bow. Finding the notes is the easy part, making them sound good is what makes it music. How much pressure you put on the strings, how much bow you use, and how you hold the bow has a lot to do with what sound comes out. There is a certain classical way to hold the bow but many fiddlers find what’s comfortable for them.
Take a look at Randy Miller’s Bow Grips of Top 50 Irish Fiddlers and How They Hold The Bow:
Clearly different bow grips have not hindered these fiddlers as these are some of the greats. The trick is finding what grip is right for you. I suggest playing around with holding the bow in different ways until you find what feels comfortable.
Once you are comfortable with your grip, here are some tips to help you get a better better sound:
- Proper placement of the bow – The bow should be placed on the string at the middle point between the fingerboard and the bridge for the best tone quality.
- Bow pressure – The more pressure you give the bow, the louder the sound. If you prefer a softer sound ease up on the pressure and bring the bow closer to the fingerboard.
- Tilting the bow – Lightly tilting the wood of the bow towards the fingerboard can create a cleaner sound and give you more control.
- Straighten the bow – When playing, draw the bow in a straight line, parallel to the bridge. This will give you a consistent sound.
- Stay level – Your arm and elbow should remain the same level while playing on different strings.
- Relax – Most importantly, try to relax. I know that when I’m tense you can hear it in my playing. Think of the bow as an extension of your arm, if your arm is relaxed the music will be too.
As you can see there are many ways to hold and use the bow, it is just a matter of finding what works best for you to create the sound you want. Good luck and happy bowing!