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Zhan
Hi everyone,

Since taking up the violin I've constantly tried to eliminate the bow bouncing problem when practicing. I've noticed that the bounce usually starts on a down bow and typically appears in the middle of the bow. I did watch a lot of videos (as it turns out the problem is quite common), and I have also experimented with different bowing postures. Due to constant practicing I now have a much more robust bow hold, my hands are relaxed and on the same level as my hand when playing, and I can say quite confidently that I alleviated my bouncing to a certain degree. But I still want to get rid of the bounce completely. :)  Recently I noticed that the real culprit might be my elbow muscles. On a downbow, I can sense that the weight of the bow transfers from the shoulder area through the elbow to the bow hand, and whenever I apply a little force in the elbow, my bow tends to bounce. Do you think it would be helpful if I do some resistance exercises with my elbow to make it stronger? I's figure a more stable elbow would be helpful in addressing my bouncing problem. Any ideas?

Thanks,
Zhan
Zhan
14 Responses
Posted: August 1, 2015
Last Comment: August 8, 2015
Replies

Kevin
Posted: August 8, 2015

Hi Zhan, I'm pleased to hear that you also identified your thumb as the culprit of those annoying bow bounces -- you played so well in your recent Minuet video that it's hard believe that you ever suffered from such a mundane issue as bow bouncing! :-)

I'd like to make a couple of points just to reinforce some bow-bouncing ideas:

- Although the thumb is the final agent of upward pressure in the bow when it bounces, the thumb does not act by itself. If you just increase thumb pressure alone, the frog rises and the bow angle changes.

- Instead, for bow bouncing, the thumb usually acts _in response to_ increased pinky or index finger pressure. So if the bow bounces upward, my guess is that the pinky is pressing too hard for too long (more on that later), and that thumb responds by increasing balancing/fulcrum pressure to keep the bow angle the same.

- Assuming you want only gravity pressure on the hair after the balance point, the reason the bouncing occurs on a down bow, after the balance point, is because of the slow pinky release.

To do things "right", the pinky pressure must smoothly decrease from a maximum near the frog (because the pinky/thumb pair must support the entire weight of the bow cantilevered over the thumb fulcrum point), to zero at the balance point (the string now holds the entire weight of the bow), and remain at zero thereafter (because the thumb and the string support the bow at two points as the bow moves from balance point to the tip).

- The bounces are started because the pinky does not release fast enough at/after the balance point. This means that hair pressure after the balance point is = [gravity MINUS pinky-thumb rotary pressure], thus making the hair too light.

- So to remove bow-bouncing completely, try taking your pinky completely off the bow at/after the balance point. Try it yourself -- Presto! no more bow bouncing when the pinky is lifted. Of course the downside is that without pinky pressure, your hair pressure will always be [gravity + index-thumb pressure], so gravity will be the lightest pressure you can play with.

- Now for the advanced stuff -- if you want to play lighter than gravity on the hair past the balance point, you'll have to use some offsetting pinky-thumb rotary force to lighten up the gravity pressure. (Remember that hair pressure is always = [gravity pressure + index-thumb rotary pressure - pinky-thumb rotary pressure].)

In this situation, gravity pressure goes from a maximum at the balance point (the whole weight of the bow presses on the hair), to 1/2 that weight at the tip (since the bow is supported by two points - the strings and the thumb -- past the balance point).

So for constant hair pressure equal to gravity-at-the-balance-point, you must smoothly add index-thumb rotary pressure as the bow moves, to keep a constant pressure and tone. If you mess up with your index-thumb pressure, you'll either get too much pressure, or too little pressure, to retain constant pressure from balance point to tip. And the pinky is an expert at messing up with this smooth increasing pressure in the index-thumb pair.

It seems to me that it is natural for novices to increase pinky pressure when they try to increase index pressure -- instead of just the index-thumb muscles firing, the whole hand tightens and the pinky fires at the same time. Thus the index and pinky fight each other, with the thumb trying to respond to, and balance, the changing index/pinky pressures, all the while trying to keep the bow angle the same.

Hopefully this discussion will make it easier for future readers to debug and fix their bow bouncing problems. Good luck!



Zhan
Posted: August 4, 2015
Beth. it is incredible but my thumb was indeed the culprit of the annoying bounces. As I was more attentive to thumb pressure, my downbow bouncing almost disappeared! That accounts for both slow and fast bowings. Thank you so much for helping me! Guess there was tension in my bow hand after all. :)

Zhan
Posted: August 4, 2015
Thank you so much for your advice Nick. Yes I absolutely agree that slowing the bow down will allow the brain to concentrate better on keeping consistent non-bouncing bow stroke. I'll definitely try what you suggested. :) 

Zhan

Nick
Posted: August 4, 2015
This discussion includes members-only video content

Hi Zhan,

 I used to have the same bouncing bow problems. I still do, but to far lesser extent than I used to – I would like to share an exercise which helped me.

I put a lot of focussed effort into playing open strings with whole bows REALLY SLOWLY. Slow up bows and down bows, trying to hold a consistent tone.

When I first started doing this exercise and my bow got too fast, my teacher shouted : “SLOWER!”. Slower is the key to this exercise. Open string slow bowing really exposes your tone and there should be no cheating by speeding up….I am posting a video of how I practise this..it should give you an indication of how slow you should play…


It is a long and tortuous process, the sound is excruciatingly bad. Don’t worry about not being able to draw a consistent tone, just TRYING to draw a consistent tone is enough for your brain to make the necessary connections with your bowing arm.

You will not be immediately aware of how this exercise is helping you, but subconsciously, this exercise will teach your bowing arm/hand how to apply the pressure on the bow to keep the contact on the string consistent and the transition of balance and pressure on the bow smooth. Keep your right shoulder relaxed and have the sensation of a very relaxed arm as if it’s falling to the ground.

When drawing the bow, the smooth transfer of pressure and balance prevents the small vibrations in the bow becoming amplified into “bounces”. It is difficult to explain - this is something you have to try. Believe me, I’ve been there and I thought I’d just have to live with a bouncing bow. Work on slow bowing on open strings and I am confident that you will reduce your bouncing bow issues.

Then, you try spiccato and want to re-learn how to bounce the bow!




Zhan
Posted: August 4, 2015
Thanks so much for your responses! I feel that my thumb indeed might be the main culprit associated with the bounce. From now on I'll try to be more attentive in regulating my thumb pressure when bowing.

Zhan 

Brett Sayles
Posted: August 4, 2015
Thanks for the video response Beth! I'm having this problem also. I can't wait to get home and see what I'm doing with my thumb.

Kevin
Posted: August 3, 2015

Hi everyone, I just watched Beth’s response video, and re-read my own posting below, and realized that my posting wasn’t as clear as I had hoped it would be. In particular, I used the single word “thumb” in a few places where I really meant “thumb/pinky pair” or “thumb/index pair”, which probably caused confusion. So this post is an attempt to correct that.

I intend to limit myself to the physics involved (forces, balances, masses, ..) in making the bow move smoothly across the strings. I don’t want to make any statements about where the forces come from (tension, etc), because that kind of thing varies with every individual, and a life-long teacher like Beth has a far better understanding of how such things work in real students than I will ever have.

So I try to talk about physics, and not about what works best for teaching students how to play. Unfortunately, sometimes my attempts fall short of what I'd like them to be.

I'd like to compliment Beth on her very kind (indeed, masterful) video response to my thoughts on thumb forces, saying what she wanted to say without hurting my feelings. Honestly I think we're both right in what we say, but we're coming from such different worlds of experience that it can be hard to see that we're saying the same kinds of things.

I've spent the last couple of hours trying to write posts that say what I think is important, but they get so long that I doubt anyone would want to read them. It's a bit frustrating. But I'll have one more shot at explaining bow bouncing from a physics point of view, because the topic is important. Maybe it will help someone, maybe not. But I'll try to keep it as short as possible.

In the bow-bouncing region of the down stroke (balance point to tip of the bow), the bow is supported in space at two points. One end of the bow is on the strings (which press upward), and the frog end of the bow is supported by the bow hand (which presses upward). If the bow hand (or something in the bow hand, like the thumb) did not press upward, the frog would fall on the ground.

Try it for yourself -- find out what you think is the main thing that actually holds up your frog with your normal bow hand, when the tip of your bow is on the strings. (In my case, my thumb puts upward pressure on the bow). This is why I say that the thumb exerts upward pressure. I can take away all of my other fingers, and the frog doesn't fall. But if I take away my thumb, the frog falls.

In the bow-bouncing region of the stroke:

- the bow angle in space is set by the height of the bow hand (one supporting point) and the height of the strings (the other supporting point).

- the bow pressure on the strings is set by gravity (the weight of that end of the bow), PLUS any extra rotational pressure generated by the index/thumb pair, or by the pinky/thumb pair. In both these cases, the thumb stays in the same vertical position (so the bow angle does not change).

But the thumb also acts as a fulcrum for rotational pressure. (1) If you want more bow pressure, use the index/thumb pair -- press down with the index finger, up with the thumb to balance the index. (2) If you want less pressure, use the pinky/thumb pair -- press down with the pinky, and up with the thumb to balance the pinky pressure. (3) If you want just gravity pressure, do not use either index or pinky, but still press up with the thumb enough to maintain the proper bow angle.

The upward forces in the bow bouncing region of the down stroke are provided by the thumb. There is no other answer, and no other agent at work. According to physics, the thumb is the only thing pressing upward on the bow. The index and pinky fingers certainly press down from time to time, but only the thumb is pressing upwards to balance them.

Try it for yourself. Press down with your index or pinky (or even second/third fingers), without pressing upward with the thumb. The frog will fall. Something has to support the frog, and it's normally the thumb in the bow-bouncing region of the stroke.

If the bow bounces in the bow bouncing region, while the bow angle stays the same (it usually does), it's the rotational forces of the bow hand that are making the hair pressure lighter and heavier. In particular, I think it's the net pinky/thumb pair that tends to exert too much force during the stroke, overcoming whatever index/thumb pressure is present, so that the hair pressure gets light, and the bow bounces.

My previous post talks about how the net index/thumb force must dynamically increase as the stroke progresses from balance point to tip, in order to maintain constant hair pressure and tone. According to physics, the reason that the index/thumb pressure must increase is because the two supporting points of the bow get farther and farther apart as the stroke progresses, and the leverage of the index finger gets weaker (so more index/thumb rotational pressure is required).

A rotational pressure that is the right size for being close to the balance point is not right 1 inch later in the stroke, and so the bow gets too light, then the player corrects with a new stronger force and pushes the bow down (first bounce completed), then 1 inch later the new stronger force is too weak, the bow bounces again, and so on.

I don't claim to know what typical tensions or postures or improper playing techniques the player has that cause the index/thumb and pinky/thumb forces to become unbalanced. Teachers with experience (and that's not me) would be better people to ask about what their populations of students typically do in bow-bouncing matters.

But I definitely do know without a doubt (because of physics) that the index/thumb and pinky/thumb pairs are the agents that are doing the unbalancing (and rebalancing). So if you can get a grip on those rotational bow-hand forces in your own playing, you can stop bow bounces quickly.

Good luck to everyone again... I hope this second post helped.


Beth Blackerby
Posted: August 2, 2015
This discussion includes members-only video content

Zahn, I forgot to mention that you don't need to build elbow strength. We have all the strength we need in our arms, it's all about working with the tension/relaxation of the arm, shoulder, and back muscles.

Zhan
Posted: August 2, 2015
Thanks everyone for your responses. I have a carbon fiber bow and I don't think it's the quality of the bow that 's at fault (if anything it's my arm's fault :) ). Kevin your explanation was spot on as I noticed that the thumb does play a role in the bounce; it kind of acts against the pressure of the index finger. I'm currently working on Minuet I and I'll definitely post a video after I'm more fluent with it.

Thanks everybody!

Zhan

Clifford Green
Posted: August 1, 2015
See video #70

Barbara Habel
Posted: August 1, 2015
What my teacher taught me was to raise the elbow higher so that it is somewhat higher than the magic square.

You might want to give that a try.

Diane in SOCAL
Posted: August 1, 2015
  Hi Zhan.  What type of bow are you playing on?  Is it a student grade bow off the internet or a good pernambuco (wood) bow or maybe a good,  carbon fiber.  The reason I ask is 
 that inexpensive student bows can be crooked, warped or what we call a soft bow. A soft bow is one that is very flexible, even when tighter to play.  A stiff bow is one that is hard and has little flexibility but is straight and has a nice camber (curve to the bow). 
How old is the hair on the bow?  Loose hair that is old, can lose it's strength and cause a problem in that the hair can not be brought up to tension.  Also check and make sure your bow hair is not too tight…that you have not over-tightened the screw…a bow that is too tensioned can cause bouncing…especially in the middle of the bow.  
Check those things…I hope this gives some help.  
Stay tuned. Diane in SoCal

Kevin
Posted: August 1, 2015

Hi Zhan, here is my understanding of bow bouncing:

1. The bounce occurs because of two things:

First, there is a war going on between [downward pressure of gravity+index finger pressure] and [upward pressure of your thumb]. The forces are pretty evenly balanced, else the bow would either stay on the string (downward pressure wins clearly) or the bow would lift completely off the strings (upward thumb pressure wins clearly).

Second, the bow+hair assembly is designed to be an elastic resonator (think "springy"), so any small oscillation in up/down pressure forces tends to be conserved by the bow/hair system, and will take a bit of time to die out. In the meantime, the bow acts somewhat like a bouncing ball, and will bounce on the strings until the forces get properly out of balance again (meaning downward pressure wins) .


2. The typical problem occurs on down bows because

- at the start of the down bow (playing near the frog), the thumb is exerting maximum upward pressure to balance the weight of the bow stick that is hanging out in space on the far side of the string contact point. At this point, believe it or not, the hair pressure is determined by the position (pressure) exerted by your whole arm/wrist/hand assembly on the strings, and not by your index finger at all. In other words, it's your shoulder joint that controls the hair pressure, which is tough to do precisely (lots of arm mass at work, and fine adjustments are not the forte of big shoulder muscles).  This is all basic physics stuff.

- as you draw the bow down, lots of things must happen simultaneously, in balance with each other -- and the forces getting out of balance is what causes the bouncing. First, your upward thumb pressure must decrease as you approach the balance point of the bow (which is about mid-stick, as you point out. (About 5 inches up from the winding on my bow)). Thumb pressure must reduce to zero as the bow passes the balance point, and index finger pressure must begin to increase from zero as the balance point is passed.

The problem is, the rate of thumb decrease/index increase must be directly proportional to bow speed and bow position (relative to the balance point). For example:

if your bow moves fast, and upward thumb pressure release is too slow, the bow will come off the string near, at, or after the balance point.

if your bow moves slow, and upward thumb pressure release is too fast, the bow pressure will be extra heavy before the balance point is reached.

Ditto for index finger pressure -- if it's too heavy before the balance point, the bow pressure is too much, or the bow angle tilts and hits the next lower string; if the index pressure is too light after the balance point, the bow pressure is too light, and the bow can skitter, glide, or bounce.


3. I think the typical bouncing sequence is probably: the thumb pressure release is too slow for the bow speed, so the bow gets light or airborne at or soon after the balance point. The player hears that, and so tries to add a little index finger pressure. But by that time, the bow has moved along farther, so index finger pressure is behind again, so add a little more pressure, but the bow has moved and needs more, etc. So the index finger pressure is always playing catch up to the bow position.

Solutions are: for the same down bow speed, get off the thumb pressure sooner (should be about zero at the balance point), get on the net index finger pressure sooner (must build from zero soon after the balance point, and keep the index finger pressure increasing proportionally to bow position.

It might help to slow down the bow speed, so the index finger pressure has an easier time "catching up" to the bow position.

As always with violin, it's fair (but not usually helpful) to say that "there is tension somewhere" if something goes wrong. That's because it's also fair (and accurate) to say that "there's tension everywhere" even when playing sounds good. Just keep in mind that the bow bounces because the forces you generate are making it bounce. And the forces at work are primarily the thumb and "net" index finger pressure. (I say "net", because the pinky offsets the index finger, using the thumb as fulcrum. So you can have both high index and high pinky pressures, with corresponding high thumb pressure, with the net index pressure being very small or zero.

Good luck!


Elke Meier
Posted: August 1, 2015
Zhan, why don't you post a little video showing your problem? My experience has been that I normally have some idea what could be the culprit of a certain problem. Then I post a video and every time I am surprised because people pick up on things I would have never noticed.

A bouncing bow in my experience is a sign for tension SOMEWHERE - wherever. So I am not sure that exercising an elbow muscle would be the solution. And things go in stages at times: I have had my bouncing bow pretty much under control, until I started with spiccato - and all of a sudden a new level of bounce comes into play... You want it to bounce - but then you have to work on stopping the bounce at the right time again :)