From watching some of the best cellists play, it’s not surprising to note that, there are varying cello bow hold techniques as there possibly are cellists. It thus would help quite a bit, to have an open mind about the whole bow hold learning thing.
However, the bottom line is, for a good and comfortable cello bow hold; ensure to keep round shaped hands, from the shoulder through to the elbow and finally the wrist.
Additionally, it should be in a relaxed pose and in the most natural way for a good bow hold that will ensure your excellent execution of all bow strokes well, and in a way that it doesn’t hurt.
Understanding a good cello bow hold;
In your quest to learn the proper cello bow hold, a little understanding of what it takes to get that good bow hold technique would do.
To have control of a cello bow, the bow hand assumes a triangle like pattern by the thumb, index and ring fingers on the frog. Further, other critical parts engaged for that good hold and to generate downward pressure on the bow for those good bow strokes are the forearm muscles and the shoulder.
Poor or wrong bow hold will mostly make you experience cramps in the thumb muscle of the palm. Subsequently, it will essentially limit your playing time as a result of the pain. It should not be assumed however that, another reason why you may suffer cramps is the weight of the bow, causing your hand stress, unnecessarily.
However, you can overcome or mitigate the challenge of cramps which may persist, proper bow holding experience notwithstanding by using body heating pads or cooling pack for cramps.
You could also take some vitamin supplements which are good for your general body muscles. You hand muscles will reciprocate.
While all the cello bow techniques training emphasize on keeping the hand’s shape as natural as possible, that very relaxed hand position makes one feel like the bow will fall. Resultantly, you’ll tend to subconsciously “grip” on the bow.
You know why you’ll grip on it? From your science class, it’s simply explained that, any object off the ground (the cello bow included), will need a stronger force than the force of gravity to maintain it at that raised position; else it will definitely go down.
That explains why, when practicing to hold the bow in that seemingly, very relaxed hand posture as recommended, it feels that the bow is falling because you feel like you are not offering sufficient/enough grip.
But guess what, if it feels like the bow is falling for lack of a “good grip”, that’s a good indication that your bow hand has no tension, and which is a very good sign of the correct bow hold technique learning.
Let the bow naturally rest on the cello strings as a result of the gravity effect and your relaxed hold from your hand; and with a little pressure by your index finger on the bow, you will get great sounds.
Practicing cello bow hold; doorway to great bow strokes:
Cello bow hold, like all other skills requires learning and practice which makes all the difference between quality and mediocre skill mastery. Fundamentally, all what you need in the bow hold is balance and flexibility and not tight holding or gripping.
One thing to know if your hold is off is if the bow stick touches your palm. These steps will guide you and if done repeatedly, then perfection is beckoning.
- Get yourself in the most comfortable playing position and with the cello in place.
- From that position, drop both your hands projecting forward in front of the cello. The bow hand should make a full, smooth and continuous, gentle downward slope; not bending at the elbow and in the most relaxed way.
Make the hand from the wrist downward relaxed and tension free to make it as limp as possible; just like a “dead hand”.
- Now, with the left hand, hold the bow stick a few inches from the tip and make the bow rest on the cello strings with its full weight. Remember the gravity discussed above, the strings will stop the bow from landing on the ground.
- With the right hand which is now very relaxed facing down, place the pinkie on the dot also known as the Parisian eye such that its 1st phalange is the contact point with the frog.
- Ring finger placing should then follow; place it on the metal part/ ferrule where the hair end ups in the frog.
- Now, with the thumb vertically aligned with its right side up, slot it in at the intersection point of the frog and the bow stick. For maximum flexibility, the thumb should assume a bent position.
- Finally, place the middle and index fingers. The middle finger will slightly touch the hair and could also touch a bit of the metal piece where the ring finger is.
For the index finger, it will automatically rest on the metal piece; the winding/wrap part where the stick extends “into” the frog. It’s mainly to apply pressure.
Just a note, your fingers should be well spaced, as they would with in unresponsive “dead hand”. Further, to hold the bow down on the strings, you exert weight.
Common bow hold challenges,
- Overly extended thumb. Basically referred to as Banana or Glum Thumb. This result from the tip of the thumb not touching the stick as it should, losing the ability to properly roll the stick back and forth.
- Fingertips intersecting/contacting the stick at the wrong points. To maintain bow control, this shouldn’t be the case.
When starting off, drawing an erasable line across the fingers to mark contact point of the stick with fingers would help a beginner in bow placing.
- Unnecessary stiff pinkie. It should at all times assume a curved shape and closer to the ring finger. It should be on the dot or just slightly above it.
- Fingers being too outspread. Some learners will outspread them, to even push the pinkie to as far back as to the point of even resting it on the tension screw.
Subsequently, this results to tension in the hand. The hand should be relaxed and with “just enough” spaces between the fingers.
- Finally, incorrect forearm rotation. Supination and pronation have to be done right.
While starting off cello bow hold practice lessons, some tutors will advise that you try out with carbon fiber bows first, if possible, which are a little tough and indestructible, else, ensure you practice on a well cushioned floor surface.
However, the downside to the composite cello bows unlike high quality wooden bows is they are imbalanced and unnecessarily weighty.
That said however, composite bows like the incredibow may be good to a beginners because they come pre-tensioned thus need no adjustments and even permanent hair thus; bow rehairing may not be a bother.
Additionally, besides a good grab of the string, they are also relatively light.
Why not dive right in for the holding the bow practice before learning other bow hold techniques?