Tone-building

How does it sound when you use the bow? Is it scratchy, bouncy or weak-sounding?

In this lesson, you’ll learn and practice some exercises that will help to improve the sound (aka ‘tone’). If you have a nice sound, you’ll be more motivated to keep practicing and playing.


Throw-away bow

There is a great exercise to help work on this that I call “throw-away bow”. This is a powerful exercise that will help you attain a bigger, more wholesome sound.

Starting downbow (to the right) move the bow across the strings, and then dramatically release your arm into the air. Imagine you’ve just played the final note of a concert, you end with a dramatic throw-away bow and, you know what comes next, “the crowd goes wild”.

Throw-away bow on G 

Throw-away bow on D

Throw-away bow on A 

Throw-away bow on E 

This is a magical practice. I’m not totally sure why it’s so helpful improving tone but it is. Maybe because when you release the bow you also release a lot of tension that beginning students hold in their bodies.


Saw Bow


The saw bow is another way to improve your tone and to open up the sound. Play short digging strokes in the middle of the bow. It doesn’t have to be pretty. Start with longer strokes and then do shorter, faster strokes.

Practice it on your own, eight bows per string, starting with the G string:

After practicing the saw bow for a while, try the paintbrush; lighter more delicate strokes in the upper third. Notice how the volume changes.


Tremolo

To do tremolo, place the upper third of the bow on the strings and lightly play quick notes. Try to relax the wrist and create a shimmering sound, like a gentle rain falling on the roof. Whereas the goal of the throw-away bow is to get a BIG sound, tremolo is a good way to loosen and relax your bow sound.

Tremolo on the G string

Tremolo on the D string

Tremolo on the A  string

Tremolo on the E string


Soft-Loud-Soft

Now we’ll practice volume control. Start by playing short quiet “paintbrush” strokes. Gradually increase the length and pressure until you’re playing loud “saw” strokes. When you hit the peak, gradually get quieter. Start over on the same string, and then try it on the other strings.

Soft-loud-soft on D string


The most direct path to making fiddle music is just getting a good sound on an open string. So don’t rush this step! The better you sound, the more confidence you’ll have as you move through the course. And with good sound, you’ll be excited to play every day.

Question for you: What’s the hardest part of bowing so far? Let me know in a comment below. 


Lessons complete in Module 1.1:

Continue to Fun With String Crossing >>

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41 responses to “Getting A Good Sound With The Bow

  1. Hardest of these exercises for me: Soft-Loud-Soft, particularly in executing both smooth and consistent crescendi and accelerandi at the same time. The dramatic decelerando near the end of each track was challenging while maintaining the soft-loud shift. As with the tremolo exercises, practicing soft-loud-soft on a string adjacent to the one in each track, and practicing it in double-stops, actually helped my focus and overall execution.

  2. Really enjoy the Throw-away bowing practice to improve sound. I found it especially fun and effective (I think) if I play the same note as on the play-along track, but then to do it again, this time on an adjacent string, so that I’m playing a Perfect 5th apart (say, playing on the D string when the track is on the A string). It helps me actually hear myself better, while creating that nice drone effect.

  3. Thank you, Jason, for the best directions for the bow hold I have found. I have watched other teaching videos but I knew my hold was too tight because it made my fingers ache. Your explanation really helped. I also feel like I learned a lot playing with the different tones and rhythms.

  4. The hardest part of bowing so far for me is keeping the bow straight and I have trouble crossing the A & E strings. I feel pretty relaxed with the bow hold so either I’m getting it or doing it wrong! Lol

    1. Keeping the bow straight is a very tough thing to do! My advice is to focus on it for a few minutes every practice session, and then spot check yourself periodically during the rest of your session without being obsessive about it. In my experience, a bow traveling crooked over the strings (ie not parallel to the bridge) has a LOT to do with what my ELBOW (and my wrist) is doing (or not doing). Playing in front of a mirror to see if you are holding either of those joints stiff and using your shoulder to move the bow may help you trouble shoot this. 🙂

  5. The hardest part is that sometimes the bow starts to bounce. It seems to happen more on the E and A strings. Other times it doesn’t happen at all. I have not yet figured out what I’m doing differently when it bounces and when it doesn’t.

    1. Hey @dalevancleef,
      Try shortening your both trucks on the E and A strings. Also try to use throwaway bars on each string both down bow and up bow.
      Probably the most important thing is to just keep practicing this. Give extra Luv to the E and A strings. Eventually your body will figure this out.

  6. The hardest part for me so far is getting my pinky to be relaxed on my bow. I’ve had this issue even when I took lessons. It is very difficult! Today was also my first time learning tremolo! I thought this was difficult as well, but also you made it enjoyable at the same time.

  7. So far, the hardest part of bowing is that I tense up my right elbow when the speed picks up–I just keep checking in with myself to relax my arms and shoulders. I definitely hold my breath too (in all aspects of life—not just fiddling haha!), so I need to be conscious of that as well.

  8. The hardest part is knowing how much pressure to exert on the string from the hand holding the bow. I had heard from an expert that the pressure should be the weight from the bow resting on the string and no more.

  9. I think the hardest part of bowing for me is fatigue in my shoulder from just holding my arm out. I’m not tense just not a position I’m used to. I feel like 1,000 tremolos will do as good as hitting the gym from the way I feel after a minute of it. I should say I’m currently in physical therapy for back problems so I know that it’s all connected. I figure give it time and things will work themselves out. Thanks for the lessons I’m really enjoying them.

  10. tremolo! I get really tense!
    I played in youth orchestra as a teen and we used it, but it’s different when I’m not in a group of 20 violinists. I can’t just blend into the crowd….I actually have to sound good!
    I’m finding the fiddle bow hold easier now, but my elbow really wants to go sky high as I tense up.
    Does everyone keep all their fingers on the bow when they get faster? I find I’m turning my palm away from my body and lifting all but the thumb and index finger off the bow.
    Would love to he at what ‘s working for you. (Other than playing it 1000 times)
    It’s Bow Boot Camp!

  11. Hardest part – Not getting tight/tired muscles in my neck or behind my right shoulder blade!
    Question, when playing 1/4 and 1/8 notes, doe sit help tone to travel across the same length of bow, only faster, or use less bow, or does that depend on the quality of sound/piece you are playing?
    Such fun, THANK YOU!

  12. I also, like bsteffen above, love the duets. So much better than just hearing my own beginner sounds. I also like that we’re learning often
    heard patterns- that we can eventually incorporate. And it’s better than just playing the open strings in a plain way.

    I’m using a mute on my fiddle so that I’m not too loud as I begin. Is that OK?

    At 68, my fingers are not so nimble. And especially with this “shimmering” my arms tire. But I’m stoked, have some time to do this,
    and am enjoying your teaching. Better than in person I think cos’ I can just rewind on those kind of days.

    Thanks for this, especially giving people the opportunity to take the first lessons free in order to find if it’s a good fit.

  13. Keeping the bow in the center on the E string, but it has improved noticeably with these exercises. No problem with the bow hold, using Jason’s method. Picking up the fiddle for the first time ever, but having played the banjo for many years i know these first few months require the greatest perseverance to get through, what I call ‘dog work’, no offense to dogs. lol.

  14. I have wanted to play the violin or fiddle ever since the third grade when I signed myself up to be measured for an instrument at school. Unfortunately my family was unable to afford the program at the time, so this is a lifelong dream. Thank you for such a great program.

    Bowing – In general, the hardest is relaxing my wrist and forearm. Specifically, I find getting a good tone on the E string the hardest – still playing around with pressure on the strings from the bow and position to avoid the “squeaks”. I find the D and the A strings very forgiving in that sense.

    I may have missed it, but did not see any discussion yet about the tension of the bow. I’ve been playing around with that a bit but don’t seem to find a sweetspot.

    I’m enjoying the lessons, breaking each piece down and exploring the instrument before jumping into playing songs. I also find great joy in playing the duets at the end of each module. Thank you so much for this!

  15. Biggest challenge in bowing? Unlearning sloppy habits from when I tried to learn the fiddle several years ago. I had an old-time bluegrass fiddler as my teacher and he was amazing. Problem was that our lessons became so social that he didn’t correct my bow hold, bowing – we just played together. I could have learned so much from him if I had been a more advanced fiddler. I put the fiddle down for 10 plus years and am trying to learn better technique and not jump into playing tunes. Really enjoying your site so far!

  16. Using my week off to spend time developing confidence with bow, with sound, with hearing myself. Jason – I love the gentle pace you take things at and how you break everything down into manages bits. Makes me feel that playing well is achievable. Huge Thankyous!

  17. For me, the hardest part of bowing is staying on the string without touching the one next do it, especially on the A string without touching the E string. Or the D string without touching the G or A.

  18. The hardest part is maintaining awareness moment-to-moment of my stance, how I’m holding the violin, moving the bow, and the sound. It’s beautiful when all the thoughts disappear and the sound is just happening. Tremolo is suspenseful – made me think of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons! I spent quite awhile playing soft-loud-soft just for the fun of listening to all the changing moods.

    1. Yes. In the beginning, you have to move your attention around a lot. It’s some serious multi-tasking. But then at a certain magical point, it all flows and becomes a single activity. It’s easier to get to that state if you work on a very small thing: a single note, a 3-6 note bit. If you can get this sense of moving from multi to single-tasking on a small piece, you’ll be able to this on other pieces and eventually on bigger pieces.

      Glad to hear you have moments when you can just play without distracting thoughts.

  19. Consistency.
    I began violin lessons Aug ’18. Somehow I never felt comfortable with a bowhold. Teacher had trouble accepting a doublejointed/locking pinkie that produced probs after a few minutes. I finally compromised bending it with the top of finger resting on bow. That really did not produce stability or consistency of movement of bow or sound. Tried beginner hold (awkward), a “fiddlehold” (felt overheld), Russian Bowhold (felt ok but teacher had coronary with my bent/relaxed moments of wrist), FrancoBelgian, and whatever else i could come up with. One guy on youtube said he used combo of FB & Russian.
    It has been frustrating.

    Ps also love your cat!
    Pps. Wanted to play violin for years & finally found one last year. Am 66. In spite of a few things, has been very enjoyable & satisfying.

    1. I teach a certain bow hold based on a classical hold. But, as you’ve mentioned, this is not the only way to do it.

      It should be comfortable and relaxed and flexible. Fingers should have a natural curve. Keep experimenting and studying.

      j

    2. That’s been my problem exactly! My pinkie joint wanting to straighten and catch in that position. Feeling very stiff. I have to really concentration to keep it relaxed and bent with the tip just resting on the bow. Glad it’s not just me.

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