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I've been formulating my bowing philosophy.

Itzhak Perlman has a phenomenal bow hold--his grip is very flexible, and it makes his playing look very natural. His index and pinky fingers occasionally lift completely off the bow.

In his video on bow grip, he doubles down on the importance of a flexible bow grip.

However, his bowing is not very straight--apparently it's on purpose!

Contrast this approach with that of the always phenomenal Hilary Hahn, who has the straightest bowing that I can conceive of.

Her wrist, however, while not necessarily stiff (indeed, there are moments at the frog where she gets incredible sound from only her wrist), is not nearly as flexible as Perlman's.

Eddy from TwoSet violin has talked about the diverging philosophies on fine motor control vs. more stable, straight movements.

I suspect that the answer will actually vary based on kinesthetic considerations from person to person, but here's the question: What is more fundamental to tone production--straight bow motion, or flexible fingers?

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  • I dispute the premise that this is an either-or decision. Flexible grip facilitates straight bow. — TwoSet violin shouldn't be taken as a very good authority, even if you like their videos. Jun 26 '20 at 21:37
  • @leftaroundabout TwoSet violin, well in this case Eddy Chen, certainly know their stuff regarding violin technique. They are top professionals. Jun 26 '20 at 23:03
  • @LarsPeterSchultz maybe. There are lots of professionals from which one maybe better shouldn't take advice! I personally find TwoSet violin's playing as unimpressive as the rest of their videos, but that is largely a matter of taste. However that aside, a) being a great player does not imply being also great at explaining how to play (or even knowing how they do it themselves!) b) anyway I don't see what in the linked video supports the OP's premise about “diverging philosophies” of either focusing on straight bow or flexible grip. Jun 26 '20 at 23:21
  • @leftaroundabout Actually the video is not a TwoSet video, but an Eddy Chen video. The TwoSet videos are videos with a lot of fun, sometimes plain crazy other times rather informative and they are made by two persons Eddy Chen and Brett Yang. But the video linked in the question is Eddy Chen's own channel where he puts focus on violin technical matters. Jun 26 '20 at 23:31
  • @leftaroundabout No, I don't suggest that it is an either-or decision--my question is simply about what is a bigger factor. I don't like TwoSet videos generally speaking--but I respect them as professional players with degrees, which is more than I can say for myself. Do you have any particular objection to their technique, or do they just rub you the wrong way? Jun 27 '20 at 16:30
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First of all Itzhak Perlman and Hilary Hahn are masters who have developped their playing skills far beyond the basics, but they still know their basics and there is no doubt that their technique has a solid base.

I think Itzhak Perlman's bow is straight. When it is not straight it is build upon a straight bow as the base as far as I can see.

Hilary Hahn's wrist is certainly flexible, it can sometimes be with rather small movements in the wrist, but the flexibility is certainly there.

Regarding Eddy Chen's video: Note what he says at 3:50:

Everything has a context when it comes to the bow arm

That sentence is interesting. In relation to that I will say that the more you learn about bowing tecnique the more you learn about an incredible amount of possibilities that exists. And that enables you to play with a great variation in dynamics and expression. But in the beginning a main focus is to play with a good tone. Then you can expand your possibilities from there.

Regarding playing with a straight bow: Well, you can not play with a straight bow without some wrist flexibility. Hilary Hahn's wrist is indeed flexible as I wrote above. Her finger flexibility is sometimes subtle, but it is there. From 9:30 to 9:45 her finger flexibility is more apparent.

You asked this question:

What is more fundamental to tone production--straight bow motion, or flexible fingers?

I teach violin. Beginners often have a tendency to hold a firm stiff grip on the bow at the start. You do need to loosen it up, but finger movements is not the first thing you introduce to the beginner. Instead you teach them to hold the bow somewhat softer and to be a little flexible in the wrist which is needed in order to be able to play with a straight bow. In this process the fingers won't stay completely stiff anymore, but the type of finger movements that Eddy Chen demonstrated in the start of his video is introduced much later. His focus on the arm is good, although it can be a bit much for a beginner which means you will often start with smaller bow strokes and include longer bow strokes gradually.

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The best technique is the one that lets you produce the tone that you want for the least amount of effort. As pointed out in the question, the technique to accomplish this will vary between players.

Classical techniques have developed over the years to produce the good tone and play-ability for least effort. From the different techniques I've looked at, most seem oriented at not working against yourself, using conservation of motion, and working to have muscles as relaxed as possible.

From a pure tone generation aspect, the bow hair directly perpendicular to the string is going to create the cleanest tone. When the hair is off of perpendicular, the bow drags slightly sideways and can cause additional vibration and "sliding" sounds.

An experienced violinist can compensate for extra noise, or even take advantage of the difference in tone production.

When teaching beginners, generally an effort is made to keep the student bowing parallel to the bridge across the entire bow stroke, as there is often extra and unwanted motion in the shoulder, and stiffness in the wrist that keeping parallel helps train them out of.

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