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I've been playing the viola for quite a few years. Recently I got a 16.5" viola and noticed that it was harder not to get a scratchy tone, especially on the A string. I noticed that tilting the bow hair away from me improves my tone quite a bit for the higher strings. However, my current orchestra teacher repeatedly tells me to tilt the bow hair towards me, which actually worsens the tone. I've never had anyone else tell me that. Is it correct to tilt the bow hair a certain direction, or is it up to preference?

  • I'm no expert so I'll just comment that when I have the proper grip I find it much easier to tilt it towards me than away. Isn't the tip of your thumb supposed to be pretty much in between the wood and the hair? – Todd Wilcox Jul 26 '15 at 15:59
  • @ToddWilcox I usually keep a straight wrist, so the bow hair naturally tilts away from me, and the wood towards me. And yes, that's about where I place my thumb. – user21651 Jul 26 '15 at 16:05
  • Regardless of bow technique, it might be a good idea to test a couple of different A-strings. Perhaps you can find one which is not so scratchy after all. – leftaroundabout Jul 26 '15 at 21:39
  • I haven't got the resources to try that at the moment. I play a lot of violin music transposed down a fifth, so I use the higher strings a lot more than usual. – user21651 Jul 26 '15 at 21:45
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Honestly, I don't think it makes much of a difference by itself. On cello, the standard way to mellow down the sound is to angle the bow towards yourself – but that has the opposite effect as on violin / viola, namely that only the hairs farthest away from the bridge touch the string.

The important points seem to be

  • Few hairs on the string, no matter which ones.
  • Good control of pressure & speed. This is surely always the most important aspect. For this, it helps to have a comfortable hand position. Most players probably find it easier to tilt the bow towards- rather than away from yourself.
  • Using hairs which are in good condition. Both sides of the bow are subject to different wear, and also perhaps given slightly different amounts of rosin. If you think you like the tone more when tilting the bow away from you, perhaps you should try whether this is also true when you're using a different bow!
  • Thank you, I've only got one bow to experiment with. So I should always tilt the bow, just in the direction that suits me most. +1 if I could – user21651 Jul 26 '15 at 21:42
  • There are many factors that can affect tone, besides the tilt of the bow, including amount and type of rosin, the strings you are using, and on and on. I would encourage you to go back to the standard tilt (which is the opposite for cello vs. violin/viola), if you can find a way to get a tone you are happy with. If you don't have a viola teacher at present, how about comparing notes with some other violists in your section? You could have some fun trying different combinations of viola and bow with one or more of them. – aparente001 Jul 28 '15 at 3:02
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    To get the conductor off your back, you could try sitting farther back in the section. – aparente001 Jul 28 '15 at 3:02
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The normal way of tilting a bow on violin and viola is to tilt it so that the hairs farthest away from the bridge touch the string just like on a cello.

But since the bridge on a violin and viola is between you and the bow while on a cello the bridge is behind the bow you are tilting the bow the opposite way on a violin and viola compared with cello in order to get the same result: The hairs farthest away from the bridge touch the string.

There can always be exceptions to normal techniques, sometimes you find your own solutions. But it is usually a good idea to learn basic techniques first.

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