My teacher has been on my case about my bow hold, and frankly, I have to agree with her. Below, Perlman explains his own bow hold. What I find interesting and elusive is how he keeps his wrist flexible.

You can see the springy pinky action I'm after in this part of Shostakovich's Piano Trio in e Minor played by Gidon Kremer:

My problem: I can't even reproduce it once, much less practice it. My wrist is dead as a doorknob, and my pinky is equally stiff. When I try to relax it even more, other parts of my technique begin to fall apart... What is the secret? How can I practice it?


Trying to start by practicing "relaxation" may not work for you, because the bow itself doesn't provide much resistance however you hold it - at least not in "simple" bowing situations.

You may be better working against something that can "push back" - for example the edge of a table for cello bowing, or something equivalent (a door frame for example) for violin. Anything will do to provide the support and resistance, so long as your bowing arm is in roughly the right position when you use it.

Of course you can't simulate all the bowing movements this way, but you can practice getting your wrist and fingers to move sideways with different degrees of tension and relaxation in a controlled fashion, without the complications of moving your bowing arm, playing on the correct string and in the correct rhythm, etc.

These things are similar to learning to ride a bike - after a while, you stop falling off, but you can't really describe what you are doing that stops you falling.

And ask your teacher how to practise the techniques, of course!


You let the parts of your technique depending on a stiff wrist and pinky fall apart. You can try reassembling them later on the basis of a more supple wrist and pinky, but if you cannot reconcile them in the current form with other required/desired elements, you need to let go of them for a while until the other elements you aim for start having a somewhat reliable presence. And then you need to bring them back in piecemeal without breaking what you gained.

  • Right on the money. Any 'technique' that you have with poor posture is poor technique anyway. – xerotolerant Sep 22 '17 at 15:39

Two suggestions:

(1) A teacher whom I greatly respected once said 'we can't teach people to play the violin: all we can do is teach them how to practice so that they can teach themselves to play'. Is your teacher making suggestions about ways of practice, things that you can do in practice, that will have the result that your wrist loosens up? If 'yes, but they don't seem to work', then are you going back to him/her to say just that, and to ask for other suggestions that might be better suited to your individual approach? (If nothing seems to work that way at all, then ultimately, you might want to look for another teacher with whom you will be more in sympathy?)

(2) If you want another kind of approach, there's a marvelous (IMHO) book that may help. It has a lot to say about bow control: about varying the power up, varying it down and back again as you draw your bowstrokes, with a good number of useful exercises for varying the bow action which will help express things musically, take your attention off the tightness and help you loosen up naturally. (Just as you would vary the weight and touch if you were stroking a pet cat or dog, without thinking about your wrist.) Nothing new about this book, it was written in 1756 by maybe the greatest teacher ever, Leopold Mozart, father and teacher of W A Mozart no less: in English translation (translator Editha Knocker) it has the old-fashioned title "A Treatise on the Fundamental Principles of Violin Playing", but I doubt if it will ever be out of date. To be sure, extra playing techniques were added in the century/ies after it came out, but what it says and advises about the basics will remain just that -- fundamental and fundamentally useful. If you don't already know it, then I hope you also get to like the dry humor of the author's style.

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