I would like to learn to play cello, but I have a mini-disability that prevents me from turning my right hand down (palm-down, or pronation) or up (palm-up, or suspination).

How much is this going to get in the way of handling the bow? How important is pronation in the mechanics of bowing?

Additional info:

  • I can approximate rotation of the hand by altering my grasp on the bow (fingers) and lifting my elbow.

  • Wikipedia says that

    The transmission of weight from the arm to the bow happens through the pronation (inward rotation) of the forearm

but then, can I work around it with the aforementioned ‘cheats’, or would I lose too much in dexterity or sound quality?

  • My left hand is fine.
  • 1
    because you are used to using your hand that way, while you may hold the bow differently to others I will happily assure you can get many hours of enjoyment out of it.
    – BugFinder
    Commented Jun 20, 2018 at 9:49

2 Answers 2


IANAMPT (music physical therapist), so take this as encouragement rather than direction.

I would not let any physical disability short of losing your arm :-) stop you from trying to learn the cello. Find a decent teacher who can either work with you directly or refer you to a music-oriented physiotherapist to figure out a functional bow grip position that won't injure you. What really matters is the ability to hold the bow in the correct 3 angles (around all three x,y,z axes in space) with proper pressure and so on. If it takes a strange grip, or even some custom grip-adapter piece of hardware, so be it.

Go for it.

  • i agree, go for it. many musicians have been limited in some physical way but have made awesome music. I am not a cello history buff, but Richie Havens comes to mind on guitar, and there are countless others.
    – b3ko
    Commented Jun 19, 2018 at 13:55
  • What does IANAMPT stand for?
    – Cullub
    Commented Jun 19, 2018 at 15:32
  • I encountered a professional musician recently whose fingers only reach the first joint. It is amazing to watch him play piano. You'll be OK.
    – Laurence
    Commented Jun 19, 2018 at 15:36
  • 2
    @Cullub there's an ancient IntarWebz abbreviation "IANA..." meaning "I am not a" whatever. Commented Jun 19, 2018 at 15:51
  • 2
    @CarlWitthoft that's a good acronym to know. Otherwise when someone tells you they're not a lawyer you might be very very confused at first (and unlikely/hesitant to Google the acronym)
    – BruceWayne
    Commented Jun 19, 2018 at 17:47

While I have not played cello, I do (too infrequently) play upright bass. For upright, there are different ways of holding the bow. First is French, which is more palm down. And German which is more palm up.

I have played both ways, and for me I prefer the German style bows. I feel that it gives me better control and is more comfortable for my hand, wrist and arm.

I don't know if they make a German style cello bow, but the technique may work for you.

I agree with the other posts about finding a good teacher. Any good teacher will not force you into a painful position. If you experience pain, then you wont' want to play and that is not what anybody wants.

  • Interesting, I had no idea about German bow holding! It does look possible for my hand. A teacher also suggested I try the viol, but then it's suspination that I can't do. I'll definitely give your solution a try!
    – mcadorel
    Commented Jun 19, 2018 at 15:11
  • Viol players (most of which I believe are actually cellists) use in fact a backhanded style similar to German bass bowing. I once tried this on cello and it felt really weird, though it can certainly be used for old music. Using an actual bass bow is also not completely absurd – I myself use a light (French) bass bow a lot these days. You need to take a bit more care not to “squeeze the tones to death”, but with a bit practise you do also get a bit of extra oomph in the lower registers. Commented Jun 19, 2018 at 19:20

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