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For classical violin: Is holding the bow without using the small finger of the right hand considered defective technique, or does it not matter?

I've realized that I bow without my pinky, and usually it is not even in contact with the bow. In fact, even if I try I can't easily keep my pinky on the bow as I draw it down towards the tip.

Here is my bowing hand:

Bowing hand

And here is my default grip on the bow:

Bow grip

Am I doing something obviously wrong? Is this considered bad form?

  • 1
    My pinky size is essentially the same as yours and my pinky is usually in contact with the bow. I spread my fingers wider than you have them to be able to control the pressure with more torque/moment. Also when I down-bow all the way to the tip, I pretty much have to lift my pinky off the bow slightly. I'm only commenting because I have never had my grip validated by anyone, so I could be doing it wrong. – Todd Wilcox Feb 16 at 8:15
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If you intend to use the bow over its full length, you'll need the pinky to counterbalance the index finger action when playing close to the frog. Try playing notes in piano at full bow length on every string and switching direction as inconspicuously as possible on the far ends. Having the pinky involved in the balance definitely helps. Your picture of your default grip on the bow actually has it placed pretty well already. I'd slide it slightly farther from the ring finger on the bow stick but that's about it. Most of the time you don't do a lot with it, just keeping it lightly lodged where it can seamlessly engage when necessary. If you start placing it only then, the seamlessness is gone.

  • Good explanation: In fact my pinky naturally comes back in contact as I bow towards the frog. – feetwet Feb 24 at 15:15
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The bow hold varies slightly between the various "schools" of teaching.

My Moscow Conservatory trained instructor preferred her students to have the weight of the hand constant and even on the first finger, between the first two knuckles, and the rest of the hand as completely relaxed as possible. With this style, depending on your pinky length, the pinky may leave the stick at tip position, and help with balance and rotation at the frog position.

I have looked into other styles, and one of the common themes I have seen is that the technique should allow for the least use of muscle in the lower part of the hand so as to give the wrist the most flexibility possible.

In teaching, I have found that when students press with the pinky or third finger, it activates the thumb muscle which contributes to the locking up of the wrist through tendon action, so I actively discourage the use of the back fingers as much as possible while they are learning.

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I've heard that the pinky (when on the bow) is used for balancing the bow and used in stuff like spiccato, but personally, I've never really encountered anything that definitely requires the pinky on the bow. For example, when I play spiccato, my pinky occasionally falls off my bow - no biggie, I just put it back on again when I can.

Of course, it's recommended, but not mandatory or as important as the other fingers in my opinion.

I would instead comment this instead due to the lack of sources/validation in my answer like Todd Wilcox has but I haven't the reputation yet, sorry.

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Your pinky is only redundant because your ring and middle finger are not doing their job.

Balancing the bow happens mostly between the fingers with largest leverage, namely index finger and pinky. Controlling bow tilt happens in the grip triangle of thumb, middle and ring finger. To have control in all directions, middle and ring finger need to actually reach around the bow stick, with the bow stick being near the first finger joint of those fingers.

You should be able to move the and rotate the bow in all directions (including tilt) even without it touching the violin (try "air bowing" a constant small distance above the string). If your ring and middle finger are as detached as in your picture, the bow is close to slipping out of control.

Once your ring finger comes around further, the pinky will be less redundant.

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You'll need to train your pinky's muscles to hold your bow, it'll come to use when you want to play at the tip. A good exercise would be holding your bow horizontally and lifting it with your pinky. It'll give you better control over your bow.

Anyway, you'd also benefit from lowering your middle and ring finger a towards the frog, so you have a better grip, especially if you want to play loud and fat.

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