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How To Hold A Cello Bow

Learning to hold the cello bow is one of the most important – yet challenging – aspects of playing the cello. In this introductory cello bow guide, we get you started on how to hold the bow – the proper bow hold – and basically cello bowing technique. The cello bow hold is not to be confused with a cello bow grip – a term sometimes heard. You are not gripping the bow, you are holding the bow with as little tension as possible.

Holding a cello bow with a proper cello bow hold will help you to get the sound you are looking for, to play different techniques (there are many different cello bowing techniques), and to not hurt yourself in the process. Always remember the risk of injury in playing one of these instruments, and take care not to put too much strain on your hands!

The cello bow hold differs from a violin bow hold or a bass bow hold – so this video isn’t how to hold a violin bow or how to hold a bass bow. Part of the reason for this is that bowing cello takes place sitting down, so it is intrinsically related to the technique of how to hold the cello in the first place.

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The cello bow hand – the right hand – will sit on the stick with the middle finger resting in between the grip and frog, the index finger on the grip, the pinky just in front of the screw, the ring finger resting comfortably on the frog, and the thumb curving gently convex to the point opposite the middle finger.

This is the basic hand position.

In my own experience teaching, the number one issue going on when a student is having trouble producing their sound is that they haven’t pronated the hand, and they don’t have the mechanical leverage needed to really get the bow hairs in the string to grip it and make the sound.

No matter how many times I say this, however, confusion will still result as the student tries helplessly to produce a sound without pronating the wrist.

So the lesson is: DOUBLE CHECK YOUR WRIST if having difficulties getting a good sound, and assuming your fingers are resting comfortably on the bow.

Spend an hour a day just on getting a good sound on the full bow, in both directions, and in a few weeks you will find yourself beginning to have an intuitive bow hold. Once this is comfortable, you will be ready to replace bowing one note with other strings, and also scales.

The other big problem is simply gripping the bow instead of holding the bow. I see a lot of uncomfortable looking fingers and tight bow holds by beginners.

This also won’t work, and though it may be a psychological comfort, work on being actually physically relaxed.

Something else to note is that while the legato, long bow style of playing is most common in popular music – and may be how you first heard cello – there are many, many bowing techniques, from legato to marcato, martele and sautie, ricochet, up bow and down bow staccato, bariolage, and still many more.

A good bow hold is necessary for literally all of these, and so you definitely want to get on a good path early, to make these other endeavors possible.

The cello and the bow form a symbiotic relationship, with each being almost a separate instrument. Using the bow – to a cellist – is like breathing for a woodwind player or singer.

Bowing cello may present a technical challenge, but don’t get discouraged, keep practicing with the techniques shared in this video, and keep practicing! In time, you will learn how to bow a cello properly.

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