Monthly Archives: November 2011

Four Fingers: Three Tendons and a Thumb

By William Dick
Alfred Author

Tendons are the manipulators that allow our fingers to flex.  They are also the part of our arms that most often become inflamed or injured: tendonitis.  I am not a physiologist but I would like to offer some opinions about how to best use our bow arm.

First, let’s do a physical demonstration:  Place the heels of both hands together in front of you with the palm and pads of your thumb and fingers touching (a praying gesture).  Next, tuck your second fingers into the palm of both hands so that the middle knuckles firmly touch each other (your palms will open but the heel of your hands and the pads of the other fingers and thumb will still be touching).  Now, tap-tap your first finger pads; no problem, tap-tap your thumb pads; no problem, tap-tap your pinkie pads; no problem, but when you try to tap-tap your third (ring) finger pads you will discover that you can’t.  Indeed no human can if they keep the middle knuckles firmly touching.

This manipulation shows a very important fact about the way our arms and hands are made.  The thumb has its own tendon.  First finger and pinkie each has a separate tendon.  However, our two middle fingers (two and three on a stringed instrument) share a tendon.  If you look at the back of your hand you can see and trace the tendons for the thumb, first and fourth fingers.  With a bit of investigation you will see and feel that second and third fingers start with separate tendons, but that the two tendons merge at a spot in the middle of the back of your hand.

This spot becomes a center of gravity or balance point of finger motion.  The thumb works in opposition to our fingers and allows us to grip through prehensile motions and offers counterbalance to our fingers.

In applying this information to the bow arm of shoulder string instruments let’s consider the following ideas:

The  thumb is to the bow hold as the spine is to the body

  • The spine is located in the center of the body and creates the center of gravity for the body.  The arms and legs are then free appendages operating from this center.
  • The body of the bow hold is the two middle fingers.  The thumb, acting as the spine, is located opposite this mass to create a center of gravity for the bow hold.
  • The first finger and the pinkie, acting as free agents, serve as stabilizers and “influencers”.

The thumb is the only part of the bow hold that has a specific place that it has to be

  • The thumb must touch both the frog and the stick
  • The thumb nail approaches the stick/frog at a near 45-degree angle
  • A view of the thumb under the fingers of the bow hold should reveal the thumb nail only

Placement of the two middle fingers

  • The two middle fingers establish the center of gravity for the bow hold by forming an opposable pivot point with the thumb
  • The two middle fingers touch both the stick and the frog

The first finger and the pinkie

  • The first finger touches the stick at the first (fingernail) joint of the finger
  • The pinkie touches the stick above the frog.  It must not be behind the frog extended to touch the tightening screw.

Front and back control

  • The thumb and the little finger control the backside of the bow
  • The two middle fingers and the first finger control the front of the bow

Axis of pivot*

  • The middle fingers and the thumb establish the pivot point or fulcrum
  • The first finger and the pinkie work in opposition
  • The tip of the bow and the frog of the bow must be able to move in opposition

In penmanship the pencil moves around inside your hand, guided by your thumb and fingers to express your thoughts and feelings.  In playing a stringed instrument the bow moves around inside you hand, guided by your thumb and fingers to express your thoughts and feelings and the beauty and joy of music.

*For more details and exercises about these ideas please see the bow games in Mastery for Strings, Level One by Mr. Dick and Dr. Laurie Scott, distributed by Alfred Publishing.

Mr. Dick and Dr. Scott with Winifred Crock are the authors of the Alfred Publication:  Learning Together: Sequential Repertoire for Solo Strings or the String Ensemble.

Giving Thanks

Sheldon CurryBy Sheldon Curry
Managing Editor, Alfred Sacred Choral Publications

At this time of year, we give thanks to God for friends and family, food on the table, all things Norman Rockwell. It is an especially poignant time for us to thank folks who serve – military, nurses, law enforcement, care-givers, pretty much anyone you see (yes – even politicians).

I want to take a moment to thank these particular people. They’ve all mentored and taught me in one way or another.

Charles F. Brown

Kurt Kaiser

Elwyn Raymer

Buryl Red

Tom Fettke

The folks at Alfred

Choir members, current and passed.

Composers and arrangers I am privileged to work with daily.

Thanks be to God – and you.


Making the most of holiday performing opportunities!

Tim McCarrick
Alfred Author

I’m going to have the audacity to suggest that you add at least one more performance to your already busy schedule! Hear me out.

Every time your group performs they have the opportunity to become better musicians. There’s something about playing in front of people that cannot be reproduced in rehearsal. And, there is much more than the music; there is the shared experience. It can be the subject of discussion for years: ‘Do you remember the red bow-ties?”; “How about that bus ride?” and so on. The group can buiild a shared history, common stories, more successes, more friendship, and better musicianship.

If you’ve come along this far, you may be thinking, “This idea isn’t that crazy.” In that case, here are just a few suggestions to fuel your imagination. First, check the school calendar for events already planned that are that are close to your performance. For instance: The PTO meets 2 nights before your concert? Then hold an open dress rehearsal an hour earlier and invite them to come in and hear your rehearsal. Have a string quartet offering songs as the PTO enters the building. How about playing in the cafeteria during lunch, where the students get to play for their peers? Or play on the morning announcements. Shopping malls regularly schedule school performing groups, and retirement homes would never turn down a free concert! Have a middle school group perform for the elementary group. Have the high school orchestra play for the middle school.

Well, at this point, I hope your imagination has taken off and you are at least considering the possibilities of getting a couple extra performances in this holiday season. Good luck and have fun teaching and playing music!