By William Dick
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.