Whole Bow Fiddling

Using the Whole Bow for Fiddling

How much bow should I use in fiddling? When do I use the whole bow? Are good questions. It may not come up with a seasoned player who has good bow technique, or even the fiddler who has the questionable habit of  choking up on the bow. Let’s consider the possibilities.

First of all, the player who chokes up on the bow, moving their hand along the stick towards the point, leaves a fair amount of bow unusable. They also create a lightness of pressure that requires more force of hand to overcome, since gravity is not being given more of the stick to work with. In other words, you get a light sound, along with ease of back and forth movement. If that’s what you want and prefer over a strong sound and more flexibility, so be it.

set of whole bows
You could use these with the whole bow

With the standard bow grip, no matter what kind of bow you use,  you have as much of the hair of the bow to use as anyone else who plays fiddle or violin. So how much is that? Isn’t there aways a bit of hair at each end of the bow not being used? Maybe, is the answer I have right now.

Whole Bow Drill from Juliiard

There is an exercise I learned from a Dorothy Delay student. Her teacher, a legend at Julliard, had her students move the bow to the tip until the hair of the bow slid off the string. Thend, they were to push it back until the metal part of the frog touched the string. My impression is that this was not a way to play violin, it was a way of developing the sense of how much bow you really have. Backing off from those extremes gives you as much bow as you are going to need, or be able to use.

Waltzes, Ballads, Aires and the Whole Bow

For fiddlers it’s usually waltzes and ballads that invite using more of the bow. Add Irish aires to those two types of tunes for the complete list of slower tunes. even in hoedowns and breakdowns there is one school of playing, the long bow method, that interrupts shorter more accented strokes with longer more legato bowing. I think of Daniel Carwile in this category.

Even in slower tunes you will mostly be using from half to three quarters of the bow length, occasionally getting to pull and push through the whole bow’s length. The controlling factor is the sound you want to hear–where you want more sound, where you want less. And at the same time, connect the strokes smoothly, for the most part.

For this kind of playing you need to have your bow hair well rosined for the whole length of the bow hair. In hoedown fiddling you won’t even use some of the bow, (with the long bow exception noted). Extra rosin also helps on the chop, where you are using almost no bow as far as back and forth is concerned.

At the other end of the stick from the chop, you have the potential for ricochet effect, bouncing the bow not far from the tip to get that percussive sound a different way. Michael Cleveland handles the bow this way for rhythm effect.

Whole Bow Groove

Playing with the whole bow in mind creates a different kind of groove, too. It may vary from one tune to the next, but a repetitive style of moving the bow over the strings in pursuit of whole bow involvement will arise from the intention.

Often you find yourself doing a very long bow stroke, a few of medium length, then another long bow stroke. so you spend some time closer to the tip, and some closer to the frog as you do your medium length strokes. When I play Faded Love, this is the result. That first long note, (As I Read-long, the-short, let-short, ter-long),takes you to the tip and the second syllable of letter brings you back. That kind of thing.

Even notes that are of the same length in timing may involve different amounts of bow. If you want one of those notes to be louder, you have to use more bow pressure and bow travel to really bring out the sound.

I find that beginners in fiddling will use too much bow for the shuffle bowing. If you really observe good fiddlers playing breakdowns, you will see them using very little bow on their fast notes. Then they play a waltz and begin to use more bow. It’s instructive.

To over state the point, even in shuffle bowing, you will use more bow on the power stroke, or on a note you really want to bring out. Not to mention tunes like Kitchen Girl where you just play a whole beat of one note. (It would be a half note in cut time or a quarter note in standard 4-4.)

Even in fiddling there are opportunities to get the most out of the Whole Bow.

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