Understanding the tools your child must use during their musical journey is critical to their success as a musician. The instrument is always the first tool we think of, but for string instruments, without the bow, the instrument can do very little. When talking about bows the basic information is the same for violin, viola, cello, and bass bows.
Many beginner musicians don’t realize the bow hairs are actually meant to be loosened and tightened. When you play your instrument you need the bow hairs to be fairly tight but you should always store your instrument with the hair slightly loosened.
Let’s dive deeper into proper care and tightening of your bow including:
- the parts of a violin bow,
- how to properly tighten it,
- and when to make adjustments.
The Anatomy of a Bow:
Before talking about bow tightening, let’s familiarize ourselves with the different parts of a bow:
Frog: The frog is the lower part of the bow, closest to the hand. It features a tightening screw, which is used to adjust the bow’s tension.
Tightening Screw: The tightening screw is located at the bottom of the frog, allowing you to adjust the bow’s tension. The button is the small, round part at the very end of the bow.
Stick: The long, slender wooden portion of the bow that runs from the frog to the tip. The quality of the wood and its construction greatly influence the bow’s performance.
Hair: The hair of the bow is usually made from horsehair and is responsible for making contact with the violin strings. Proper maintenance and care of the hair are crucial for optimal sound production. There are outside factors that can damage the hair on the bow. We’ll discuss those in detail a little later.
Camber: Camber is the bend that the bowmaker puts into a straight bow stick during crafting. The shape is created by using heat to bend the wood into place. This bend is what allows the tension to be set when loosening or tightening the bow hairs.
If you’d like a more detailed explanation of the parts of a bow watch this 2-minute video from Jason Day, Owner, Day Violins as he walks you through the different parts of the bow and demonstrates how tightening works.
How to Tighten Your Violin Bow:
It’s important to know the when and how of tightening a bow. Making it too tight can snap the head right off. It also causes over-stretching of the bow hair — and that means re-hairing the bow more often.
As we mentioned already, you should store your bow in it’s case with the hair loosened slightly. Don’t overdo it! The hair should not separate or look wavy. You’ll want them to still be straight and close together. Too loose and you lose the tension, can’t play properly, or the tightening screw and frog may come off completely!
As easy as it may seem, this is a skill that a new musician needs to practice whenever they play their instrument. With time it will become a natural part of their process. Hopefully, this step-by-step guide will help you guide your musician through this process.
Hold the Frog: Grasp the frog firmly with one hand, ensuring that your thumb is positioned on the back of the frog and your fingers are on the bow stick.
Turn the Turning Screw: With your other hand, gently turn the tightening screw clockwise to increase the tension on the hair.
Test the Tension: As you tighten the screw, periodically check the tension by pressing the middle of the bow’s hair against the back of your hand. A properly tightened bow will have enough tension for the hair to create a slight curve.
A good rule of thumb is that the bow hair should be about the width of a pencil from the stick.
When to Tighten or Loosen Your Bow:
Tighten Before Practice and Loosen After Practice: You should check your bow’s tension before each practice session. As horsehair naturally stretches over time, a little adjustment might be necessary to maintain optimal tension.
When it’s time to put your instrument away, be sure to loosen the tension slightly so it doesn’t warp the stick over time.
Tighten and Loosen During Practice: If you notice a lack of responsiveness, scratchy sounds, or poor tone quality, check the bow’s tension. Too tight or too loose will have an effect on the sound quality of your playing.
Temperature and Humidity Changes: Each season brings a new aspect to bow care! Bows are made of wood so any changes in temperature and humidity will cause them to expand and shrink. Humidity can cause the bow hairs to loosen and dry conditions cause tightening.
Hopefully, you feel better prepared to support your musician with understanding the ins and outs of bow care and when to loosen or tighten the bow hair. If you need more support, your music teacher is an invaluable resource for proper bow care, tightening, or loosening. And, you can always visit Day Violins and ask for a tutorial from our knowledgeable staff. We are here to help you have the best experience possible!
Day Violins is located at 14221A Willard Rd #500, Chantilly, VA 20151. Or, visit our website contact page and drop us a message there!