The one thing that will improve your violin playing above any other is of course… practice. Practice, practice and more practice. All the gear and no idea is where you will be without it.
You thought it was going to be the bow didn’t you? Be honest. We’ll get to that. But no, it really is practice. Assuming you are already doing that, however, having the correct set up will make your hard working, diligent approach, sound even better.
If you’ve been reading the other parts of this blog, you will know that we have covered all aspects of taking your first steps on the way to the Albert Hall from the right instrument sizing to the right rosin. And the correct bow is of course, just as important. Once again, there is no single right answer to the question of what is the best bow to buy, it isn’t necessarily the most expensive by any means, it’s about what is right for you.
Let’s start with a few basic facts about violin bows. Firstly, there are three fundamental materials used in bow sticks - brazilwood, pernambuco, and carbon fibre. Brazilwood is a generic name for several kinds of tropical hardwoods used for inexpensive bows. Unsurprisingly it comes from Brazil as well as other tropical countries. These bows are normally priced between about £25 and up and are suitable for beginners or early intermediate players.
You will also come across Pernambuco, which has been the wood of choice for the best and more expensive bows. It’s a dense, heavy wood that comes, again, from Brazil and boasts just the right combination of strength, elasticity, and responsiveness. Also, within the last 20 years, carbon-fibre bows have become popular, in part because of the shortage of pernambuco and other woods.
Carbon-fibre bows possess many of the qualities of pernambuco plus added durability (they are less likely to warp and less sensitive to climate).
Our Hidersine range includes all materials (round and octagonal) with full-sized brazilwood bows from £24.65, pernambuco models starting below £100 and carbon fibre at £54.
How do you know if you should upgrade your bow?
Well, if you have reached a comfortable level with your playing but you want to improve your sound somewhat, then a better bow might help. The best way to find out is to visit your local violin store and try out a few different bows to see how they sound and, just as importantly, how they feel when you play with them. Although you might not hear any immediately appreciable difference in the sound, if the bow feels better in your hand and maybe allows more variation in your playing technique, that can be just as important.
For any Harry Potter fans out there, think of a bow as your wand. You will know that it’s right for you in terms of feel, weight and balance as soon as you begin to play with it. And of course, just as violins come in a variety of sizes, so do bows, so make sure you get one to match the size of your violin. No point trying to play a full-sized 4/4 violin with a 1/2 bow.
What should you look for in the sound?
As a rule of thumb, a more supple bow will have a smoother, fuller sound. Too soft, and the sound may lack clarity. A stiffer, stronger bow such as a carbon fibre model, will give a brighter, more focused sound. Octagonal bows are also, generally speaking, stiffer than round bows.
Balance is probably more important than weight when it comes to making your selection but, ultimately, if it feels good to you then it is probably the right bow. It should feel balanced in the hand at a 45-degree angle from tip to frog.