The bow converts arm movement to friction which the instrument in turn converts to sound.   The bow is the tool that allows the player to produce and shape tone it in terms of articulation, dynamics, tone color, phrasing, etc. enabling nuanced musical expression.

 The study and development of bowing technique has been addressed by great pedagogues through the ages,  and scholarly works on the subject abound.   Indeed, the study of bowing can be a vast, lifelong endeavor.

The predicament for teachers is to decide how much to expect their students to accomplish–where to begin and where to end.   The mission here is to create a compendium of bowing principles to become part of the orchestra teacher’s curriculum– a guide to skills development through middle and high school.

To begin,  some general statements and caveats:

  •  The bow is a complex lever: the thumb is the fulcrum, the fingers control from both sides of the fulcrum, and the load is at the point where the bowhair contacts the string.   Bow control is all about leverage.
  • The bow hold has to be right.  What constitutes “right”  is the distillation of several centuries of trial and error.  A good bow hold is one that WORKS–one that can deliver all necessary control.
  • Tension is the enemy of bow control.  We need to use just the muscles we need and relax the ones we don’t need.
  • The three components of bow control are  SPEED,  WEIGHT,  and  PLACEMENT.   When one factor is dictated by the music, the other two factors must adjust appropriately.   For young players,  bow SPEED is easiest to understand while the other two require constant vigilance.
  • Inexperienced players and teachers will ask, “When do I use a certain bowing?”  In the end,  the sound will dictate.  Once the 25 examples are mastered,  a considerable palate of articulations is readily available.  At some point experience is the best guide.  Directors should not hesitate to seek the advice of seasoned players in solving particular problems.


  •  Each example can be taught first on an open string,  next with a scale, and later applied to an etude.
  • The strokes are generally arranged easy to advanced.
  • A four-page list of these bowing strokes can be downloaded for students’ folders.
  • One octave scales can be downloaded for all instruments.
  • A shortened Kreutzer etude can be downloaded for use in a mixed instrument teaching situation.
    Score Violin Viola Cello Bass
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  • A short video clip illustrates each bowing stroke and examples of some common mistakes.  Click on a number for details and video.
Bowing stroke
2-Middle to frog
3-Middle to tip
4-Long bows
5-Whole, half, half
6-Staccato & Martelé
7-Retakes #1
8-Retakes #2,  two pickups
9-Retakes #3,  single short pickup
10-Retakes #4,  three pickups
11-Slurred staccato /Linked/ Hooked/ Louré
12-Down, up, up
13-Double push,  double pull
14-Hook the pickup
15-Chain pickups
16-Dotted 8th & 16th
17-Crescendo & diminuendo against the grain
18-Avoiding surges
19-Zig-zag stroke
21-Consecutive downs
22-Galloping rhythm-  8th & two 16ths
23-6/8 meter