“Fiddler” magazine graciously gave us permission to post a copy of their insightful article about bow holds from the Fall 2011 issue. Complete with photos, the article follows and supplements our expanding series of posts addressing the fundamentals and mechanics of fiddling.
Hold On! A Look at Bow Holds in Traditional Fiddling
By Charels Faurot
Traditional fiddlers have myriad ways of holding their bows. Texas – and Texas-styled – fiddlers place their thumb on the bottom of the frog. Fiddlers in the greater Galax area (a rough circle with a radius of around sixty miles with Galax, Virginia, at the center) place their thumb on the stick, usually above the wrapping. The photographs in this article will illustrate these different styles. Both styles produce great music.
As a starting point it’s worthwhile to look at how classical the violinists hold the bow. Timothy Judd, a member of the Richmond Symphony since 1922 and a violin teacher, let me take photographs of his bow hand and gave me detailed information on how classical violinists hold the bow.
While there are several ways classical violinists hold there bow, a common denominator is that they put the thumb in the “U” groove on the frog and position the hand so that the middle finger (or index finger) can wrap around the bow and touch their thumb. The little (pinkie) finger is never past the end of the frog.
The Texas technique of the thumb on the bottom of the frog goes way back. The photograph of Luke Thomasson (top right). Benny’s father, shows him holding the bow that way. It had to be taken no later than 1924 as that’s when Luke passed away.
The photographs of the other Texas Fiddlers covers the next two generations of Texas fiddlers. Benny has possibly been the most influential outside of the Texas-style fiddlers; a number of bluegrass and southeastern fiddlers have picked up and recorded his tunes.
“Fiddler” Magazine – Page Two
Click on any of the following four photos to increase their size and read the provided captions.
“Fiddler” Magazine – Page Three
Fulton Myers was a fiddler who didn’ttravel far from his home in Hillsville, Virginia. Fred Cockerham, on the other hand, did; his repertoire – and bow hand position – reflected that. A favorite story of Fred’s was when he tied Aurthur Smith in a fiddle contest to lose in the play-off.
“Fiddler” Magazine – Page Four
Tommy Jarrells’s photographs were taken more than fifty years apart. Tommy’s hand is much closer to the frog in the Rich Nevins Photograph above.
Kirk Sutphin, who probably worked with Tommy more than anyone else, told me that Tommy kept telling him to work his bow hand down. To this day he holds his bow exactly where and how Tommy did.
Charlie founded Old Blue Records in 2004. Old Blue’s catalog had grown to nine CDs, which include material from is earlier efforts, both released and unreleased, and new recordings of the New North Carolina Ramblers and Riley Baugus. Old Blue’s most recent release is OB-708, Out in the Field Behind the Stage at Galax Fiddlers Conventions- 1967 & 2010. Charlie lives in Midlothian, VA and can be reached at the Old Blue website, www.oldbluerecords.com,]
North Carolina Ramblers kicked off a book signing for Spirits of Just Men, a book on moonshining in the Franklin Floyd counties in Virginia. That book has a great photograph of Posey Rorrer holding his fiddle bow – the thumb and little finger on the bottom of the stick, with the little finger an inch or so up the frog. The other three fingers were on top of the stick.
“I took the violin in grade school as one of the early extra-curricular cources that they offered. My instructors tried to teach me the ‘proper’ way to hold the bow, but I was interested in fiddling and not violin playing, I found it a bit constrictive. I was paying more attention to using the bow and playing the tunes than holding the bow. It always sort of seemed to me the bow felt better, more balanced and more controlled, a bit farther up the stick than the classical method. Sometimes it seemed like the harder the tune was for me the higher up the stick my hand would creep. I still use a version of the classical hold, but higher up the stick, still with my little finger on top of the stick instead of the end screw.” _Riley Baugus
[Charlie Faurot started his recording career in 1965 when he recorded and produced Country Records’ first live LP, Clawhammer Banjo (Wade Ward, Kyle Creed, Fred Cockerham, George Stoneman), quickly followed by LPs of Larry Richardson and the Blue Ridge Boys and Texas Hoedown (Benny Thomasson, Vernon Soloman, and Bartow Riley). Over the next eight years he recorded more than 65 LPs. many with Dave Freeman and Rich Nevins, foucusing on fiddlers including Tommy Jarrell, Ernest East, Kenny Baker and Major Franklin. He recorded Clark Kessinger for Kanawha, George Peagram for Rounder Records (its first LP) and the 47th Union Grove Old Time Fiddlers Convention.