We all know them, and they can set our teeth on edge. Squeaky, airy, and scratchy sounds are all too familiar to new fiddle players. These sounds indicate bow hair that is not properly gripping and vibrating the strings. There are six common reasons why a new fiddler may be hearing these awful sounds, rather than beautiful music.
- Not enough rosin
- Bowing at an angle
- Not enough pressure coming through the bow
- Using a sounding point that does not work for the pitches and bow speed being used
- A bow stick tilted towards you which causes the bow to slide towards the scroll, or visa-versa
- The quality of the bow hair and/or strings
Not enough rosin: Probably first and foremost, but this is one of the things I am guilty of doing. I tend to just pick up my fiddle and bow and start playing without thinking about the rosin, or lack of it, on my strings.
Make sure there is enough rosin on the bow hair, especially if it has been a few days since you last applied some.
Here, the Fiddlerman shows a proper rosining technique.
Bowing at an angle: In order to catch and properly vibrate the strings, the bow must be perpendicular to the strings. If the bow is angled in either direction, it will slide back and forth across the string create squeaks and scratches, or airy and unclear sounds.
Katy Adelson offers some practice tips for keeping the bow straight.
Not enough pressure coming through the bow: First, the bow hair should not be too loose or too tight. The rule-of-thumb is the hair should be about a pencil’s thickness from the bow stick.
The key here is to experiment. Listen to the tone. Wispy, too light. Grainy/scratchy, too heavy. Find the amount of pressure that produces the best tone, and practice it, a lot(!), until it becomes easier for you to produce the desired tone on a consistent basis.
Here is Alison Sparrow describing how to apply proper bow pressure.
Using a sounding point that does not work for the pitches and bow speed being used: The sounding point is that point on the string between the bridge and the fingerboard where the instrument responds most readily and most resonantly. And, the sounding point will vary depending on the string being played, the pitch being played and the bow speed being used, however, for most beginners let’s stick to the basic sounding point.
Daniel Broniatowski has a basic lesson on how to play on the sounding point.
If you are curious about varying sound points, here Maria Storm talks about varying the sound points, but this comes later!
A bow stick tilted towards you which causes the bow to slide towards the scroll, or visa versa: Tilting is an important bowing technique, but not for the beginning! Tilting for the beginning tends to make the bow slide up or down and off the sounding point. Beginners need to play on the flat until bow control is not an issue. Then experimentation is possible.
Zlata Brower has a brief explanation of titled bowing.
The quality of the bow hair and/or strings: Stay away from cheap violin bows and strings. You don’t have to spend a fortune, but don’t be a penny pincher either and shop at a quality online or brick-and-mortar shop. Once again rule of thumb is the better the quality, the better the sound. And, learn when to rehair your bow and change your strings.
Here is a video from Shar Music about when it is time to rehair your bow.
And, this video from Violin String Review about the best violin strings for you.
I wanted to share these tips because they are helping me. I hope they help you, too.