Joseph Mendoes - cello expert

How Much Should I Tighten my Cello Bow?

Learn how much to tighten your cello bow

In this video, Prof. Mendoes gives you very useful tips to tighten your cello bow the right way.

Released on August 1, 2018

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hello, everyone. This is Joseph Mendoes with the video for So today I would like to talk about the bow actually, how much you should be tightening your bow. This is a question that I get quite a bit from students who have just started with me. In fact, sometimes the very first day, one of the questions they have is, "How much should I be tightening the bow?"

This is something that, well, your own personal answer to this will evolve over time according to your personal tastes, because there is some difference between tightening the bow quite a bit more and tightening the bow a little bit less. But the basic answer is this. You want to tighten the bow just enough so that the middle of the bow -- well, not the exact middle part, but the part of the bow that dips down the lowest -- is not going to be touching the strings when you are playing at your loudest.

So the best way to test this is to just tighten your bow to some point. And I guess I will start with this too. Some players, beginners in particular get confused, that they think the bow, when you tighten it, the bow should be straight and that it shouldn't have this gentle, inward curve. I don't know if you can see that curve. Here, maybe if I, yeah, push it over here, you can see it on the wall background there.

See it has a gentle, inward curve there. This is a bow that is tightened correctly. At least my bow I feel is tightened correctly with that gentle, inward curve. If the bow is straight, or even worse, if the bow is bent outwards, like that, then we are in trouble. That is a bow that can break actually. So you want to be sure to never tighten it so that it is exactly straight or, in particular, bent the other way. It should have this gentle curve that way, inward curve.

So then, the question is, "How much?" So if I take my bow and I loosen it quite a bit, but I still make it so that there is a little bit of space between the hair and the stick, and I play... I don't know if you will be able to pick this up on the microphone, but you will hear a little bit of raspiness in the sound. That is from the wood of the bow actually touching the string itself.

Now, this sound obviously is not desirable. But on top of that, the wood can actually pinch the hair between the wood and the string, so this can cause the hair to break. For example, if you have a bow and you've been playing, and it seems like the hair is breaking quite a bit, and in particular it is breaking somewhere in the middle, where you have a strand here and a strand here, that is because the bow itself, the wood of the bow is pinching the hair between the wood and the string.

So this is not necessarily from playing that is too aggressive or you are really passionate or something. It has to do with the fact that just with how much pressure you are using, you need to tighten the bow a little bit more.

So then, here is a really handy test. If you just tighten your bow to some amount, like I said, not so that it is straight, or bent out, or anything, but just so then. And then put the bow on the D string, right about at the spot that you just eyeball it and see, "Okay. It's about there for me where the bow I think is at its lowest point, where the curve is kind of at its lowest point."

And then you press down with your index finger, using this motion here. You press down a bit. How easily does it go down? This is going to depend on how strong your stick is, how flexible your stick is, things like that. But if it goes down really easily, then probably you are going to need to tighten your bow more. If the bow is really tight -- I will make my bow really tight -- you can see now it is curved a little bit less there.

Now if I try to press down, now I can't really get the stick... Just barely I can get the stick to touch the bottom there. That is probably going to be too tight. You are never going to be using that much pressure when you are playing cello, at least if you are playing properly. You are never going to be using that much force. That is why it is a personal thing.

It also has to do with your bow mechanic as well, in terms of how you are getting torque, how you are actually able to apply torque. If you can't apply that much torque, then actually you are not going to notice anything too bad if your bow is not tight enough, because you won't be able to press it all the way down. So as you can see, there's some factors here, but that is the most important thing.

The most important thing is that it is not so tight that it is straight, or even worse, bent outward. It should be bent inward, the way it is here. And also, it can't be too loose that the hair starts getting punched between the string and the bow itself, the wood of the bow, so that either we are getting that kind of sound, where the wood is touching the string, instead of something more pure. I will give a difference there. This is the more pure sound and then, that is the wood-grating sound. I am not sure if it is picking up there. But anyway, you get the idea.

Now, when it comes to I think more advanced...when you are getting more advanced, there is going to be a decision at some point you are going to have to make. And actually, you may do this a little bit differently every day, depending on how you are playing. If you don't tighten the bow as much, then what you feel, at least what most players generally feel is that the hair almost grips the string just a little bit differently.

It is very subtle, but the hair kind of catches the string a little bit more. It kind of glues to the string a little bit better, sticks to the string a little bit better. But then of course, since the bow bottoms out a little bit easier, you have to play a little bit more lyrically. And then conversely, if the bow is really, really tight, but again not straight, or not bent the wrong way, or anything like that, you can play pretty aggressively actually. You really can hammer away at the instrument and some players really like that.

So you want to experiment within that range of those two different styles, of having the bow hair feel a little bit on the loose side and having the bow hair feel a little bit on the tight side. Now, this is a very small difference. If we were to measure this difference between the bottom of where the bow bends here to the bow hair, when it is a little bit looser, it is maybe a millimeter or two closer to the hair, or if it is a little bit tighter, it is a millimeter or two further away from the hair. We are not talking about a huge difference.

So the first thing is to make sure that your bow hair is tight enough, again so that it is not bottoming out on you and you're not getting that wood kind of sound, where the wood is touching the string. Or even worse than that, you start breaking hairs because the wood and the string are pinching the hair in that particular spot. And also you don't want it to be too tight so that the bow is either completely straight or bent out. And then for advanced players, deciding within that range where you like and where you feel the most comfortable is really the most important thing.

So yeah, I think that's it for the bow tightening thing. Oh, and also one more thing. Some people's bows have a little bit of an awkward bend to them. They are bent... Of course, they are bent this way, right, as all bows are. But also they are bent off to the side a little bit. Like if I were to hold a bow this way, it is bent towards the player, towards myself a little bit.

Now, this is going to make it so that you do have to tighten your bow probably a little bit more than average. Because, when the bow is also bent that way, it means that, first of all, the bow wasn't made all that well, because a bow is not supposed to bend that direction. It is supposed to be really just dead straight. If you are looking down the barrel at it, it should be dead straight. But that weakens the bow when the bow is bent in that direction, towards you if you are kind of holding it like this and it is bent towards you. That weakens the bow quite a bit.

So if you have a bow like that, first of all you might want to consider getting a new bow. But second of all, you might have to tighten it a little bit more than I am recommending to counteract that effect, because you are going to be losing quite a bit of power if your bow is bent in that direction. And I think that is everything.

So, if you have any questions, comments, leave them on the website, where this video is, or on the Joseph Mendoes Expert page on VSM, the VSM website. I think I have one opening right now for lessons. So if anybody would like to have lessons, particularly if you're looking for an every-other-week situation. That is the opening. I have an every-other-week opening.

And also, if you're interested as well, if you would like a shorter lesson, 30-minute lessons, I am offering those as well on a limited basis. So if you're interested, just go ahead and contact me through my website,

So that's it. I hope I covered that subject okay and I'll see you next time.
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User Comments and Questions

Comments, Questions, Requests:

Marian MacLeod on August 8, 2018 @11:00 am PST
Joseph when you say "the part of the bow that dips down the lowest -- is not going to be touching the strings when you are playing at your loudest" don't you mean not touching the wood?
Joseph - host, on August 13, 2018 @12:59 pm PST
Hi Marian,

Yes, of course! But either way works. The bow, wood and hair, will touch the strings if the bow is too loose.

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