William Fitzpatrick - violin expert

Why does my bow shake in concerts?

Learn why you might have a shaky bow

In this video, Prof. Fitzpatrick will tell you one of the possible reasons your bow may be shaking during your performance...and it is not about stage fright!

Released on December 4, 2019

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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

As this is my 75th video for Virtual Sheet Music, I wanted it to be something special, so I've decided that I would like to share with you my experiences with my bow shaking, my bow shaking like this, bouncing in concerts. I don't know about you, but this has been quite an issue for me throughout my career.

Well here, let me share with you two memories, two instances that have occurred to me in my past. The first happened in Memphis, Tennessee. I went to what was then Memphis State University for my freshman year in college. As I was 17, I really wasn't ready, but did it anyway and became a music major at the university.

So we had noon day concerts, and I was scheduled to play Beethoven's Romance in F major, you know, la. This was a stretch at my level, because quite truthfully, my level wasn't very high at all. So I was about to walk out and play it, when the person at the door to the stage looked at me and said, "You're not nervous?" And I said, "No, why should I be?" They replied, "Well, you're about to play for the faculty, and all your students, all of your colleagues, and you're not nervous?" Again, I looked him and said, "No, I'm not nervous," and then I walked onto the stage.

Now when I got there, I was bowing, I looked to my right and sure enough, I saw the faculty spread out over the right side of the hall, and over there were the students, my colleagues, the students I knew. So what happened next astounded me, as when I began the Romance, my bow did this. It shook like it had never done before. I'd never had that happen in a concert. I think it was pretty much all the way through it.

Well, when I was finished, I was so angry that I went into a huge dance studio, took out my rosin, and threw it against the wall with all of my strength, causing it to explode into powder, and just went all over the place.

Well, this was the beginning of my nightmare, as wherever I played from then on, be it in an orchestra or chamber music, my bow shook uncontrollably. I thought, oh my God, my career is over before it's even started, as there was no way I could get in front of an audience and play like that. Well, this went on for a year or so, but still, I just couldn't find the solution. I tried everything. Not drugs, I don't believe in drugs, but nothing worked. Whenever I stepped on stage, my bow bounced uncontrollably.

Finally, when I returned back to Nashville, I decided to give a recital, and figured this would make it or break it. In preparation for this recital, I would pull people in the hallway from my practice room and say, "Listen to this," just to see if I could do it in front of somebody without shaking. I as well put chairs, imaginary chairs in the room, and I played to them. I filled them with people that I believed would make me nervous, that I believed would make me scared.

Well, I did this, and finally the day of my recital arrived. The recital started with the Sonata by Mozart in E minor. So I looked at the audience, bowed, took a deep breath, and began to play, and to my total astonishment, I didn't have the shakes anymore. It didn't do... My nightmare was over, at least that's what I thought.

Years later, my second experience with shaking happened, and this was after Julliard, when performing with my quartet, the New York String Quartet. This time it happened during the first five minutes of every concert. If we were playing Beethoven, for example, it was hard to keep it steady. I attributed this to stress, as the stakes were very high, because we were considered a big up-and-coming string quartet. So at this point, I gave up. I figured I would just have to learn to live with it. There was nothing to do, it was just a fact of life.

So fast forward to Paris. Now, something that is very important to understand is that I smoked before every concert, almost until I walked out on stage. In fact, I smoked two packs of cigarettes a day. Well, my wife was in the hospital with a respiratory problem, and I was passing one of her doctors. He looked at me and asked me if I smoked, and of course I said yes. At this point he looked at me and said, "Well, I am going to give you two reasons why you're going to stop." For the next half hour, I listened and sure enough, a week later, I stopped cold turkey.

Well, two months later, I had a very big concert to play in a very prestigious hall in Paris with a conservatory orchestra led by the director of the conservatory. I was playing Sarasate's Zigeunerweisen. And Tzigane by Ravel. Well, you know... these are big pieces, and it was in an important hall, so the stress was on. Well, that night, I played these pieces to a roaring, standing ovation, and I was super pleased, but once I got back into my room, I thought, huh, now that's interesting. I didn't shake one bit. After all this time, I had figured it out. What was happening was a chemical addiction, and I was experiencing withdrawal. It was this withdrawal that was behind my bow shaking.

So, those are the two experiences that I had to go through, in fact, there were three that I had to go through in my life with my bow shaking. I hope, sincerely hope, that these stories are in some way helpful to you, that is, if you experience the bow shaking.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Peter * VSM MEMBER * on November 7, 2020 @11:38 am PST
I used to find that caffeine could have a similar effect.
Christian Wan on December 11, 2019 @9:11 pm PST
So no smoking, no shaking bow? Any other factors that would have shaking bows?
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