Baroque BowsWhen was the last time you took a good look at your bow? It’s much more than just a skinny stick you drag across your strings. The bow has a rich history that spans more than 400 years, a history that reveals what a fine work of art and science it has become.

The history of the bow can be divided roughly into three stages of development: the baroque bow, the classical bow and the modern bow.

The Baroque Bow

“Baroque bow” is a generic term for a wide range of early bows used during the baroque period (approx. 1600-1750). It doesn’t describe a specific model or type, as bows of this period were not standardized and every one was different. Baroque bows started out quite short compared to today’s standards, which made them well suited to the rhythmic, non-legato dance music of the time. Early baroque bows also had a removable frog (called a clip-in frog) that tensioned the hair when attached.

As interest grew in cantabile (“songlike”) playing and composers began to call for a smooth, connected notes, the baroque bow grew longer. With this increase in length came changes in construction. A frog with an eyelet and screw gained popularity. The angle of the stick and the head became steeper as the height of the head increased, which allowed a more even and sustained tone across the length of the bow. Probably the most noticeable change, however, was the transition of the stick from convex (curving outward) to slightly concave.

clipThe Classical Bow

The term “classical” (or “transitional”) bow is not quite so broad a term as “baroque”, though it still refers to a variety of bows of the classical era (approx. 1750-1830). Though the changes were not as dramatic as in the baroque era, the popular music of the time prompted modifications to the bow. Structural issues were resolved and design contributions from various bow makers resulted in a stronger bow that could meet the demands of the new, virtuosic music.

Around the turn of the 19th century, the bow’s evolution was largely complete and the era of the modern bow began. A man named François Xavier Tourte is responsible for perfecting the design that has been the standard of bows for the last 200 years. Tourte’s innovations included using premium pernambuco wood and utilizing complex mathematics to define the dimensions of the stick.

The Modern Bow

The modern bow has changed very little since Tourte perfected his design. The modern bow is the epitome of a versatile tool, as it can play legato passages with evenness and good tone, yet can also perform demanding articulations like spiccato, ricochet and sautillé.

Never forget that bows were created and altered to meet the demands of the current style of music. Though a modern bow will do justice to any style of music, a bow designed in a given era will perform the music of that era with the greatest authenticity. We highly recommend playing music with a period bow if you ever have the chance—it’s an incredible experience!

Explanation and demonstration of historical bows:

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49 replies
  1. Brad Stevens
    Brad Stevens says:

    I loved this video. Great explanation across the development of the bow. I also learned that one of my quirky bows is basically a transitional bow or at least a copy of one.

  2. bennybenben
    bennybenben says:

    Wow this video is very interesting and informational, I didn’t know that the evolution of bows had a different sounds, I always thought they were use the same way.

  3. ViolinGuy2000
    ViolinGuy2000 says:

    Violin Bows, along with Violins, are an interesting concept. Throughout time, they have not only changed, but have become more adapted to modern needs. Not to say, however, I wouldn’t love to play a Stradivarius with gut strings and a dagger bow!

  4. awmarker
    awmarker says:

    Oddly enough, it too me just a long to find a good bow as it did to find a great instrument. And, over the past couple of years, I’ve started to think that the bow is at least as important a component in getting a good consistent tone as the instrument itself. Getting a nice instrument had an immediate impact on my playing but getting a good bow gave me levels of nuance that, honestly, wouldn’t have been available to me if I’d stuck with my $50 entry bow.

  5. BlueBell
    BlueBell says:

    It’s interesting to find out that rather than sorting by specific model, they chose a time period and styles that were in it. It makes sense. The article was very informative and good for finding out more on the violin’s companion.

  6. hmoulding
    hmoulding says:

    Watched a master bow maker create a bow and then the musician came in and they spent a few hours adjusting the stick. Kind of explains why there’s such a thing as a $10,000 bow. 🙂

  7. hmoulding
    hmoulding says:

    A few years back I went to a concert by BeauSoleil, a cajun band. My wife kept saying, “I wish you played like that,” which was weird because at the time I wasn’t playing at all.

  8. Jessica Barreto
    Jessica Barreto says:

    The Baroque era was a very important era in the history of music, many styles changed and genres where created, though i didn’t know there where so many versions and alterations of the violin bow. Very interesting article. Thanks

  9. Jennifer Hansen
    Jennifer Hansen says:

    I love learning about history so I am surprised that I never thought about the history and evolution of the bow. After all, you cannot have one without the other…a violin and its bow are partners in the creation of beautiful music by a learned violinist and nothing in the musical realm is more beautiful!
    I enjoyed seeing the different types of bows and how each incarnation furthered the sound of the violin for the time in which it was created.
    I am really looking forward to learning more about the history of the violin! Thank you very much!

  10. Hexensohn
    Hexensohn says:

    It’s interesting to see all the variations on not only the bow, but also the instruments. The Hardanger fiddle and the keyed fiddle are both really unique and beautiful instruments.

  11. Chris Guleff
    Chris Guleff says:

    Loved seeing the history of the bow and listening to sounds produced by each bow. BTW, the violinist was excellent!

    Bows and bowing are so important. When I was younger, I didn’t pick up on this and actually didn’t understand why any bow should cost a lot of money. Yes, I knew there were cheap bows and didn’t like using them, but I was under the impression that after a certain point, given proper hairing of the bow, one would work as well as another, and that the quality of the violin was most important. I’ve since come to realize that correct use of the bow is mandatory to a good sound and musical expression, and further, that higher quality bows do make a difference. Currently, I’m using a carbon-fiber bow for my viola because that particular model was well rated, and because I got better quality for my money. My violin bow is still made of wood, but it is urgently in need of re-hairing,once I’m able to afford to do that.

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