What is the right bow hold and bowing techniques? While there are many opinions on bowing techniques, these are the ones I’ve found work best. You’ll need to experiment and find what’s best for you.
Hold the bow firmly, but not too tight. The bow should not wobble or tilt back and forth while you’re playing. Try holding the bow near the end, with your thumb and little finger on one side, and index, middle and ring on the other - this is a very natural relaxed hold that will stabilize the bow and allow a greater dynamic range. With a little practice you’ll find this hold is extremely natural and comfortable, gives better use of the bow length and allows for greater overall control of the bow.
Try to keep the bow about a 90 degree angle to the strings – this will greatly improve accuracy as you play faster tunes. Move gently from one note to another by simply moving your hand closer or further from you without tilting the bow. While it might take a little getting used to, you’ll find you have much better control and begin to feel the distance between notes on your psaltery. Each builder uses the spacing he/she believes makes the best tones and ease of playing. Spacing is not necessarily the same on all psalteries. The spacing (distance between notes) on your instrument will become almost second nature to you once you’ve played the instrument for a while.
Holding the psaltery on a slight angle (about 30 degrees) with the natural notes (non sharps) being slightly lower (or closer to the floor). This makes changing to the sharp/flat side easier as the notes will require a shorter distance physically to reach. Just a slightly angle the bow toward the sharp side for non C scales and accidentals. Try playing a D scale (D E F# G A B C# D) with the psaltery paralell to the floor - then try the same scale with the psaltery on a slight angle. You'll notice it is much easier and more efficient to reach the sharps with the psaltery angled.
Bow the notes as lightly as possible. Practice using as light a touch as possible to get a clean clear sounding note. The lighter touch will eliminate the string attack sound made when the bow first makes physical contact with the string. A lighter touch will also help eliminate the screeching (or growling in case of wound strings) sound made when a bow is held too firmly against the strings. The note will ring out clearer with little notice of the bow being removed from the string. With practice, you’ll find the perfect pressure to use to create the most pleasing melodic tone.
Try an experiment: Practice playing a scale - C D E F G A B C in your normal bowing pattern. Now try getting as many notes using same bow direction. Eventually you’ll be able to play all eight notes in the same bow direction as if you’re skating across the notes.
Next practice playing four notes in the same direction C D E F, then change bow direction G A B C. You’ll hear an accent on the bow direction change. Our natural instinct is to press harder when changing direction, thus creating an accent or louder note. When we change direction on each note the accents have to be forced by applying more pressure on the bow.
You’ll find this method also has better audience appearance – the bow will look like it’s gliding across the strings, rather than sawing the strings.
Remember - experiment - never be afraid to try something new. Most of all - Keep on bowing!