Chapter 11

How to evaluate a bow

It’s a common mistake to think you hear with your ears. You hear with your brain.

Your ear is some sort of a microphone that transmits a soundwave into an electromagnetic impulse, which is analysed in your brain. All your senses continously send information to your brain. Combining all the incoming information to each other and comparing that to stored similar situations our brain builds up a virtual reality and decides what action has to be taken. Our brain is designed to survive in this world. The main question is: Is it life-endangering ? Therefore everything that moves gets more attention than things which stand still or repeat in the same way. That was a good instinct in the time mankind lived in the woods, but it’s also very necessary to cross a street nowadays. Not all the incoming information gets through to our consciousness. Actually only a small part of it gets to our shortterm memory to be further analised, most of it gets thrown out.

Our brain is not blank when we are born, everybody is already different. But during the time we grow up our brain adapts to our lives, it makes more space where more space is needed. That means really that our brains are functioning very differently because we have had very different experiences. The virtual reality in our brain is always a mixture of incoming information and all the already stored information. That’s why we can never have the same interpretation of reality. If you and I go to a concert we don’t hear the same thing. If we put a microphone somewhere it will give us a third interpretation. Reality is there, but we can’t capture more than an individual interpretation. If we speak about a wineglas our interpretation may be pretty close. But if we talk about the beauty of a bow, we might be quite far apart.

Our brain works with expectations. With music, a certain combination of chords lets you automatically and unconciously expect a certain solution. Mozart’s genius was to build up an expectation and then give it us generously, but also give it a little unexpected turn, just enough to keep our attention. With bows there is a good chance that we will consider a bow to be beautiful, if the picture fulfills our expectations and at the same time gives it a share of unexpected details.If workmanship is too perfect we find it boring and cold. That’s because our brain continously corrects reality or fills it in, considering all the similar pictures that are stored in our memory.

We see the first letter from a word and we know it has to be the word “letter “ before we have read it. In fact we don’t even read it if it makes sense in the context, we just presume it is the word “letter”. When we look at a bow, from the very first moment our expectations will influence what we see. The picture in our brain (of a bow ) adapts only slowly to the actual bow that’s lying in front of us. In the virtual reality of our brain we even improve the design, at least if we understand the intention of the maker. When looking at an old bow we mentally heal the wounds of usage and doing so we start to build up a personal relationship with the bow, which I call sympathy. And that’s the main step to consider a bow beautiful. But how much we can relate to depends still on our personal experiences.

I hope it is evident that you can’t judge a bow objectively, but still you can try to describe it. A description is also some sort of a judgement, but perhaps we are more conscious of the subjectiveness of our evaluation.

10 Aspects on which to judge a bow

This list should make evident that there is more to it then just “good’ and “no good” , important is that a bow fits you and gives you the possibilities to express yourself as freely as possible. In the end it is you who makes the music.

Sound
strong core, alot of high overtones, a strong middlerange,
Volume
loud, low, focused, not so focused, good carrying power, no carrying power
Weight
heavy, light
Balance
good, heavy at the tip, heavy at the frog
String contact
even over the hole bow, not good at the tip, in the middle, at the frog
Bounce
good over the hole bow, regular, good only in one point, unregular
Stability
is stable along the whole stick, breaks out to the side in the middle, at the frog
Stifness
good, stiff at the frog, middle, tip, weak at the frog , middle, tip
Aesthetics
nice tip, frog, beautiful wood, mother of pearl, gold , silver, nickel mounted
Feel
is comfortable in your hands, not comfortable

This list should make evident that there is more to it then just “good’ and “no good”, important is that a bow fits you and gives you the possibilities to express yourself as freely as possible. In the end it is you who makes the music.

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