Hokum bowing may be the most classic fiddle sound there is. This quintessential fiddling technique appears most often in tunes of choice. For a great example of hokum bowing, check out this recording of Cottonpatch Rag by the Western Flyers. If you love that hokum bowing sound and want to learn how to create it yourself, we’ve got lots of tips coming your way in Lesson 35 (all about hokum bowing). For now, here are some ways to improve your hokum bowing for those of you who already use this technique.
Learn the bowing pattern
Even though it sounds impressive and complicated, hokum bowing is just composed of eighth notes. The bowing pattern is made up of short bows in the lower range of the bow. What makes this collection of otherwise-average eighth notes sound so cool is the string crossings and the three-note groupings (we’ll get to that later). The bow lengths remain the same throughout.
Since you now know that every bow in hokum bowing is the same length, be sure that your bow lengths are consistent and accurate throughout.
Practice on open strings first
As you work on hokum bowing, it’s helpful to take your left hand out of the equation for a while. Practice the bowing pattern on open strings so you can get your bowing clean and solid before you reintroduce your fingers.
Although it’s tempting to speed things up as soon as possible, you’ll progress much more quickly if you take things slowly. Good hokum bowing is clean and precise, and that level of precision only comes when you break things down at a slow tempo. Start slow and bump up your tempo gradually with a metronome, increasing 2-4 BPM at a time and playing cleanly at each tempo before you increase your speed again.
Release any tension
Hokum bowing should sound fluid and rhythmic, and you won’t be able to achieve that authentic sound with a stiff wrist or arm. When you practice, check in repeatedly with your flexible right wrist and relaxed elbow joint to make sure your motions are fluid. This also plays into our next tip.
Make your motions as efficient as possible
Hokum bowing requires some right arm dexterity, and that means you need to keep your motions efficient. Here are three ways to be more efficient:
- When you cross strings in hokum bowing, keep your elbow height at the level of the lowest-sounding string and dip your hand down to reach the higher-sounding string. Resist the urge to raise and lift your elbow.
- Keep your upper arm still at all times. This goes for any time you play, not just when you do hokum bowing.
- Relax your wrist and allow your forearm to move freely past your elbow joint.
Keep track of the downbeat
Because a major feature of hokum bowing is its rhythmic groups of three notes, it’s important to notice where the downbeat falls throughout the pattern (it does not always fall in the same place in the pattern of notes). Tapping your toe or allowing yourself to move along with the music is a helpful tool here. It also helps to take note of where the downbeats are when you first learn the passage.
With these tips, you’re prepared to take your hokum bowing to the next level. If you want more guidance on hokum bowing and other related techniques, become a member of Fiddle School.