The bow is one of the most important tools ever invented in musical history because it made possible some of the most important instruments such as the violin, viola and cello.
Historians agree that stringed instruments existed long before the bow except that these instruments were plucked not bowed. Bowing can be traced back to central Asia where it is thought to have originated and then spread throughout the world. Wall paintings of bowed instruments have been found in places such as Tajikistan in central Asia.
Other evidence is that central Asia is a society of sartory violin bow horse peoples such as the Huns and the Mongols. These people would use horse hair for their military bows. It is agreed that the bow was probably discovered when some Mongol warrior decided to try out his horse hair bow on a harp or lyre. This is the most likely origin of the bow.
Once the bow was invented it spread very quickly, the central Asian horse peoples lived along the Silk Road on which goods and innovations would travel for thousands of miles. Because of this the bow would soon appear in many locations throughout the world.
The modern bow
The bow caused a sensation after it was introduced into France in the early 19th century. Francois Tourte is given credit for honing the bow to perfection in the same way that Antonia Stradivari mastered the art of violin making. He was trained as a watchmaker and started out making bows along with his father and brother. After much painstaking research he came to the conclusion that Brazil Wood was the ultimate material for violin bows because of its strength, weight and elasticity.
Modern bow making reached its pinnacle in Paris between the mid 19th and 20th centuries, when bow makers would travel from all over the world to learn from the French masters.
Today violin bows are generally made by specialist bow makers although some violin makers have made their own bows as well.
Eric B. Hill is an professional violin player and teacher with over 20 years experience.