Some of my students have long referred to me as the rubber band lady, because of my heavy reliance on rubber bands for various things. I make loops out of the bands to hang things on my music stand or studio door (like nail clippers). I use rubber bands to form a secure holding assembly for wedge sponge shoulder rests. I use rubber bands to give added tension to the claw feet of shoulder rests that have become a bit too stretchy and loose for the width of the instrument. I use rubber bands as visual demonstrations of the elasticity of our brain power. If you give me a need, I can usually invent a method to use a rubber band to address the need.
I use a rubber band wrapped around my frog to give me a feeling of security when I use the bow. My hands tend to be dry and slippery on the bow, and the added rubber band gives me the feeling that I have a secure hold on the bow stick. It weighs next to nothing, but that feeling of the bath mat nonstick surface really helps me to maintain a comfortable hold on the bow.
I have noted though that there are additional benefits. I can feel my pinkie on the rubber band on the stick, and that allows me to "sink" into the pinkie side of my bow hold. This sinking into the pinkie helps to turn on the outside muscles of my bow arm, which are the relaxation muscles. I therefore turn off any unnecessary tension in my bow arm and right shoulder when I rest my pinkie on the rubber band. And the beauty of the rubber band is that I can feel this at all times and can gently remind myself to relax while I am playing. Sometimes the rubber band wrapped around the frog is too tricky for my very young beginners, although the older students, including my university students, find the rubber band "addicting." We have even jokingly referred to our addiction as the "Rubber Band Club."
Sometimes students start leaning on the index finger (which I call pronation) and the pinkie starts to lift off the stick. I check to be sure the student has enough rosin, because this could be one reason the student has done this. Another reason could be that the student has relaxed the bow hold too much. Although we do not want tension in the bow hold, the student still needs to "engage" the bow hold energy. The bow thumb still needs to work to hold up all the other fingers, like Atlas holding up the world on his shoulders.
Other students might let their bow hold slip by not curling the fingers around the frog and stick enough. The stick should sit in the first knuckle joints of the fingers. I have a few students with some double-jointed fingers, and if the students do not place the bow fingers low enough on the stick to reach down to the first knuckles, the stick presses against the fingers in a manner that engages the finger's double-joint. The solution is to bring the bow fingers down far enough, but this is sometimes difficult for students to remember to do, and parents are not always vigilant about maintaining this good bow hold habit.
Personally I had this problem myself with my bow hand pinkie, and I never addressed it until I was well into my adult career. Then one day I hit on a solution in my particular case. For a few weeks, I brought my ring finger down lower on the frog than is customary or correct. I did it on purpose and for just a few weeks. When I lowered the ring finger, my pinkie had to curl up past the point of engaging the double-joint. When I played like this for a few weeks, my pinkie joint muscle got stronger. Now I cannot even engage the double-joint on command.
This was a great solution for me, but the question arose as to how to help some of these students who had bow hold issues. Recently, a young string teacher shared a new use of the rubber band with me -- the seat belt.
With a few deft twists around the frog, the rubber band creates a seat belt and an "X" across the top of the frog. The X is for placement of the pinkie, which lands just behind the X on the back of the top of the bow stick above the frog eyelet. The seat belt is for the ring finger. For some younger students I might also add a small patch of Dr. Scholl's Molefoam as a little cushion for the ring finger. We call this the car seat. Here is a brief video showing how to wrap the rubber band around the frog to form the seat belt.
By using the car seat and seat belt analogies, which all young students are familiar with, we also reinforce the concept of getting ready before playing. Students understand that the driver should not begin to drive off before all the car passengers are strapped into their car seats and other seats. So my students learn to check that everyone is "strapped in" before beginning to play.
The rubber band is easily wrapped around a larger size instrument bow, but occasionally the band is too loose for the smaller sizes. In these cases, I begin my frog wrap from the end of the bow rather than inside the bow, and that extra loop takes out the slack in the rubber band.
Recently I overheard two young students, about 7 and 8 years old, comparing notes. "Do you have a seat belt too?" Maybe I'll have to start a "Seat Belt Club."