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What are good bowing studies?

January 20, 2007 at 11:11 PM

a member recently posted the question ‘what are good bowing studies?" Its a huge and interesting question that can be approached from many directions.
The simplest answer would perhaps be to recite the standard list of etudes that , in theory at elates , should make a well rounded violinist. Something like:

Wohlfart- beginners book.
Kayser- very solid basic bowing.
Mazas- more elegant - compliments the Kayser well.
Kreutzer- Heifetz called it the ‘professional’s handbook.’ Use until you die...
Rode caprices- very elegant, Kogan’s number study book above Kreutzer.
Dancla- about the same level as the Rode and very beautiful.
Dont- advanced etudes the key to big concerto playing.

These studies address both right and left so just starting at the right level and working systematically ought to do the job.
However, unless one practices with awareness and a genuine understanding of exactly what is being worked on and why there is nothing more soul destroying than working through etude after etude, week after week with only minimal improvement. This understanding is also useful in helping one make decisions about which etudes not to do- for the right reasons, not because of personal preferences. A book which can most levels of player get a better grasp of what they are doing is Robert Gerle’s Art of Bowing. One of the best books on the violin to come out in years.
This is not the end of the story though. There are also systems and approaches which seek to reduce the amount of left hand work. These may be a faster way of learning a particular technique are important for dealing with specific problems, and daily maintenance once the basic technique is in place.
One such system is the sevcik school of bowing technique.with its 4000 plus variations on basic chords. Flesch was a strong advocate of this system and explained in detail in "The Art of Violin Playing’ how to practice such exercises in order not to become numbed. The two strongest critics of the system I am aware of were Joseph Szigeti who argued that each moment in music is a unique work of art that cannot be prepared for by mechanical exercises. He was very much in favor of integrating development of bowing and stylistic awareness through such works as the Bartok 44 duets (written with a pedagogic purpose, but some of the greatest music around) and the Doflein method which uses just such an approach. Likewise the Ronkin’s in "Technical fundamentals of the Soviet Masters" argue that since the amount of bowings are infinite it is much more logical to learn the 8 basic bowings perfectly and then be able to combine them at will.
Detailed study of the 4000 strokes in sevcik may in fact to ore harm than good. After all, one has to spend some time learning about music and pursue intellectual as well as cultural development...there are basic stroke types of which every violinist should have a clear notion. The others are either derivative variants or have no significant role....

These are:
3) martele
4) spiccato
5) scuttle
6) staccato
7) dotted rhythm bowing
8) ricochet

(Personally I fell omission of colle is a mistake.)

I don’t think either side is absolutely correct on this issue. There are superb exercises in the sevcik that violinists may use their whole lives to sustain and improve technique. Op 2 part four is a personal favorite. But getting back to the basic strokes above, how should one go about learning them? Obviously a good teacher will know how to teach each one clearly and effectively and have an understanding of why they are being taught in a certain order (which varies from teacher to teacher). They must also understand the bowing connection with each other. For example, whereas sauitille originates in detache bowing, spicatto has its origins in martele which can be developed though colle first in many cases.
The bowings can be , and usually are I think , taught through the classic etudes above. However, things have changed a little over the years with books like '‘Basics’ describing in great deal exercises for all these bowings. The question has now been raised as to what extent one does need etudes as opposed to just working on exercises? Personally I think it would be a shame to go too far in the pure exercise direction. Etudes may not be the worlds greatest music at time, but they are music and therefore provide the useful blend of technique and purpose well suite for learning. A piece ay not have enough consistent examples, an exercises fails to serve as a reminder that we are working on something only for a musical end.
Fischer’s ‘Basics’ provide a very concise set of daily bowing exercises derived largely from sevcik that are excellent for violinist maintenance all the way up to something like upper intermediate. After this level the player may want to shop around and it is quite likely that they will return to soothing like the Kreutzer etudes which they may have played through in a desultory fashion in their youth , basically to please the teacher. Kreutzer no 2 can be used in an infinite number of ways to cover the basic bowings mentioned above. What s missing is regular string crossing patterns over three strings. Thus it is equally possible to sustain one bowing technique (and continue to improve it using etude no 13, particularly working at the heel.
Another good manual that many people use, perhaps not so well known is the Casorti which also includes the basic strokes, especially at the heel.
In the end however, after working on the standard etudes, myriad exercises etc. One will begin to make personal choices about what they want to do i a day and make up a routine using the etude that suit the best (often Kreutzer) and a selection of exercises. A typical daily routine on bowing for myself is:
son file- 1 minute bow stroke 15 minutes.
WB martele.5-10
Irregular combination small bowings at heel- Kreutzer no 2. 15min.
String crossing etude- Kreutzer 13 15 min.

Whatever you decide, it is always worth remembering that the art of violin playing lies in the less tangibly rewarding (in the short term)work on the bow arm . If one is not willing to spend a lifetime exploring and refining it then it is probably better to play the piano.

From Grainne Murray
Posted on January 21, 2007 at 10:45 AM
I would also strongly recommend the Casorti bowing technique book, i found it excellent, although i dont think many people have heard of it for some reason....well worth using
From Raphael Klayman
Posted on January 21, 2007 at 1:57 PM
Hi Buri. Very thoughtful article - as always. My approach to daily bowing excersises mainly involves combining scales with a myriad of bowing techniques. I focus on mainly one key per day. At the end of my session I go to a simple tonic chord in my 'key du jour' and play a variety of mixed bowings with string crossings. There are 4 exceptions to this. On days when I focus on A flat and E flat, I too, like to go to the Casorti with a number of mixed bowing variations. On those days when my key is E or A, I take the famous string crossing passages in the Bach E major prelude, and again repeat the passages with a variety of mixed bowings.

Once in a great while I do the following additional study to re-explore the bow's important role in tone and expression: There are several Rode caprices, as well as the entire first Kreutzer and 2nd Kayser, that have slow introductions. It is helpful to choose one of these, and try to play it without any vibrato. Observe every dynamic and expression mark, and try to make it sound as nice and interesting as possible with the bow, alone.

From David Russell
Posted on January 21, 2007 at 3:23 PM
I have found the Dont opus 37 studies to be of immeasurable value in regard to bowing. The students with whom I have worked these (and they are hard!--bothing "Preparatory to Kreutzer" about them!)are the most well founded violinists from my class.

Also, Gavinies may be seen to be quite effective if used for this purpose.

From John Chew
Posted on January 21, 2007 at 5:28 PM
Thank you for this helpful post. I'm working through the Wohlfart etudes now. I'm very aware of my right-arm technique these days.
From Anne Horvath
Posted on January 21, 2007 at 7:21 PM
No Fiorillo?
From Stephen Brivati
Posted on January 21, 2007 at 10:45 PM
Raphael, thanks for making that point. You highliughted the major omission in my original comments: that more advanced player sand profesisonals seeking the most efficient use of time use -scales- combined with bowings. Flesch was the obvious precursor and then Galamian. The interesting question (with no answer perhaps) is when or to what extent does one train a beginner with etudes or scales for daily bowing exercises?
David, Dont opus 37 is an absolute gem of a book. I have no idea why it is said to be pre Kreutzer either. I know Galamina used it a lot. Its mentioned a great deal in the back of his book on tehcnique.As for the opus 35 the I don@t know if you`ve sene it, but the Gingold Masterclass DVD sees a young Eretz put though his paces with some brilliant variations. All linked to the repertoire so the student know exatcly why they are working on something.
Anne, agree about the Fiorillo. I worked through the whole book in my firts year at college and have forgotyten it compltely. Must be the alcohol. I think the best study in that book perosnally, is the one near the end that has three string crossing with lots of variaions. That is a veyr valuable substitute for Kreutzer thirteen when a chnage is needed. Fiorillo is hard. Good stuff.
For good detache at speed I think Rode no 2 and 3 are especially good. one thing I really like about the Rode are the slow introductions. If one can play those perfect;ly rather than just a quick glance before getitng down to the fast stuff tbow control is improved immesurably. I always find a powerful conncetion between these little slow gems and the slow movements of Haydn quartets for some reason.
From William Yap
Posted on January 22, 2007 at 12:09 AM
Hi Buri,

So far I’ve done one Dancla study, several Mazas, and am doing one Rode now. That is the extent of my technical studies. Out of the 3, I really enjoyed Dancla. Should a student learn all the etudes/carprice/studies in a book before going to the next or alternate or do one from each at one time?

Would it be a good idea to sit down with the teacher and work out exactly what to practise/learn for the whole year or just decide as it comes along?

Going back to bending the right thumb… it is starting to hurt again. What did I do wrong???

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on January 22, 2007 at 1:34 AM
>So far I致e done one Dancla study, several Mazas, and am doing one Rode now.
Whic Dancla are you referring to by the way? I din`t put the opus number and there are a few volumes of various levels.

That is the extent of my technical studies. Out of the 3, I really enjoyed Dancla. Should a student learn all the etudes/carprice/studies in a book before going to the next or alternate or do one from each at one time?

Alterntaing doesn`t really make any difference. It is a question of what you need. There is also a differnece, I think between a young imitative monkey and a more mature player. Sometimes the latter does not even need ot do the whole study. One might just do a cople of lines to get the benifit and then maybe improvise a little on what wa selarnt and then move on. Mazas is much more difficult than people think. The fatc that we tend to talk of levels in a linear fashion creates a kind of belive that Dont is harder than Kreutzer is harde rthan Mazas etc. Although true to some extent it is never so clear cut and it is quite possible that one has a specific probelm that could just as well be resolved inMazas as anywhere else. The Artist studies are hard, too!
The only book I really think one should do everythign in is Kreiutzerby the way.

>Would it be a good idea to sit down with the teacher and work out exactly what to practise/learn for the whole year or just decide as it comes along?

Both. The etude soyu choose to study relkate to your currnet percived weaknesses and problems that crop up in reperoire. It is not thta easy to anticpate how things will go.Thats why it is best to keep the discussion going with your teacher.

>Going back to bending the right thumb・it is starting to hurt again. What did I do wrong??? [EDIT]
Where is the pain?
Bad thumb leather?
Are you studyig a lot of martele?
Have you tried holding the bow like a cello bow and learning the sensation of keeping the hand flatter? (You can@t play at the point well this way...)
Would work on colle help? Small marteleish notes near the heel using finger only paying careful attention to a very relaxed thumb.

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