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Is your bow `straight,` or otherwise inclined?

December 7, 2007 at 1:33 AM

one of the perennial problems for violinists of all levels, as highlighted in a recent thread, is that of drawing a straight bow. An aspect of the problem which forms a topic in of itself is the question `do we actually need a straight bow?` Impetus for this question can arise form watching the greats who on occasion do all manner of not straight things with their bows. Indeed one technique which is feel is the purview of the advanced player is drawing a crooked bow straight. That is, the bow is held at an angle, somewhat close to the bridge but it remains on the same contact point as one moves down it. However, to comprehend the great beauty of a rapid, truly straight bow the violinist to watch is Oistrakh. For example, in the last movement of the Franck (available on the Great Violinists DVD and almost certainly youtube) his rapid strokes are so perfect they are jaw drop inducing. The whole bow martele also used to be ranked as one of the truly important exercises for daily practice by the virtuoso. Now it seems a little out of fashion for some reason. Perhaps this blog will bring it back in…
We all want an easy solution to a difficult problem which is why various external solutions such as the Bowmaster have cropped up from time to time, and I put my personal reasons for not using them on the recent thread concerning this device. After that there are innumerable exercises for checking and supposedly developing the skill in classics like Basics which are worth careful study. We combine these with explanatory aids such as keep rectangle shapes with the strings between bridge and bow.
It’s all good stuff but it doesn’t always solve the problem and the issue itself does, in my opinion open up an area of technique and, I suspect somewhat incorrect teaching that needs a good airing every now and again. The problem is that in spite of the great work of so many individual teachers, revolutionary and brilliant pedagogues such as Paul Rolland, and the influence of studies such as Alexander Technique, we still tend to isolate body part problems from the whole body use. However, without the whole body moving freely and rhythmically changes in technique are in large part frustratingly cosmetic. One consequence of this is teachers rarely talk about upper arm rotation. Indeed many attempt to block it, making the claim that detache (the primary stroke) is a linear contraction and expansion of muscles moving things `from the elbow.` Upper arm movement is frowned upon. It is this separation which is a major cause of bowing crookedly. Linear movement is linear. The body needs to put together all parts as a whole and nothing like the upper arm is ever frozen. It was for this reason that Rolland began teaching detache as a one inch stroke at the balance point executed by the upper arm. Once this initial phase was mastered the student increased the bow length to two inches and executed the stroke with the forearm . The moving upper arm recedes into the background but is very definitely present. Taught this way, using a straight bow becomes routines as a correct blend of curves is present. The straight bow turns out to be a very deep and thought provoking issue.
But, without this little movement detache becomes a stressful exercise over time , even for advanced players. There playing is never as effortless as it could be.
It’s funny how hard we work against the body at times….

From Bilbo Prattle
Posted on December 7, 2007 at 2:49 AM

1. I always thought that "hold the upper arm straight" thing was a cop-out--after all, the whole arm has to articulate if the bow is to stay in the same line!

2. Bow straight is always rolled out as a must for good tone. Of course this is most of the time true, but the end product (music and the sonic details that make it) may sometimes require or may be best produced with some "incorrect" technique (incorrect in the sense that the truth of it is somehow being misconstrued).

Or, pedagogy can run afoul of creativity.

From Albert Justice
Posted on December 7, 2007 at 5:33 AM

Well be certain, the straight quick bows with colle leading are a good step in the right direction for me personally.

I'm still too green to competently move across a sounding point on a single note, a point I see as influencing the 'greats' bow straightness, I have recently started applying the SP's to dynamics as written, though. And gliding across them keeping the bow straight--for now.

But in the process, I was able to apply recent discussion on 'using the bow weight and it's curvatures' on all sounding points--but in doing so, I applied 'very' straight bowing on each sounding point--and--still stayed 'acutely' in touch with the bow weight.

I can say, that at least on my instrument, not only the straight bow, but letting the bow's weight produce the tone is very beautiful. And it gave me a sense of control and mastery in 'selectively' choosing, when, where and how to add weight--and those results have proven just awesome tone wise.

It also illuminated other areas of weakness in that when tonality diminishes with f4 articulations, it is not always articulation, but sometimes losing focus of a straight balanced bow because of the challenge--for me.

articulation:bowarticulation:bow articulation:bow articulation:bow articulation:bow articulation:bow --it's all quite maddening, but necessary, in order to be able to improve expressiveness.

Now, back to the grind.

From Krisztian Gabris
Posted on December 7, 2007 at 12:52 PM
Somehow it's a good feeling for me to draw a straight bow, that is, to have that little resistance all the way up and down, which is somehow related to the bow being exactly perpendicular (to the strings) when changing direction.

Otherwise I don't know how it works, but I think if other aspects like elbow height, and pressure are not ok, then straight bow becomes way too attention-consuming.

From Jasmine Reese
Posted on December 7, 2007 at 4:24 PM
So, its not making a straight bow, but keeping the same contact point throughout the stroke?
From Joe S.
Posted on December 7, 2007 at 4:30 PM
Jasmine - yes, the concept of straight bowing is to keep the bow at the same contact point. I was reviewing some of Laurie's articles pertaining to the Julliard Exhibition she went to this summer, and one of the teachers there referred to it as "Bow Steering." In fact, I think Laurie was so kind as to have a video posted of it. I don't remember the guy who was giving the particular masterclass, he was rather tall and skinny.

Buri - I am so glad my teacher has taught me this principle. It is incredible just how much the sound changes - it becomes much more open, coaxed rather than contrived.

From Sung-Duk Song
Posted on December 7, 2007 at 4:42 PM
Fortunately, I am able to draw a straight bow and in different speeds to from a range of slow sustaining to rapid colle's.

I have many friends who studied with Dorothy Delay and Jens Ellermann at Juilliard in the 1980s. Ellermann advocated the straight bow very much.

However, it was Gitlis who totally changed my view towards the straight bow. He told me that I must be able to do a straight bow, but when the music calls for it (i.e. Debussy Sonata, Franck Sonata -- alot of the French impressionist composers), one must also be able to create "impressionistic" colors. How does one create colors? He believed in "tilted" and angled bowing.

So after working extensively with Gitlis, I once played for a Galamian pupil and I was very much yelled at for not keeping a straight bow. According to this Galamian pupil, color is achieved by experimenting with sound points and still keeping a straight bow.

As you can see, this topic is very interesting....

From Albert Justice
Posted on December 7, 2007 at 9:57 PM
Ah, bow steering--that's what it's called. I've been doing the exercises and calling them figure 8's.
From Bruce Berg
Posted on December 8, 2007 at 5:35 AM
I am a Galamian pupil and am in great favor of having that concept as a precept to good, basic violin technique. However, as far as an artistic technique all goes out the window. In the Galamian/Delay technical approach everything was boiled down to essentials which would work pretty well with everyone. That, at this point has been superceded.
From Krisztian Gabris
Posted on December 8, 2007 at 12:34 PM
Wow, crooked bow with maintaning sounding point is cool. But i don't see how it changes the color...?
From Krisztian Gabris
Posted on December 8, 2007 at 12:37 PM
contact point.
From Albert Justice
Posted on December 8, 2007 at 6:03 PM
I've only told this about a hundred time, but early on I asked a lady how long it takes to get a competent bow: "Never". And she meant it I think.
From Daniel Broniatowski
Posted on December 10, 2007 at 10:23 PM
"It was for this reason that Rolland began teaching detache as a one inch stroke at the balance point executed by the upper arm. Once this initial phase was mastered the student increased the bow length to two inches and executed the stroke with the forearm."

Interesting...I was taught détaché the opposite way - start with large movements and get smaller!

So much of bow technique depends on your bow hold and school of training. Then, as one matures, there is definitely an individual component. For instance, our bodies are not identical. The length and proportion of one's arms certainly must affect how détaché looks and feels at the middle of the bow.

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