Written by Stephen Brivati
Published: January 3, 2015 at 4:21 AM [UTC]
Happy New Year everyone. Hope you aren't as cold as me.
I`ve been using Simon Fischer's smaller book, Warming Up, for some time now. There are plenty of good warm up books around so why one more? I think warm up books vary slightly in what they are seeking to do. What I mean by this is that the ratio exercises that do just warm up (like putting on an old slipper) and those that actually stretch and improve your technique every time you do them can vary quite a lot. Simon's book interested me because it was obvious that in wearing his pedagogue hat he had gone for exercises that addressed issues that he feels are ignored or undervalued in the general teaching/learning world rather than just writing out some neat bowing exercises a la Kreutzer No.2, a bit of left hand then time for scales (all perfectly valid, of course). Maybe this is kind of odd-sounding, but I think many of tend us to ignore the bow once we have it. It's just something we screw up everyday while horses' bottoms get cold.
This is due in part to the need for explaining, to some degree, what the bow arm does and how it does it. This is somewhat misleading sometimes for students, who begin to think that this is how to approach bowing. But the bow is a tool, and when we use, for example, a screwdriver, we actually think about the screwdriver, not what the various components of the arm are doing.
As an example of how this might change things, I wrote a long time ago about the idea of slowing and lightening the bow 1cm before changing direction. Someone commented somewhat irately that such a thing was not possible to carry out. That seemed a fair point and indeed, if you really focus all your intelligence on the bow arm and try to control your bow arm to do that, it is pretty hard, to say the least. If on the other hand, you pay attention to the bow and simply let the bow do that, then the arm wil do what is necessary (probably;) ).
So, back in the warm up book, one of the important exercises is very simple but actually demands we examine the nature of the bow itself. Play four quavers and a crotchet right at the heel. Note that the wood of the bow is not involved. The hair does the work. The crotchet brings you to the point of balance where you play the same thing, noting the the wood of the bow is slightly involved in interacting with the string. The crotchet gets you to the middle and the work is shared fifty-fifty with the wood and hair. Midway between middle and tip it is more wood, and at the tip it is the wood of the bow which is playing the violin. Reverse the procedure.
One does not have to practice this like an etude, but by simply becoming aware of these tangible differences, the whole quality of our playing can change. Instead of trying to use our hand, arm, or whatever to leverage weight off the bow at the heel, it may help to simply think and feel, "OK, now only the hair of the bow is playing these notes." Notice the difference in sound, when you focus on the wood of the bow at the point. It can be quite radical.
Of all the teachers I ever had before and after Music College or any discussions on technique on courses or whatever, I cannot recall this simple matter being raised, once. Do we assume that the first teacher passes out this basic stuff ? Is it considered too simplistic for Music College? I have no idea. But understanding the nature of one's tool seems to be a useful way of using it better......
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