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Clayton Haslop

4 Simple Concepts for a Fine Bow Arm

December 16, 2009 at 6:41 PM

Today during my practice I happened to run through the Bach ‘Preludio’ in E Major. And when I got to the arpeggiated string crossings, around measure 16, I remembered that a fellow had recently written me regarding the technical challenge this passage presents.

Now, as he also informed me he’d just ordered my little coaching program on this very piece, I had only to tell him that help was indeed on the way. All would be abundantly clear in a matter of days.

Yet today as I went through the very passage, it struck me that players with a strong background in ‘traditional’ music styles might actually require more time to master this passage than those coming to it with a classical background.

It’s not that one style of bowing is superior to the other, far from it.

Yet it is true that, generally speaking, the players of each style use the bow quite differently.

In traditional styles the middle of the bow is highly favored, and the wrist and forearm are used, almost exclusively, to execute string-crossing patterns.

A ‘classical’ violinist, however, learns to use the whole bow; and the upper arm enters much more into the equation, with the role of the wrist diminishing substantially.

This is made necessary by at least 3 reasons I can think of.

First, as violinists began playing to larger audiences in the 18th and 19th centuries they needed the additional projection afforded by the use of the full bow.

The upper arm had to become more involved to do this.

Number two, as the music written became more technically demanding – I’m thinking specifically of large, rapid leaps between notes – the limits of wrist, or even forearm to accomplish them became exceeded. Again, time to bring in the upper arm.

Reason number three has to do with what I might call the ‘Law of Efficiency.’ And it’s an important one.

You see once you add a new element into the mix – the upper arm in this case – you must remove some other element. Why, because otherwise you will inevitable find them working at cross purposes to one another.

Play the passage mentioned above with all three arm joints in motion and you can write off ever playing it cleanly.

That’s why if you want an efficient, ‘classical’ bow arm for the concert music written between 1750 and now, you will do well to consider the following four concepts.

One, the wrist is used minimally, it flexes foreward and backward to accommodate the hand moving the bow up and down; and never for string crossing.

Two, the elbow joint is GENERALLY used to move the forearm horizontally – only rarely do I rely on the forearm for string crossings, and them only for rapid oscillations between two adjacent strings.

Three, the upper arm LARGELY controls string crossings. And its ‘vertical controller’ function is INDEPENDENT of any horizontal movements it may make.

And four, the upper arm is simultaneously free, at all times, to move horizontally at the two extremes of the bow.

So there you have it, my big 4 to get your bow arm headed just where you need it to be for the great violin concert repertoire.

All the best,

Clayton Haslop


From Kathryn Woodby
Posted on December 17, 2009 at 10:56 PM

simple concepts...maybe...easier said than done!

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