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Drew Lecher

“GPS” –– 5.3 Air Bow

May 16, 2008 at 2:58 PM

mini-blog re: Rough Starts, Crash Landings, Awkward Retakes.

The Air Bow is dealing with beginning the beginning of a composition, phrase and/or new bow stroke.

It is the Bow Stroke in the Air preceding the actual sounding of the note to come and is to be as fluid and accurate a path and plane as when on the string.


Play the music before you play the notes — have the motion, style and flow in the bow as you prepare to begin just as a conductor does with the style of upbeat indicating tempo and character.


Use your eyes to educate your ears and sense of touch. Discrepancy of tone will be more easily heard and understood when the eyes observe.

How do you think of, view and order its use?

Plan actions > Accuracy, Fluidity > MASTERY

This is the fifth category in a series of blogs dealing with:

1. Left Hand
2. Shifting
3. Right Arm
4. Right Hand
5. Bow

They will be kept under the heading of ”GPS” for those who wish to follow the articles. I hope it is of benefit to you.


Contact variables of the bow hair to the string — the 1) point of contact, 2) speed of bow, 3) weight of bow, 4) amount of hair, 5) string selected and 6) vibrating length of string/position number.


Rough Starts:

Whether beginning with an up or down bow, it is a great assist to play one or more bow strokes with your first note in order to develop the desired tonal character. Use the 6 variables above in achieving the personality/mood of the sound.

Vibrato can and should be used in this, but initially use no vibrato concentrating on the tonal production.

Having accomplished this, again use the extra bow strokes and incorporate a very subtle lift — maintaining flow, etc. — just preceding the first note to be played. After this, remove the extra bows keeping the sensation/feel of playing them so your entrance is precisely as desired.


Be careful — you must maintain the proper plane of the bow when no longer using the extra bows.

Crash Landings:

Again…keep the flow of the bow.

When starting from the air the bow should approach the landing as a jet — not a crashing helicopter. (The perfect landing, Ray:-)

It is good to initially set the bow on the string and then thrust/pull the stroke with the desired character and style. This should be done with open strings followed by the addition of the note(s) to be played, as their location on the string will greatly affect the bow variables listed above.

When coming back to the context of landing in motion, make sure that the plane is accurate in the approach so the landing has just the right amount of zip and/or bite to the sound.


Awkward Retakes:

Similar to Crash Landings, the bow stroke must land in the desired direction.

Too often the bow slightly hooks the landing, i.e., a slight up-bow is detectable just before the actual down-bow begins or vice versa. To avoid this, go beyond the strings in training the Retake, especially with the down-bow. Be particularly careful with the up-bow, as one can crash on to the violin top and thrust the bow under the strings — a rather awkward moment…

Stay as close to the string as possible, though you may initially lift in a higher arc on the road to mastery.


It is the Bow Stroke in the Air preceding the actual sounding of the note to come and is to be as fluid and accurate a path and plane as when on the string.


Everything affects everything.

Remember:

Excerpt:

1. Higher/nearer.
a. Higher strings are played nearer to the bridge, if all else is kept equal.
b. Higher notes on the same string are nearer to the bridge in bow placement, if all else is kept equal.

2. Lower/further.
a. Lower strings are played further from the bridge, if all else is kept equal.
b. Lower notes on the same string are further from the bridge in bow placement, if all else is kept equal.


To be continued…

Hope this helps —
Drew

Author of
Violin Technique: The Manual, How to master…
Viola Technique: The Manual, How to master…

Technique is the tool by which we accomplish the artistic.


From Debra Wade
Posted on May 16, 2008 at 4:51 PM
Drew - thanks for the post. It deals with things I am currently working on in Motzart 4.

You stated, "It is good to initially set the bow on the string and then thrust/pull the stroke with the desired character and style."

It makes total sense in my head, but execution is a whole other issue.

If I may ask a question: When I started the Mozart I was using a kind of spiccato bow ie. in the beginning on the 1/8 notes. But my teacher is having me place the bow first then play the note instead of diving at note like a hawk (like you described). Herein lies the issue - I can do it slow, but when I speed up I start playing the beginning of the note from off the string not on.

Any suggestions?

From Laurie Trlak
Posted on May 16, 2008 at 8:26 PM
I'm having a problem in general with spiccato; my teacher says that I'm not getting the proper arc on the stroke, and that I'm changing the angle of attack. I'm trying the stroke on just the open string (at his suggestion), but I just can't seem to get the right "bounce" (for lack of a better word). Help!
From Drew Lecher
Posted on May 17, 2008 at 5:24 AM
Debra,
Your teacher is probably having you secure the tone, arrival point and path of the bow, which makes a lot of sense. When this is achieved they might encourage you to ‘land on the fly’ like a stone skipping on the water.

With the opening of Mozart 4, I also catch it from the air. It adds tremendous ease and brilliance. The 8th notes you mention are virtually effortless when played very near to the frog/heal of the bow. If you are using flat hair the landing/skip is totally stable and your bow thumb can and should cross over the Eing each time. You should attain a forte with the effort of a piano.

Diving at the note ‘like a hawk’ can be a most brilliant move, just pick up the prey/note and immediately take off to return in the opposite direction.

The main concept is to continually retain absolute ease and control of the bow’s path and plane whether on the string or in the air.

Laurie,

Bounce is a great word for Spiccato — the bow should bounce like a ball. We simply have to control when, where and how.

WHEN is the timing; WHERE is the point of contact on the string combined with the area of the bow; HOW is the degree of angle and height.

Make sure you are following/continuing through with the stroke in the air. Most let the bow curve behind their head due to a tight elbow and therefore wrist. Conquer the elbow and the wrist should be immediately fluid with it.

(Excerpted from my books Violin Technique: The Manual, How to master… and Viola Technique: The Manual, How to master…)


Practice Tips:

1. Drop the bow vertically to the string at various points along the bow – note how it bounces – then catch or control the next drop, gradually adding the direction of the down and up bows.

a. Flatter hair bounces with a crisp, very distinct response and angled hair has a gentle, less distinct articulation.
b. Use the Crescent Bow, even in these small strokes, as this will prevent the usual stiffening of the wrist and elbow.
c. Use a small Thumb/fingers Stroke, adding greater arm motion as required.
d. In faster passages use less bow and keep closer to the string.

2. Set the bow on the string, at first in the middle. Use flat hair, weight the stick down so that the bow touches the hair (not the string) and then suddenly draw the stroke (down or up) and spring up and off the string. Maintain the Spiccato action. Apply points 1a – d above.

3. When done correctly, the bow does 90% of the work.

4. Do not tighten the bow hand/wrist/elbow/shoulder.

NOTE: Accented triplets are very good for developing evenness and control.


Practice both 1 & 2 above and initially favor the easier, but master both.

Hope this helps—
Drew

From Edward Ferris
Posted on May 17, 2008 at 11:34 PM
"Use your eyes to educate your ears and sense of touch. Discrepancy of tone will be more easily heard and understood when the eyes observe."
What do you think about playing in the dark? Some people have recommended that to me.
From Drew Lecher
Posted on May 18, 2008 at 4:15 AM
Edward,

Great question!

It can be good, especially if you have night vision:-) Just kidding — I would compare that to playing with the eyes closed and do think it beneficial.

In reality, we are continually 'playing blind' when we are reading the music, watching the conductor and/or colleagues in communicating for improved ensemble. The advantage of playing in the dark and/or with the eyes closed, is that we really listen — but that is not nearly enough.

Along with keenly listening, you want to plan every move ahead and to feel the measures and balances of your hands, the flow and path of the bow stroke (including when in the air), your posture including the violin angle, etc., etc. Initially focus on a few primaries and then add as able. As you see the light of what and how you are doing things, step into the light.

Play well—
Drew

From Emily Grossman
Posted on May 18, 2008 at 6:21 AM
"3. When done correctly, the bow does 90% of the work."

I pondered upon this concept just last night while cleaning spiccatos. Good advice, and I'm excited to see how I can apply your other tips this evening!

From Drew Lecher
Posted on May 18, 2008 at 6:39 AM
Emily,
Great!!! What brand of detergent — or was it Lemon Pledge?

Watch out for the slick spots…

From Ray Randall
Posted on May 18, 2008 at 3:09 PM
Good advice, drew. Using your advice I played the absolute best I ever have while practicing last night incorporating your suggestions.
I was so happy with the page of music I played I went in to see what my wife thought of it as she always keeps one ear open for my playing while working on her computer. I went in and told her I had never sounded better and what did she think? After several louder and louder "hello's" she finally turned around with a start and said, "huh, what did you want? I was concentrating." Rats!
If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around does it still make a sound? LOL
From Drew Lecher
Posted on May 18, 2008 at 4:05 PM
Ray,
Not to worry… I could hear you all the way to Chicago:-)
From Laurie Trlak
Posted on May 19, 2008 at 4:57 PM
Drew, thanks for your reply. What you wrote is just what my teacher has been telling me, but seeing it written down has made a difference I think, because I have it there as a reference if something goes wrong.
I did what you suggested, and it made a huge difference, even regarding string crossings: no more scratching when going from a higher to a lower string!
Thanks.
From Drew Lecher
Posted on May 20, 2008 at 2:37 AM
Laurie,
Glad to hear of your success:-)

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