Written by Paul Stein
Published: November 19, 2015 at 6:08 AM [UTC]
In fact, in a perfect world, the violinist’s mind would automatically shift from thinking about the left hand one moment, then the bow arm the next. The shifting of concentration would take place with the regularity of a windshield wiper.
I’ve learned the hard way -- by hearing a recording of myself and noticing that my sound isn’t full and rich enough -- that bow distribution can’t take place unless I’m thinking about the bow arm with full concentration. The moment the windshield wiper is swinging to the right, it’s time to observe the bow arm and do whatever it takes to get the desired sound.
First (and Last) Bow Distribution Exercise
Bow distribution can be introduced early in violin training with the simple exercise of three beats on a down-bow and one beat on the up-bow. (In comparison to exercises for the left hand, there are hardly any other bow distribution exercises, except for the bowing variations in etudes, which aren’t particularly musical or inspirational.)
Two problems emerge during this simple, introductory exercise: the long bow doesn’t go far enough to the tip, and the short up-bow doesn’t get back to the lower half. This isn’t so much a problem of the bow arm, but the result of feeling the beats too quickly. Instead, each beat should be allowed to breathe and complete its cycle.
If the bow stops in the middle instead of traveling the necessary length, start the process again, thinking only of the bow arm. You have to have enough intent at the beginning of the stroke to over-ride whatever is stopping the bow from reaching the tip. Natural blockages like the bow stopping unwittingly can be overcome by will power, and then avoided in the future by feeling the length of each beat.
Left and Right Hand Independence
It wouldn’t be difficult to distribute the bow efficiently if you were playing only open strings. But the left fingers can fight with the bow arm, and with one hand going a different direction than the other, the bow arm stop suddenly and cause the bow to bounce. However, there is one way of thinking in which the two hands are more likely to be compatible, and when this blending occurs, it makes both hands move smoothly. This unifying force -- which is capable of guiding the hands naturally -- is the music itself, which guides the bow into gliding and swooping. The music and the ear are one entity, an organic, viable expression which exists to guide and discern.
Every bow distribution is linked to how you hear the music. If you’re mathematically dissecting a measure, the bow may change harshly and abruptly. If you’re hearing the phrase as if you were singing it, the speed and distances of the bowings will feel more natural.
Teachers should ask the students to sing during lessons, even if the voice is not developed. Someone with a bad voice should be encouraged to sing something resembling the rhythm of the music. This helps create a connection between the origin of the music in the ear, and what goes in and comes out of the instrument.
Free and Unencumbered Bow Speed
Knowing the correct bow speed and when the bow is going to change directions takes both artistry and astute observations of space and time. Here are three reasons why the player runs out of bow:
There are two types of bowing that occur during bow distribution:
Etudes for the Fluid and Flexible Right Hand
The bow arm is the expressive half of the body, and requires different movements for every measure and every dynamic. Unlike the left hand, nothing ever stays the same. Yet most of the Kreutzer, Wohlfahrt, etc. exercises require nothing more than changing bow direction multiple times. One excellent source for learning bow distribution is Melodious Etudes by Doris Gazda, a collection of singers’ vocalises from the 18th century, arranged for the violin. Deceptively simple looking, Gazda’s collection makes an art of strategizing each measure and being ready for anything.
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