Best Bowing Exercises

November 18, 2011 at 10:22 PM · As you are all probably well aware, I have this tendency to tell the world when I've made the most inane 'discovery' (which everyone else has already figured out long ago; thank you for humoring me). Well, here's another one: The bow is the _soul_ of the violin. You can play with perfect intonation and lush vibrato, but if the bow isn't well controlled, you'll still sound like a vomiting feline. And I can prove this to anyone who doubts (not the intonation part, but the feline part). The effect of bow technique on tone, expression, color, etc is astounding.

That plus all the recent talk about bowing has prompted me to pose this question: Is there any one volume in print that you would consider, along with a teacher's guidance, to be the 'bible,' if you will, for right-hand technique?

What percentage of lesson and practice time, during your formative years, do you think you spent on the right hand vs the left?

Replies (12)

November 18, 2011 at 11:07 PM · You are absolutely right and it cannot be mentioned enough: The right hand is crucial to the whole violin technique!

not only it is the source for an healthy sound but also it can help the left hand technique a lot. In fact many problems of the left hand are caused by a bad bowarm!

I would recommend one publication, wich is some kind of a bow-bible. You can play them at any stage, starting from average beginner, and it includes very much of all the important bow strokes. (many of them at the talon/frog!!) Its Ottokar Sevcik's "40 variations" Op. 3.

Besides of that publication there is one exercise, the son-file, wich is the foundation of nearly every on-the-string bow stroke. Also making crescendo to the tip and decrescendo to the frog on open strings very slowly is a good exercise for the bow. Always keep a deep sound (like ironing ;). Start with open strings then go to slow scales or legato exercises.

have fun

November 19, 2011 at 12:40 AM · Yup! That's what I was going to recommend -- Sevcik

November 19, 2011 at 12:56 AM · Afore mentioned are good, I also recommend...Louis Kievman, 'practising the violin mentally and physically', and Yehudi Menuhin, '6 lessons with....'

November 19, 2011 at 07:18 AM · Simon Fischer's "Basics" is really awfully good.

Flesch's "Art of the Violin," Capet's "Technique superieure de l'archet," and Galamian's "Principles" are all essential reading.

November 19, 2011 at 08:47 AM · Greetings,

the question is interesting because there is an important distinction between `bowing exercises,` and book that discuss what bowing is. Between these two extremes lies everything concerning the matter.

Simon cites the sevcik forty variations. The sevcik bowing books are for some people the ultimate training for bowing. Indeed Flesch made his studnets work the book sdesigned for wrist with those designed for arm in tandem. If one completes the whole series (opus 2 and 3) then in theory ine has civered just about every bowing one is likely to meet. In theory this isgreat however in practice there are two fallacies connected to this approach. First of all, the whole point about sevcik is that it exists utterly independently of musical thought and Szigeti is highly critical of this in his book on the violin in which he refers continualy to the stylistic aspect of bowing. His argument is that one must play and understand musicla etudes with a clera stylistic point to truly understand bowing. There is merit in both positions.

The second problem with sevcik is that it does not automatically correct underlying problems with bowing that could be related to some other part of the body or a mental issue or whatever. One can work through a milion variations but without the underlying structure the problem may actually get worse.

nonetheless, selective rather than total use of opus 2 and 3 can be a very powerful training program.

The opposite end of the `lets pracitce every example` approach to bowing is to be found in books like `The secrets of the Soviet violin school,` in which the importnat basic bowings are identified such as detache and spicatto . It is up to the teacher to be able to teach each one of these in an effective manner. With this kind of approach onewould use the classic etudes. Most of the work can be done using Kreutzer, in particular no 2.

Taking the minimalist approach to its extreme one could just use Drew Lechers compact book of simple open string exericses to cretae ones own bowing exercises as and when required. I strongly advocate both this approach and book. Violnist who can work things out for themselves rather than just flog away at what is put in front of them usually do very well indeed.

At the other end of the scale yes `basics` is the most comprehensive and clear book on all aspects of bowing. The essentials are also in the Galamina as Jude notes. In recent years the fundamental issue of tone production (aside form obvious technical defetcs) has been clarified by Simon Fischer in both Basics and his DVD on tone production which is a must for all teahcer sand aspiring young player sas far as I am cocnerned. The issue is that of the relationship between weight, speed and point of contact. Players who address these directly with the kind of systematic exercises advocated by Fischer make massive and extremely rapid improvements in tone production almost immediately.

Although the son file is a wonderful exercise for many people a lot of the time it does have the drawback of causing dullness in muscles unless accopanied by extremely rapid bow strokes afterwords. the othe rproblem is that mentally people have a tendency to switch off during the stroke.

Son file is great but I think one of the most importnat things for people to master above this kind of practice is essnetial control of bow speed. It is so rare to see someone who can actually draw a bow at a constant spped. Ask someone to do 8 second bow strokes and observe closely the way the bow changes speed in the lower half, especially at the bow change.

That is why I think a fundamental daily exericse is actually one recommended by Drew Lecher in which one sets the metronome at 120 and plays a bow stroke that lasts for 8 beats over and over. Without stopping or changing the bow speed play a six beat stroke. because you are not changing the bow speed you will now only be using three quarters of the bow either starting from the point of the heel. Without stopping chnage to a four beat stroke , then a two then a one. One is using progresivley less bowin all parts of the bow depending on whether one changes length of stroke onthe up bow or down. This exercise develops fabtastic bow control. Not onl that it teaches a fundamental technical point which must be clearly understood by all players:

it doesn`t matter how you change bow at the heel, a smooth bow change is dependent on not changing bow speed. I personally believe it is much more importnat to master this aspect of playing before working on son file. It is also a central part of musical development. Once one has control of bow speed then it is posisble to vary it artistically and use the bow expressively. If one does ot have this fundamentla abilty then advising astudnet to use more bow here or slow down the bow speed there, however relevant to a particular situation, is in large part menaingless because the studnet is not aware of the vomit sounding bulges they put in much of their playing for no good reason except they have no sense of bow speed.



November 19, 2011 at 08:49 AM ·

November 19, 2011 at 10:15 AM · I love this post, Buri.

(Not the silent one, but the one preceding.)

November 19, 2011 at 11:02 AM · Yes, bowspeed controlling is very important too! But I had the feeling, that you get a good control and range of bowspeed if you exercise the slow and very slow movement. On the other hand it is very beneficial to practice martelee (up-part, down-part and whole bow), very fast and active while staying parallel to the bridge. You can do that with Kreutzer 2 of course ;)

But I have to defend Sevciks variations from beeing labeled as "not musical" or not in any sort of style. I am pretty sure that Szigeti referred to other parts of the Sevcik school than the 40 variations, because they are quite interesting and musically not dead at all! For me they are much more interesting than playing Kreutzer 2 over years and years. I can play that Kreutzer 2 by heart, but really is that great music? :D What has Szigeti to say to that? ;)

At a certain level and when you have understand the prinziples, you can practice nearly every technique in repertoire. But sometimes it is easier and refreshing to get out the good old Bow exercise collections of sevcik and find out, that you not only feel better after some of them, but also, that they really do not lack musical ideas!

November 19, 2011 at 11:55 AM · Excellent post, Buri!

Especially the silent one, but the first one has some great stuff too! :p

November 19, 2011 at 03:42 PM · Buri - what a great post! It's going straight into my reference book of timeless gems :-)

November 19, 2011 at 05:27 PM · Buri, your posts are like dinner at a fine restaurant. There's much to digest, but at the same time tasteful and satisfying. Thanks again for the great advice!

November 20, 2011 at 09:20 PM · Tartini's The Art of Bowing is a good study if your teacher knows how to use it. It's just a collection of variations otherwise. I have attempted it twice but I found it way too difficult to do correctly even though the variations are not that hard,

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