Lifting right arm

September 23, 2016 at 01:10 AM · I wanted to know if lifting your right arm while playing is bad. If it is, are there any excersizes or techniques to keep your arm down?


Replies (21)

September 23, 2016 at 02:27 AM · What do you mean by "lifting?" The position of the right arm is affected by what string you are on as well as what stroke you are using. There are differences of opinion among professionals regarding optimal right arm placement; why don't you look at some Youtube videos of famous players and see if that answers your question? Heifetz (for a historical perspective), Perlman, Joshua Bell, Gil Shaham, Rachel Barton Pine, Janine Jensen, and so on

September 23, 2016 at 12:50 PM · Heifetz had a high bow arm but one should not necessarily copy him as he was pretty unique, as was Tossy Spivakovsky. Generally the arm should be fairly level for each string and there should be no tension or pain.

September 23, 2016 at 02:40 PM · Mary Ellen's question - What do you mean by "lifting?" - is right on. If you are "hunching up" your right shoulder, you have a problem. If your right shoulder and neck are relaxed, your upper arm will probably find the right height - just on its own.

September 23, 2016 at 02:49 PM · Yes, as Mike says, the key is relaxation. Players sometimes have to play for long periods, and an unduly highly held right bow arm can be a killer.

September 23, 2016 at 09:21 PM · Whatever, I found that recent use of a shoulder rest forced my right arm up. I call this "playing uphill" but I'm getting use to it.

September 23, 2016 at 11:05 PM · I'm not going to go off on an irrelevant for-or-against SR tangent but Darlene's comment suggests that there is something not quite right in her specific instance; SR perhaps not positioned correctly, or not a suitable design? Anyway, "playing uphill" implies a high held bow arm and therefore working against gravity, which is tiring and could eventually cause physical problems.

September 24, 2016 at 12:50 AM · I'm not extreme about all this either but I have to pay attention. The SR does raise the violin but what is more annoying is that the tilt changes.

I usually have the bow in the same plane as my elbow which defines my streering.

I will have to study more YouTubes.

September 24, 2016 at 08:20 PM · Shoulder hunching is bad bad bad. That'll cripple you. Raising the bow arm elbow "artificially" (*slightly* more than you need to in order to reach the strings) could be something that is done to achieve a particular type of bowing, or it could be part of a smooth change of bow direction. That's what I was taught anyway.

And your elbow is related to your bow hold and other aspects of your setup and your physique, so keep that in mind if you're tempted to fixate on videos of Heifetz or Stern.

September 24, 2016 at 09:43 PM · Adjust the legs of the shoulder-rest so that the violin is still held pretty much flat, parallel to the floor.

September 25, 2016 at 12:07 PM · Maybe it's an "age" thing, but in a "masterclass" set of DVDs "filmed" at Bein and Fushi a few years ago Ruggiero Ricci expressed the belief and demonstrated what he thought might have been the secret of Paganini - and that was holding the violin against his shoulder almost vertically so the E string was lowest and the G string highest.

I'm not saying I think that is the thing to do, but I do think that if you have to raise your right shoulder when playing it will not last you as long as if you don't - it may be even worse than raising your left shoulder to play.

September 25, 2016 at 12:12 PM · Andrew - yes Ricci had some fascinating ideas and he played in an incredibly relaxed way.

September 25, 2016 at 01:15 PM · My teacher, a graduate of the Suzuki school in Japan and accordingly an advocate of the low relaxed bowing arm, once discussed why solo violinists, invariably young and female, on TV shows and the like often play with a high bowing arm. My teacher, who knows a thing or two about show biz, explained that it is done for the visual effect on stage, and probably in other environments those violinists would use a different bowing style. That said, what is seen on TV will doubtless send the wrong message to viewers who aren't violinists, or not very far along the road.

September 25, 2016 at 07:24 PM · Your teacher is wrong -- wrong enough that I wonder if they were joking.

The old German-style low bow arm and bow grip is now very much out of fashion, although it is (tragically in my opinion) still frequently taught to Suzuki students because that was the bow arm that Suzuki learned from Karl Klingler.

A higher bow arm produces more power thanks to more of the weight of the arm upon the strings. The Russian-style flared bow arm was also common during Suzuki's time -- it's the bow arm of Heifetz and the other Auer pupils. These days, a Galamian-style bow arm, more of a fusion of the Franco-Belgian and Russian schools, prevails, which is higher but not as high as the Russian.

I'll give you at least one very good reason why women (soloists or not) tend to play with higher bow arms: Boobs. Generously-endowed women, especially, will find a low bow arm to be really inconvenient. (I have had one teacher whose own Galamian-taught teacher recommended she switch to a higher elevation for this reason!)

Soloists in particular tend to favor a bow-arm that results in more power, though, and that tends to be a higher elevation. It also sometimes means playing more on the 'left' side of the string than the 'right' (i.e., choosing the more elevated side of the string) for more pull on the string and thus resonance. If you are playing a concerto, you will make your bowing choices for maximum projection. The same player in another sort of venue, like a recital for piano, will make different choices to draw a different kind of sound. You might see a somewhat more elevated bow-arm in the concerto situation because it controls how deep they're going into the string.

September 25, 2016 at 07:50 PM · Does that mean that fat men with big boobs also have higher bow arms?

September 25, 2016 at 09:01 PM · Lydia, may I very humbly defend the lower right elbow, as used by e.g. Oistrakh or Perlman. Just as it is easier to do pull-ups if the elbows are below the hands rather than above them, so I can transfer more, not less weight to the bow if the elbow is a little lower than the hand.

Also, Suzuki may indeed have learned the Very Low German Elbow from Karl Klinger, but he experimented all his life with all aspects of technique, seeking the most efficient motions for his students.

I have certainly found that when his teaching is applied properly, small children have a warmer, more supple tone on their tiny VSO's than with more "logical", geometric bowing styles.

And Peter yes, my "middle-aged spread" does get in the way!

September 25, 2016 at 09:40 PM · Oistrakh definitely doesn't have a low bow arm. He has a Russian bow arm, although less extreme than the Auer students.

Perlman has a Galamian-style bow arm. It's considerably higher than the Suzuki German-style bow arm.

When I was a kid taking Suzuki violin, I had to practice bowing with my arm stuck to my side. Not a great idea, I have to say. My tone improved immensely when I started studying with a Romanian (Russian-trained) teacher who both changed my bow-grip to Russian and gave me the higher elbow to go with it. Then I ended up with a DeLay-trained teacher with a Galamian-style bow-arm, which has ended up being the primary way I played. Subsequent teachers have encouraged a Russian-style arm, which works much better for my body geometry.

YMMV will vary based on individual body type, but there's a reason that people don't do the old German-style bow arm any longer. What's necessary to produce a non-awful tone from a VSO is not necessarily good long-term technique.

September 26, 2016 at 06:08 AM · In my Suzuki teacher-training (in France) we used a slightly hanging, swinging elbow, certainly not the extreme book-under-the-arm hold. And I feel getting a non-awful tone from a beginner is aoften disgracefully neglected. All Suzuki violinists I know, (or have taught,) have evolved their bowing as they progress.

Re Oistrakh and Perlman, I'm only going by what I see, (rather than what I know of their pedigrees), and they are/were both big men. Indeed, when my wife saw Oistrakh on the telly, she said "Oh! A Suzuki bowing arm!"

September 26, 2016 at 07:06 AM · Ah Adrian

And Peter yes, my "middle-aged spread" does get in the way!

What you need is a lot more exercise - walking 6-7 miles a day with a dog. (10 Kilometres in Chinese currency).

I JUST HAD to bring in the Chinese in this conversation just to keep LT happy ...

Since I started my new regime about 4 years ago I have lost a lot of weight, and feel 20 years younger. I've also cut a lot of my chains to the violin which means my mental and physical health is much improved, and I eat a lot of Chinese food just to annoy LT. (wink)

September 27, 2016 at 10:31 AM · Here is a link to a fascinating talk about violin playing and Paganini. It's one hour in length, but really worth it as it covers bows and instruments as well.


September 27, 2016 at 04:03 PM · In fact the above link to the discussion may make people re-think their bow arms! (In the suggestion that antique bow arms may be better!)

September 27, 2016 at 05:16 PM · I think people get confused about this. Sounds like Lydia started with a too-low bow arm and had to raise it. But plenty of people have the opposite problem; a high arm that comes also with shoulder tension, which needs to be brought a bit lower and with a feeling of "weight" in the arm instead of force coming from the shoulder.

The pedagogical reason for that exercise of having the arm at your side is to learn to open the elbow, something that young students often have a very difficult time doing. If you are basically bowing with your arm, without opening the elbow, you'll have a very crooked and stiff bow arm. So the elbow needs to be opened, however that happens. Certainly the arm should not remain glued to the side after that, though!

As with everything it's a balance. The arm should be moveable, up and down, but without shoulder tension. The elbow should open easily; a high arm should not be compensating for a stiff elbow.

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