Tone improvement and bow hand sensation
Sorry about the clumsy title. I recall a respected pedagogue referencing feeling the bow hair on the string (in the bow hand). Can anyone elaborate? What are we sensing and how are we using this to improve tone? Can we obtain this on budget equipment?
It really is "A Thing"
So do we max the vibration we feel in the fingers of the bow hand?
David, you’ve asked an excellent question and your title is not clumsy either. As far as I can tell, tone production is often taught as, by and large, a bow control matter. Simon Fischer wrote excellent books on these techniques. So did Carl Flesch and many other great pedagogues. In addition, some teachers, such as mine, also stresses bow hand sensation in addition to these bow control techniques. It’s the direct feel of our bow fingers when we want to make certain colors, very much like when we use a paint brush to paint or doing calligraphy. The advantage of this approach is that it is kinesthetic and immediate: we are to think about how our bow hand is directly linked/making the sound we want, instead of focusing on the bow stick, hairs, strings and the bridge, all of which are the intermediaries between the sound we want to produce and how we control them to create the sound/colors. This may be a bit easier for little kids to perceive such subtle sensations but I learned this in my 40s from my current teacher. What worked for me is, when I want to make a certain sound, say, dolce, instead of thinking about vibrato (which should be used if appropriate), I tell myself to play dolce with my bow hand. In fact, whenever I want to beautify something, I tell myself do it with my bow hand. After a while, I started to feel and hear the difference more and more clearly. Not sure if this is helpful.
I was thinking about feeling the vibration of the bow, are you thinking resistance or balance or something else?
It's everything you feel with your fingers. Of course there are bow hand finger exercises one can use to improve the awareness and control of each finger, but hand sensation is achieved chiefly by directing your mind to the bow hand
Thanks, as an engineer I like hard data, as a musician, I rely on mood/energy. Lots to explore.
Yes, same here, as a law graduate and former policy advisor, I like analytical approach to solve problems. As a musician, I learn to let my body understand and do what needs to be done.
My Sukuki teacher training (I did not learn this way) included awakening the thumb. Being curved, instead of it being a fulcrum around which the fingers work, it could accompany the fingers in pivoting and balancing the bow, but also in shaping the attack and strength of tone.
Interesting. I'm exploring up as in and down as out. My laptop recordings sound like a flute. Not so under the ear or at say 3 ft. Perhaps bright for me.
I use a musician's earplug in the left ear to "distance" myself from the sound. For the scratchiness, a ball of cotton-wool works well, too
Dave -- you feel the vibrations in your PAW. :)
So .... More thumb?
See my comment on the other bow hold thread. Milstein did not bother with all the fancy wrist action.
Seems I mistakenly interpreted stick vibration as a relavent feed back. No?
Hi David, stick vibration is great feedback. By pressing radially into the centre of the stick you can dampen vibration and make the sound compressed. Moreover, you can stiffen finger action in all aspects. Instead try feeling pressure along the stick with friction. The twisting action between thumb and fingers gives you the leverage (into the tip) or counterbalance (at the frog) you need to draw an even sound. Pivots within the hand are important, probably more so than the curling and straightening of the fingers (as Milstein demonstrates.) Except in really loud, heavy bow strokes, especially with lots of string crossing at the frog, you want the bow to pivot between middle finger and thumb, controlled by the outer fingers. You want dynamic balance within the hand, like a see-saw, not static, like a table.
Jeewon, I would love to hear what you think about this. I was taught that certain bowings, such as, colle and spiccato, flex fingers are the key. Also, regarding feeling the vibration of the bow stick,I find the feeling of the tips of the 2nd and 3rd fingers are special for colour. The thumb too, when tilting or lifting is required. Index the finger, while being super important, can be a troublemaker when being favored too much.
Instructions must be given based on the student's ability to understand/utilize them. For a beginner or a motor-deficient person, "feeling the bow hair on the strings" isn't a useful cue.
Thank you all. My take away is that the vibration of the bow stick in the hand is not of much use for tone improvement.
Hi Yixi, I was taught in the same way and would continue to teach coordinating all the joints in the shoulder/arm/hand/fingers. But I have also witnessed and experienced the exact opposite way of teaching, without reference to any physical technique whatsoever, used to great effect. And there are many artists who play with minimal action in the hand. I think there are trade offs, simplicity over efficiency, but in the end, all that really matters is the sound (and health, I suppose.)
Peter Charles mentioned Nathan Milstein a few posts back. There are few better visual examples of Milstein's bowing technique than his magnificent performance of Beethoven's Kreutzer Sonata in Sweden - he was in his 80's and played it from memory. Sadly, that was to be his last performance because a little time later he sufferred an injury to his left hand which prevented him from playing.
Jeewon, thank you! For years, I didn't know what it means to feel the sound by hand and I sounded awful. But I hated it enough that kept me working at tone production, such as practicing Collé, Slow (15 and 30 seconds) long bowing while paying close attention to my sound and my hand feel. Then one day, I got it. I became a different player. I still have tons of other issues, but at least my teacher doesn't have to remind me about tone production so much any more. And I'm told by different teachers during recent masterclasses in Victoria Conservatory's Summer String Academy that I've got a "mature tone" (when playing Mendelssohn) and "a big romantic sound" (when playing Brahms).
Yixi, I agree tone production, all technique, can be drastically improved at any age. When I resumed studies at 27, my old teacher completely changed my tone by simply tweaking my wrist, giving the feeling of keeping my hand 'over the bow,' in one lesson!
Thanks so much Trevor for posting the details of that video of Milstein. What a performance at any age! And that bow arm was unique.
Jeewon, you give others way too much credit! You reminded me of a philosophy professor (Andrew Irvine) at UBC years ago, when my English was quite poor and I was really struggling to articulate my questions and/or comments in the classroom. He was always able to 'elaborate' what I was saying, only to make everything so clear and profound that beyond what I could ever thought of. When so many were trying to make other look less intelligent in a highly competitive academic setting, making other look smart like what Andrew did really shows what true excellence means.
Hi Yixi, just sayin', you wrote it down first :)
Ah, I understand the problem with the wrist below the hand. It's easy to happen, like pushing or kneading a dough. Raising the forearm we can pull better. But I'm not sure I've got the tugging feel when drawing long bow, Jeewon. Will do some experiment.
To feel the tugging at the joints you have to yield to the motion of the arm. When the arm pulls, allow the wrist and base knuckles to be extended, opened. If you fight the motion by flexing, tightening, then you won't feel it. As you push, allow flexion. A good way to practice this is to use Adrian's exercise above. Or you can bow on open strings but add some resistance by pressing the bow into the strings with the left hand (or get someone to do that for you.) By feeling the joints yield to the motion of the arm, you get the most open, resonant sound, completely from the weight of the arm. If you add resistance with the joints, you add pressure, slight compression for a more dense sound.
Got it! Amazing. Thank you Jeewon!