Two daily bowing exercises

December 16, 2007, 4:13 PM · Greetings,
It was very interesting to hear maestro Ricci’s reaction to the question `if you could pick one bowing exercise only, what would it be?` in Laurie`s recent interview. There is, as he so cogently pointed out, no one answer to this issue. However, we do need a daily bowing routine (especially as an orchestral player thwacking through Mahler and Bruckner on a weekly basis…) so it is interesting to consider what is most valuable at any given moment for any individual. I am going to pick two exercises sort of…..

Firstly, for me, I think one of the most difficult aspect of bow control is not so much when the bow is on the string as when it is -in the air.- The fact one is holding a stick at one end ensures not only that it is relatively heavy but that the smallest adjustment of the fingers results in a wild swinging at the tip. This leaves one with the problem of having a gluey contact with the fingers but not gripping or being tense in the arm. One of the best exercise for developing this skill is called the Thibaud exercise. One executes a colle –down bow- at the point and a colle up bow at the heel alternately. It is helpful to watch in the mirror and see exactly what lunatic things ones bow actually does as it moves from one end to the other. This can be quite embarrassing. Having got this sort of okay on one string one might then play the first note on the g string and the next ion the e and so on. And vice versa. This gets much trickier. One trick I am working on (not sure if it is that useful yet) is instead of trying to force the bow to stay in the most ergonomic path in the air by watching it in a mirror one might try cheating and learning it with the bow on the strings first. How to accomplish this?

Try doing a little down bow at the point on the g string. Now use a little more than three quarters of the bow to cross over dae on an up bow. Stop the bow just before the heel for a micro second and then do you up bow. Reverse the procedure. Play almost to the point on a down bow, pause for a micro second and do your down bow and so on. Using this cheat first teaches the bow arm how close to the strings on can stay in executing the bowing for real. There are other permutations. Instead of crossing over evenly one might roll all the way over toy the new string before executing the long bow and then the short for example.

Having mentioned rolling over the strings I would add my second fundamental bowing which I think is a little ignored. (perhaps only by me) This means playing all four strings gdae at the point down one bow and then eadg up bow. The same string crossing as the Mendelssohn cadenza done at the extreme tip. This bowing has the primary movement of the whole arm pumping up and down at the shoulder. It is thus invaluable for releasing tension in the shoulder and developing skill at playing on the correct string plane. Recently I have found that it is this exercise rather than more local exercises such as the rabbit ear bow hold which are highly efficient in stopping students from pressing or forcing tone. This has worked well with a boy of seven and a women of thirty six who is somewhat stuff from her day job with a computer.
I take the ideas behind these two bowings as a single entity by doing string crossings at the heel over all four strings in different rhythms. That combines both the necessity of controlling the tip (somewhat similar to air bowing) and the rolling action.


December 16, 2007 at 10:46 PM · Buri, is that first exercise you mention the same that's in "Basics?" I like your alternate to it, I'll probably use it. The in the air part of it is a real challenge.

December 16, 2007 at 10:51 PM · I added your colle led whole bows awhile back, and with a change of bow hold--soon started not only pulling perfect when I'm focusing, but my sounding point steering improved--actually pretty dramatically.

I also, in patterns, mix directions. I also do random colle--in a very mixed pattern, on all parts of the bow--keeping the bow at a consistent level above the strings in a c-shape.

December 17, 2007 at 12:26 AM · Greetings,

Tara. Yep,its in Basics although I don`t rrember it being called the thibaud exercise. Its is in the Flesch book.



December 17, 2007 at 12:58 AM · How much is Basics running for these days?

December 17, 2007 at 01:33 AM · Albert, has it for $53.

December 17, 2007 at 01:57 AM · Oh, Albert, I just saw your comment about sounding point steering, and god do I hear you on that. I occasionally video-record my practice and did today, and my work this next week is clear.

Buri, Fischer doesn't call it Thibaud, but which Flesch book are you talking about?

December 17, 2007 at 02:21 AM · Greetings,

The Art of Violin Playing.

The classic book on the subject.



December 17, 2007 at 02:43 AM · Thank you for providing a good answer to this question. It was interesting to me that Ricci, after resisting the question, did mention ricochet. That was an exercise I had singled out for myself about a two years ago, to correct weakness in my own bow arm after having to do some nasty all-ricochet thing in orchestra. I'd incorporated it into doing Galamian scales, just doing two ricochet, then three, then four, on each note. But I felt it wasn't very general.

Your two exercises are more macro, and I think they address the idea of maintaining a level of righthand (right-arm) strength, flexibility and

I'm SO lefthanded. This is always where I lose it all first.

December 17, 2007 at 07:52 AM · Buri,

Great blog!

Here is another bow teaser, which you probably know…

Float the bow just a few millimeters above the string and draw at a fraction of a snails — and then slower:-)

Have fun,


December 17, 2007 at 08:15 AM · I've done that, but why is it so good for you?

December 17, 2007 at 09:00 AM · Emily,

You feel every part and fraction of measurement of the movement and though the bow is continually in the air it still changes balance.

It requires steadiness and total stability of the bow hand and arm. The tilt angle should be varied allowing further observations to be made regarding the success of the bow path and keeping directly over the chosen point of contact and the flow of the drawing of the bow.

Every once in a while touch the string without sound and other times with the least amount of contact imaginable, but achieving a clarity and immediacy to the tone in up and down bows at various points.

Maintain a proportioned bow arm without the upper arm, wrist and hand, etc., getting awkward and off kilter.

Have fun—


December 17, 2007 at 12:05 PM · Buri, great insights- I have used that colle exercise, and I will try it moving from the G to the E.

Drew, you gave me a new idea when I practice the son file. I know I will have fun doing in the air a few mm above the string.

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