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.
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