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Get a good beaux. oops....

February 15, 2007 at 11:42 PM

Well, Laurie wrote most eloquently about owning a decent instrument and the significant effect it can have on one’s playing so I’m going to comment on the bow a little.
I’ll start with a basic problem though: like it or not, playing in an orchestra is not going to help your bowing and the less secure your bowing is IE you weren’t taught to get it right from an early age , the more likely that the problems you patiently eradicated when you finally had a decent teacher will begin creeping back in. That’s why in recent years, as the amount of orchestra and chamber work I do has increased exponentially so has the amount of time I spend on basic bowing and I mean basic. Two things have persuaded me.
The first is increasing the number of beginner students I deal with. One simply cannot tell a kid (or an adult for that matter) that they have to learn to use a straight bow if yours wavers slightly off kilter , or your bow speed is sloppy after this weeks Tschiakovsky, or your bow arm is a little stiff because you’ve been rehearsing Bruckner tremolo for 6 yours a day for a month. There are no excuses.
The other thing I did is changed bows. Over the years I have got used to high end Nurnburgers (I note that because there are cheap ones floating about) that cost in the 5000 dollar range. Pretty darn good bows which Oistrakh also happened to prefer. I have heavy arms and can use a lot of force on the instrument where necessary so I never really questioned what seemed a good match. Then I bought a beautiful French bow at the top end of what is available and everything changed. A flawless bow will not accept less than perfection, it will not accept the smallest error in bow arm height and it will dictate to you exactly what type of stroke , speed and weight is appropriate at a given moment and you have to learn to listen. You have to listen –real- carefully to what your bow is telling you and do what it says. There is no alternative and you get trained. It’s like getting married.
So, all this stuff came together and as my bow arm altered rather radically the amount of basic bowing upped and upped so that now I practice an hour a day on bowing that involves a lot of open strings. The most beneficial exercise for sound for the last three years has been daily son file , 40 second bow strokes. To be able to sit in an orchestra in a p/pp passage with a smile on your face as the conductor gets slower and slower and your bow seems to get longer an longer is worth all the work. But to counteract the deadening effect of the son file I use the Key bowing patterns from Basics every day. I divide each exercise into five parts for the days of the week and practice those with a metronome as fats as possible making sure to do a lot of work using half the bow between middle and heel where it is rather difficult at speed with string crossings.
But the exercise which really attracts me is the first one in the Detache section of this book and is for bow speed. One plays a half note mm60-8o using quarter of the bow at the point, middle and heel. Every combination of speeding up and slowing down within those strokes is practice many times on quarter bows and then a simple whole bow is played which always is so pure it’s breathtaking. During the exercise itself one has to pay absolute attention because it is physically impossible to speed the bow up and down precisely within a range of cms without –absolute- attention and paying this level of attention to ones playing has a very powerful effect on overall playing as one begins to transfer this intensity of effort to the usual practice which is almost invariably a black hole of non-concentration in spite of what people say about `Oh, I can concentrate well for about an hour.`
Try it. It’s addictive.

From Scott 68
Posted on February 16, 2007 at 6:13 PM
good advice, was listening to what my bow was telling me the other day and i think it said dude after that I need a drink
From Stephen Brivati
Posted on February 16, 2007 at 9:48 PM
is yours stamped Budweiser?
It may be a clue.
From Patrick Hu
Posted on February 17, 2007 at 9:25 AM
Wonderful post. just a quick question, how much does your french bow weigh? I also use a fair amount of force on my violin thus the reason for my 65g bow.

And also, how often do you practice your bow arm/technique? it seems that the majority of today's generation of violinists focus a lot on left-hand technique and neglect their right-hand technical upkeep.

anyway, very intriguing post.

From Christian Abel
Posted on February 17, 2007 at 12:10 PM
Given what you said about a top quality bow not accepting anything less than perfection, would you reccommend such a bow to a newer player? Would such a bow frustrate a newer player, or would it force one to ingrain proper technique early on?
From Ihnsouk Guim
Posted on February 17, 2007 at 1:54 PM
I also had those questions Christian asked. In addition, would a newer player know a perfect bow when comes across one?


From Man Wong
Posted on February 17, 2007 at 5:25 PM
Yeah, I definitely need a better bow than this super cheap, Glasser fiberglass stick now that I've upgraded from the equally cheap beginner's violin I had been using for nearly a year. I'm hoping the warped, but otherwise in good shape, EM Penzel bow I received (as a throw in) will serve me well after I get it restored and rehaired.

Thanks for this good read and advices and sequel-of-sorts blog entry as followup to Laurie's excellent article on the violin itself.

Best regards,


From Stephen Brivati
Posted on February 17, 2007 at 9:46 PM
I think the bow eighs about 60 g. I don't like very heavy bows.
I practice key bowing exercises from Basics for at least forty minutes every weekday. At weekends i switch to Kreutzer for variety. I also to a minium of fifteen inutes son file everyday.
Would such a bow benifit a beginner. Yes in the sense it would be better than the trash usually found in even good kits. No in the sense that it would conflcit with the emerigng mechianicla skill.
Can a beginner recognize a good bow. Yes, up to a point. Distinguishing between very good bows is soethiong taht just comes with time.Probably sooner that one would imagine though.

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