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Controlling the bow. Idle prelude...

January 18, 2008 at 4:50 AM

Well, I sure as heck over committed myself with a rash promise to write a blog about controlling the bow. Asides from putting it on Prozac there are so many sides to this question I think I am just going to jump around a little.
The original problem posed was stopping the bow slipping away from the bridge in forte. As many other posters pointed out the simplest answer may well be that one is dropping the violin. Either because one is leaning forward in a misguided attempt to play forte (actually the reverse is better-in Japan this is a major problem ) or because one is dropping the violin as one shifts down. The down shift should have a sense that the arm is actually moving upward as well as away from the nose.
One might then turn one’s attention to the notion of contact point which is simplified into five lanes by most teachers , numbered from 1 (closest to the bridge) to 5 (closest to the fingerboard). One chooses contact point according to the volume and quality of sound one wishes to produce and this point then becomes the deciding factor in the weight one is going to feed into the instrument and the speed the bow is pulled or pushed. If the bow is angled to the slightest degree then, all things being equal, the bow is going to slide onto a different sound point very briefly and the quality of sound is going to change. Does this mean that a straight bow is the basis of violin sound? Not at all. There are different schools of violin playing that place more or less emphasis on the straight bow. The strongest these days is probably the Galamian system which has students develop the ability to produce a straight bow by stressing the use of a curved bowing action in which the bow arm goes more forward than to the right on the down bow and back on the up bow. A great deal of time is spent on this. It is time well spent. By visualizing the path of the right hand as an ellipse it may well be possible to cure this problematic sliding referred to in the beginning.
Another way to approach the problem which I am more fond of is to more of a specific unwanted action and the opposite so that one becomes sensitized to the full range of possibilities and can then make choices. In this case one practice placing the point of the bow at the fingerboard and the heel of the bow angled back. As one does a slow up bow the bow automatically slides towards the bridge. The angle back should not be too much or the slide will be too fast. Perfect timing is required! No effort is made on the part of the player top move the bow. Let the angle it is held do all the work. Then do a down bow and watch the bow slide back to the fingerboard by the time one reaches the point. Repeat many times. Then do the reverse. Begin at the heel with the bow on the fingerboard. Watch it slide to the bridge on the down bow and vice versa. Practice this exercise in half the bow as well at various speeds. When one is confident then begin combining the twp possibilities so that one goes from fingerboard to bridge during the duration of the lower half and then change the bow angle and get back to the fingerboards during the use of the upper half. A great deal of time spent on this exercise even in the early stages of study pays enormous dividends.
Another aspect of the problem is the question of what initiates or leads the bow stroke. This is often talked about in terms of for example the elbow leading or the upper arm or whatever. However, I think this is actually misleading. The best analogy I can think of is `what do you do when you reach for a cup of coffee?` (apart from salivate and croon). Do you lead with the elbow ? No. The fingers lead the hand and the rest of the arm organizes around that simple action. It’s completely natural. In the same way if one spends more time thinking of how the right hand is moving through space rather than worrying about the whole bow arm and why the bow isn’t straight the problem may be much more easily resolved. This attention to the hand has another dimension within it. We rely on all sorts of input, often of the wrong kind to do a bow stroke. But in fact one of the least used and most important is the feel of the string through the bow into the fingertips. This sensation is an important factor in ones ability to draw something straight. In the same way one can draw a straight line on a blackboard in large part because of the feeling being sent back to the fingers through the marker pen. Paying more attention to this data is also helpful in controlling the bow rather than letting it control you.
More later.

From Mathias B
Posted on January 18, 2008 at 1:01 PM
Buri, have you got a secretary now?

I like your "cup of coffee concept". To extend it: What do you think about a concept with the bow leading your fingers, so there is no part of the arm leading, and to imagine that you have sensory nerves in your bow (in fact you have: the bow is transmitting vibrations to your fingers)? This won't work with a cup of coffee on the table but as soon as you touch it. It may help to get rid of the feeling to hold a bow.

From J Brunson
Posted on January 18, 2008 at 6:51 PM
An enjoyable read... thank you
From Allan Speers
Posted on January 19, 2008 at 5:52 AM
Thank you, Buri!

I was not having any problems with my bow, but you just helped me eliminate a kink in my downshifting that I could not fix.

While I was not tilting the neck down (I've read Menuhin, after all) I was also not thinking UP & away, as you mention above.

This makes a world of difference. Ah ......

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on January 19, 2008 at 7:20 AM
What do you think about a concept with the bow leading your fingers, so there is no part of the arm leading,


My pleasure.

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