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Little Jack Horner Syndrome.

December 11, 2008 at 11:02 PM


One of the most significant things I learnt from Alexander Technique is that we tend to assume that what we are `used to` is correct or right or relaxed. Thus we may have no awareness of the presence of tension whatsoever or, when one is offered an alternative use of the body that is more efficient it feels uncomfortable and we often reject it to our detriment.
For violinists I think the right hand thumb is a classic case.  It is possible to have a quite mobile thumb that works technically correctly in bending and straightening etc that actually holds a lot of tension.  When I observe this in myself or a student I work on or offer this combination of exercises which seems to be efficacious.  
First I ask the player to the no thumb bow roll (not to be used in making Schoenburgers). That is, they place the bow on at the heel with a flat hair and remove the thumb. They then allow the bow to roll back and forth across all four strings. It is amazing the number of players who find this difficult, especially here in Japan where over pronation and squeezing the first finger is so common. This simple exercise has a remarkably powerful effect on developing hand control and comfort in bowing. This exercise is followed by one that frees the bow arm. Start at about mm90 and draw whole bows with the bow quite near the fingerboard and minimal pressure.  Gradually increase the mm speed until you get up to about mm144. If you can move the bow arm this fast and control it you are doing well.  It really gets the body pumping.  
While you are doing this stroke pay attention to two things.  First imagine that the bow is balanced on the strings and the thumb. The thumb is not pressing in anyway. It is simply a bow rest.  Second, imagine that the bow is leading the stroke.  This latter is a very powerful heuristic for improving playing in general,.  It is the tool that organizes the way the body is used not an intellectualization of various parts of the anatomy doing this and that.
Hope this is good for a laugh over Christmas,

From Laurie Niles
Posted on December 12, 2008 at 7:21 AM

Okay, how about the locked-in-place thumb that creates a stiff wrist; do you have any ideas for curing a student of this malady? So far remedies attempted include scrunching and pivoting  exercises with bow and pencil, but these are muscle exercises that, while they help the fingers learn to maneuver the bow stick in many ways, are different than (yet related to) allowing the flexibility. I could just use a few more tricks to try.

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on December 12, 2008 at 2:33 PM

This is true and I have notice that many thumb crispation problems come when the fingers are not "down ennough" on the bow. Since it is like manipulating the bow with the tips of the fingers, it makes it harder and the player has no grip and is tense + when tilting the bow too much without noticing it, you lose sound and you wonder why and you press harder with the first finger to compensate wich is wrong. I have notice that when I begin to press harder with the first finger it is always because of these: using too much bow in some places thus creating no sound and 0 articulation of playing, tilting to much the bow, don't stay on the sound point (contact point) on the strings. So, I do really slow bow, I tilt less the bow and watch the sound point to be sure I stay on it.  In general, the tension goes away when I apply these in pieces after.  But I don't know if we can create a general rule with this or not since everyone have different problems!


From Corey Washbourne
Posted on December 13, 2008 at 2:28 AM


I read the first paragraph of your post and a lot of things from my last lesson just clicked. Cheers! My problem is less with my right hand (which could be more relaxed), and more with the shape of my left hand. I have an alternative hand shape that I'm required to implement; the typical response to my teacher was that the handshape I was 'used to' felt comfortable. Of course, the alternative feels comfortable as well, but it's difficult not to revert to the previous handshape as I don't feel the tension.


From Stephen Brivati
Posted on December 13, 2008 at 4:36 AM


Laurie, I don`t have any new trick you wouldn`t befamilair with.  One thing I do strongly advocate is the spider on the stick exercise.   I know most people do this but I think it is too much considered a beginners exercise wheras it continues to be efficacious long after in my opinion.  Eveb for advanced palyers.

I would also put  alot of emhasis on the Roulet exercise.  That seems a litlte out offashion these days too ;)

I also think the idea of training a very floppy bow hand  using only two fingers and thumb in a basic detache is useful.  Once the sensation is mastered more normal pracitc ecan be resumed.  I seem to recall a good description of this at MRHerera`s site which is Westbury Park.  

The other thing I do with somestudnets is have them take a 16th note passage (for exampel) and practic eslowly .  The idea is to exaggerate the finger action by changing from the flattened  thumb bent position of the down bow before changing to the down bow and then retaining that shape until just before the up bow at which time one changes to the straight finger and thumb shape just prior to the up bw, retain the shape until just prior to the down bow etc. 

I also think one can look at te problem somewhat inirectly in the sense of what the right hand is doing may be a response to the left and vice versa.  So if the left hand thumb is very stiff perhps working on that first an dtolertain the bow arm as much as one can is an idea.



From Laurie Niles
Posted on December 13, 2008 at 8:16 AM

Aha, I had not thought of the spider idea. I think it's a good fit. Actually I'm quite left-handed and would benefit from doing it myself, I find I'm pretty slow! Thanks for the ideas!

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