Printer-friendly version

Is your bow smiling today?

May 16, 2008 at 6:02 AM

I’ve been stumped by innumerable questions over the years: why the Declaration of Independence doesn’t mention prunes? Why Yuki sensei doesn’t love me? And so on. But the most puzzling thing has always concerned the straight bow. It seemed such a neat concept- if your bow isn’t straight is it `gay`? So many good players have mentioned the importance of it and then there is Oistrakh banging out the last movement of the Franck with an apparently flawless straightness. And if your kids can’t get it then there is an ever burgeoning market of weird plastic devices that will keep the little horrors stick straight until `his muscles learn to do it of their own accord, a dubious koan if I heard one.
The reason this has had me puzzled for so many years is the question of sound point. I maintain that if you are sensitive to color and nuance then you will be changing it all the time. Even if one is not, one cannot succeed as a violinist without recognizing that changing string length via the left hand requires a different point of contact. There are two possible means of changing point of contact. The first is to keep the bow straight and shove it away from you or towards you. The latter is to angle the bow so that it moves back and forth as required. Obviously the former is crude and if the latter is true then how can their be any real value in a straight bow?
Drew`s writing on the `crescent bow` has really brought home to me how unnecessary this persistent niggle was and also illuminated for me how often players really do bow around the body as opposed to away from it. Indeed, I am now finding myself persistently jumping on this point with students (especially new ones with some experience). Nine times out of ten, if the sound is bad the path of the bow is not doing it’s crescent things. It’s a really powerful heuristic.
I only have one tweak to add to Drew`s description which he might enjoy. I don’t use the term `crescent` or even banana. I think it’s much more fun to talk in terms of smiling and frowning. If the bow is smiling at you you are doing it right. If the sound is bad I simply ask the student `Is your bow frowning today?`
All is clear. All is one with the world.

From Drew Lecher
Posted on May 16, 2008 at 3:10 PM

I love the "smiling and frowning" …… as long as the down-bow doesn't "smile" so big it collides onto the lower string and the up-bow "frowns" so sadly it ends up down in the doldrums on the lower string:-))) I know… you meant the plane path.

The "Crescent Bow" certainly does make the sound smile and when reversed the sound truly cries ill.


From Terez Mertes
Posted on May 16, 2008 at 4:06 PM
Love it - well put.

But I don't know what you're talking about regarding the Declaration of Independence. Here's what my version says:

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to digest the foods which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the consumption of prunes requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

From Laurie Niles
Posted on May 16, 2008 at 4:32 PM
It's funny, I looked up that Oistrakh video before reading the rest of your blog, Buri, and my first thought was, "What would Simon Fischer think of that sound point?" It certainly works for Oistrakh, and for me the listener, whatever he is doing!

I've always been rather envious of my Suzuki counterparts who manage to produce an amazingly straight bow in even a three-year-old. That early muscle training just MUST be a great thing. And yet I'm always wanting to engage everything: the mind, the imagination. I can't bear down on a student if I feel it's squashing something. I guess I would say that the rote muscle training is good in moderation, and that if moderation isn't enough, then something mental like "smiles" or "crescents" or "trace the edge of a plate" is better than permanently affixing a bow brace to the fiddle.

From Mark Hartman
Posted on May 17, 2008 at 3:57 AM
I've been teaching a very smart 5 year old girl and I realized recently that her mother got the impression that the goal is to make the bow go straight all the time no matter what the student is thinking. My goal, however, is to engage the student's mind in learning to control the bow. I use Galamian's concept of "in" and "out" motions in the upper half and Mimi Zwieg's (from Paul Rolland?) idea of the train and the caboose for the lower half. I do think in most cases it is helpful to have a way to explain the basic motions of the bow arm and then later introduce the freedom of following the sounding point. I do think the idea of the smile is a wonderful image and I will try it with some students. I would want to be careful, however, that they wouldn't be too literal about it, because I've seen students overdo that motion.
From Joe Fischer
Posted on May 18, 2008 at 12:33 AM
"Man who eat many prunes get good run for money".
From Ray Randall
Posted on May 18, 2008 at 6:20 PM
We have good people on this site who sell strings, make and sell violins
and make DVD lessons available. Me,
after all the talk of prunes I'm going to sell toilet paper at a discount here,clean up and make a fortune.

This entry has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.

Facebook YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music Shopping Guide Shopping Guide

Corilon Violins
Corilon Violins

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Anne Cole Violin Maker
Anne Cole Violin Maker

Miroirs CA Classical Music Journal
Miroirs CA Classical Music Journal

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

JR Judd Violins
JR Judd Violins

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Los Angeles Philharmonic

Classic Violin Olympus

Coltman Chamber Music Competition

Metzler Violin Shop

Southwest Strings

Bobelock Cases

Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Jargar Strings


Violin Lab



Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine