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The importance of being bowing.

November 6, 2009 at 3:40 AM


A great teacher once said to me that the science of violin playing is in the left hand and the art I the right.   Not sure I am completely convinced by this dichotomy but it does serve to remind us that left and right hand deserve at a bare minimum fifty percent of our attention each.    This will then vary in proportion on a case by case basis.
This being the case I wonder how many of us actually neglect the right hand(arm, whatever) to a considerable extent during our technique building practice?   I suppose  it’s the nature of the beast, intonation being such a bugbear,   that we should focus on the left hand.  Plus there is something, somehow more immediately gratifying in play a scale of some sort than an open string, or maybe not….
The result of this imbalance of attention does in some cases lead to a practice routine in which one does scales to begin with, probably dutifully beginning with a slow easy one and building up to fiendish double stops without really paying more than cursory attention to the bowing. Of course this problem is alleviated to some extent if one follows the principles laid out by  Flesch (and later Galamian)  of combining bowing and left hand. But,   somehow I think bowing still gets short shrift. It may be helpful to address this issue directly for a month or so by beginning every days practice with pure bowing exercises.   
A useful resource is Drew Lecher`s book but one might set up a very good routing using exercises from Basics or (gasp) a combination of the two. Something like the following.
1)  Spider on a stick (recommended for pros as much as beginners….)
2) Up and down finger action from Basics.
3)   Short notes in lower half using only fingers.
4) Colle in all parts of bow.
5) Thibaud exercise. (Down at point, up at heel using colle)
6) Pulsing exercises on one string.
7) Exercise in planes (Drew or Basics)
8) String crossing exercises- both detache in all parts of bow and long slurs.
9) WB martele.
10) Speed and sp exercises from Basics.
Alternatively one might use soemthing like Casorti. These are just a few possibilities. No need to take more than 20 minutes or do any to excess.   But if one gets the bow arm into a grove it may that the scales that follow (in itself something of an ambitious jump) may be much more beautiful and much more inspiring a as result.
Bowing is common in Japan,

From Tess Z
Posted on November 6, 2009 at 2:46 PM

Thanks for your timely tips, Buri. 

I agree, we often neglect the right arm in the quest for perfect intonation with the left.  There has to be a balance of attention paid to both in order for us to improve.  I had pulled my Basics out from the dark cupboard this morning to work on some bowing exercises.

From Laurie Niles
Posted on November 6, 2009 at 5:39 PM

This is not to mention doing 10,000 bow circles in the air.

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on November 6, 2009 at 6:40 PM

Thanks this is very true!


From Ray Randall
Posted on November 6, 2009 at 11:58 PM

As Drew and my teacher say, everything affects everything. They are correct.

From Corwin Slack
Posted on November 7, 2009 at 12:26 AM

 Ysaye is reputed to have said that one can develop a mature left hand in a few years but it took a lifetime to learn to bow.

From Yixi Zhang
Posted on November 7, 2009 at 7:52 AM

 "the science of violin playing is in the left hand and the art the right." That's exactly what my teacher told me! For years I only paid attention to the left hand, but the teacher I've been working with the past two years showed me most of the problems that I thought to be left hand turned out to be or at least contributed to by the left hand. Problems include the quality of sound, cleanness, intonation, phrasing, even vibrato. 

Bow exercises are definitely helpful, but one of the most obvious issues for me is listening: how to listen for different shades of the sound that I'm producing and how to make one notes connect the ways I want from an external point of view. The things I would normally notice when someone else is playing often escape my ears completely when I'm playing.  Video-taping helps to a great degree, but it seems to take me forever to cultivate the ears, or rather the mind to achieve the discernability a good violinist should have. Practice is very much a mind thing, and this is particularly true in this aspect.

Thank you Buri, for yet another great blog!

From D Kurganov
Posted on November 8, 2009 at 4:24 AM

An absolutely indispensable exercise for me is from the Ysaye book on scales and exercises.  its the first exercise in the book and spans several pages.  It works both your left and right hand technique, as well as string crossings.  But unlike other exercises it allows you to concentrate on both hands very closely.  It's also highly flexible, so one can get creative with different finger patterns/keys and bowings.  has anyone seen this?

From Yixi Zhang
Posted on November 8, 2009 at 5:11 AM

Mr. Kurganov, I'm very much interested but I searched a few places online and can't seem to find it. Any idea if and  where it is available?


From Stephen Brivati
Posted on November 8, 2009 at 10:32 PM


thanks for your comment Mark.  I think once in a while a book comes along that changes or markedly influences vilin pedagogy.  Basics was one.  There was no longerr any excuse for teachers humming and hawing and just pointing out a few dynamics in the lesson.   We could all, in our own way,  becomes diagnostic (as opposed to agnostic).

Drew`s book is similar in it helps to side step many  issue which we perhaps haven`t addess so much.  Just how useful all  these stuidies?  How much is enough?   What is the core of technique that we can teach really rapidly (not sloppily!) so that music can then take precedence?

This idea of a core technique fascinates me.  What I mean by it is something that is basically simple,  an abolsuite minimu,  yet connects up into a viruouso technique at any level.   Such a `core` would also be equally applicable to a rank beginner and a hardened (literally) professional.  Drew`s book does precisly this.



From Charlie Piccione
Posted on November 9, 2009 at 12:03 PM

That about sums up the whole thing.

My take on this whole intonation thing is: If the bow arm can not produce the tone for intonation to follow, the the left hand will have nothing to do.

When I play I listen, my bow arm does the work and my left helps my right produce the tones I am looking for. I really don't give much thought to my left hand as it knows where to go and a note is a note coloured anyway you like but the bow, well that is what makes the note speak.

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