Learning to cross strings smoothly can take your violin or viola playing to a whole new level (literally). One of the most helpful things you can do to improve your string crossing technique, whether you’re a beginner, intermediate or advanced violinist or violist is to isolate the muscles that are responsible for moving the bow from one string to another.
This exercise is a little like the silent exercise for bowing parallel to the bridge.
Place the bow on the D string (G for viola) in the middle of the bow. Your right elbow should be roughly even with the knuckles with the wrist a fraction higher. Now imagine your arm is floating on the surface of a pool of water. Feel your arm float up and then drop again as a gentle wave comes past.
The point of this is to feel how the bow is like the arm of a set of scales, swinging around the pivot point of the string. It’s the shoulder muscles that adjust this arm level. Note, the relative position of the wrist, elbow and knuckles hasn’t changed. This time drop the arm (from the shoulder) until the bow is on the A string (D for viola).
Your objective is to really get a feel for those muscles that should power the string crossing motion: those powerful shoulder muscles that connect with your back. Move the arm back to the D string and repeat this on all the strings and then at the point and at the frog. The relative position of elbow, wrist and knuckles will change in each part of the bow but it is still the same muscles that change the bow level.
Once you feel really familiar with the sensation of buoyantly floating from one string to the next you can add in horizontal bow movement as well. Start with the D and G strings (G & C for viola) moving from the middle to the frog then middle to tip and then doing whole bows. It’s a good idea to make the crossing so smooth that you hear a double stop as the bow temporarily touches both strings.
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This post was written by Stylus writer, a former professional violinist/ violist who has taken his gift for phrasing and tone into the world of words. You can learn more about his work at https://styluswriter.co.nz
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