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Clayton Haslop

How to Play from a Shoulder

October 23, 2009 at 12:09 AM

Playing from the shoulder.  The first time I actually heard the phrase was on my first visit to the Milstein masterclass.  And on that hearing it was a real puzzler, I must say.

On consideration, it makes total sense.  As I written in the past few days, Milstein was a great believer in using the largest muscles possible to control the bow.

Those muscles are certainly not to be found in the hand, forearm, or even upper-arm.  They are in the back, torso, and shoulder.  Those are, in fact the muscles that control upper arm movement.

So if Milstein had said, ‘play with the upper arm,’ he would have been saying virtually the same thing.

Now it should be said that Milstein was not a tall man, and his arms were short.  If you watch him play you will indeed see that his upper arm plays a very large role indeed in his bow arm.

Average and taller than average folks, with longer arms, will have difficulty doing as much with the upper arm; which is why you will hear me talk so much about the forearm.

Yet for people of any size there are two aspects of bowing in which the upper arm must certainly be employed; string crossings, and when close to the frog.

String crossings, as I said yesterday, are accomplished by the ‘elevator’ muscles of the torso.

Drawing the bow back and forth near the frog will call on the exact muscles in the shoulder Milstein was referring to.

Today I spent some time playing scales and Kreutzer # 2 at the extreme frog to fine tune my control of all these muscles.  The thing one must bear in mind when doing this is that the horizontal movements of the bow must be independent of the vertical movements at changes of string.

By staying in the lower third of the bow, even someone with my length of arm is required to play from the shoulder.  And by keeping my fingers quiet this is quite exclusively so.

All the Best,

Clayton Haslop

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on October 24, 2009 at 2:09 PM

I agree that you can't achieve a nice sound with just superficial and tiny muscles!!!  


From Margaux Matz
Posted on October 24, 2009 at 5:45 PM

 This was a very interesting post and something that I never would have considered.  I myself have long arms, so its no wonder that the bowing aspect on violin can be both easy and difficult in many aspects.  But then again, someone with long arms like mine is probably meant to play the viola.

From Ray Randall
Posted on October 24, 2009 at 9:38 PM

Clayton has a good point, the smaller muscles are harder to control with precision.

From Elinor Estepa
Posted on October 25, 2009 at 1:37 AM

My teacher wants me to do Kreutzer # 2 on the tip of the bow and  at the frog, and you are right, you really have to use muscle to control those movements..very hard!

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