How to Liberate a Bow Arm

October 30, 2009, 11:28 AM ·

Today’s message should be very helpful to you, IF, that is, you are like most violinists and can always use an insight or two to keep your right arm technique sharp.

You see, most players have four main challenges where it comes to their bow-arm; keeping it straight, keeping it horizontal, achieving clean, non-disruptive string crossings, and coordinating changes of string and direction with the left hand.

Now, you may think of disagreeing with me.  You may be thinking, ‘my biggest problem is with spiccato, I can do all those other things.’

If that’s the case, I’d say, you’d be wise to pay attention, your spiccato difficulties may have more to do with these things than you think.

Actually today I’m just going to discuss the first two challenges; keeping the bow straight and keeping it horizontal.  For most of us ‘straight’ is pretty well understood to mean parallel to the bridge.  What is less understood, in my experience, is the need for the components of the bow arm to facilitate the horizontal travel of the bow.

And for these to happen there are exactly 3 joints we have that must ALLOW them to happen; the wrist, the elbow and the shoulder.

Take the wrist, one of the most common no-nos I see is a raising of the wrist at the frog.  Raising the wrist immediately takes one component of your bow-arm out of the horizontal plane of movement that is so necessary to an efficient, seamless bow.

So how should the wrist flex.  The wrist must flex forward, remaining within the ‘plane of motion’ the bow arm inhabits whilst also maintaining the bow in a position parallel to the bridge.  

This idea of staying in the plane of motion extends to the elbow as well.  I see a lot of players introducing unnecessary complications to their bow-arm by elevating and lowing the elbow in the course of drawing a full bow.  

And then they wonder why the bow ‘chatters’ on the string, or they have difficulty with quick string crossings and such.  Well, there’s just too much going on, and all that contrary energy is getting fed right into the bow stick.

And last, there’s the shoulder.  Oh yea, the shoulder.  How fresh is the memory of my father standing next to me tapping my shoulder to get it to relax during my early years of practice.  

Though relaxed, the muscles in the shoulder must nonetheless control critical movements of the upper arm that comes into play at the lower part of the bow and during string crossings.  

I’ll talk more about string crossings tomorrow, yet for now it is important to understand that although the shoulder is bearing the weight of the arm and bow, it must nonetheless be relaxed, at it plays a critical role in moving the bow straight and horizontally at the frog.

This is to say that one cannot confuse the vertical movements involved in string crossings with the lateral movements of the upper arm involved in bowing.

This morning I again made a worthwhile investment into my practice by playing Kreutzer #2 at the extreme frog.  And you might be interested to know, that for me to accomplish it, at tempo, from top to bottom with a really smooth detaché bowing, I ‘belly breathed’ like a stallion in heat.  You’ve got to keep the upper body absolutely relaxed to do this, and belly-breathing is a secret every violinist should know facilitates this.

All the Best,

Clayton Haslop


October 31, 2009 at 03:05 AM ·

Thank you, Clayton.  I remember my high school band teacher making us all run around until we couldn't help but belly-breathe, but no one ever told me it would help my violin playing!  I'll try it.


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