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Clayton Haslop

How To Improve Tone

July 18, 2009 at 12:24 AM

It’s not often that I have dreams related to violin playing.  Rather surprising, given the amount of time I spend thinking about it.

Last night was one of the exceptions that ‘proves the rule,’ though.

In it, my first violin teacher, by the name of Sybil Maxwell, was showing me a device for developing a straight bow arm.  It was a strange contraption where a shuttle was moved back and forth on a horizontal track laying in front of us.

No, it’s not something I’m going to patent anytime soon.

Yet the dream did get me thinking about the bow arm.  And just what needs to be in mind for the bow to move smoothly and efficiently from tip to frog.

The first thing that came to mind is sound.  You really must be ‘hearing’ the tone you will produce BEFORE you even raise the instrument to your chin.

This is VERY important, especially as you begin learning the instrument or make changes in old habits. 

Now, become aware of your breathing as you hear the note – I’m hearing, and breathing, a whole note ‘G’ as I write this.

OK, next you will raise the violin to playing position while you continue to hear that tone and breathe.  As you do, you will also be holding in mind an image of the position you want to arrive at as well.

Remember to stay focused on breathing the whole time.  This is your ticket to relaxation.

The really challenging parts of the bow to handle well are the extreme frog and the extreme tip.  As you bring your right hand toward the violin – up bow – there comes a point somewhere just after mid-bow where you the wrist begins to flex forward.

Soon after, perhaps 3/4s of the way up the bow, the upper arm must come into play.  And this is the point where many folks begin to get into trouble. 

The upper arm must move laterally, totally within the ‘plane of motion’ established by playing solely on the G string.  So it goes laterally up, and then laterally back at the beginning of the next stroke.

And in order for the bow to remain straight your wrist will FLEX laterally in the same plan of motion.

If this is getting too complicated, my apologies - you’d do well to head back to Month 1 of  Violin Mastery Beginners Circle or the Dynamic Breath Control DVD - for the picture is ‘worth a thousand words.’

Yet if you are with me, let’s forge ahead. 

The next point of challenge comes in continuing the down bow.  Remember that you are in one ‘plane of motion.’  And remember to breathe.

In others words, you want to relax, and think of pushing the bow horizontally away from the body – the hand, forearm and upper arm remaining in a 2 dimensional zone.

Well, this is getting long, now.  I will say one last thing, however. 

There IS a point, in down bows particularly, where the bow wants to ‘chatter’ on the string.  I won’t go into WHY it happens because then we start in on physics, and who needs that right now.

What you need to now, however, is that you’re best shot at keeping this ‘chatter’ well below an audible level is by ‘thinking horizontal’, as I like to put it, and staying relaxed.

All the Best,

Clayton Haslop

From Michael Felzien
Posted on July 18, 2009 at 7:47 PM

This is a very interesting post.  It made me think about what is to me an interesting stroke that Jascha Heifetz had upon finishing a down-bow stroke.  He seemed to always move the tip suddently towards the finger board.  Here is an example:

Heifetz - Melodie - Gluck

 I thought this movement was to cause a sudden diminuendo for in the note.  But, perhaps there are further reasons that someone could explain more completely. 

Near the frog where scratch is a concern what other techniques are suggested.  I don’t see where he did this near the frog upon an UB completion.  Wouldn’t the moving of the bow-hair towards the fingerboard in conjection with an exhilation and a colle’ stoke be better at that point? 

I suppose this post might all be filed under “masterful bowing technique of Heifetz” but I was interested in asking to see what others have found, or thought, for mutual learning purposes. 


Mike F.


From Henry Butcher.
Posted on July 19, 2009 at 11:11 AM

Oh wow that was beautiful. I saved it in my favorites, I'm gonna learn that one!

You can see how much his whole arm is relaxed, and touching the bow most sensitively, adjusting his fingers to release any excessive tensions.  

And clearly he is pulling and pushing the bow.

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