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Clayton Haslop

The Soul of a Bow Arm

March 30, 2010 at 7:25 PM

 Last night was pretty remarkable.  Believe it or not, a violin lover arrived in Sedona all the way from Korea to have a violin ‘intensive’ with me. 

 And no, he was NOT an aspiring professional looking to make inroads into the Hollywood film recording business.

 Naturally I had to give him my best ‘stuff’, which for him involved taking his tone production to a whole new level.

 You see, like many folks I see, my Korean friend had a number of little bug-a-boos in his bow arm.  And taken together these resulted in significantly limiting his effectiveness to produce a compelling tone, much less one that could be finely nuanced to express a range of colors and feelings.

 In short his playing sounded amateurish and fell far short of his aspiration that ‘Milstein tone’ he so desires from his instrument.

 Now, his bow-hold and arm movements looked pretty good, at first glance.  Being basically self-taught I was actually surprised at how good he ‘looked’ whilst playing. 

 Yet, as I say, his tone and expression were far from the mark.

 Then I began watching the bow itself as it was drawn across the strings.  And on every stroke I could see that the bow stick dipped down and back up like a ship riding up and down ocean swells.

 At the same time I noticed that with each bow he took, the speed increased toward the middle and trailed off at extremes, adding to the queasiness I felt as a listener.

 And there is one additional thing.  I noticed that his bow tracked very consistently toward the fingerboard side of the playing surface. 

 You’ll never produce anything very substantial in the way of tone with your ‘point of contact’ always being closer to the fingerboard than to the bridge.

 Well, it didn’t take long for me to step in, lift the hood, so to speak, and start making some adjustments.

 You see, in spite of his good form he was falling short in a few areas that could really make for big changes in his effectiveness.

 The whole secret of a gorgeous tone, one that listeners just can’t get enough of, is getting a ‘hold’ on the string on not letting it go; from one end of the bow to the other.

 In other words, you must place a certain amount of weight on the string and keep it there from tip to frog.

 Now, granted, when you mean to play quietly you can allow the bow to move away from the bridge as you ‘suspend’ your arm weight in space.

 But in every case, control of the tone is about consistency of bow speed, pressure and placement, from tip to stern.  Not one of these can be neglected to produce a fine result.

 So I gave him some things to practice at home.

 They are the same sorts of exercises, in fact, that you will find in both my ‘Beginners Circle’ course – for entry level players, and my ‘Allegro Players’ program – for more intermediate level players.

 Of course my new friend could have placed himself far ahead of the game had he worked with one of these courses before coming to see me.  He certainly plans to become a subscriber on his return home.

 Yet the trip was not a waste in his eyes by any means.  As he expressed it to me, it meant a lot to him just to come and meet someone whose playing he has enjoyed listening to on Youtube for many months.

 I could not have been more flattered.

 All the best,

 Clayton Haslop

From Marsha Weaver
Posted on April 1, 2010 at 3:29 PM

Hi, Clayton --

In your blog you mentioned that contact between bow and strings should be closer to the bridge than the fingerboard.  What about half-way between?

I'm an adult beginner without a teacher, so I'm trying to pick up tips from the best sources I can find.  Yesterday I tried playing with my bow closer to the bridge, and my violin apparently hated it!  It shouldn't be a matter of set-up -- it was set up by an excellent luthier who has been recommended by teachers and violin shops.  Since he worked on it in early February, I've been playing with the bow about mid-way between the bridge and fingerboard.  It produced a nice tone, but never much in the way of "color" (volume changes and other aspects of expression).  But when I tried keeping the bow nearer to the bridge yesterday, all the strings dropped the nice, lower vibration and produced more of a shriek, an octave higher than what should have been produced.  I immediately started searching for a crack or some other catastrophic occurance that could have caused such a sudden onset.  Everything looked fine.  So I returned to bowing about half-way between the bridge and the fingerboard, and the problem went away.

The strings on the violin are ancient  (I'm planning to change them this weekend).  Could that contribute to the violin's reaction?  I'm hoping that the string change solves the problem, since I really would like to be able to follow your suggestions.  If you have any thoughts on anything else that could be causing the "shriek", I'd appreciate your sharing them.

Thanks very much.

Marsha Weaver


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