September 26, 2008 at 7:36 PM
Agility and flexibility perfectly balanced are your goals.
I wondered if I could ask you a question about bowing. I've noticed that the tilt of my bow is not constant, but can tend to vary between 1) stick above the hair, to 2) stick being tilted toward the fingerboard, according to the whim of the bow, and whereabouts in the bow I am. In other words, my bow hold seems to let the bow stick roll around in my fingers too much.
I've been in the habit of never letting my thumb touch the bow hair or ferrule, but now think it might be a good idea to let the thumb gently lean against the bow hair at all times, thus giving me a more secure and disciplined bow hand. Could I ask your opinion on this? Do you think it is a good idea to let the thumb touch the bow hair, or not?
I hope this is not a bother for you to answer this email. I am very impressed with your book on technique. Thank you.
Absolutely no bother and thank you.
I took the liberty to use your question as the basis for a blog. It seemed most appropriate and something that all of us deal with.
RE: Tilt of the hair.
"I've noticed that the tilt of my bow is not constant, but can tend to vary between 1) stick above the hair, to 2) stick being tilted toward the fingerboard, according to the whim of the bow, and whereabouts in the bow I am. In other words, my bow hold seems to let the bow stick roll around in my fingers too much."
This is not entirely bad.
"1) The stick above the hair…" This (flat hair) is the most naturally stable use of the bow and lends the fullest of tones, whether in piano or fortissimo. Even when performing the strongest passages, the bow hand can and should remain wonderfully free and agile with absolutely no seizing tension.
"2) stick being tilted toward the fingerboard…" again, a basic technique in use of the bow. Often a beginning student is taught to tilt the bow at the frog/heel and when drawing toward the tip flatten the hair. This covers a lot of general playing and with many players that is all they ever do.
It is the continued statement that holds the puzzle.
"…according to the whim of the bow, and whereabouts in the bow I am. In other words, my bow hold seems to let the bow stick roll around in my fingers too much."
The bow, of course, has no whims:-) It is simply doing what we require of it, whether intentional on our part, or not. If we are not intentionally directing/steering the bow, we are intentionally causing it to wonder around and invent all sorts of bizarre angles and sounds:-)
The bow "rolling around" in your fingers can be a great asset showing a wonderful degree of ease and flexibility. Practice doing this at YOUR whim throughout the bow stroke, in both down and up-bows. Keep the tone very resonant and beautifully sustained.
Also, include tilting the bow with the stick toward the bridge (inward). By many, this is considered absolutely forbidden, but that is really not the case. Mind you, I generally do not give this technique to a young and/or beginning student. To accomplish this inward tilt well requires at least a straight bow stroke drawn perpendicular to the strings, but even this is far easier to master, and projects a more beautiful and resonant tone, when the "Crescent Bow Stroke" is applied. It is particularly beneficial with soft, delicate playing at the tip.
Many players have difficulty with tension and tremble, shudder or literally quake at even the thought of pianissimo endings. It is like the old joke often applied to the poor violist, but appropriate to the violinist and cellist as well……How do you teach staccato? Write Largo, 2 whole notes slurred/tied together, up-bow, and marked ppp with diminuendo and… solo:-)
Taking the 'inward tilt' one step further — it is great with down-bow staccato (intentional:-), especially in the lower half of the bow.
RE: Thumb touching the hair.
"I've been in the habit of never letting my thumb touch the bow hair or ferrule, but now think it might be a good idea to let the thumb gently lean against the bow hair at all times, thus giving me a more secure and disciplined bow hand. Could I ask your opinion on this? Do you think it is a good idea to let the thumb touch the bow hair, or not?"
Yes, when using the 'outward tilt' (stick toward the fingerboard) it is most beneficial to have the thumb touching the hair. It stabilizes the bow-hand and stick/hair/string combination totally. Playing strongly on the side of the hair, the bow will want to flip into the thumb. The player is faced with two choices:
1. Squeeze the bow — wrong!
2. Let the thumb and bow hair meet with total ease and balance — correct.
This goes back to the concept and skill of rolling the bow with the thumb and fingers. Do not bend the thumb sharply, simply bend it minimally more and roll it with the fingers until thumb and hair meet. The right wrist and arm will rise ever so slightly along with the rolling action. Absolute ease and balance should be felt and maintained.
One extra note:
If the thumb is 'double-jointed' it is often not best to bend the thumb toward the hair. This can actually cause tension and even pain. Follow your instincts and do what is most natural, easiest and directly to the point of the required action.
I am not an advocate of the thumb touching the ferrule or the frog in any situation. I only use the 'thumb-grip' or wrap.
In touching the frog your thumb is somewhat frozen to a contact angle which inhibits freedom of adjustment and does not allow a more sensitive touch whereby the vibrations of the bow can be felt as it 'comes to life' in the hand while playing. In addition, the distance from frog to thumb-grip changes literally with the weather — more humid air causing the hair to stretch, increasing the distance and, conversely, dryer shrinking the distance. Though subtle, this can affect the stability and comfort of the player with the bow hand 'feeling off' on certain days. I have never had this feeling since moving away from the frog many years ago.
One more point would be the extreme damage I have seen on bows when the players gouged and wore away a great deal of the actual stick.
Use varying degrees of hair as appropriate for the desired tone.
• Flat hair for the fullest and grandest of tonal characters. Dynamic range approximately p to fff.
• Outward tilt (toward fingerboard) for a lighter tonal character. Dynamic range approximately ppp to f.
• Inward tilt for the lightest of delicate tones with an extremely relaxed bow arm and wrist, especially at the tip — an exception being, a very dramatic down-bow staccato from the heel/frog.
Perhaps this excerpt will shed additional light.
Bow Fingers/ Hand/Arm
This deals with the physics of playing and handling the bow.
1. Thumb: “Ruler of All.”
a. Fulcrum of the bow and placed on bottom/near-side of the “thumb-grip” (leather wrap) so it cannot slip through, between the stick and the hair.
b. When using Flat-Hair the thumb should have a slight ascending bend into the bow and not be in contact with the hair – the palm will be to the side of the frog and slightly forward depending upon bow hold style.
c. When using Side-Hair have the thumb touch the hair by rolling the bow, simultaneously bringing the hair and thumb towards each other until they make contact – increasing the curl of the thumb/fingers.
d. The two points above, i.e., b. and c., will have differing hand/wrist/arm angles, with c. requiring a slightly higher positioning – take care not to do too much.
e. The thumb must not protrude to the other side and should never touch the fingers.
Be flexible and alert in mind, body and spirit to serve the artistic needs of the music as you hear it. It is art and our technique is the tool — constantly refine and grow.
Hope this helps—
Take care and God bless,
Everything affects everything.
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