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Drew Lecher

VIOLIN TECHNIQUE/VIOLA TECHNIQUE: Bow arm — nervous and finicky / relax into string

November 4, 2009 at 6:26 AM

 “Question:  My bow arm in general (too many cooks probably),  feels a little nervous and finicky just relaxing all the time in to the string.   This was of my own doing, and when I really focus, I'm 'discovering' the relationship between each note's quality and characteristics well.   It appears to have helped me internalize the real spirit of bow speed this focus,  in terms of the quality of what I hear versus more speed for more forte when appropriate and so on.   


So, what is the real spirit of relaxing the upper arm into the string--my bow hand feels worn out sometimes from keeping the note at the tip(I play in the upper 3rd a lot).  ???   I studied Jonathan Swartz comments on the graduation of flow through the forearm some times ago, but do you have anything to further this along other than said focus and etudes?” A.



Hi A,


Add Basics I to develop more variety and flexibility of control. I is a "simple" study that requires mastery of bow weight, speed, point of contact—all interrelated with quantity of hair chosen and vibrating length of string/position. For someone that does not have my book, Basics I is a study of legato pulses with the bow—initially do 2 per bow and gradually add more without speeding up the tempo, though that can be done as a variable.


Stop playing in the upper third so much. It is a wonderful part of the bow and certainly to be used, but definitely not to the exclusion of 2/3's of the bow. Your bow hand will work more in the upper third, depending on the style, character and dynamic played. 



1. Bow arm is "nervous and finicky":

When the bow arm is "nervous and finicky" you are not relaxing into the string. I am guessing that you are playing at the wrong point of contact for the given weight, speed and quantity of hair used. The result of a 'battle between the hair and string" is usual a very unsettled tone and even a jumpy bow.


Don't change anything—


Begin wrong and then as you draw the bow stroke very slowly move the contact point nearer to the bridge until you hit the sweet spot—when all is beautiful, resonant and flowing. 


The sense is one of fusion joining the hair and string as if laterally pulling the hair into, through and out of the string with each stroke.


2. Relaxed bow arm:

A relaxed bow arm does not mean limp and going amiss in path and plains—thereby lacking direction and purpose. It is a highly motivated move, extremely directed and linear in flow. I teach the Crescent Bow path as it is naturally fluid.


Hold the bow with greater firmness in the thumb, fingers and hand—I do mean slightly "stiff" temporarily—then do ALL of the stroke from the upper arm and forearm. The left hand is one-with-the-bow and the shoulder joint, elbow joint and wrist joint must fluidly hinge (WD-40 helps:-) accomplishing the flow of the stroke, bow changes and string changes without any assistance from the hand, fingers and thumb. Within one or 2 strokes, usually much less then even a stroke, you will see and feel the need to study the BOW ARM.


Now you are on your way.


TIP: If your right thumb does not cross the string you are on and slightly beyond, you have not completed the Whole Bow. 


Hope this helps—


Take care and God bless, 



Author of 

"Violin Technique: The Manual, How to master"

"Viola Technique: The Manual, How to master"


”These two volumes offer a comprehensive practice methodology that addresses the full gamut of fundamental technical issues on the violin and viola;…these books certainly chart a course towards the acquisition of an in-depth technical understanding…whether used to build one from scratch or to hone individual aspects.”— the Strad, London, September 2008 


From Bill Busen
Posted on November 5, 2009 at 6:25 AM

Woot!  This clarifies (solves) one of my friends'  tonal palette problems!

From Donna Clegg
Posted on November 5, 2009 at 8:30 PM

As always, you are spot on and write with clarity making your points easy to understand.  Thanks.

From Drew Lecher
Posted on November 8, 2009 at 1:28 AM

Thanks for letting me know it helps—that is when it is great:-)


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