Violin Technique: Curing the Crash Landing on Bow Retakes

August 5, 2022, 1:24 PM · What happens when you play down-bow, then you have to lift the bow in the air and play another down-bow?

Hopefully not a "crash landing"!

We call this action a "re-take" or a "circle bow." Ideally, the bow lands gently, without any kind of offensive or unintended sound.

However, when the bow "crash-lands," it tends to bounce, skitter and scratch. It feels out of control, because it is.

What is causing this crash landing, and how do you get it back in control? Here are a few culprits: weakness in the bow hold; landing in the middle instead of the lower-half of the bow; and landing while still in motion.

In this video I've outlined a few ways to "cure" the crash landing - including some exercises for strengthening the right pinkie. Here it is for you to watch, and I'll describe the exercises below:

A big cause of the crash has to do with a lack of "pinkie participation" in the bow hand. When playing music with no re-takes (and no strokes that require lifting the bow, such as spiccato) one can get away with simply resting the bow on the string, and letting the string carry its weight, holding the bow without a lot of effort. The pinkie might get the idea it isn't even needed. But as soon as you have to lift the bow from the string, you need that pinkie, and you need it to be both strong and agile - and placed correctly on the stick. It should have enough strength to hold the weight of the bow while still being flexible enough to handle the bow's considerable movement.

I find that most people don't naturally have strong pinkies - certainly I didn't. I had to work on strengthening the pinkie and increasing its flexibility, using various bow-hand exercises, including a few exercises using a pencil. I also had to work on getting it to stay on the stick when I needed it.

Here are few pinkie-strengthening exercises that specifically help with re-takes:

Once you can land on the string without crashing, then you can practice landing before starting the bow stroke. This creates a tidy start to the note after a retake. Starting the bow stroke from the air, before landing, causes crunches, scratches and crashes. Land, then pull the bow. When playing chords: place and pull. There are exceptions to that general rule, but only after a player has extremely good control of the stick.

Another tip: Land closer to the frog for more control. Landing close to the frog requires that strong pinkie, but it ultimately offers more control.

In conclusion, the humble bow "retake" is actually very revealing - discomfort here can point to weakness that needs addressing. Conquering the retake can help build a player's overall strength, comfort and flexibility with the bow.

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August 5, 2022 at 06:50 PM · "Save that crash landing for when you're 16 years old and you're burning through the Paganini Caprices ... it's called ricochet!

Another thought is to learn your retake at the frog first, where you have a little more control, and move it out gradually. I absolutely agree with you about pinkie participation, though. My teacher definitely teaches that too.

August 5, 2022 at 09:28 PM · Great advice for all levels!!

August 5, 2022 at 10:50 PM · The key advice comes at the end (I would put if first): Land first, start playing afterwards--no matter how fast the tempo (if very fast you can't retake a whole bow length, you need to arrange yourself so you can retake from the middle somewhere).

And BTW: Starting a note with the bow on the string rather than flying in from the air is almost always the best and safest way to do it. It makes it much easier to start precisely on time (important for ensemble playing). When it comes down to essentials rhythm is more important than even intonation.

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