If you’re a violinist and this doesn’t make you mad, you’re not paying attention. Pianists merely have to strike a key and release it to produce a perfectly articulated tone. There is no scratch, unevenness, whistle or offensive loud shriek. Nor is there a wimpy, apologetic sliver of a sound. The crumbs and bubbles that exist in some violin tones are nowhere to be heard on the piano.
Let’s move on from the joys associated with starting a piano tone. Release the key, sit back, and enjoy the perfect ending to the perfect tone. A felt pad drops, demanding no technique from the pianist. There’s nothing jarring. The perfect note has a perfect beginning, ending and middle.
Violinists have the daunting task of making the vague apparatus known as the bow produce perfect, reliable tones. Not Heifetz perfect, just simple, acceptable, true tones. The ear demands no less. Even those who are tone deaf can hear scratch.
Whereas the pianist mindlessly creates the miracle of tone by depressing and releasing a key, the violinist has to think, anticipate, fend off impending disaster, elevate the bow, and finally, join together the most unlikely soul mates, the hair and the string.
How our minds do this is endlessly fascinating.
The "Playing Point"
Nothing good happens on the violin without the player finessing several thoughts. To create sounds as reliable and beautiful as a piano, a violinist needs to be focused on the part of the bow that is touching the string, no matter how far away it is from the hand. A typical short detache stroke is about an inch long, and in that short span of time and distance, much debris can accumulate: scratch, scrape and a horrifying texture of cottage cheese. They don’t call the bow a "mistake machine" for nothing.
Yet a few dovetailed thoughts can turn the bow into a miraculous musical tool.
Identify the area touching the string as the main focal point. Observe how this area is constantly changing. While it’s far more important than how you actually hold the bow, it doesn’t have a name. I call this moving part - which is constantly dealing with changing strings and varying arm balance issues - the "playing point." This is not to be confused with the sounding point, which is the particular area between the fingerboard and the bridge on which your bow is placed.
Since the "playing point" is far from the hand, think about the similar efforts made by a golfer. The foundation of his technique rests on his awareness of where the ball is and where the base of the golf club (the head) is at all times. If he concentrates too much about how he holds the club, he misses out on the more vital elements, such as the angle of the head, the desired trajectory of the ball, and the trajectory of the moving club.
The "displacement" issue, in which all the energy is focused so far from the hand and even farther from the mind, is the ultimate cause of most problems for violinists and golfers.
When the "playing point," which is literally the farthest thing from the mind, is totally ignored, then the goal of a beautiful, focused sound becomes impossible to achieve. But before all hope is given up, the player needs to shift his thoughts to where the bow hair is actually touching the string. If you do this simple but meaningful thing, all the other parts of the bow arm "swing into action" and do all that’s necessary, nothing more nothing less. Of course, a little tweaking may be necessary. One or two repeats with the necessary adjustments, and you’ll have a very thorough muscle-memory of the passage.
Shedding Technique: Bowing Without Scaffolds
As a beginner, it is necessary to measure the bow exactly so one doesn't run out of it. And to give more pressure with the index finger to get more sound. And to make a concerted effort to play with a straight bow: out with the wrist on the down bow, and in with the wrist on the up bow. And when changing direction, making sure our wrist and fingers don’t cramp and resist.
But the technique can become an end in itself, keeping the bow itself in a state of limbo, unable to become an extension of the arm, much less of the mind.
The bow reveals itself in its simplicity, power and glory when one can finally shed "technique" and its side effects of too much of the wrong kinds of effort. You realize that the index finger doesn’t have to "press," that the string needs to breathe. And that a "straight" bow is not as productive as one that is moving in a natural path. And that bow speed and distance are not only mathematical, but are synonymous with the ebb and flow of the phrase.Tweet
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