Physics happens! There’s no getting around it – bows behave badly at the frog and the tip, without attention to gravity and bow weight. Changing direction and crossing strings can complicate the smooth ride. It may be as simple as the need for more weight at the upper half and less weight at the frog. However, fine tuning such a transition requires a sensitivity to when the balance of weight changes.
Do you read the signals that your bow is too heavy, or that the hair is barely touching the string? Do you adjust accordingly?
Some violinists sense those changes and adjust to them instinctively, while others don’t observe them unless they’re pointed out. Scratchy and bumpy results follow a disregard for physics.
It reminds me of the near catastrophic adventure I had with a rollercoaster, the "Desperado" at Buffalo Bill’s in Nevada. Although I met the age and height requirement, I failed at having rudimentary rollercoaster sense.
My "physics deficit disorder" ran roughshod through my body, which needed to go with the flow, or at the very least, acknowledge it. Instead, I kept my body rigid -- while the rollercoaster had other plans for it.
I spent the night in the emergency room and learned how lucky I was that I hadn’t damaged my kidneys. I missed two weeks of work in the orchestra, all because I didn't understand the simple maxim of movement: "Go with the flow; when your body slams to the left, don’t try to stay in the middle." Amusement park rides don’t come with such instructions, however. I probably wouldn’t have listened if they had.
There I sat, at the end of the ride - good posture, sitting dead center, and with my hands dutifully and firmly gripping the bar – exactly the opposite of what I should have looked like.
This painful lesson in physics has implications for the bow arm: it must also go with the flow, easing up at the frog, relaxing into the tip, moving fluidly to support string crossings. But how do you know what is around the next bend? Here are a few tips for getting in touch with your inner sense of physics, so that your bow can go with the flow.
Exercise for Learning to "Go with the Bow"
No matter what your bowing style is, whether your elbow is high or low, you’ll have the best results if the movements are free and unimpeded. Try this exercise to highlight and observe the altitude of your bow and arm, while keeping all other conditions the same. Without knowledge of how the bow arm glides in the air currents above the strings, all sorts of sagging may take place.
Here are a few reminders about things that can go wrong with the bow arm in terms of weight and balance. Violinists develop their own personal language that warns them about too much pressure, or not enough bonding between the hair and the string. These are the more prevalent occurrences, and just putting them on a list is a good start.
And just for your amusement: the rollercoaster that landed me in the hospital!
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