When we chose whether to play a string, wind, or percussion instrument in elementary school, I doubt whether anyone took into account the reliability of how the instrument would work. If I had known how many pitfalls the violin would be subject to, I might have run the opposite direction. Instead I took my school-issued violin home and promptly ran out of bow. No matter how long it was, my bow came off at the tip and came to a screeching halt at the frog. All violins should come with a warning – if it can go wrong, it will go wrong.
Since no two measures are alike, knowing where you are in the bow at all times is important. Since you can’t look at the bow to remind you when you’re close to the end, you need to rely on a mental/visual awareness, the sense of knowing where you are in space without actually looking. Proprioception is the sense of self-movement and body awareness. It is sometimes described as the “sixth sense”.
I like to have ways of tracking where my bow is, and the sixth sense is a good place to start. It’s helpful to have a radar system in your mind, one that predicts when the bow is picking up unnecessary speed and distance. Remembering past experiences and acting on them can keep us from running out of bow. It will take a lot of will power at first to change an old habit, but the mind loves to change something wrong with something right.
Getting to Know Your Bow
Keeping the Bow Straight Also Keeps the Momentum Steady
To move the bow with the right speed and distance, it’s important not to have unwanted bow detours. Also, a change of string shouldn’t result in a radically different bow angle. Here’s an exercise that would help keep the bow straight when using the whole bow:
Bows are Telescopic - They Glide Easily and No Two Parts are Exactly the Same
Checklist to Avoid Running Out of Bow
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Eventually you're supposed to play the whole first page of Schradieck in one bow.
Thank you, Suzanne!
Paul, I bet there are a few us that are trying your idea right now. Great parlor trick! Two Set Violins could come up with a hilarious skit along those lines. Thanks for the suggestion.
Paul S you mention a telescopic bow, such a contraption would be handy in that respect :-)
Jean, I think you’re on to something. A telescopic bow would fit well in a backpack. Of course, there’s always the danger it will get shorter while you’re playing.
I tried the "bunny hop" in my practice session today and it really helped! Interestingly, while I often run out of bow on sustained notes, I also often don't use enough bow in moving passages. So the bunny hop helped me feel more secure with that upper stretch toward the tip. Thank you!
Diana, your experience adds another dimension of the bunny hop I hadn’t thought of. You bunny hopped your way into the upper part of the bow, and now that area is more welcoming. I’ll try it too. Thank you
Calibrating a bow stroke on a long tone or phrase is something like a wind player or singer gauging the use of their air supply. We all tend to to waste the bow at the beginning of a phrase and run out of bow at the last note. The antidote is to do the opposite. Save bow at the beginning and have some reserve bow left over for the last note, then waste it if needed. For long runs on a slur the middle notes on the middle strings (A,D) tend to get swallowed. At the early stages of learning a piece, we need to choreograph, design the bowing, so that it works when up to tempo, with the extra pressure and dangers of performance. We have the advantage of bowing in both directions, while the singers and winds can only use air in one direction; they need to plan their breathing spots.
Thanks, Joel, for excellent practical advice. Violinists benefit from having conversations with their bow. There’s no such thing as perfect behavior for the bow, but instead good guidance suffices.
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June 1, 2020 at 03:59 AM · You always have good advice and this information is greatly appreciated. Thank you.