Good Vibrations - Don't Let Mixed Messages Interfere With the Bow

August 17, 2020, 2:17 PM · Tonalization exercises have done more for me than improve my tone. They’ve helped me concentrate longer. My mind wandered a lot during whole notes and dotted halves, and my wake-up call would be when my teacher reminded me that my tone was scratching and getting softer. I once calculated the amount of time it takes for me to lose concentration, and rounding it out to the nearest second, it came out to a fraction of a second. That means that my bow went wayward after about a quarter inch of bow. My little experiment taught me the value of thinking while I play.

I needed a way to practice keeping the bow on the path without blemishes. My straight bow exercises were not sufficient, and they needed a supplement that would take into account the bow’s natural movements. Watch a symphony orchestra’s string players find lovely detours for their bows off the beaten path.

Finding a variety of angles for the bow to glide in helps develop efficiency because a bow needs freedom. Warm and personal sound result as well, because of the numerous options available among the sounding points between the fingerboard and the bridge.

“Meet in the Middle” - An Exercise for Bow Travel

The aim of this exercise is to quickly find a suitable path for the bow, no matter whether it’s at the tip, middle, or frog. By spontaneously finding an angle in which to glide the bow, the player will avoid scraping, burrowing, or scratching.

Start near the frog on the G string. Play downbow for two inches, making sure to engage the string and keep a consistent path. Keep the hair connected to the string but don’t force the pressure. Listen to your inner voice to make sure the sound has a beautiful, rich quality. This sound check will confirm that the path is a good one.


Now move the bow to the tip and play the same note upbow for two inches. You’ll have to re-adjust your thinking a little to find a comfortable path for the desired sound. By having the bow travel in the air to the tip, the mind must momentarily re-imagine what will feel like a straight path.

Return to the lower half, starting where you left off before, two inches from the frog. Playing downbow, you’ll experience different balance and weight issues. Play with the same sound as before and make any necessary adjustments for pressure and bow speed. Then return to where you left off near the tip. Eventually the downbow and upbow will meet in the middle, giving you the opportunity to adjust to many variables.

Tips for Flexible Bow Paths

1. Observe how much of the arm and elbow position changes when transferring from the tip to the frog. The most important priority is to concentrate on the bow’s movement, which will cause the arm to wait for instructions and then go along for the ride. If you only think of what the arm is supposed to do, the bow may feel dis-engaged and will scrape and drift towards the bridge or fingerboard. It often happens in a fraction of a second.

2. Sometimes the bow gives mixed message to the hair. Instead of a horizontal movement which smooths out the sound, lots of arbitrary finger pressure interrupts the flow of energy. Use this exercise to strengthen and highlight the horizontal approach to bow movement:

3. To eliminate the bad vibrations, develop a sense of radar just before you’re about to twist the string into a knot. Having the most beautiful sound in your ear will make the radar work better.

Music and the love-hate relationship it has with its perennial partner, technique, depend for their success on thinking first of the desired outcome, then of the technique that produces it. Unfortunately, the mind usually works first at a disadvantage, but it takes some tweaking to right the ship.


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