In order to visualize how the bow rides the string, I have found a helpful metaphor: My name for the optimum blend between the hair and the string, combined with the movable platform on which the bow seems self-propelled, is the "magic carpet."
Why? First, there is an element of "flying." Except for the hair, the bow is airborne. And the plushness of sound that the violin produces reminds me of the soft, fluffy fabric of a rug. The magic carpet rides on air currents, and that reminds me of the idea of the bow moving "by itself," with the arm going for the ride.
Smooth flying, plush sound, easy movement -- this is the ideal vehicle for the bow. When it bumps along, scrapes, and scratches, I have to find my way back to the magic carpet.
The Journey Begins With Good Rhythm and the Ripple Effect
I describe it as the "engagement." It’s a gentle touch or kiss, a momentary start which neither pulls nor pushes. It works best if the weight of the bow is neutral, that is, evenly balanced on both sides of the playing point.
Here’s an exercise to develop the engagement and the ensuing bow stroke:
To achieve the sensation of a gliding bow that produces full vibration of the string, it helps to note what Carl Flesch said in The Art of Violin Playing, Book One, Technique in General: "The string is made to vibrate in the following manner: the bow-hairs are provide with tiny hooklets which, originally smooth, are rendered sharp and uneven by means of rosin-dust. When carried over the strings in this condition, they in a manner of speech 'tear' at the strings and set them vibrating."
Flesch’s words were like a magic potion for me 20 years ago. I needed to translate them for my personal use, but it still unlocked my distorted view of how the hairs and strings interacted. My old view included friction, pressure, and unexplained physics that didn’t make sense.
With a little bit of personal interpretation of what Flesch had said, I found what I needed. It was one of the great "aha" moments in my life.
The pursuit of fully vibrating sounds is one of the most rewarding by-products of studying a string instrument. When it works, it brings me great joy to create colors and dynamics without diminishing the purity of the sound. There is the feeling of a recipe forging lush sound out of flat hair and thin strings – with no interference. It is an experience many basketball players know when they score a basket - nothing but net!Tweet
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