How Good Bow Distribution Can Free the Bow Arm

May 5, 2021, 7:32 PM · Watching the string players in an orchestra manage the exact movement of their bows is a beautiful sight. The bows travel great distances, followed by sudden shifts from the frog to the tip. It looks so uniform, so easy -- but bow distribution is a skill with many roadblocks.

Bow distribution

When rhythm and the bow arm start working together, though, then bow distribution becomes almost spontaneous.

Exercises which promote this kind of sudden and spontaneous bow distribution can be effective for freeing up the right arm. Every musical passage, down to the individual bars, contains a unique example of the path and speed of the bow. But generic exercises can provide an overview which can improve flexibility.

Exercise for Moving the Bow Freely

Here is a typical example of bow distribution gone awry: when the down-bow plays three beats, and the up-bow plays one beat. Without some conscious intervention, the longer down-bows will cause the bow to get closer and closer to the tip and eventually run out of bow.

This exercise aims to solve that problem, using the same pattern in different parts of the bow, while keeping the right proportions.

  1. Start in the middle of the bow and play three beats on one down bow. Go almost to the tip but allow some space so that you don’t run out of bow. It’s important to count the beats so that you can get used to subdividing.
  2. Then play an up-bow for one beat only and return to the middle of the bow. Use a slightly lighter stroke to make the up-bow have the same dynamic as the longer down-bow. There’s a tendency to lose the cohesion with the string, like jumping the track. The faster the bow moves, concentrate always on staying embedded in the string.
  3. Little variables will make this exercise more effective. Add crescendos and diminuendos. Make the beats a little faster or slower. Gradually move from the upper to the lower half, or play closer to the bridge or the fingerboard, still using the same length of up-bow and down bow. These will keep you on your toes and will simulate the quickly changing landscape of live performance.

Exercise for Managing a Runaway Bow

One mistake violinists can make is forcing the bow to go all the way to the tip and frog, all the time. While "full bows" can promote total bow freedom, in many situations it’s too much. It can also affect the rhythm because it takes extra time to travel all the way to the ends of the bow. Instead, the bow length should fit the music.

To learn how to make the bow length fit with the music, remember which beat you’re on and how fast the bow is leading to the next note. You don't always need to use a "whole bow."

Using the Ends of the Bow Most Effectively

Just before the bow change, whether it’s the tip or the frog, the last inch is the most important, when it comes to keeping with the rhythmic motion of the music and balance of the sound. The best bet is to match the music’s momentum with the proper bow momentum when changing the bow.

There are two ways of managing the end of the bow, to keep that momentum going. You can either add speed to give it a final boost of energy before the bow change, or slow it down to highlight each moment. For instance, you may need a sudden crescendo on a down bow, so a burst of adrenaline and a faster bow will accomplish that. On the other hand, if you are trying to avoid an overly abrupt bow change, a slower bow will prevent that.

Spontaneous Exercises Unlock the Bow

Try experimenting with slower bows, faster bows and different locations of the bow. If you make up your own bow distribution exercises you’ll see first-hand how your thinking and bowing intersect. There will be no distractions or obstacles, like prescribed notes or rhythms that may be confusing to follow. Bow distribution can be complex, but experimenting with these exercises can prepare your mind to be ready later for notes, rhythms, and phrases in the context of music.


May 7, 2021 at 04:23 AM · Thanks! This was a very helpful read!

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