If you could wave a magic wand, then all the bow’s scratches would disappear after a few months of playing the violin. Unfortunately, they don’t usually go away that soon. What's more, concentrating on holding the stick in a conventional way doesn’t necessarily fix the problem. Instead, focusing on how the hairs intertwine with the string can make more of a difference. If the hairs find a groove within the string’s vibrations, the sound will be fuller and warmer. The role of the bow hold is to insure stability so that the bow hairs can do their jobs.
Sometimes I’ll add a little pressure to the stick to keep the bow from losing control during a shift or a string change. This might mean that the "conventional" bow hold gets a little altered. When I’m concentrating on keeping the hair at a consistent depth into the string, I’ll do whatever is necessary with my bow hold, and interesting results occur. If I’m digging into the string and, at the same time, balancing the string’s vibrations by pulling up from the strings, my knuckles may be pointing up, pyramid style. If I’m getting the sound I want, then I’ll gladly accept whatever I’m doing. There’s a freedom in letting the hand find its own shape and feel. Not worrying about my bow hold gives my mind a rest and an opportunity to think about the hairs, the strings, and the sound.
A Checklist for Warm, Velvety Sound
What does it take to make sure that the hairs remain fully connected to the string? With a checklist of goals, the appropriate technical details will more likely fall in place. The concept of “form follows function” is a significant part of music-making and skill-building. If you know how the hairs and strings interact, the hand and arm will act accordingly.
Here are ways to make the sounds that come out of your violin match the ones you hear in your head:
Balance is an integral part of the bow arm, and it keeps the tip and the frog connected to the string. One of the key ingredients is steadying the bow so it doesn’t make a sudden, jerky movement. You may have to change your bow hold if the bow feels slippery and you’re in danger of losing control. Keeping a bow balanced means being ready for anything that may happen – changes of bow speed, variations of how far the bow gets into the string, and new articulations.
When all is said and done, the bow maintains itself on many planes and resides on several thicknesses of strings. With so many opportunities to collapse, violinists do a marvelous job of keeping it afloat. I think of a hydraulic system, employing water or other liquids in motion. A state of mind keeps the bow where it needs to be to have just the right clearance for the hairs to gel with the strings.
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