Bow Distribution Tip: Drawing the Map (Video Blog)

August 3, 2019, 9:08 PM · When I have a lot to do, I make a list. When I really want remember something, I write it down. There seems to be a very direct path between our writing hand and the brain. Writing turns the abstract into the concrete, and there is nothing better than old-fashioned pencil and paper. This is what the practice tip “drawing the map” is all about.

bow map

Here is the background to this unusual practice bowing practice method: When I was in high school, I had the honor to work with violinist Robert Gerle at the University of Maryland Baltimore County Campus. He introduced me to his book The Art of Violin Practice. If you have never read it, I highly recommend it!

One ritual I picked up from this great book is to draw my intended bow map, i.e. to commit to paper exactly how much bow I plan to use for each stroke in a passage. I had forgotten all about it until I was helping my young son practice cello a few years ago. The great cello pedagogue Louis Potter uses the same drawing idea to teach young cellists in his The Art of Cello Playing . Once again, I began drawing quite regularly, and recently made a “how to” video for my university students. Here it is:

As a practice tool, this is an alternative way to ingrain information, and it works very well for visual learners. It can also be used as a teaching tool in a lesson to show students exactly how you would like a student to distribute the bow.

An easy mental practice activity, drawing the map is something you can do on a plane, at Starbucks, or ahead of run-through. Drawing our plan is a way of cross training, keeps our work playful and varied. And, it’s a way to give your arms a rest :)

Happy alternative practicing, everyone!


August 4, 2019 at 08:06 PM · I feel I can get into a new piece much faster if I'm studying it without instrument first, and not just learning by doing. This is a very useful tip to bring myself also at concentrating on the bow arm in this process, and not only on the left hand. And since I'll have 10 days off without instrument, I'll give it an immediate try and study at least two pieces during my holiday including this bow diagram. I'll keep you updated on if and how this will make a difference.

August 5, 2019 at 01:18 AM · Chess legend David Bronstein introduced a visual chart to show the time spent on each move -- just a bar chart, but you could see the flow of the game at a glance, and Bronstein argued that this was important to the psychology of the game. It is described in his book, "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," which is an absolutely brilliant book if you love chess.

August 7, 2019 at 04:28 PM · Very interesting. I never heard of this before. I may try this for a few segments of my pieces as I am a visual person. Thanks for sharing!

August 7, 2019 at 05:12 PM · Only half the story: what about bow speed? And "point of contact"?

August 7, 2019 at 10:34 PM · Not every exercise specifically addresses every aspect of everything. But this kind of visualization can certainly help with bow speed. It all relates, and the idea of trying various exercises is to go at these issues from different vantages.

August 8, 2019 at 02:47 AM · Thanks all. It's not for everyone, but I find it useful, especially for teaching when demonstrating is not always as concrete as I'd like for every student. It's all about different learning styles. I agree it's not the full story - bow speed, bow weight and contact point are the golden triangle so to speak - when one changes, the other two do as well.

August 8, 2019 at 09:04 AM · Thank you for a very informative video.

I have located information on Hermann Schroeder's version of Rudolf Kreutzer's 42 Studies for the Violin Edited by E. Buek. On page 4 it is mentioned ' The graphic representation of the different bowings which I have here used for the first time, and which allows every possible phrasing with the greatest precision, shows clearly where and how long one or other bowing is to be used....'

Published (C) G. Schirmer, New York 1889.

Hope this helps. Stewart

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