Following the curve of the stick

October 2, 2007 at 01:47 AM · Greetings,

I have noticed that some teachers place a lot of emphasis on having the down bow and up follow the curve of the bow; some are not too cocnerned and others are admant that thinking of the bow moving in a straight line in space is the way to go.

To what degree do you stress this point or attach importance to it? How do you explain it if at all?



Replies (94)

October 2, 2007 at 02:40 AM · Following the curve of the bow is just another way of describing the gradual application of pressure by counter clockwise rotation of the forearm on the down bow (pronation) and the gradual decrease of pressure on the up bow (suppination). An image like this can work better than explaining the precise technical way this is accomplished.

October 2, 2007 at 02:40 AM · I was shown, if I am understanding and I think I may be, that one may think of it as scooping a note. I like this way of looking at it because it seems to give me better contact with note beginnings in both up bows and down bows. Actually, I was shown this by two really good people.

I've talked about this here several times, and one of Laurie's videos describes this from that big function she went to earlier: "if you can see it, it's too much", speaking of the scooping motion.

But, I also see it as not following the curve of the stick, but as creating a reverse mirror image of the curve--like two half moons resting back to back--and again, a very subtle motion.

I'm finding that there is a lot of qualifying this when one is doing loure, or just adding forearm weight to bring a note out with either more forte or even just a richer quality--shaping a note.

My first impression of bowing, was that of a perfect straight bow using a cross hair image on each string. I personally like the scooping better. When done with a light right elbow, I can really hear it in fast detache.

Conversely, it sometimes confuses me, as in the recent case of two slurred detached notes with a rest between--'he who struggles to walk and chew bubble gum'.

October 2, 2007 at 02:27 AM · Hey,

I have had this point ENORMOUSLY stressed to me by my past two teachers. I have a very unique set up due to certain physical limitations, and one of my limitations is the amount of bow I can use. So, to compensate, I have been working on using the natural curve of the bow to create a sound that is very even throughout all parts of the bow. I think that thinking of the bow as being able to move in a semi-circle motion creates a sense of flexibility and who knows, you might unlock a student's wrist. Another really great benefit to this idea is the idea of having a really rhythmic bow motion, which helps prevent students from getting lost in where they are.

Teaching this concept to little kids can be very simple if you explain it to them as another motion. Instead of calling it "following the curve of the stick", maybe ask them to pretend like they're digging. Once they get that general motion under their fingers, you can start having them try to apply it to violin and pretend their bow is the shovel.

Contact me privately if you want more information about how I play - I think you being such a fascinating pedagogue may find it interesting...


October 2, 2007 at 04:02 AM · RE: “Following the curve of the bow” 10.01.07


If you are referring to a gradual sinking into the stroke, whether up-bow or down-bow, I would call that:

Messa di voce – A term from vocalists meaning to gradually crescendo and decrescendo on a given note – “hair-pins” up and down (a vocal technique to help the singer maintain pitch/tone). Often used in music of the Baroque and Classical periods, take care not to over use what can be a very beautiful and special effect.

If you are referring to the path along which the bow is drawn, I call it the “Crescent Bow” –– others refer to it as a “circle-on-the-side” or a stroke with a “hook-out.”

Crescent Bow

The most important technique for the development of tonal resonance and fluidity of bow arm motion.

The partial slightly orbital path around the scroll of the instrument (player’s left hand) enabling the tone to resonate with greater clarity and projection, additionally offering a natural way to free up the right arm’s motions through the joints of the wrist, elbow and shoulder.

1. The bow strokes are to be accomplished with a slight rounding-of-the-path, thus Crescent Bow – the curved drawing of the bow.

2. The down and up-bow paths are mirror images of each other.

3. The down-bow must have a pulling back of the upper arm in the lower 1/2 of the bow followed by a pushing out/forward in the upper 1/2 as the bow continues toward the tip.

a. The point at which the right elbow is 90-degrees determines the upper and lower 1/2 of the bow stroke.

4. The up-bow must have a pulling back of the upper arm in the upper 1/2 of the bow followed by a pushing up diagonally of the left hand for the lower 1/2 toward the heel of the bow.

NOTE: The Crescent Bow is necessary to compensate for the natural resistance of the bow caused by the string/bridge combination – the nearer to the bridge, the greater the resistance. It is like walking into the wind – we lean into the counter force.

These are 2 excerpts from my recently published books: Violin Technique: The Manual and Viola Technique: The Manual. In each publication is included a substantial section called Terms & Tips.

It amounts to the draw of the bow making beautifully shaped/articulated phrases in a way that suites the character of the given composition.

I hope this contributes to the discussion.

October 2, 2007 at 06:07 AM · Greetings,

Drew, many thanks for your cogent description above. I think I am right in saying you are talking about the lateral movement of the bow. I concur 100% in everything you say.

However, my query is about the vertical crescent which to my mind corresponds precisely to what Bruce was talking about. This would not be the same as messa da voce because it is applied more or less continuously to keep a sustained sound.

Do you have a detialed commentary on the vertical version of the crescent?



October 2, 2007 at 05:17 AM · Drew! My gosh! Thank you... that was cool--and now in my notes.

Your image added fine tuning to something I've been working with /at (God seems good to me), just the right time... Once again! Actually two things: I now have words for Messa di voce, something I understood the first time this time.

Buri, I think his second description seemed, what both Bruce and I responded.

October 2, 2007 at 06:06 AM · Thank you, Buri.

Yes, I am talking about the lateral/horizontal draw of the bow along the given plane –– string(s) –– and how it contributes to the spin/resonance of tone achieved. Also, its fluid connection from stoke to stroke.

To me the vertical stroke is totally derived from the desire for the note to sing –– whether sustenuto, crescendo or diminuendo –– and in what musical direction I feel the phrase is going –– held at bay, moving ahead or pulling back.

This latter point is not dealing with speeding up, as in accelerando, or slowing, as in ritardando, but rather the way the notes are projected and given “life.” Each note has a responsibility/duty and it must contribute wholeheartedly to the given phrase/line of the music. They are like little people fulfilling their mission in life.

The violinist must acquire the skill to vary the stroke at any time to achieve the above, taking into account 5 basic aspects of the bow in relation to the bridge/fingerboard with variables based upon: 1) point of contact, 2) speed of bow, 3) weight of bow, 4) amount of hair, 5) string selected and 6) vibrating length of string/position number in order to bring out the desired dynamics and character of the music.

1. Higher/nearer.

a. Higher strings are played nearer to the bridge, if all else is kept equal.

b. Higher notes on the same string are nearer to the bridge in bow placement, if all else is kept equal.

2. Lower/further.

a. Lower strings are played further from the bridge, if all else is kept equal.

b. Lower notes on the same string are further from the bridge in bow placement, if all else is kept equal.

A great practice, especially in double-stops is:

Son filé – The long sustaining of tone. It is the string player’s breath control and should be practiced with varied crescendi and diminuendi in addition to a level sostenuto tone.

These also are excerpted from my books mentioned above –– want to buy one:-)


October 2, 2007 at 06:02 AM · Albert,

Thanks. I am glad if it helped in some way.


October 2, 2007 at 05:59 AM · Greetings,

Albert, I think Drew is referring to the forward and back horizontal movement of the bow arm stresse dso much by Galamian. This is another aspect of technique for me. It is how the bow is kept straight. Amazing how many players sort of subcoinsciouly belief the bow armtravels from left to right as opposed to more forward sand backwards.

I may be wrong but consider that Drew said

>If you are referring to the path along which the bow is drawn, I call it the “Crescent Bow” –– others refer to it as a “circle-on-the-side” or a stroke with a “hook-out.”

This is not a circel on the side (or semi circle, or imagine a plate) it is a vertical circle. Nor can it be a `hook out` becuase it is a `hook up and down` That is definately not what Bruce is talking about either.



October 2, 2007 at 06:06 AM · Greetings,

now our conversation is in the wrong order. A

Albert, Drew has confimed taht he is talking about somehting differnet but you are right. What he is saying is vital. Embrace it!



PS why haven`t you heard of this before? Have we let you down?

October 2, 2007 at 06:13 AM · When teaching very young children each string is a personality and they have to put a smile on their face.Stroking cats has the same effect.

October 2, 2007 at 06:18 AM · Buri,

Then I would use the term Détaché Porté – no initial accent due to a slight swell or sneaking into the note at the beginning of the stroke followed by a lightening and relaxing of the tone to the end of the stroke.

By the way, I do not actually believe in the truly straight/perpendicular bow. I think it is too easily led off track by the physics of the bow/string/bridge relationships. Now I have possibly opened up a “can of worms.” But it is fun…


October 2, 2007 at 06:20 AM · Janet,

I like to refer to stroking kittens and puppies and using "banana bows."

October 2, 2007 at 07:11 AM · Whoa, interesting thread!

I camped in the planar philosophy for so long that when a teacher last fall suggested that I take a different mental approach in order to relax my bow strokes by envisioning more of a scooping motion, I was taken aback. To me, it's not so much of a literal scooping as it is a mental swinging into each note in order to release tension on either end of the bow stroke. It helped a lot, but I feel I've neglected this concept in the majority of my playing.

October 2, 2007 at 02:15 PM · This thread is really making me think. Leave it to Buri to come up with something detailed and thought-provoking.

I certainly have been taught this concept in the past, but, to be honest, I didn't learn the proper control of my sound with a visual image or instructions on how to move. It was easier for me to make the right sound based upon mimicry of the sound the teacher was making, or an explanation/demonstration of the problem we were trying to straiten out. Not everyone learns this way, and reading this thread helps me to remember this is a good way to elicit a looser, fuller sound from a student.

One problem I can see that comes with teaching a student to play to the curve of the bow? If the student lightens too much at the tip (or even the frog), the resultant sound is a light attack, heavy sustain, light release and might be a false accent, deepending on its situation within the phrase. So, I'm thinking along with teaching this principle, the student must learn how to make all the combinations:

heavy attack, light sustain, light release

light attack, heavy sustain, heavy release

heavy attack, heavy sustain, heaviest release

light attack, light sustain, heavy release


All the combinations will come into play depending on the shape of the phrase. In other words: beware of too much scooping. It may induce seasickness. But, then, maybe I was seasick when I wrote this post . . .

October 2, 2007 at 02:13 PM · i think some of the wordings used in this discussion can be confusing because "following the curve of the bow" can be interpreted in many ways, as shown.

the string is a straight line. the bow draws an imaginary straight line perpendicular to the string for the most optimal contact with the string, not unlike the contact between bicycle wheel and the ground or skate blade and the ice.

a "natural" bowing motion follows a curve with the shoulder joint as the center of the circle. this is most evident at the 2 ends of the bow.

thus, something needs to yield/stretch to set the naturally curved path straight. imo, it is a combination of forearm rotation (pro/sup), wrist motion and finger motion, to different extent depending on physiology and bow grip.

stern's bow is not "straight" at the tip. not sure because his arm is shorter for the bow or there is a purpose to have the bow not meeting the string at the right angle, running the risk of playing the bow air over the fingerboard and slipping or even falling off the string altogether. did you ever pull the bow so far and so long (following that natural curve) by concentrating on your left hand and by the time you start the up bow, pop! the tip of the bow pokes under the strings, or does that only happen in my house?:)

from my unqualified observation, if you stand in front of a mirror, to maintain a straight bow against the string at the tip of the bow can be more easily accomplished, with a combo of forearm/wrist/hand motion.

however, to maintain a straight bow near the frog imo can be tricky because that task can be performed in quite a few ways, ranging from rather flat wrist to very flexed wrist. therefore, the issue involves multiple planes: how to control the angular vector of different joints in order to keep the bowing in one plane...

this i think is the key or the issue for each individual player. what is the optimal wrist angle at the frog (thus also shoulder/elbow level), for you, with respect to the thought of maintaining a "straight" bow...

if you stumble onto something that works for you, do you necessarily notice changes immediately? if your answer is yes, my question will be,,really?

October 2, 2007 at 04:06 PM · Very interesting. I do teach the detailed arm and shoulder movements to achieve a straight bow and alter sound point. I haven't been teaching anything about the crescent bow. I teach the son file bowing and, of course, various combinations of cresc. and decresc. in one bow. I also find quite useful the exercise about starting at the frog with the first finger lifted off the bow, then during the down bow placing the thumb on, then lifting 4, then 3, then 2. At the tip reverse the procedure back to the frog. This helps reinforce the forearm rotation and I think aids in the proper weighting of the bow from frog to tip.

October 2, 2007 at 04:13 PM · An exercise to promote even distribution of weight onto the string and can clarify the meaning of following the curve of the bow is as follow:

Play a full down and up bow.

1.After using 1/4 of the bow remove the pinky from the bow, at the 1/2 way point remove the ring finger, at 3/4 remove middle finger. You will be left holding the bow with only index and thumb at the tip.

2. Reverse the process on the up bow. At 3/4 add the middle finger, at 1/2 add ring finger, at 1/4 add the pinky.

3. Recreate the feeling of this with all fingers remaining on the bow.

October 2, 2007 at 06:35 PM · So Buri, were you talking exclusively about control that would translate into manipulating the sounding point, in this curve?

"let you down"? Prunes!

October 2, 2007 at 07:08 PM · Bruce--thanks for the clarification. I think it is an important one.

October 2, 2007 at 08:00 PM · Emily Grossman 10.02.07

Personally, I would keep focused on the horizontal plane accompanied with the Crescent Bow mentioned above –– it will free up all the movements, including the shoulder, elbow, wrist and thumb & finger joints. They should be so free that one is not really aware of them –– only the flow of motion and therefore tone.

The curved/sinking-into-the-string stroke is a form of détaché and should be classed as such. Similarly we have various kinds of Spiccato, i.e., Spiccato secco (Crisp Spiccato), Spiccato lirico (Lyric Spiccato), Spiccato sulla corda (On the string Spiccato), etc.

This is one of the reasons for my writing a technique book including Terms & Tips. I was afraid to many tools of the violinist were being lost, or would be lost in the near future.

Kimberlee you are right on the mark!

Michael & Bruce that is indeed a very good study –– try it without rolling the back of the bow hand and you will get a very different feel from the bow. Hope you like it.


October 2, 2007 at 10:12 PM · This crescent bow idea, though not named as such by her, is also discussed by Kato Havas in her books- she speaks of joints being free to open and close and arms allowed to follow the curve of the bow. This idea helps unite the arm with the bow so that they feel in sync with each other rather than feeling like one is having to control and subjugate the bow to one's will. She also talks of feeling the springiness of the bow hair and its resiliency and ability to bounce so that the fingers resting on the bow receive the bounce and flexibility of the bow in "off" string playing. Additionally, watching the curve(arch) of the bridge and allowing the bow to follow the curve as one gradually crosses strings, for example on a down bow from G to D to A to E, holding on to one string and forming a double stop with the next string in a slurred bowing before crossing over fully to the next string alone (exemplified in Eugene Ysaye's exercises)aids fluidity in string crossings. There is also the curve that goes in the opposite direction that the bridge is curved which is also useful in string crossing. A famous example of this is the G minor four note chord in Wienawski's Scherzo Tarantelle started up bow from G string to E string. I have not, however, observed the crescent bow used in fast detache passages. I watched Gil Shaham up close on a few occasions and in fast detache passages (in the middle of the bow) his arm appeared on the same plain as his string with flattened knuckles in the wrist to create the shortest most efficient movement back and forth.

October 2, 2007 at 10:40 PM · Greetings,

Hi Albert,

>So Buri, were you talking exclusively about control that would translate into manipulating the sounding point, in this curve?

no. I@m not talkihn about changing SP at all. You are still thinking laterally. I amn talking about how the bow moves in a vertical arc while remaining on the same SP.



As far as manipulkaitng SP is cocnerned that is done primarily by changing the angle of the bow. Thats why I belive working on angled slow bow practice is as importnat as straight bow work. One has to be veyr skilled in borth arenas.

October 2, 2007 at 11:29 PM · Buri,

That's what I thought you were talking about too--you confused me. This discussion is awesome!

It inspired me to start getting my notes better organized and stored off-sight.... Months and months of notes from you(the click exercise) and so on....

Kimberlee's, Ron's, Haslop's, ....

October 2, 2007 at 11:34 PM · "This idea helps unite the arm with the bow so that they feel in sync with each other rather than feeling like one is having to control and subjugate the bow to one's will."


"Additionally, watching the curve(arch) of the bridge and allowing the bow to follow the curve as one gradually crosses strings, for example on a down bow from G to D to A to E, holding on to one string and forming a double stop with the next string in a slurred bowing before crossing over fully to the next string alone (exemplified in Eugene Ysaye's exercises)aids fluidity in string crossings."

And yes....

An overarching principal I've kept in the forefront of my limited mind, is Perlman's "light as a baby bird"; and, Haslop's relaxed right elbow in all this and over considerable time now.

October 3, 2007 at 03:59 AM · Hi Buri,

'Following the curve of the bow' represents rotation through the shoulder, or rotational freedom through the shoulder socket. Primrose alludes to this notion when he suggests that the low elbow counters the weight of the bow at the frog.

Rotation through the shoulder socket counters the weight of the forearm and hand as well, perfect for a soft landing at the frog. (This presupposes balancing the bow with the 2nd finger - if the bow is held with 1st finger, the wrist may be forcibly bent). Another way to think of it is to keep the tip of the bow high (with low elbow) for smooth and/or light down bow at the frog - draw the down bow with a slight counterclockwise rotation through the shoulder, or 'raise' the elbow slightly as the hand goes down, until it finds its proper level for the string; on the contrary, keep the tip low for a hard and/or heavy down bow at the frog, and keep the elbow low as the hand goes down. N.B. this rotation should not be mistaken for a high elbow at the frog; if you start with a high elbow at the frog, the armpit closes as you move downbow; if you start with a low elbow at the frog, the armpit opens as you move downbow, allowing for a smooth ride. It follows that for a smooth bow change at the frog, it helps to 'follow the curve of the bow', i.e. lower the elbow/raise the tip into the frog, raise the elbow/lower the tip away from the frog. Also note, the hand is firm and passive - there is no brush motion, although there may be some 'give' through the joints.

To avoid crashing on heavy down bow chords/repeated down bow chords, feel the elbow get out of the way on impact (more or less depending on how much 'crash' is required, I suppose) - this is the same motion described as bowing 'out' on chords (curve of the bow) as opposed to bowing 'down' on chords (curve of the bridge). To allow the hand to move effortlessly on fast martele or fast whole bow detache, again get the elbow out of the way by rotating it up on the down bow and back. Allow rotational freedom (however slight the motion may be - barely visible) on fast short strokes, including spiccato and sautille, to keep the arm from seizing, or compressing the stick.

As you move downbow toward the tip, the rotation of the shoulder may be hidden by (or confused with) the pronation of the forearm. Some people don't rotate through the shoulder and compensate with the figure 8, lateral motion. If you keep the elbow down (i.e. prevent rotation - look at or touch the very tip of the elbow to check), and try to rotate the upper arm, you can feel the whole arm tighten as it twists (ouch!). Relieve the torsion by allowing the arm to rotate naturally through the shoulder socket.

As with the light down bow, a light up bow can be played by following the curve of the bow at the tip. To place lightly, keep the tip low (close to the string) and start with the arm rotated ccw, with the hand/arm held at a level close to the string below (i.e. when playing on the G string, feel an imaginary C string level; when playing on the D string, feel a G string level; etc.) Rotate the arm clockwise (close the armpit) as you move upbow, bending at the elbow, and rotating/lowering the elbow until it finds its proper level for the string. This is also a good way to keep the bow from bouncing when placing at the upper third. Smooth bow changes at the tip can be executed in similar fashion to changing at the frog, except reversed.

Rotational freedom through the shoulder socket also helps in playing chordal passages, such as those found in Bach, with refinement. It helps to end a tapered Mozart phrase, when used with a slowing bow. It allows for the more subtle expressions in bow technique all the while relieving excess tension and pressure through the shoulder.

Hope that helps,


P.S. Needless to say, all of this makes a greater difference for those of smaller proportions relative to their instrument

October 3, 2007 at 04:02 AM · It will take me two weeks to read all these posts and assimilate them--and that is just on an understanding level! Thank you Buri.

October 3, 2007 at 06:10 AM · 10.03.07

The bow is constantly changing its weight into the string and the player must actively control this or the sound will leave a lot to be desired. The “simple” sustenuto is the best example of this –– the bow gets light as we go to the tip and heavier as we go to the frog/heel. The performer must be pro-active at all times, whether slow or fast –– desired momentum and constant shaping are always necessary.

My question is:

If following the “curve of the bow” is vertical, which returns to Buri’s original query, it is going to be greatly effected by the amount of hair –– a few (tilt) or all (flat) –– so are we simply talking of a constant sinking/curving in and out of the string contrary to the bridge’s arch? Why would one want every note to done in this fashion? Why would one want any note/phrase of anything to be done in the same monotonous manner?

Ronald: Your points are excellent.

Toward the end you mention crescent bow. If this is my previous use of the term, as Buri pointed out, I use “Crescent Bow” to describe the draw/pull of the bow stroke along the chosen plane. It is extremely subtle –– call it 1 – 2%.


Yes, of course the arm and bow –– and violinist and violin –– are to be ideally unified as one in an incredible coordination of simultaneous moves creating unbelievable sounds that touch the very heart and soul of a listener.

Buri: This is my first time reading and contributing to a discussion. You posed a great question and I look forward to future technique-teasers.

We work in, around and all over the violin and bow with our hands. We should “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee” –– if I remember the Cassius Clay/Mohamed Ali quote:-)

Great ride!


October 3, 2007 at 07:12 AM · Well, I've now been practising with my baroque bow for 5 hours solid trying to follow the curve and still no sound is coming out ..... what am I doing wrong???????!!!!!!!!!!!!

But on the serious side .... very interesting topic, ...lots to chew over.

btw I love Janet's 'smile' immage when teaching children. Anyone else have any 2 cents to donate re teaching this to kids?

October 3, 2007 at 04:31 PM · Hi Drew,

If your questions, "... so are we simply talking of a constant sinking/curving in and out of the string contrary to the bridge’s arch? Why would one want every note to done in this fashion? Why would one want any note/phrase of anything to be done in the same monotonous manner?", were directed to me, my answers would be, "no, you wouldn't, you wouldn't."

In response to your statement, "If following the “curve of the bow” is vertical... it is going to be greatly effected by the amount of hair –– a few (tilt) or all (flat)...", I would suggest that the tilt of the bow can be controlled by rolling the stick with thumb and second finger (Capet), or bending from the wrist. If you're suggesting that the sound will be affected by the tilt, Capet's roule exercise is designed to keep the sound constant. 'Following the curve' motions need not change the tilt of the bow.

Hope that explains further.



October 4, 2007 at 01:22 AM · Jeewon,

The questions in my last point were intended to be rhetorical.

You make many astute points. Thank you for your mention of Capet, who I am well aware of, and his roulé.



October 4, 2007 at 02:01 AM · Just to add another thought regarding the rotation in the shoulder- if you put the palm of your left hand or even tips of the fingers of your left hand on the part of the shoulder just below and at the end of your collar bone and try air bowing with this crescent bow shape you should be able to feel the shoulder rotation mentioned previously. It is indeed important that this movement be unrestricted at the tip and at the frog to allow for a relaxed deep sound at the tip of the bow and a supported, non crunchy sound at the frog. As I understand it, this rotation does not ever involve a raising of the shoulder which is almost universally decried as potentially physically damaging.

October 4, 2007 at 02:16 AM · Hello Drew,

I was just browsing through this thread which I had not been following. I find your comments to be so intriguing and on such a high level that I have just ordered your book from your website. Looking forward to reading and using it and comparing notes with you.

With very best regards.

Roy Sonne


October 4, 2007 at 02:33 AM · This thread is wearing me out! A good thing.

"if you put the palm of your left hand or even tips of the fingers of your left hand on the part of the shoulder just below and at the end of your collar bone and try air bowing with this crescent bow shape you should be able to feel the shoulder rotation mentioned previously"

Ron, I finally got something the first time! This exercise comes in second to what the neighbors must think of my harmonic scales and Raggedy Andy exercises :-).

But, I feel the rotation. Thank you.

October 4, 2007 at 04:29 AM · Hi Drew,

I think Buri (correct me if I'm wrong, Buri) has established that he is not talking about lateral movement in the plane of the string, what you've called 'crescent bow', 'circle-on-the-side', and 'hook out'. He seems to be talking about something more than a sinking of the bow into the string since he refers to it as a 'vertical circle', a 'hook up and down', something different from Bruce's 'gradual application of pressure.'

As far as I can tell, here are your comments about 'following the curve of the stick':

1)If you are referring to a gradual sinking into the stroke, whether up-bow or down-bow, I would call that:

Messa di voce – A term from vocalists meaning to gradually crescendo and decrescendo on a given note – “hair-pins” up and down (a vocal technique to help the singer maintain pitch/tone). Often used in music of the Baroque and Classical periods, take care not to over use what can be a very beautiful and special effect.

2)To me the vertical stroke is totally derived from the desire for the note to sing –– whether sustenuto, crescendo or diminuendo –– and in what musical direction I feel the phrase is going –– held at bay, moving ahead or pulling back.

This latter point is not dealing with speeding up, as in accelerando, or slowing, as in ritardando, but rather the way the notes are projected and given “life.” Each note has a responsibility/duty and it must contribute wholeheartedly to the given phrase/line of the music. They are like little people fulfilling their mission in life.

3)Then I would use the term Détaché Porté – no initial accent due to a slight swell or sneaking into the note at the beginning of the stroke followed by a lightening and relaxing of the tone to the end of the stroke

4) The curved/sinking-into-the-string stroke is a form of détaché and should be classed as such. Similarly we have various kinds of Spiccato, i.e., Spiccato secco (Crisp Spiccato), Spiccato lirico (Lyric Spiccato), Spiccato sulla corda (On the string Spiccato), etc.

5) If following the “curve of the bow” is vertical, which returns to Buri’s original query, it is going to be greatly effected by the amount of hair –– a few (tilt) or all (flat) –– so are we simply talking of a constant sinking/curving in and out of the string contrary to the bridge’s arch? Why would one want every note to done in this fashion? Why would one want any note/phrase of anything to be done in the same monotonous manner?

Please forgive me if I can't see your reason from rhetoric, but could you clarify your response to the original question? Have you reduced the notion of a vertical motion to a 'constant sinking/curving in and out?' Also, I'm uncertain as to what you think is affected by the tilt of the bow. Is it the vertical motion or the sound that is affected? In what way?



October 4, 2007 at 05:48 AM · Roy,

I just checked the email about an hour ago, and your book will be sent in tomorrow's post –– via Priority Mail. You should have it in a few days.

Thank you for your interest. I look forward to confering with you should you like.

All the best,


October 4, 2007 at 07:10 AM · 10.04.07 12:53–2:10 am

Hi Jeewon,

The ride continues:-)

It is late and I have been teaching all day, so I will try and be clear in thought.

Initially I was not sure what aspect of the “Curve of the Bow” was being discussed, so I jumped in and gave my thoughts and explanations –– hence the “Crescent Bow,” which is speaking of the horizontal/lateral path of the bow’s plane. (4th & 7th discussion) Also, the “Messa di voce” is mentioned here.

It became clear from Buri’s question put to me (5th discussion), and others’ comments, that we are discussing an “arched draw/flow/sinking into the string.” There is, in my opinion, a great danger tonally and musically with this concept. Articulation and rhythmic precision can be greatly compromised if this is the basis for all bowing technique. This is why I believe the “Curve-of –the-Bow” stroke to be a type of Détaché.

Following are my thoughts on various Détaché strokes:

Détaché – The basic but all-important stroke from which everything else is derived – notes are well sustained and played with individual and connected bow strokes of any length.

1. Détaché Décisivement/Decisive Détaché – A sustained tone with distinct bow changes.

2. Détaché Lancé – A very quick, short and lively stroke, without accent and yet released from the initial start.

3. Détaché Porté – No initial accent due to a slight swell or sneaking into the note at the beginning of the stroke followed by a lightening and relaxing of the tone to the end of the stroke.

4. Grande Détaché – Similar to détaché with extraordinary length given to the stroke, increases breadth of tone and character that is well sustained.

5. Détaché Pulsé/Pulsed Détaché – Begin the stroke with additional weight and speed of bow followed by a release, retaining fluidity of motion and never stopping the bow. In certain instances the bow may minimally leave the string at the end of the stroke – make sure the return landing is of utmost elegance and refinement appropriate to the passage.

6. Détaché Lié/Legato Détaché– Seamlessly connected strokes. See Bow Fingers/Hand/Arm, 8c.

The above and later below are excerpts from my books for the violinist and violist.

So with all of these variables, and many more, I cannot accept the “Curve-of-the-Bow” stroke to be a legitimate method/technique to base one’s entire way of handling the bow –– it simply is not applicable and/or possible in so very many instances. (Perhaps this is not the intent of the contributors.)

I do accept it as another variable and feel it to be closely related to the Détaché Porté mentioned above, but not necessarily exactly like the DP. (12th discussion)

I also relate the “CotB” to “Messa di voce” (also, 4th conversation) because we at times do this on a long note for shape, beauty and resonance. Obviously, this is more deliberate and for a very special effect, but this is what happens in a more subtle way when doing the “CotB.”

Regarding the Tilt of the bow: Of course the motion and sound are affected. This is true of every single adjustment for every single millimeter we use the bow:

The 1) point of contact, 2) speed of bow, 3) weight of bow, 4) amount of hair, 5) string selected and 6) vibrating length of string/position number are brought together in order to bring out the desired dynamics and character of the music ––

Side Hair – Not a stroke, but a method or technique used in virtually all the strokes, particularly for the lightest and most delicate of touches. A most basic and important bow technique where the stick of the bow is rolled away from the bridge thereby giving the hair a diagonal tilt to the string. This enables the player to achieve the lightest tones possible and the gentler lyric effects in varied types of bow stroke styles. For greater security, ease and technical stability, it is best when the hair and thumb are rolled toward each other. When they touch, the bow gains total stability, enabling the player to have complete ease and security of action. Note that this requires a slightly higher wrist/arm and forward right arm positioning. Its counterpart is the Flat Hair.

Flat Hair – Not a stroke, but a method or technique, used in virtually all but the lightest of touches. A most basic and important bow technique where the stick of the bow is directly above and perpendicular to the hair. This enables the player to achieve the fullest tones possible and the crispest, quickest responses in all types of bouncing and springing strokes. For greater ease and technical stability, it is best when the hair is rolled out from the thumb. Note that this requires a slightly lower wrist/arm and pulled-back right arm positioning, as the rolling out action moves the hair toward the fingerboard. Its counterpart is the Side Hair. Also, see Thumbless.

Bow Strokes

The true artist/master musician will incorporate a wide variety of bow strokes with subtle transitions that enhance the phrase appropriately in order that the music is fully served.

In many instances the “Bow Stroke Style” will meld from one style, or aspect of a style, to another.

There will also be many situations of a distinct change from one stroke to the next, as in Détaché to Martelé.

Everything affects everything:-)


October 4, 2007 at 12:13 PM · The bow follows the line the sound makes. This is ofcourse with an advanced student who knows pretty well what kind of sound you get depending on where the bow is placed. With some bows you follow the curve of the bow, but with others you don't. In fact some bows might tend to actually fly right out of your hands would you follow their curve. This depends on how well the bow is tuned (if the bow isn't graduated properly, if the higher frequencies don't flow through the whole bow...and let me tell you the higher frequencies are VERY strong....then it's difficult to hold on to without the thumb being too tense etc.). I guess you still follow the curve of the bow.....BUT to try to make someone do a straight line in space with a bad bow.....don't do that! THAT creates tension.

You make someone try to hold onto something that keeps changing focus points as it moves up and down that way.

So, if the bow isn't too great, make sure the student holds it so that they can steer it without tension. You're following the curve of the bow but you're having to steer so it isn't really "following."

And DO pay attention to see if you are causing breathing problems.

October 4, 2007 at 02:15 PM · Ah hah Drew and Jeewon! Now we get to it. I was waiting for these all important posts. Now I'm getting the Jedi training. I assumed Buri was talking about weight distribution--banana bows (not bow path) when he wrote this thread which is why I responded the way I did. Your explanation contains better detail (I tend to simplify and just talk of bowing in terms of attack, sustain and release, but that is maybe too simplistic).

You're so right, Drew! Everything affects everything--isn't the violin grand? Endless possibilities. Quite amazing that the violin is capable of transmitting the uniqueness of each human soul, which is why we feel so vulnerable when we perform (because we are!).

This summer I taught at a music camp. As a fun game on the last day of my master classes, I had each of the students (who I'd been hearing the whole week) stand behind my back and play while I closed my eyes. I had to guess who was playing. When that was too easy, they tried to trick me (the strong one tried to sound mousy etc.). When I caught on to that, they started trading instruments. Much to my surprise, and theirs, I was able to distinguish who was playing on who's instrument. I didn't have any more than four students at a time (thank goodness), or I wouldn't have done as well. The point is, all of these factors you've brought out in your posts are the nuts and bolts behind why I could distinguish each player--why we each get our individual sound. I think that is incredibly exciting, and so worth appreciating and learning. So, I'm going to reread your posts because I am LEARNING!

Jeewon--that "crashing" on downbow chords you mentioned . . . something else I've noticed, other than the arm's role which you described so well, is the role of the wrist--i.e. Itzhak Perlman in Valse Schertzo (youtube). But, I guess that takes this thread in a different direction.

October 4, 2007 at 01:10 PM · i think it is a pity that with all the technological advances out there, concepts like these, the ones that require some imagination (if not speculation) on the dynamic spatial relationships of bowing, have not been clearly or cleanly presented with the aid of a video...

i think the whole concept is not as profound as it seems, if the presentation medium is appropriate.

here is a parallel, a video from a golf teacher demonstrating some basic moves. now imagine, you try to comprehend by reading the transcript only without looking at the video...

October 4, 2007 at 03:10 PM · Hi Drew,

Thanks for your detailed response -- especially after a long day of teaching.

With my first post I was suggesting that 'following the curve of the bow' is a 'physical technique' if you will, rather than a bowing technique or a type of bow stroke, which can manifest itself in a variety of bow strokes and bowing contexts.

For some, those who have an ease of movement and a natural sense of coordination, and/or an innate sense of phrasing and musical style, such considerations may be unnecessary. But I think even an intuitive sense of the body's kinesiology can help the musician, as much as the athlete, move more efficiently.

I agree that everything affects everything, but would contend that a desired effect can be achieved by coordinating and timing one's motions. An arching preparatory or follow through motion need not translate into an unmusical 'sneaking-in' sound or a swell, although such an effect may result if one does not pay attention to what happens after the bow touches the string; those effects can be controlled by how and when the pressure of the bow is applied to the string. By the same token, not everyone needs to employ the image of an arching motion to initiate a son file or legato bowing; but those with the most seamless bow changes (Yo Yo Ma comes to mind), or most controlled, accent-less entries will be employing their shoulder socket joints in a rotational manner (to a greater or lesser degree depending on their relative proportions to the instrument) to achieve this effect. The arch of the stroke allows for an already-in-motion start, the return swing of a pendulum; the angle of the bow, counterbalanced by rotation through the shoulder socket (lower-string-side for an up bow, upper-string-side for a down bow), allows for a gentle and controlled placement; the combination allows for the smoothest of bow changes.

I also agree that such motions are not the basis for all bow strokes, just as Galamian's pumping motion or Dounis' paint-brush stroke cannot be the basis for all bow strokes.

If we accept Flesch's description of the detache,

"This is the most important basic stroke. It differs from the legato by the fact that individual notes are separated from each other by the change of bow. However, this separation means only the unavoidable, hardly measurable interruption or pause, caused by the bow change, and must not mean an intentional stopping of the bow. We differentiate between:

a. detache using the whole bow

b. large, broad detache

c. small, fast detache"

I would suggest that the arching motion is the exact opposite of the detache; it is the attempt to do the 'unavoidable', to attempt to make the interruption caused by the bow changes disappear all together. Obviously the importance of this attempt depends on the context. I would further suggest that 'following the curve' is the basis for son file and legato.

As I mentioned previously, there are other situations where rotational freedom is useful, in some cases necessary, the necessity of which depends on other factors: bow hold, application of pressure, relative proportions, etc.

For example:

In short strokes generated by a forearm swing, with forearm pronation, if the elbow doesn't follow through with appropriate rotation, the resulting pressure will cause each down bow stroke to dig into the string more than the up bow. If there is no rotational follow-through, the only way to avoid the resulting bumps is to supinate the forearm which will cause the bow to rebound with each stroke (which in turn is caused by the camber of the bow). If one wants to prevent the rebound, pressure must be added with the first finger from its base knuckle, a less efficient way to keep the bow on the string, although useful for mixed bowings and quick changes. As you've mentioned, the other way to relieve this rotational stress is to move the bow laterally, forgoing the straight bow stroke.

As Al mentioned, the arm moves in curves about each joint. "Following the curve of the bow", or the related rotational freedom, allows the arm to move in 3 dimensions to achieve a straight line with the finger tips perpendicular to the string. If that is not a desired effect, then the motions can be squashed into a plane, although I suspect rotational tightness would make planar motions less efficient as well.

I'm not proposing that the player analyze every motion in this way - quite the contrary. But summarized as concrete images, 'curve of the bow', see-saws, smiley faces, stroking cats, bananas, etc. they can help the struggling student who might not be able to achieve ends by their innate sensibilities alone.



October 4, 2007 at 04:05 PM · You're so right Kimberlee: endless possibilities, with as many individuals to vary them. I think you've articulated the importance and boundless possibilities in art. Yes, I agree that the role of the wrist/hand/fingers is important for chords as well as all other bow strokes - but that may be another can of worms to open in another thread. For me, the hand (wrist included) helps with articulation first and foremost. The rest of the arm responds to let the hand do its magic. In some cases, if the arm doesn't get out the way... crash!

Al, I think the limiting factor in technology is conveying what it feels like to sense from inside one's body. The concept of spatial motions is not profound, but the execution is profoundly simple, especially when the target is a sound, an articulation, a mood. I think the most difficult aspect of playing is removing added complexity, and discovering simple, natural motions - listening to how we move. Another difficulty (as AT teaches us) is that what feels natural is not always the most efficient way to move. But who knows, maybe with nanotechnology, one day the teacher could, in the blink of a thought, convey to the student what a certain sound should feel like (the logical end of which is to download Heifetz into our nervous system - but I suppose that would be the end of art). Until then, I suppose we'll have to endure the one-on-one interaction with an individual teacher. But I agree, a well devised video, or computer program, maybe with mocap (like they did for Gollum in LOTR) could help show how various artists move to achieve desired effects. There is a book out there, can't remember the author's name, of a pedagogue who shot stills of various violinists in the dark with strategically placed reflective dots on various parts of the arm (just like mocap, without the mo) to prove his point about the figure 8 motion. Hey, you should produce the video version (except without the figure 8s)!



October 4, 2007 at 04:40 PM · jeewon, you have made so many very solid points that it is tough to recap...

i concur that there must be some elements of the bowing motion that are not easily shown physically in terms of pre- and post-. i chuckled at the suggestion that one day nanotech will allow the teacher to "beam" knowledge of subtle movements to students. haha:)

my suggestion on the video aspect is based on my intuition and the confusion on this thread...even accomplished violinists like you guys are having an "interesting" time comparing notes:):):)

first, you have to agree on the plane you are talking about. then, you have to consider other angular vectors since in real bowing you cannot isolate other planes, meaning, when you focus on one particular plane to discuss things for simplicity sake, other vectors are still at work.

i thought video may allow people to at least appreciate which one plane is in question and then in slow motion pinpoint what other vectors contribute to the overal motion in,,,real time. i agree no one should learn bowing from all the parts, but to be able to assess all the part in different time sequence for review can be very helpful to diagnose hidden problems.

if i produce a video, i can only show half of the picture...what you should not do:):):)

ps, by no means am i suggesting the experts are not clear on what they are saying or do not know what they are talking about. i just want stronger "beam"!

October 4, 2007 at 10:01 PM · Hi Al,

It's so difficult to be clear trying to communicate with only words, much more so with only written words.

For instance, in my earlier post, I meant to write:

"it is the attempt to not do the 'unavoidable', to attempt to make the interruption caused by the bow changes disappear all together."

To avoid the unavoidable. A single word misplaced, or omitted makes nonsense.

Also, certain assumptions we make, especially of what we think the other is saying, sometimes makes understanding difficult. That's why it's so great (and interesting:) to have this forum where dialogue can take place. (Thanks Laurie!)

On top of all that, everybody has different concepts, a unique perspective, and varied experience with violin technique (not to even mention musicality, interpretation, or performance). It would be nice to have that stronger 'beam' via multimedia as you say.

I like your notion of vectors because of the directional component - in 3D, there is a z axis, and angular vectors because as you say, all our limbs draw curves (although it tortures me to recall my misery in vector calculus - grad, curl, div, blech! - so long ago). There are certain 'isolation' exercises one can employ to isolate a plane, e.g. playing with elbow or forearm on a table, or starting a bow stroke with both shoulder and elbow touching a wall at half bow (without leaning) to feel Galamian's pumping motion. I've noticed that relative motions often help the student coordinate motion (once they get over the frustration of getting the relativity). I think your video idea is a good one - imagine if software could allow us to virtually hold one point of the arm to see how the rest of the arm would move relative to it (too gimmicky?). I think it's useful at times to focus on a part to see how it coordinates with the whole. I'm sure such diagnostic tools are used in athletics already. But in the end, everything is but a part of the picture until you get on stage - the real crucible of all our efforts.

I am interested in principles of motion though. I think there must be only a handful of them at the heart of all the different ways of playing, the exclusion of which would be detrimental, either musically or physically.

Hi Kimberlee,

Just saw that video of Perlman on youtube. Wow, what a performer! I think you can clearly see the rotational follow through of the elbow I'm talking about, in all sorts of bow strokes. Just wish the camera would always show the whole arm - there's a project for you Al - video of great artists that shows what really matters. You can also hear almost-crashes (probably not audible in the hall) which he expertly saves. Too bad the rest of the arm is cut off. My guess is that in such instances, the armpit closes upon impact of the bow. Wonderful, uniquely individual and totally natural, hand control.



October 4, 2007 at 10:36 PM · I would like to add a few other thoughts which may end up taking the form of questions related to this idea of following the curve of the bow through a basically horizontal plane.

I believe I understand and agree with the idea that following the shape of the bow is not observed in a number of instances.

For example,in string crossings,

is it not true that if you are crossing strings, from G to D, or D to A , or A to E on a down bow, slurred, you will be following the arc of the bridge which will be the opposite curve of the bow and that when crossing strings from G to D to A to E on the up bow, you will be going against the arc of the bridge but with the curve of the bow. The opposite will be true then when crossing in the direction of E down to G on an up bow in which the curve of the bridge will be followed but not the curve of the bow. These two movements are found in combination in the string crossing/bariolage in the third movement of the Bach A minor concerto, yes?

But it is also my understanding that a basic horizontal pulling of the string to the right will be the movement guiding a down bow and the opposite movement , a pushing to the left will apply on an upbow-the terms tirez and poussez I believe refer to this basic movement. I have seen some teachers try to assist this movement with students by telling them to pull the string on its left side with the bow on a down bow and then push the string on its right side on an up bow, connecting the two in between with a loop (as part of a figure 8 movement).

Additionally, for some, this involves pronation of the forearm and hand in an effort to distribute or direct weight travelling from frog to tip and its counterpart, supination, to direct weight back the opposite way.

All of this is supported by the shoulder blade muscles so that a feeling of suspension and release of weight can be achieved by the larger muscles without the need to apply vertical pressure.

To the casual observing eye, horizontal movement like the pushing and pulling mentioned above causes the string to vibrate "sideways" back and forth and helps the resonance of the string and and vertical movement limits the string's movement from moving side to side and inhibits resonance. An experiment I ran with students and myself was to remove the shoulder rests and chin/jaw from the chinrest and just have them observe the rocking of the instrument as they drew a down bow and an upbow concentrating on this basic movement of pushing and pulling and notice how and when they applied vertical pressure or changed the height at which their arm rested in space in relation to their hand as well as the plane of the string that the "sideways" vibration in the string increased or decreased. The emphasis therefore was on helping them kinesthetically determine when they were drawing the most resonant tone.

Drew and Jeewon, I would like to know if these concepts make sense to you or if I need to elaborate further or if you feel there is something essential about which you are talking that my suppositions above run counter to?

Are these movements consistently observed in the various "schools of playing" as exemplified by Heifetz, Oistrakh, Szeryng, Zukerman, to name a few players whose bow arms don't appear to me to be the same?

October 5, 2007 at 12:12 AM · jeewon, your writing is fun to read:)

below i have 3 links. i wonder if you can comment on their bowing for illustration:

when you teach bowing, do you take into consideration of your students' physiology to come up with different "forms" in order to perform your desired common function, or do you require them to conform to a certain common form which leads to certain function?

for instance, looking at the videos, one can argue that the wrist motion near the frog, if looking in terms of xyz planes, are "different". to you as a teacher, do you ask all your students to maintain the same angular motion of the wrist for instance?

it is my uneducated conjecture that form dictates function. thus, unless the 2 forms are very similar, it is tough to compare notes even among bowing experts?

October 5, 2007 at 02:07 AM · I must admit I am also sifting through a bit of this. Without placing this thinking in any "school," I would just like to say that I appreciate Milstein as a good example of how to ellicit tone using a crescent bow path as I understand it (am I thinking correctly about this?). My own experience with sound lets me know that my body must be as organic as I can make it, and capable of being totally flexible. Stiffness in body=stiffness in sound. Not long ago I discovered when I freed my body from many learned constraints, I also freed my sound. So, maybe it's safe to say I learned all the rules so I could break them--or maybe follow them better? The funny thing? It was like the violin already knew what to do when I allowed my body full range of motion. I found my "control." Am I talking nonsense?

Ronald, what a wonderful experiment to do with sound. I wish I could see that in action. I'm so curious to know what you discovered! One thing I do with my students--I prop my thumb underneath the stick well enough to lift all my other fingers completely off the bow and then I place it on the string and draw a slow clean down bow followed by an up bow (if I'm doing really well I can get three full bows without any fingers on the stick). This is to demonstrate the resonant power of the string. I want my students to see that gravity is enough to work with already. And it is too--gravity combined with the bow contacting the string in the optimal way (crescent bow path) makes a lovely resonant sound. Again, this is simplistic, but it makes a good show-and-tell for my students! :) I have to pay attention to the path of the bow to make it come off right.

Al--indeed the form makes great variations in sound. That is why, for an artist, it is vital to know what sound you want to make (and perhaps that is one of the most difficult quests). And yes, "bow experts," in the end are artists who have found a way to make the sound they wanted to make--and that varies from person to person. To the degree that the experts judge or categorize certain sounds, I guess there are bound to be disagreements.

October 5, 2007 at 02:45 AM · Thanks Al. But I sense you're getting a tad bored with all the worms bursting out of our proverbial can and wanting someone to fetch the keys to Pandora's box. I can already feel the paper thin ice starting to crumble beneath my feet. I can taste the crud encrusted rubber of my left sneaker - is it better to wear a shoe or go barefoot before knowingly shoving one's foot down one's throat? I must consult the daughters of Themis and get back to you.



Al, did you see that shoulder injury thread? Looks like the perfect technology for your video.

October 5, 2007 at 03:29 AM · jeewon, is your day job a writer or a violinist?:) thanks for the mention on the sd thread. i think it is an interesting topic because in the pursuit of a beautiful sound, are we putting our beautiful shoulder in jeopardy? science to the rescue...

kimberlee, concur that different experts may have different ideas/approaches and because of that, to a student, it may not be easy picking in terms of which school to follow. just like what you are doing, i guess it is a life long journey of self discovery...

October 5, 2007 at 05:38 AM · 'this all reminds me--I'm starting to like the way I look in the mirror'. ;).

October 5, 2007 at 01:21 PM · Al--yes. That is exactly what makes it so difficult for a student--because to get the sound you "want," you must start with the end in mind. But, how can you start with the end in mind if you don't know all the variables yet? In other words, the beginning forms dictate, to a large extent, the freedom of the performer. Not to worry, though. Many musical journeys (or, as you so eloquently put it "life long journey of self-discovery"), and just as many ways to play beautifully. You start on one road, but who knows what twists and turns it will bring? The point is to start walking.

October 5, 2007 at 09:39 PM · Hi Ronald,

I agree with everything you say, although I'd never before heard the term 'figure 8' applied to the vertical motion you describe. (Another case in point Al.) The figure 8 I'm used to hearing about is lateral, kind of an over-pivoting of the bow beyond 'perpendicular to the string', so the frog is pushed away on the down bow and pulled toward you on the up bow, without letting the bow travel along the string (i.e. keeping the same sound point.)

The figure 8 you speak of can be exaggerated into a string cross exercise to develop flexibility in the wrist for detache (and string crossing, naturally.) If you start by playing double stops and, little by little, raise the hand to play the lower string on the down bow and lower the hand to play the upper string on the up, to get a rocking motion, the hand starts to draw little ellipses. Carry this onto a single string without exaggerating the hand motion and you get a fluid detache motion.

Incidentally, the strokes we've been talking about can all be found in Paul Rolland's excellent treatise, The Teaching of Action in String Playing. Can this book still be purchased? My copy is published by Illinois String Research Associates, but I think that's the original group that put the project together. I think it was later printed by ASTA but I'm not sure. The 'curve of the bow' can be found on p164. Rolland calls it the 'rotary movement' in finishing strokes for son file. The little follow-through motions I talked about can be found on pp.172,173. Has anyone seen the film(s)?

Al, as with all things under the sun, a video exists already; the University of Illinois String Research Project produced a series of films back in the 70's to accompany Rolland's book; I guess it's kind of like multimedia (bi/dual media?.) I've never seen them and wish they were readily available, glasses, bell-bottoms, hairdos and all. Regarding your other post, all I can say is I'm workin' on it.



October 5, 2007 at 11:01 PM · I see Jeewon- I now understand what was meant by the lateral figure 8, and there are a number of players who show this motion somewhat obviously in their playing, others more subtly, and the vertical figure 8 which I was referring to you have described even better with your reference to small ellipses and how they aid a smooth change of bow in detache strokes.

Regarding the Rolland book, I have an old copy and have seen the videos which may still be available for viewing through Towson State Unviersity in Towson, Maryland. Dr. Zoltan Szabo, violin professor there, was a big proponent of these and in fact, one of my former teachers, Robert Gerle appears in these films demonstrating various aspects of technique. The pictures are still very useful in the book and ,if it is legal to do so with out of print materials, I am happy to share or post information from the book to anyone interested.

Thank you for your cogent analyses and clear thorough comments on this post. I hope, despite our busy lives, we will hear more from you as this and other topics unfold.

October 6, 2007 at 04:21 AM · Greetings,

I bought the book about two years ago. I think it wa seither through the Strad or ASTA.



October 6, 2007 at 11:59 AM · You're most welcome, Ronald. Thanks for your posts as well. Did you find it useful to watch the video? Wow - what was it like studying with Robert Gerle? From his writing, it seems like he'd be exacting and meticulous.


Thanks for the tip, Buri.



October 6, 2007 at 04:19 PM · Yes, the videos (films) were very helpful in seeing the still photos come to life in motion. A picture is worth a thousand words and a moving picture even more so.

As for Robert Gerle, he was a wonderful teacher in so many ways. He had the highest standards and really made us think about why we would choose a particular interpretation and justify it. He challenged us to shape phrases without falling in to the trap of employing too many agogic accents or rubati although he was never against their usage employed tastefully. I believe he was right in stating that the comunicative power of a given expressive device if used too frequently dilutes its intended purpose and can become an affectation.

A wonderful example of his use of imagery was in the second movement of the Debussy Sonata in which he likened the repetitive staccato movement on the same note to a mechanical doll which, later in the movement, is given a heart and experiences briefly, what it is like to feel as a human being feels ( 8 measures after rehearsal 3).

As conductor of our orchestra,in addition to the standard orchestral repertoire, he exposed us to less common but still wonderful music such as Mendelssohn's "The First Walpurgis Night" and Nielsen's Symphony No. 2, "The Four Temperaments".

In general matters of life and appreciation for the freedoms we have in the U.S., Mr. Gerle always spoke of the necessity of taking our civic responsibilities seriously and voting because he lived through a dark period in history in which freedom was on trial. In WWII, hiding from the Nazis, he narrowly escaped from the Russians encroaching upon Budapest in their push to drive back the Nazis, playing the Tchaikowsky concerto in the bitter cold at gunpoint to literally save his life and the lives of his fellow comrades- this is but one story among many he shares in his autobiography Playing It By Heart.

Of course there is much more I could say about him and what I learned from him and valued in him as a person and a teacher- he was a consummate artist of the greatest integrity and I will always try to hold the many lessons he imparted about life and music close to the heart and live them.

October 6, 2007 at 04:29 PM · Ron,

This Robert Gerele--I like the way he taught expressiveness from your description. I use to do strange things on piano, pressing just one note PPP>FFF(with/without sustain/soft) and just listen to the notes life.

I think, that though it may come off sounding minimalist, which I do not necessarily see as a bad thing, that what one arrives at when approaching things the way you described, is really becoming 'one' with the instrument on a very high level.

Though I have reasons to believe I may not reach 'that' level, I do intend on attempting to take those notions as far as possible. I say this, because I can sit down at various pianos and know

their basic personality and so forth for having approached a single piano, with this kind of thing described, as well as getting to know each more in the spirit of letting the instrument be itself.

So, I think it's even more complex than even expressiveness? I see especially violin, as a

thing of beauty that must be allowed to unfold

in a generously patient way. But without the pressures that pro's must feel, I can explore this patience--and 'that' is the level I'll reach.

October 7, 2007 at 02:46 PM · To All:

This has been a magnificent thread! I couldn't keep in the thick of it due to heavy teaching schedule, but bravissimi to all for the wonderful, in depth observations.

My apologies to those whose questions I was unable to respond to at the time––others certainly did it fully and I will enjoy further study of the responses.

God bless,


October 8, 2007 at 03:46 AM · To All, again:

Would this be a fair summation?

The “Curve of the Bow” has to do with the flow of the right hand/arm sections mimicking/tracking the bow’s arch/camber. There is a natural need, especially at the frog/heel of the bow, to cause the bow arm to rise and, likewise, at the tip.

If exaggerated, there would be a danger in the notes swelling/bulging in the middle of the bow and this must be vigilantly watched out for, as it would cause a terrible affectation to the playing.

When I was studying in London, one of my flat-mates was studying with Simon Goldberg who had his students do a triplet-count flow in each stroke, i.e., in a broad détaché one should play beat 1 & 3, forte and beat 2, mp. These dynamics can be adjusted to any combination and I do a similar study for the bow in Basics I of my book. It works at all levels of playing and I still do it for myself quite frequently –– and all my students. It brings out the concept of the “CotB” without ever using the term.


October 8, 2007 at 03:38 PM · All I know, is that when there is a 'very' light arching I was shown in the 'general' bow motions, that the notes sound better, grab better, and for me at where I'm at, allows me to flow through double-stops better.

For me, yes, I think that is a fair summation.

October 9, 2007 at 12:13 PM · Ronald,

Thank you for sharing a glimpse into the life and work of a great musician. I am eager to read his autobiography to learn more.


October 12, 2007 at 01:08 AM · Hi Drew,

I sense you remain reluctant to concede the importance of following the curve of the bow, or at least you dislike the term and/or the potentially exaggerated results.

I would suggest exaggeration is undesireable in general, except as a corrective measure to undo a prior, opposite exaggeration.

I agree with Ronald's assertion that, "...the comunicative power of a given expressive device if used too frequently dilutes its intended purpose and can become an affectation." I think his statement can be applied generally to any means, whether expressive, physical, musical, or otherwise; they can all become affectation if employed thoughtlessly, repetitively, and without purpose.

In re-reading some of the other posts, I just realized that Albert described the curving motion quite succinctly by the third post in his image of two half moons rolling against each other along their curves.

To summarize fairly, following the 'CotB' (an image which represents the finishing motion of legato bowing, among other motions) must be recognized as a rotary motion as Rolland describes. I'm not sure how your dynamics exercise is related to this rotary motion. The rotary motion is not a concept to be brought out, it's not just a term to describe a bow stroke, but a concrete action that is fundamental to a variety of bow strokes, fundamental to the biomechanics of the arm.



October 12, 2007 at 01:35 AM · Yeah! This thread is what is all about. I'm learning. Thanks for the thoughts all you brilliant people.

October 12, 2007 at 02:10 AM · Another important bow concept...Sorry I haven't had a chance to read every word on this thoughtful thread. I get the impression that different people may be using different language to express some similar concepts.

I do strongly believe in a circular or crescent-like approach. It ties in with the natural camber of the bow, and is most helpful for good tracking. The camber also ties in with my advocacy of a relatively loosely-tightened bow.

Dounis - at least as interpreted through Valborg Lelenad - was also into the circular approach.

October 12, 2007 at 03:51 AM · One thing is for certain--the thread wore me out. Hey Raph!

October 12, 2007 at 06:02 AM · Jeewon,

So glad to hear from you.

< The “Curve of the Bow” has to do with the flow of the right hand/arm sections mimicking/tracking the bow’s arch/camber. There is a natural need, especially at the frog/heel of the bow, to cause the bow arm to rise and, likewise, at the tip. >

I will stand by this assessment, which also satisfied Albert, and perhaps a few others.

I am not at all reluctant to follow the curve of the bow –– I just call it a good bow arm. It is absolutely necessary to allow for the simple fact that the bow varies in height from the hair and this must be compensated for, just as we compensate/adjust for the weight/balance of the bow every fraction of a millimeter it is drawn.

Everything affects everything.

As I approach the heel/frog of the bow I am consciously aware and adjusting the height of my hand/arm to allow for this structural fact.

I agree with your assessment of exaggeration being undesirable in general, excepting when done as a corrective measure to undo a prior, opposite exaggeration. This can produce very quick corrections for a player AND teach us how to do the opposite –– without exaggeration –– when appropriate to the music.

I do respectfully and profoundly disagree with the concept of a “rotary motion” of the forearm for “the finishing motion of legato bowing.” This seems to be the gist of the “playing to the curve of the bow.”

When rolling the bow hand clockwise (Supination) toward the pinky to finish the up-bow, one is shifting/changing/modifying all of the right hand’s contact points –– this is a huge effort. By the way, I learned this, also, and later rejected it.

My studies in London were with Yfrah Neaman, a pupil of Flesh and other very prominent teachers in the early part of the 1900’s. Neaman was phenomenal with the detailing of artistry he could inspire and was a tremendous mentor, colleague and friend over the years. He also taught this rolling rotary action –– one of the few points upon which we did not concur. My studies with Leonard Sorkin, founder of the Fine Arts Quartet and pupil of Misha Mishakoff (a pupil of Auer), always dealt with the stability of the right arm and hand in the bow changes, ala Heifetz, Milstein, Oistrakh, etc.

I teach the Classic Russian School of maintaining the level of the back of the hand and having the thumb as fulcrum and the fingers doing their relatively simply task of balancing the bow within its line of trajectory –– via the Crescent Bow linear path, and allowing for the structure and design of the bow, not to mention the bridge and strings with all the angles and resistances easily dealt with.

The Bow Hand:

5. Hand

a. Very slight cupping of the palm producing tiny hills in the knuckles – almost flat.

b. Back/top of hand should retain its angle to the bow at all times – this enables a consistent maintenance of the bow’s path across the string, providing tonal control.

c. It is the thumb and fingers, working independently, which flex and take out the bumps.

(Excerpt from: Violin Technique: The Manual and Viola Technique: The Manual)

I do agree that there is, of course, the necessity of the forearm to rotate –– The Forearm rotates clockwise (out)/counter clockwise (in). [Supination–palm up/Pronation–palm down]. This is primarily used in pulsations/accents of the given bow stroke, the most obvious being staccato and it also assists in many string crossings.

The weight of the right arm must flow evenly onto the bow via the hand/fingers without undo rotating action of the forearm.

If one over-uses the Supination/Pronation action, the player is in great danger of over stressing the thumb and thereby the forearm into the elbow into the upper arm into the shoulder into the neck and back. Need I say more? There are endless examples of this among students, amateurs and professionals.

I know that you, Jeewon, and many others do not advocate anything like this.

I am simply warning of potential tonal distortion, let alone physical injury. I am now just writing for the individual who is incurring difficulty and perhaps pain in their right arm and hand due to undo stress from over-exertion.

Perhaps I have taken the ball too far, but if this answers a few questions in some players’ minds –– and bodies –– it is worth the effort.

Cheers to all and happy, free-of-strain playing.


October 12, 2007 at 06:25 AM · Galamian called the proper bow motion a "figure 8." Watch Perlman, and Stern, etc for good bowing.

October 12, 2007 at 07:22 AM · Thomas,

Figure 8 is a wonderful tool and of great use in anticipating string crossings. It does not work in double-stops unless you are directing it laterally/horizontally.

There are many motions for the bow and arm/hand/fingers in their numerous challenges to accomplish the task at hand.

All must be achieved with great skill and artistry.


October 12, 2007 at 12:11 PM · Hi Drew,

Thanks for taking the time to respond so thoroughly. I don't think you've taken anything too far, on the contrary, I appreciate your analysis, and with each exchange understand your manner of playing a little more. I sincerely don't wish to start a 'battle of the bow holds', especially because I think our little dialogue here may be a bit of a first in that proponents of different ways-of-handling-the-bow/arm have lasted this long in exchanging ideas.

Regardless of different holds and the many consequences that follow, I would argue that there are certain principles of motion that are employed by all the great string players, the rotary motion being one of them.

"...I just call it a good bow arm. ...adjust for the weight/balance of the bow every fraction of a millimeter it is drawn."

As far as I can tell just by looking (from the audience, or through what is often, for our purposes, very poorly shot video - seriously, who wants to stare at the giant jiggling jowels of some sweaty, overweight, violinist, much less tenor, for lengths at a time!) the greatest of the greats (surely at least a few good bow arms in the bunch;), employ rotary motion in smooth bow changes, finishing strokes, and repeated strokes, which obviates the need to adjust every fraction of a millimeter as the adjustment is built into the curve, so that the fingers don't have to iron out all the kinks at the ends of relatively slow bows, or in the middle of very fast, long bows, and don't have to take the brunt of the impact on repeated strokes and chords. Finally, the follow through of the elbow allows for flowing movement, so that a stroke doesn't get stuck.

Smooth bow changes, tapered phrase endings in Brahms Hungarian Dance #7

Paganini's 24th Caprice.

Finishing curves can be seen in the theme on the dotted rhythms, even on a single string. The tip of the elbow mirrors the tiny ellipses the hand describes in Var8, in it's followthrough motion.

Almost every stroke in Sarasate's Zapateado You can see the slight lifting of the elbow in nearly every down bow.

Kreutzer Sonata The arm is cut off by the frame of the camera much of the time, but the few glimpses that can be seen clearly show rotary motion in the legato bow changes, frog and tip, and on chords.

Clair de lune All over the place.

Prokofiev(don't recognize the piece - is it from Romeo and Juliet?)

Granted some artists employ it in a more obvious way, and the motion is more noticeable the lower the elbow is relative to the hand (which depends upon the bow being held closer to their tips, first finger touching somewhere on the tip-side of the second joint - the medial phalange.) [Or is the motion more noticeable when the elbow is at the same level as the wrist?]

The rest of your comments depend entirely on the bow hold (I am assuming of course that your hold is akin to Heifetz'). The danger of over-pronating only comes with the already pronated hand, so I can understand why you would not want to pronate further; the rotation I have shown in the examples above, however, come from a rotation of the upperarm in the shoulder socket - the same motion as a string cross from A string to D string, slurred on a down bow, or slurred, up bow from D to A, except drawn on one string and therefore much less visible.

"When rolling the bow hand clockwise (Supination) toward the pinky to finish the up-bow, one is shifting/changing/modifying all of the right hand’s contact points –– this is a huge effort."

Actually, I was implying that the hand be used in the manner of the Heifetz hold. During the clockwise rotation, don't let the contact points of the right hand change so the bow will rotate with the arm/hand (if you supinate the hand relative to the bow, the bow will not rotate), or as I wrote before, "...the hand is firm and passive - there is no brush motion, although there may be some 'give' through the joints". With the fingers held firm, drop the elbow (close the armpit) without changing the shape of the wrist/hand/fingers, and the counterbalance of the elbow can be clearly felt. I understand that in your manner of bowing the elbow is held high and dropped to a level that I would consider the maximum height, so the closing motion is not as apparent.

I also advocate stability in the bow hand, just that for me the shape/angle of the hand varies according to the context. Also, the flex of the fingers/wrist varies according to the type of stroke, from quite firm in legato playing to quite flexible in detache (the run of the mill variety). And I agree that the rotation of the forearm/hand should not roll back and forth (supinate/pronate) for a given stroke, especially when it is a relatively short and fast stroke. But I do not agree that supination in and of itself causes a 'huge effort'. That depends on the shape of the hold, whether the fingers are allowed to pivot about Capet's ring (thumb and 2nd finger), whether the bow is being held up (as if in the air) or balanced on the strings, whether the bow is being held between thumb and finger (1st or 2nd) or the bow is allowed to hang on the pads of the fingers or rest on the thumb, etc. Oistrakh demonstrates this followthrough-of-the-fingers motion, which involves the slightest rotation within the base knuckles, and consequently a very slight supination, effortlessly.

I do not endorse an 'over-use' of supination/pronation, but there is no danger of over-use with the more neutral hold, centred around the 2nd finger, with the thumb held at a neutral angle to the bow. (Holding the thumb flat against the stick, instead of neutral - i.e. on its inside tip, pronates the forearm.) With the thumb neutral, the slightest pronation will add leverage to the stick. In addition, if the 2nd finger curls under the stick, you get leverage between the 1st and 2nd fingers themselves - the leverage between fingers can be applied without adding any further pronation at all. In this way, it is possible to play with very little pressure on the thumb.

I would have thought that the danger of injury comes from the high elbow itself, since raising the upper arm above slightly-below-parallel to the ground raises the collar/shoulderblade, pushing the ball of the humerus up against the socket, impinging the radial nerve (somebody please correct me if I'm wrong about the physiology), in the same way that letting the collar/shoulderblade droop forward pushes the ball of the humerus forward and up. With the ball, out of centre and rubbing against the socket through the sheath surrounding it (what's that sheath called? is it the cuff?), there is a danger of tearing of the sheath and rotator cuff injury (are they one and the same?).

Being the way that I am, I always look for efficiency. The rotation motion is one of the most efficient motions in bowing; it is easy to learn, easy to execute, it adds a freedom and ease to some of the most difficult strokes to master, e.g. son file and legato bowing, and it is very effective in adding control to the bow strokes to which it is relevant.

I do appreciate your effort in explaining your way of bowing. I think I now better understand it's biomechanics, especially in the crescent stroke and how it relates to the Russian hold you describe. I finally 'get' the bow's path in Heifetz, Milstein, et al., so aptly described as the crescent bow.

Hope there's more...



P.S. Al, check this out!!!

October 12, 2007 at 01:47 PM · jeewon, thanks for the link. is that a 10/4 violin without shoulder rest?

appreciate your posts and those of drew, very interesting perspectives, some of which i do not understand and some of which correspond to my shallow understanding on the subject.

as mentioned by you, i think injury prevention is of paramount importance. to me, it is more important than the idealistic sound production that everyone is pursuing. we have now children practicing hours a day and the thought that they may be on a wrong track is very concerning. with my kid, who is also an avid golfer, the violin bow arm will put her right shoulder in jeopardy and the golf is putting her left shoulder at risk. we have both ends covered:), just great!

radial nerve is not affected with rotator cuff motion. radial nerve sits below the humeral head (think armpit), thus injury to radial nerve has to come from below in most cases. the term saturday night palsy describes a drunk violinist falling asleep overhanging the upper limb on the back of a benchn after a recital in the park.

as you implied, what is more commonly affected is one particular tendon of the rotator cuff, namely, the supraspinatus.

anatomic studies have revealed that a piece of the scapula, ( aka the shoulder blade), known as the acromion process, is often the culprit. what happens is that during certain shoulder motion range, like internally rotated shoulder abducted at 90 degree (think leonardo in titantic on the, hmm, bow of the ship but with thumbs pointing down), the acromion process tends to get in contact with supraspinatus. a bony protrusion rubs againist a soft tissue tendon, thus creating the opportunity for wear and tear.

some people are born with sharper edged acromion, some with more obtuse ones. you don't know what you get unless you get a very high quality MRI which is next to impossible for an aspiring violinist. therefore, with violinists and students, you simply do not know how much a person can get away with if bowing with bad techniques. with some, bad techniques will do them in in no time. with others, you never know (just like some guys smoke till they are 95 and then got hit by a truck. and then walk out of ER in 2 hours to smoke more).

going back to what some of you have mentioned somewhere in the thread, i think the most important thing is to, besides getting good books, say by drew, as a good source for reference, do get a great teacher to watch your every move like a hawk. imo, each person needs to develop his/her own bowing style, not deviating far from the general principles, but an individualistic product nontheless. bottom line, the bow has to be straight, the tone has to be even, do whatever you can to achieve that while not hurting yourself, or not hurting yourself so bad that the injury is irreversible. but, given the cut throat culture of classical music, the elusive dream of making it to that top 20, i can imagine many students will be scared to share with others of their physical pain and symptoms until much too late...

ps. jeewon, the trouble maker in my house is a girl. i see you guys mentioning "son" file all the time. what is it? is my daughter missing something? i am not kidding here; just my ignorance.

October 12, 2007 at 05:08 PM · Jeewon,

Great points and well written. How do you do those links? I am still a novice at this stuff.

I think we are having a little too much fun –– it is rare when violinists can continue a discussion of this length:-)

It might come as a surprise to you how much I combine the various techniques to form a more complete whole. I think we are very much on the same page. We simply start from different –– both valid –– initial points or basics.

Because I mentioned the “Russian” school, you have assumed everything I do is “Russian” –– not at all true. I like to mix the recipe up and pick the best from whatever school I choose. I was fortunate –– or unfortunate:-) –– in that my various teachers had me learn the different methods/schools. It would reek temporary havoc on my playing, but in the end helped me to become a much more complete and versatile player and teacher.

I actually do not use the “Russian” bow hold, but rather the “Franco-Belgium.” I have learned both over the years and see the choice between the two as more related to the size of the player. Both are totally valid, as is attested to by the various great artists. I simply adapt/meld the use of the bow/arm in the “Russian” to the hold of the “Franco-Belgium.” This is something personal in each player and we must find our easiest and most keenly alert and balanced hold in all bow strokes.

No, my elbow is neither high nor low, but rather the upper right arm is held below the imaginary perpendicular line coming off the side of the bow at a right angle and parallel to the ribbon of hair. With the “Flat” hair this line would barely cross over the upper right arm, but with the rolling over to the “Side” of the hair and, in so doing, bringing the hair and thumb in contact with each other (lending tremendous stability) ala roulé, this distance of the imaginary line off the bow exponentially increases the distance from the upper arm.

Re: the use of the 2nd finger in assisting the weighting of the bow ––

It seems you are speaking only in the context of the “Side” of the hair, whereas when using the “Flat” hair the 2nd finger must not hold underneath the bow, but rather assist the 1st finger in weighting the bow on the very top of the stick, thereby maintaining total ease of the digits in the most powerful and sweeping bow strokes.

Re: the bow’s change of direction ––

The Collé Stroke is often taught to give the momentary change of the bow arm’s direction. Unfortunately this is often misapplied to a collapsing/flexing of the right hand knuckles in a downward direction at the moment of the up to down-bow change, thereby defeating the whole purpose. The “Thumb-finger stroke” should finish the direction of the bow, enabling the switch of direction for the bow arm. See point 6d below.

6. Bow Changes

a. Use a very small flowing action of thumb and fingers, along the Plane – see 8. d.1 & d.2 – independent of the hand, to finish the bow’s direction, enabling a momentary pause for the Hand/Forearm/Upper Arm so they may prepare for the change of direction.

b. For a smooth change, imperceptively slow and lighten the bow for the finishing moments of the stroke.

c. To hide the bow change completely – Legato Détaché – the sound should be sustained through the end of the stroke with the new stroke taken slightly lighter and slower – allowing the resonance of the previous stroke to over-shadow the new stroke. (This can be accomplished in any dynamic range.)

d. Throw/Catch – the thumb rules this activity.

1) As you END the down-bow stroke slightly throw or elongate the thumb/fingers.

2) As you END the up-bow stroke slightly catch or contract the thumb/fingers.

3) This action, often called Collé Stroke, and piloted by the thumb, is a very good developer of right hand agility. See under Bow Strokes both Collé and Thumb- fingers Stroke.

Thumb-fingers Stroke – The name is chosen as the main impetus or source of action comes from the thumb with the fingers simultaneously “joining in on the game.” This stroke on the string is directed by the bow hand thumb-fingers in either down-bow (“Throw”) or up-bow (“Catch”), hence “Throw/Catch” (#2 below). When used with longer bow strokes, it is applied to the very end of the stoke, allowing the right arm a moment’s pause just prior to the change of direction – it finishes the old stroke. Do not allow the bow-hand to move up or down, or permit any rolling action whatsoever – keep the back of the hand still. Practice in all parts of the bow. Make use of a wide range of dynamics, ppp to fff, and bow placements – heel to tip and fingerboard to bridge. Initially keep on the string, later adding lifts (see 3 below).

1. Upon adding arm motion, make sure the thumb-fingers action is applied to the END OF THE STROKE – initially use a little zip-accent, suddenly speeding the thumb-fingers action thereby making it audible.

2. “Throw/Catch” – at the end of the down-bow, Throw – extend/elongate – thumb-fingers; at the end of the up-bow, Catch – curl/contract – thumb-fingers. (Less motion is best.)

3. When playing a short, lifted stroke, relate the immediacy of tone and grab of the string to that of pizzicato – hence this stroke can be referred to as “pizzicato with the bow.” See Collé.

(Excerpts from: Violin Technique: The Manual and Viola Technique: The Manual)

I should try and convince you to buy a book –– I promise you will find it most interesting:-)



October 12, 2007 at 05:51 PM · Here is a brief guide on how to do hyperlinks. I used it for years, cutting and pasting the code, before Robert finally convinced me to just memorize the code!

October 12, 2007 at 06:19 PM · And if ya get real good, I can teach you how to overload anchors with styles.

October 12, 2007 at 06:39 PM · Thanks Laurie.

And Albert, I don't even know what "anchors" are –– except when boating:-)))


October 13, 2007 at 01:12 AM · Don't sweat it Drew....

Anchors are like the little basic elements of html, that makes pages do thing, make text bold, italicized, make lists,, etc.... Too much information already, I'm sure ;)>... Or that is what they use to be called early early on.. I think they're just called tags now. Anyway.

Styles are advanced formatting principles normally called Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) and so forth.


October 13, 2007 at 03:12 AM · Ron,

Re: Your October 4th thread ––

Sorry that I have neglected to respond to you directly, but your observations and own studies are excellent.

I perhaps go a step further with the concept of causing the violin to roll due to the head being lifted off. I do not use a shoulder-rest –– some of my students do and some don’t –– so when doing this the violin can be made to roll tremendously if you weight in the bow so that it does not draw across the string. Then, keeping the weight, give more thrust to the motion (tirez and poussez) and you will achieve a huge resonant tone –– keep it going for a while and enjoy the powerful freedom of sound/stroke.


October 14, 2007 at 01:58 PM · Actually Drew, I was hoping to keep up the dialogue until you'd written your whole book down on this post ;) but I guess you're on to me. I already find it interesting - can you let me know when the 2nd edition comes out?

Wow that is surprising. I wouldn't have guessed about your bow hold - must be vigilent about jumping to conclusions. Thanks for taking my presumptuousness in stride.

I think you're right in saying that we have many similar ideas. Your whole colle motion sounds awfully familiar, except that I add a vertical component to it - which is, I suppose, our point of departure.

As for the role of the 2nd finger, when the stick needs to be more vertical (flat hair, stick over hair), the 2nd/3rd finger can pull up and in. Instead of rolling the bow by pulling in with the thumb for stability, the thumb pushes out, rolling the bow for flat hair, and the pull of the 2nd finger stabilizes the bow. So for powerful strokes, I feel the 2nd finger pull in/up, adding leverage to the 1st finger on an upbow/push, and pull with the middle fingers on a downbow, pivoting the 1st finger so that it 'flips' open in the opposite direction as the bow changes direction. I sometimes apply weight by leaning the middle finger with pronation for a very dense sound (also as an instructional tool to teach how to apply weight, or to inhibit constant, back and forth rotation––bowing without the 1st finger), but I find I use the push/pull most of the time and especially for Mozart and Bach, and for the subito dynamics in Beethoven, also for mixed strokes, quick changes from on to off, etc.


Hi Al,

That 10/4 violin! Ha, ha... It's the "ex- Friendly Giant".

Son filé is the French term for 'spun' note. Flesch describes it in detail if you're interested here, and it has nothing really to do with progeny, or their gender, except in their way of handling a bow.

Thanks for your correction and clarification of shoulder problems. It reminds me that we really do have to consult experts and be diligent about our own health, as you say. I don't think your daughter has anything to worry about, though, having the parental units she has (lucky kid!). It seems like you've got it all covered. Concerning health and sound, I think it most often turns out that the best sound that one can achieve (for that individual) is the one that is most healthful. I think problems can arise when we get enamored of how others achieve their ends and try to copy directly instead of adapting to ourselves, as you say. That's why I think it's important to understand the principles of playing, of motion, balance, alignment, and discover how we can work just within the limits of our proportions, flexibility, strength, etc., keeping in mind that, gradually, with patience, those limits can be stretched (literally and figuratively).

Before you asked about form and function. I always consider the student's physiology for set up and technique. For instance, the basic bow hold should be very close to the shape of the hand when hanging relaxed from the wrist. If you rotate/pronate the forearm, the wrist can easily swing in the direction of the bow, for example. In this way, the technique I teach conforms to the way the body moves––to it's function. In violin technique, what you've called the 'form', i.e. what we see of the technique, should follow the functioning of the various parts and their coordinated motions. To the degree that technique contradicts body function, problems can arise, the premise behind AT, I think. So the skeletomuscular form dictates function of the body, which dictates the function of the the arms and hands in violin technique, which dictates the ultimate (physical) function in music which is sound. In short, sound is a function of skeletomuscular form. And I think you can make educated guesses about the sound of a violinist, looking at the technique employed to produce it, and vice-versa. (Just don't ask me to do it on a public forum; unless it's with Jerry Springer, can you get me on the show? The ratings would go through the floor. Maybe Oprah would be better;)

I think your daughter has less to worry about than the average, sedentary violinst. From what I've read, it seems that, even more than repetition in and of itself, strain is caused by insufficient conditioning and training (strengthening) of tendons and muscles, in short, overexertion. I would bet that swinging a golf club all day is one of the best ways to stay conditioned for swinging that bow back and forth. Just as long as she stays conditioned for golf swings, my bet is that all's well.



October 14, 2007 at 03:30 PM · hello Drew, Ron, Jeewon, Al, and everybody else on this thread,

A million thanks to you all for your superlative comments and discussion. I'm following it with intense interest. I'll put in my contribution in due course -- it's gonna take some thought. But I just wanted to let you all know how valuable it is to be sitting in on this great exchange of ideas.

October 14, 2007 at 03:35 PM · Jeewon,

Ha, we agree in our conflict again! (The 2nd Edition is due out after the first million copies are sold, or you buy your copy –– which ever comes first:-)

I do use the vertical –– “I just call it a good bow arm” allowing for the structure of the bow, alias the “Curve of the Bow,” the term/title of which I do like very much:-)

You mention “the 2nd/3rd finger can pull up and in” –– I find this contributes too much tension across the knuckles, back of the hand and into the wrist traveling up the forearm, through the elbow, into the upper arm and then the shoulder joint, shoulder and from there down both the front and back of the upper torso’s right side (no kidding).

1. Try lifting the bow with the full arm slightly off the string.

2. Slightly open the wrist/hand to a straighter line (towards the finger board –– do not move arm in this direction).

3. During the above you also slightly roll the bow with the thumb. The thumb will no longer have contact with the hair and will have the appearance of when your hand hangs by your side. (It should be totally relaxed.)

4. Now, if you lower the bow (from the shoulder) to the string you should be substantially nearer to the fingerboard.

5. THEN slightly lift (for silence) or lightly drag (students get a kick out of this:-)

6. Pull the arm/bow back from the shoulder (there will be a slight dropping back/ down of the upper arm) until you reach the desired contact point.

It is a “piece of cake” and no tension is to be used.

The moves above become simultaneous and can easily be achieved by simply pulling back/dropping slightly the bow arm with the accompanying roll to Flat Hair, once the above is understood and adapted into one’s technique.

Flat Hair – Not a stroke, but a method or technique, used in virtually all but the lightest of touches. A most basic and important bow technique where the stick of the bow is directly above and perpendicular to the hair. This enables the player to achieve the fullest tones possible and the crispest, quickest responses in all types of bouncing and springing strokes. For greater ease and technical stability, it is best when the hair is rolled out from the thumb. Note that this requires a slightly lower wrist/arm and pulled-back right arm positioning, as the rolling out action moves the hair toward the fingerboard. Its counterpart is the Side Hair. Also, see Thumbless.

You approach the bow from the Side of the Hair –– the very way I was taught –– and I approach it from the Flat Hair. Both are totally stable when done correctly, but the Flat Hair enables the student/player to easily attain a full and rich tonal palette due to the easily taught weighting of the bow on the very top of the stick.

1. 1st Finger: “Primary Sound/Tone Producer.”

a. Place on top of bow in or between the two joints/creases.

b. The choice above will affect the angle and location of thumb/fingers/hand to the bow.

1) With a shorter, smaller hand and/or shorter arm, consider use of the 1st joint/crease (middle), as this will enable an easier bow stroke to the tip – a more diagonal angle of thumb/fingers/hand to the bow known as the “Russian Bow Hold.”

2) Conversely, with a longer, larger hand and/or longer arm, consider placement between the two joints/creases – the hand will be slightly squarer to the bow with the fingers more curved. This is known as the “Franco-Belgium Bow Hold.”

c. Paramount is always the ease and complete balance, freedom and flow of motion.

3. 2nd Finger: “Assistant to the 1st Finger.”

a. Correlates with the 1st finger and should drape over the top and far side of the bow.

b. Assists in producing an easy, stable and full sound/tone.

c. Release, do not lift, from touching the stick/bow when playing rapid bow strokes, e.g., sautillé.

Point 3c is described as a release instead of a lift –– I NEVER LIFT my fingers in either hand:-)

(Excerpts from: Violin Technique: The Manual, How to master… and Viola Technique: The Manual, How to master…)


When playing softer more delicate lines, it is achieved with even greater ease and pro-active relaxation of all the muscles, nerves and spirit of the player –– whether using the Flat Hair or the Side of the Hair for more delicate and lighter shading/voicing.

Have fun!


October 14, 2007 at 03:36 PM · Roy,

So good to hear someone else is still following the thread. I was just wondering if it was down to Jeewon, Al, Ron and I –– it is too much fun…

We should ask Laurie for a raise –– let's see, 100 X 0 = :-)


October 14, 2007 at 03:41 PM · Laurie,

How about a survey on how many are following this thread?

October 14, 2007 at 04:02 PM · Drew, I've got a feeling that maybe less than 1% of the readers submit their comment here. Laurie please correct me if I’m wrong. So my guess is that a lot lot more are following this and other threads than it appears.

October 15, 2007 at 01:56 AM · jeewon, thanks for being generous with your thoughts and time. despite having such a gift relating concepts and to people, you may want to bow out of springer where spontaneous and passionate fist fight is a prerequisite. until oprah becomes more violinist-friendly, the search is on...

as seen in several youtube clips, szeryng has a very flat wrist near the frog, along with a rather high elbow to go with it (thus high shoulder abduction). from a pure shoulder health perspective, it is not really a great ergometric set-up because it puts greater stress on the rotator cuff. any takes on that?

October 15, 2007 at 04:06 AM · Greetings,

al, sorry I haven`t seen the clips. I am sure your interpretation is correct. If you are rferring to that wonderful Brahms cocnerto I have that on DVD and the arm looks very high indeed! Szeryng@s elbow got lower as he got older when I saw him play close up.

Inicdentally some players use the technique of a high elbow in speicifc instances ot get a gretaer sound but don`t keep it there,



October 15, 2007 at 04:43 AM · Al & Buri,

The old joke with Szeryng was when told to hold a book under his bow arm while playing, he got confused and placed it lengthwise:-)

Terrific violinist, though.


October 17, 2007 at 09:10 AM · This is the first new concept I've learned about this fall. I'm looking forward to seeing how it affects my bow stroke.

Thank you for posting this discussion!

October 17, 2007 at 02:43 PM · Hi Al,

Thanks for drawing my attention to the way these masters actually play. I didn't realize how much of my impression was anecdotal rather than based on careful observation. And thanks also for getting me to think about issues of the shoulder again. I think your (persistent :) questions helped me to further clarify the issues surrounding bowing and the shoulder for me.

Let me start by saying that these are artists I have revered since I was knee high to a grasshopper. I remember trying to copy what they do and how they do it and realizing at a very tender age (listening to Heiftez' Showpieces album if I remember correctly) that they were of a different breed. These are Artists with a capital A. No one actually taught them how to play. Their education (technique, musicianship, becoming a soloist) guided and shaped them, but these artists would have become who they are regardless of the school of playing they happened to be born in closest proximity to. (And of course much work and luck played their usual roles in the making of a virtuoso.)

Szeryng studied with Carl Flesch but has a distinct way of playing which is quite different from what Flesch taught, reading between the lines in The Art of Playing Violin and looking at other prominent Flesch students. Some have suggested that he studied with Thibaud when he arrived in Paris, who influenced him to change his bowing style to that of the Franco-Belgian school. But Johnston asserts that, although he was greatly influenced by Thibaud and Enesco, Szeryng never formally studied with either of them. Whatever the case, Szeryng's bowing style looks nothing like Thibaud's except in the exaggerated high elbow; the latter's bowing actually looks closer to Flesch's Russian school way of bowing (Haendel, Gitlis).

Szeryng's style of bowing, although unique, is coherent. As mentioned in notes from his Panamerican Violin Course (Mexico City, 1958, subsequent Szeryng quotations are taken from these notes), "...the wrist and hand are in line with the forearm for strength; however, in piano and pp passages the hand is inclined slightly to form an arc with the forearm." [Diagram showing a slight bend through the wrist at the apex] This function can be clearly seen in videos of Szeryng; when playing with strength the wrist is straight, even concave; when playing more subtle passages, and Bach, the hand is allowed to hang more from the wrist, hence the "arc with the forearm." The 'in-line' hand/forearm is taught by Flesch, but Szeryng takes it further than any of Flesch's other students.

I think a clue to Szeryng's unique solution lay in his way of producing tone, probably instilled by his former mentor. Flesch promotes the Russian bow hold because it " the best tonal results with the minimum of effort and muscular force. ... along with the greatest stability of the bow-stick." (Flesch, The Art of Violin Playing, Bk 1, ed. Rosenblith, 2000, p.35) I don’t think Flesch necessarily considered the work involved in providing the right conditions for this ease in producing tone. Flesch also declares that,

...I am fully convinced that, just as after centuries of "enslavement" of the upper arm, we now totally believe in its unrestricted freedom of movement, the "Russian" bow hold, with its inherent tonal and "kraftsparenden" (energy and strength-saving) advantages, will be the only one to be taught in 50 years. (ibid.)

Flesch was reacting against the German school which promoted keeping the upper arm immobilized. His prediction may never be fulfilled; he could not have foreseen to what extent globalization would blur those once distinct lines between schools of playing. The trick to producing this 'effortless' tone is in generating bow speed which, as Flesch has deduced, can be achieved by freeing the upper arm, allowing the hand to be almost slung from the shoulder on its way to the frog.

Furthermore, Szeryng's 'high elbow', aside from possibly being influenced by Thibaud's high upperarm, owes itself to how he holds the violin:

Violin Position: Instrument should be held high and slightly flat to provide freedom of movement of [left arm], and tonal power. The latter is effected because of the accompanying more horizontal position of the bow.

He never lowers the violin, or allows it to be more inclined, as a way of aiding the bowarm at the frog or on the G string, as other violinists sometimes do; but he does flatten the violin sometimes when playing on the E string as others do, but lowers it to play at the tip, which seems to be a little backwards.

But, perhaps the underlying reason for Szeryng's 'high elbow' lies in the way he handles the bow with his fingers:

Bow Arm: When nearing the tip apply pressure with index and ring finger [emphasis added]. The pressure of the ring finger is very important at the tip since the arm is stretched and in view of the lack of weight at this part of the bow. The little finger must release its pressure and may even be lifted from the bow, but always keeps a rounded shape. The little finger plays a very important role at the frog, where it lightens the weight of the bow in order to make smooth changes of the bow.

Whatever his reasoning was for it, the active third finger makes the hand more square (bringing the 3rd base knuckle closer to, and the line of the base knuckles more parallel to the stick) relative to the more angled Russian hold, whose proponents sometimes release the 3rd finger along with the 4th when bowing at the tip. Szeryng uses the 3rd finger at the frog as well. You can see that when he leads with the wrist on an upbow, he lets the 3rd finger uncurl, allowing the upperarm to drop slightly; whereas he raises the upperarm if supporting weight with the 3rd finger, or when the 3rd finger aids in applying pressure, that is when the 3rd finger curls. Szeryng illustrates clearly the biomechanics of the fingers and wrist. When the fingers curl, the baseknuckles open (extend) and the wrist opens (extends); when the fingers uncurl, the baseknuckles close (flex) and the wrist closes (flexes). If these motions are not coordinated between baseknuckles and wrist, excess tension will result in the hand and wrist. If the motions are not coordinated between fingers and baseknuckles, there will be excess tension in the fingers.

This square hold, along with the way the 3rd finger curls when it is being used actively, is the main reason for the raised upperarm. Zukerman also employs a rather square hold and his motions look similar to Szeryng's in many ways, especially in the way the hand often leads with the forearm in an upbow, rather than trailing behind it (i.e. leading with the wrist.) The most notable difference is that Zukerman plays with more weight applied from the whole arm, employing relatively slower bow speeds with greater pressure resulting in a denser sound, which requires the lower, weightier upperarm in general. I would argue that Zukerman has one of the most efficient bow arms in terms of economy of motion, it's a very compact bowing style and particularly effective at producing a huge sound, but perhaps prone to fatigue in fast playing. (Or is he just horsin' around?)

Is it a great set up for health? I think it depends on context. Does it put more stress on the rotator cuff? Yes, in proportion to how much more work the upper arm has to do with this style of playing. But the stress is no more 'unhealthy' than it would be for an athlete (pitcher, swimmer, weightlifter) and I imagine string players put relatively much less stress on the joint than do athletes. The added stress puts 'wear and tear' on the joint over a lifetime, but not necessarily an imbalance that would make the joint prone to injury. (It's interesting that Oistrakh changes his manner of playing very little; he remains as fluid as when he was a young man.)

Soloist are more conditioned to play the way they do, regardless of how they do it, than the average musician. Most start from a younger age, but more importantly, train rigorously from that young age. Their musculature and tendons, nervous system, even bone density, are probably conditioned through their rigorous training in youth, so they are literally more fit to do what they do. The average musician starts to work hard physically in their teen years and into their early 20s. In many respects, trying to play as the soloist does is like the average person, even if they are fit, trying to run the 100m full out. Without proper conditioning, the effort can be damaging. But that is precisely what many young musicians do when they practice hard, in spurts, under the pressure to succeed.

There has been debate regarding the amount of time soloists spend practicing, but I see no reason to doubt Heifetz' assertion that, on average, he spends no more than 3 hours, resting on the 7th day (or he is he just a god after all?). Because of their musical faculties and their conditioning, it takes the soloist less time to prepare a piece than the average musician. When asked what he regrets most about his career, Mark Allen, 6 time Ironman champ, said it would have to be overtraining, which can be just as, if not more destructive than undertraining. (Outside Magazine, can’t remember the issue)

But having done some further reading on the issues surrounding the shoulder, I'm becoming convinced that it's primarily muscle imbalance and lack of conditioning that causes shoulder injury (and playing injury in general). The 'high elbow' might be a factor, but abduction (moving arms away from body, lifting sideways) is a normal function of the shoulder.

The scapulo-humeral rhythm allows the shoulder to move through its full range of movement and it allows the head of the humerus to be centered within the glenoid fossa. For every 15 degrees of shoulder abduction, 10 degrees occurs at the glenohumeral joint and 5 degrees occurs at the scapulothoracic joint. For 180 degrees of shoulder abduction, 120 degrees occurs at the glenohumeral joint and 60 degrees occurs at the scapulothoracic joint. If there are changes to the scapulo-humeral rhythm, the head of the humerus does not remain centered and it can lead to problems with the rotator cuff tendons such as tendonitis or rotator cuff impingement. (

The scapulo-humeral rhythm is the coordinated movement of the joints of the shoulder. The glenoid fossa is the socket which holds the humerous, or upper arm bone. The glenohumeral joint is the ball and socket joint. The scapulothoracic joint (not a real joint at all) is where the shoulderblades glide over the rib cage. So with proper coordination, there should be no problem with shoulder abduction. My guess is that properly conditioned musicians (I think soloists tend to be more conditioned than most) and athletes, for the most part do not have problems (except due to impact). Indeed, I think orchestral musicians are at more risk of injury than the average soloist, as are most students (although they have youth on their side).

Muscle movements are accomplished by firing of motor nerves originating in the spinal cord and directed by the motor cortex of the brain. The shoulder joint and its associated muscles together work much like an orchestra. In order for shoulder movement (the sound of music) to be smooth, muscles (the musical instruments) must work in a coordinated manner. Each nerve (musician) must fire (play its tone) at the right time (the rhythm) and generate the right force (the volume). Disturbance of any of the steps of the operation may cause dysfunction. ([A nice analogy; press cancel twice when prompted for login]

Besides the stress of performing and other work related stress, playing conditions and physical demands of the music put orchestral violinist/violist at more risk than the average soloist. Sitting is more difficult than standing for most, and space restrictions add further stress to the body. Without the full use of the feet, and often having to sit on ergonomically poor chairs, alignment of the upperbody is difficult, not to mention alignment of the shoulders. Because of the nature of the music, orchestral players are often unable to use full range of motion, having instead to hold their arms in the air to play, and often without repose for great lengths at a time. Playing orchestral pianissimos and repetitive accompanying figures are perhaps the most taxing motions in violin playing (along with Bruckner ;). Soloists rarely have to play so softly, and rarely for any length of time. Solo music, on average, has more variety, more frequent pauses, and a certain liberty to use one's most advantageous technique to accomplish similar musical goals.

Orchestral playing is analogous to other occupations:

...we have focused on the scapula as an undiagnosed and untreated component of loss of work function for the shoulder and upper extremity, particularly with reference to loss of efficiency and endurance. This can affect not only manual laborers but also people who hold their arms in prolonged positions, such as bus drivers (arms extended while holding large steering wheels), computer users (arms held out when manipulating the keyboard, particularly if it is poorly positioned) and surgeons. Daniel Pope and colleagues (1) found that men "working with hands above shoulder level, using wrists or arms in a repetitive way, or stretching down to reach below knee level, had twice the risk of shoulder pain and disability." They also noted that men "working frequently in very cold or damp conditions had a fourfold and six fold risk respectively of shoulder pain and disability. ([press cancel twice when prompted for login]

A common imbalance I've seen amongst students involves the shoulders rolling forward. If palms face the front, rather than the sides, of the body when arms are hanging and relaxed, the shoulders are misaligned along its rotational axis. In some students (preteens), who I've sent to see physiotherapists, their stabilizing muscles of the midback, between the bottom tips of the shoulderblades (lower trapezius, rhomboids) were so atrophied that the space between blades and spine was spread more than in the average adult of similar size.

So, to sum up... in short (too late)... to put it succinctly (why didn't I try that to begin with?)...

Many soloists have a technique that they've developed over time so that their bodies are conditioned to it. They've developed technique that is effective but perhaps not most efficient, especially if taken out of context.

I would not suggest trying to play with an excessively high upper arm if one’s main job were orchestral. I would not suggest switching to such a technique unless it had been employed from youth. To maintain such a technique, or any technique for that matter, I would recommend keeping the appropriate muscles fit and coordinated, in particular the stabilizing muscles of the shoulder (serratus anterior=muscles along the ribs under the armpit, important for high upperarm as it aids in lifting above parallel to floor, lower trapezius/rhomboids=muscles between bottom tip of shoulderblades; important for keeping the shoulder in its proper rotation, i.e. shoulderblades down and back; also learn how to release the upper trapezius=shrugging muscles). And finally, don’t take my word for it; rather seek an expert, even for preventative measures if not corrective ones, to help develop a custom designed conditioning program.


Hi Drew,

If use of the fingers, in and of itself, leads to tight fingers, then we'd be in real trouble if we happened to fall off a cliff and were hanging on by our fingers alone. It's not the curling or pulling of the fingers that tightens them at all. Whether by pressing so the thumb caves in, or pressing by bending the thumb out, it's the pressing of the thumb that makes all the base knuckles of the hand rigid, including the base knuckle of the thumb itself, which is near the wrist. Instead the thumb should be flexible, along its rotational axis as well as the swinging motion from the base knuckle (both demonstrated in the action of throwing a dart) when incorporating fingers into bow technique.

When applied against the opposable thumb, the fingers can also tighten if they press from the base knuckles into the stick. To avoid pushing radially into the stick, applying forces along the stick (either in opposite directions, spreading, or rotationally, twisting) stabilizes the bow so the that the hand remains strong yet flexible.



October 17, 2007 at 06:32 PM · jeewon, i think i have thanked you enough times; to say it one more time may sound trite. suffice to say, you have wowed me once more so this time i am going to take a virtual bow:)

if you ever get inspired to pen a book by the title of "Szeryng's high elbow", just finish the rest of the book:)

i am going to ask both of my kids to read your post because it is that good. comprehensive but cogent. one can be good in sports, ok in music, but do get an education so that one learns to communicate with an open mind...

ok, enough laces and flowers:) here are some of my thoughts in reference to couple points you have made...

1. i appreciate the due diligence on your part in familiarizing yourself with the dynamic relationship that the shoulder joint has to establish with its neighbors. (reportedly, over 20 muscles act on the shoulder blade to keep it in motion.) i would like to clarify something that i have mentioned earlier, that is, at about 90 degree abduction, the acromiohumeral space is the narrowest, meaning the rotator cuff tendon in question is at the highest risk of being impinged at that angle. not 60 degree, not even 120 degree, but at about 90 degree. as the abduction approaches 90 degree, the space becomes more narrow, and then after passing 90 degree, the space opens up again. imo, this is significant to violin players because at about 90 degree abd, many players are on G and D strings (i hope). or even A strings if you want to imitate Szeryng:) i think shoulder rom in that regard should be like paying taxes...the right amount and not a cent more:)

2. you have mentioned in several posts the importance of being conditioned to avoid injury. this is very true. however, i think most violinists have no idea how to specifically condition for violin and in particular the rotator cuff health. big deltoid, biceps, triceps have nothing to do with rotator cuff. the danger of blindly lifting weights (dumbbells?:) is that it may cause further muscle imbalance. for instance, the big bulkier muscles mentioned above may hide the weakness of the rotator cuffs, thus setting the cuff up for bigger injury because one may mistakenly think one is fitter than usual when in fact it is not the whole story. there are decent programs to focus on rotator cuffs, just google it or talk to someone in that line of work.

3. i really like the way you analyze the entire limb when looking at a high elbow/flat wrist. i am not a violinist, not 100% sure if you are dead on, but i am confident yours is the correct approach to study the issues. roy? said very well recently somewhere that ,,,everything affects everything.

very often, we do not see because our mind is not there,,, or we see immediately and duh, it is wrong:) this bow thing is tricky because it is hard to establish a general consensus out of very unique individual cases.

drew, that joke about the high elbow is probably the best violin joke i have ever come across because i can see it really happening with some dense, uh i mean very focused players:)

ps, jeewon, i remember also saying earlier that the 90 degree abd has to accompany a thumb pointing downward (to the ground). now, look at what you guys do day in and day out when playing G and D! do you also get the feeling that the anatomy god and the violin god have unresolved conflicts and thus have decided to put selected violinists to sacrifice?:)

October 17, 2007 at 08:45 PM · Hi Al,

You're making me blush... wait was that my inside voice or did I just type that out loud? :)

I guess I'm more sensitive to issues of rotational imbalance because I nearly blew out my left shoulder a few years back from pushing it forward into by fiddle too much. I've never had problems with my right shoulder (well almost never, sometimes I get the odd pop or click when I'm fatigued - it's starting to happen more frequently as the 'maturing' (trying to remain positive here;) process marches on - time to visit a clinic?).

Thank you once more (my turn) for clarifying the 90 degree problem. The music world needs more experts like you to help develop a good healthy approach to the field.

"very often, we do not see because our mind is not there,,, or we see immediately and duh, it is wrong:) this bow thing is tricky because it is hard to establish a general consensus out of very unique individual cases"

So true what you say. I've heard stories, and witnessed the results of specialist clinics (a.k.a. musician's clinics) treating clients with a 'one size fits all', blanket solution without considering the individual's problem/needs, without even considering their body shape!!! (That really pissed me off because they created other problems in the upperback and neck, for this student.)

I had a good experience with a general therapy clinic, affiliated with a hospital, to which I accompanied one of my former students. The physiotherapist asked questions about technique; I showed her what I thought would be healthy; she looked at the way my student moved (or didn't in this case), assessed the joint by feeling it and applying various resistance tests; she applied some therapy to align the joint, prescribed exercises to be done at home, and booked a followup session. That was that. A few months later (of almost complete rest, although I'm not sure how strictly the student stuck to this rule), she was back on her 'arms' again, so to speak. The prescribed exercise worked the 'shoulderblade down and back' muscles. Some books I've read (one in particular) only recommends squeezing the blades together, an action which apparently raises the shoulders due to the action of the upper trapezius.

I would stress further that exercises and conditioning be done with an expert (in partnership with a good teacher if possible); as with violin technique, improper alignment and bad coordination could worsen problems.

And because you brought up the '90 degree' and 'thumbs down' issue again, emphasizing its importance to bowing, and since it remains relevant to the original question of this thread, and for the sake of healthy bowing, I'll finally have to take sides with Ysaye, Shumsky, Primrose, Grumiaux, Oistrakh, Perlman, Zukerman, Milstein, Kogan, and even Heifetz, as far as his bow hold will allow as I've recently discovered (not bad company to keep:), who always(with the exception of Heifetz) keep their upper arms less than (which is less than equal to) 90 degrees. They achieve this by leading with the wrist. On the plane of a given string, the elbow is highest at the tip of the bow and gradually sinks in its path to the frog. The upper arm does not rise with the up bow, but rather trails behind, and lowers in a clockwise rotation toward the body - not completely closed as if holding the thickness, or even length, of a book ;) under the arm - but slightly, relative to the tip of the forearm, the exact degree depending on the proportions of the fiddler, the requirements of the piece, the technique being employed (e.g. the shape/alignment of the bow hold can affect how in-line the hand is with the forearm; in a fast, wholebow stroke, the upper arm rises with the hand, slightly, instead of sinking; for a fast upbow at the tip, the upperarm acts as a counter weight to sling the hand upbow.) As the hand takes the bow toward the frog in the lower third of the bow, the elbow may be pulled up again slightly, still trailing behind the tip of the forearm, depending on proportions. At the start of the down bow stroke, the upper arm releases, rotating slightly counterclockwise, following the curve of the bow.

Also, some violinists carry this reaching-toward-the-frog-and-the-lower-strings with the forearm (as opposed to the upper arm) further by letting their fingers/hand followthrough completely, as in the furthest reach of a thrust with a fencing sword, so that their upper arms can stay quite low indeed (as I've done before, I would highly recommend Dalton/Primrose: Playing The Viola for this approach to bowing, see p.103). Finally, I would recommend learning how to bow at the frog with a supinated forearm (again, Primrose Ch.6), in a stable way, not in a rocking back and forth (alternating pronation/supination) pattern, obviating the need to go thumbs down at the frog. Each part of the bow has different degrees of rotation. For bowing within these sections of bow, there is very little rotation - only slight followthrough motions - through the stroke. This leaves only the danger of thumbs down at the tip on the lower strings (lower by pitch, higher to reach) for those with proportionately short arms, who can follow Milstein's example and keep the scroll low at the frog (I would recommend raising it against the bow at the tip to provide counterpressure from the strings), or Stern's example, and bow 'around the corner', always maintaining sound point, or they can learn to employ their fingers in a strong, yet flexible (to avoid injury to the hand) manner, to prevent from pronating too much.

And I'm spent...



P.S. Thanks Al, Drew, Albert, Ronald, Kimberlee, and Buri for posing the question. In articulating my answers, I've thought about bowing in ways I've never done before. Like you said Drew, too much fun... was that geeky? Is this geeky what we're doing here?

October 17, 2007 at 07:55 PM · Given the variety I've seen watching youtube:

"Finally, I would recommend learning how to bow at the frog with a supinated forearm (again, Primrose Ch.6), in a stable way, not in a rocking back and forth (alternating pronation/supination) pattern, obviating the need to go thumbs down at the frog. Each part of the bow has different degrees of rotation. For bowing within these sections of bow, there is very little rotation - only slight followthrough motions - through the stroke."

This makes good sense. I've been working with bowing at the frog so had to take a look over there(youtube); and, my mantra has been minimalist probably, but 'what gives me weight and stroke control at the frog, and does not exaggerate motions'..

October 18, 2007 at 05:53 AM · Greetings,

just to note that the conditioning thing shoudl be approached with extreme caution. There are many standard weight training exercises that are contra indicated for violnists. The muscles that need conditions are smaller and more complex than just having nice bulging bicpes. The basic problem for -any- player is that the nature of the violin -automatically- ensures that the frontal (for want of a better word) muscles are over developed. One of the muscles centrally concerned with roator cuff and generla shoulder injuries is a very small and delicte object in the back of the shoulde area that needs exercising with isometric type exericses using training elastic/rubber a sresistance.r hard to obtain book called `The musician as Athlete.` I will try and post chunks form this over the next week.

Incidentally, the classic muscle imbalance correcting exericse is yoga.

As far as the Alexander Technique is concerned it may well strengthen weakend muscles by allowing the self to regain its natural use but if a muscle has atrophied or needs other therapy then that is what is what must be done. AT only provides the optimal conditions in which the healing exercise may be performed. IE it make sit more efficient.



October 18, 2007 at 03:41 PM · Hi Buri,

I completely agree with you that conditioning must be done properly, which I've stressed by suggesting that a physiotherapist should be consulted to develop the safest program possible for violin motions.

I guess there's the difficulty with finding a good therapist, just as there is with finding a good violin teacher.

But I think it's precisely because most of us (not just violinists, but the population in general) are unaware of the more important stabilizing muscles, that we should seek expert advice.

In case some readers were reluctant to sift through my verbiage, or didn't want to wait for the little Immodium commercial to finish, here are the links I posted earlier: A site which describes the shoulder joint and its biomechanics in some detail.

Exercise for strengthening the lower trapezius (and also rhomboids I think) and releasing the upper trapezius. These muscles also help to stablize the shoulder so that the shoulderblades slide down and back. (Wait for the "frequent diarrhea" to finish or you can fastforward if you have broadband.)

I think in the video you'll recognize the theraband exercise, as it is similar to the one in the book you mentioned. The difficulty that remains for most, I think, is trying to engage the proper muscles.

I borrowed that book from a friend when I started to feel that my left shoulder was starting to sag forward in daily life. I found it to be informative and my new understanding of physiology and biomechanics helped me to realign my posture; it really brought to life the stuff I learned in anatomy, where we were learning how to take apart the parts of the body, rather than put it together and put it to good use. :) The violin-specific information, however, is an overly specialized adaptation to a single bodytype, and doesn't address the problems associated with motion, only holding (correct me if I'm wrong as I no longer have the book), which in itself is problematic, since static holding really has nothing to do with dynamic, balanced holding. That student I mentioned earlier went to their clinic and their solution was to slap on a high chinrest and high shoulder rest on a physique with square shoulders and a very short neck. They filled every gap between shoulder and jaw so that her leftshoulder, neck, and head were completely rigid when she played.

I employed the theraband exercise from the book to no avail. My left shoulder continued to feel weak. It wasn't until a year later, when I visited a physiotherapist with the same student, that I understood why the exercise from the book didn't work for me. In part I think it's the description in the book. Again, correct me if I'm wrong but I think the prescribed action in the book is to squeeze the shoulderblades together. The physiotherapist at the clinic said specifically that you should not try to simply squeeze the blades together, as this can raise the shoulders (from the video you can deduce that it's the action of the upper trapezius that pulls the shoulders up), but rather feel the shoulderblades being pulled down and back. She then placed a couple of fingers on each of our midbacks, between the lower tips of the shoulderblades, to check that the proper muscles were contracting. I think that's key. Most of us aren't aware of those small muscles to consciously engage them, but a physiotherapist is trained to make sure that we engage the proper muscles for balance and alignment. So I think the $50-$75 is well worth the trip. As for me, I received no therapy, but just followed the simple shoulderblade down and back exercise (no weights, just isometric, start with shoulders near ears, drop until you feel the blades being pulled down and back, sliding down the ribs, at bottom, contract and hold for 3 counts, 2 sets x 12 reps, 2x daily) and not only did that realign my left ball and socket, but it made me more aware of how I use my shoulders in general, both on and away from the fiddle. This corrective exercise illustrates the potential danger of allowing, or actively pushing, the collar forward, either into a shoulder rest, a sponge, the back of the fiddle, or when bowing. The collar should be held neutral, and swung back to neutral if used at all.

So, just as in violin playing, reading all about it is helpful, but until we get experts to help us feel/hear the right motion, we may remain at risk of injury, even if we can make it sound awesome.



October 18, 2007 at 03:30 PM · This has been a fascinating thread, and I just have a few more comments.

Bill Steck, former concertmaster of the National Symphony explained that he felt that where your arms rest at your sides is a good indication of where, as a basic starting position, they should remain when you lift them into playing position with bent elbows. He felt that the chest area could remain open and therefore there would be less risk in pulling the shoulder forward. He also felt that the chinrest should be adjusted so that it would not be necessary to severely turn one's head and neck to the left but allow the jaw to occupy the space of the chinrest for the most part. There are a number of players nowadays who seem to follow this stance. Their heads almost face the audience with their violins more to the left, even with players of seemingly average length arms. Mark Kaplan specifically talked about this in a master class once explaining that with the chest kept open, one could feel the natural weight of the arm fall onto the string and the left hand, traveling more sideways,could align itself without thrusting the arm around severely to the right and risk overstretching the rhomboid muscles.

As for the higher elbow, I'm not sure that one necessarily will experience problems in the shoulder and rotator cuff region if the lifting of the arm is properly supported by the shoulder blade muscles without pulling them into a position where the shoulder blade is severely flattened from excessive pushing forward of the upper arm in the lower half of the bow. Kato Havas' exercise of arms floating down from above down in front of you with hands falling in a gentle curve at about mouth height followed by blowing on the hands to let them extend away from the mouth seems to help the shoulder blade muscles feel well settled and not under strain.

I think, just as with diet, the general principle of being well rounded in one's exercising is sound. The idea of targeting certain areas may be necessary to address a nutritional or muscular imbalance or tendency towards imbalance, but in general a program that exercises all muscles and a diet that provides all essential nutrients will work for most. I do yoga, Alexander Technique and some Feldenkrais work and see a neuro-muscular therapist just for any unconscious build up of tension once a month. For example, I like to garden and if one is out in the garden, craning one's neck under bushes or trees or using the muscles for digging a hole, even with warm-ups, the body may still feel some extra effort since that activity is more rigorous than violin playing or walking. With violin playing, one may be playing music during any given week that gives the left hand a little more work out in the higher positions than usual or pieces that are so slow in nature that the arms find themselves in positions that move more slowly so little tensions or imbalances can occur outside normal movement and usage, so the neuro-muscular therapy can quickly and efficiently address these strains on the muscles and nerves. Anecdotally, some of the cellists in the Baltimore Symphony explained to me that though they loved playing Gorecki's Symphony No. 3, it put a strain on their right arms because of the amount of slow bow movements needed throughout this work and neuro-muscular therapy helped redress the imbalance of having had to keep their arms in more static positions for so long.

October 18, 2007 at 10:44 PM · Greetings,

let`s face it: this is a tough profession ;)



This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Yamaha Silent Violin
Yamaha Silent Violin

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

Find a Summer Music Program
Find a Summer Music Program

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases Business Directory Business Directory Guide to Online Learning Guide to Online Learning

Dominant Pro Strings

Antonio Strad Violin

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Bobelock Cases


Los Angeles Violin Shop

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Metzler Violin Shop

Leatherwood Bespoke Rosin



Johnson String Instrument and Carriage House Violins

Potter Violins

String Masters

Bein & Company

Annapolis Bows & Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine