How can I improve my bowing technique?

August 22, 2009 at 04:16 AM ·

Hello

I learnt the violin & viola at school and played from the age of 6 until I left school when, for one reason or another, I stopped playing. 

I have, after ten years, started playing again and have spent the last year and a half playing and rehearsing regularly.   Whilst my left hand technique is coming along nicely (and wasn't TOO badly affected by my ten years off thanks to playing the mandolin), my right hand technique has really suffered.

I find it impossible to get a good sound from the bow, and really difficult to draw the bow across the strings in a straight line.

If I draw the bow slowly across the strings, the movements i have to put my right shoulder through feel incredibly unnatural to me.  If I stop concentrating on my right hand whilst I am playing, my bow heads off on its own up towards the fingerboard and creates an unpleasant whispery tone accompanied by 'whooshing' noises from the hairs on the string.

I'm pretty sure that my right hand grip is well balanced, so I'm not sure what is going wrong.  (I should mention at this point that I am not studying under a teacher, but on my own).

I was wondering if anyone out there could recommend a practise regime or any exercises that I can do to improve my bowing? What am I doing wrong? Any tips hints or recommendations?!?

 

Replies (69)

August 22, 2009 at 05:08 AM ·

I can only recommend finding a reputable teacher and have them work with you. The bow arm is, in my opinion, the most difficult thing to learn. I don't believe a good arm can be developed just by looking at a book or doing a few exercises. Best wishes.

August 22, 2009 at 05:42 AM ·

I second Marty's suggestion.  I've now been studying full-time under a teacher for a year as an adult, and it makes all the difference in the world! 

August 22, 2009 at 08:01 AM ·

Simon Fischer's book Basics contains a detailed explanation of why the bow skates off all the time and what you can do to prevent it, or even to make use of it. As long as you are on your own (do get a teacher) a mirror, or better video, may help as well.

August 22, 2009 at 12:12 PM ·

What Bart said.  But you do need to   Get  A  Teacher.

In the mean time.... A free tip.  Between the bridge and the fingerboard are 5 contact points where you can draw your bow.  #1 up to the fingerboard too #5 up against the bridge. (Numbers may can be reversed.)  The closer to the bridge slower draw, heavier preasure.  Closer to the fingerboard lighter preasure, faster draw.  Expirement.  Practice whole bow draws, and half bow draws and try to get as full of sound as possible.  Keep notes, what happened when you did what.  Even note how much rosin you put on your bow.

And if anything here needs correction, others will chime in.  We are here for you.

August 22, 2009 at 01:52 PM ·

It does sound to me , too, that you should have a teacher for this one, even if only for a short time. A good teacher can pinpoint exactly what is going wrong and what to do to fix it.

You are holding the bow wrong so that you cannot move it straight - you are forcing it by improper use of your joints from fingers, through wrist, elbow, and shoulder. You should figure that it will take at least a month of total concentration on your bow hold, and arm motions to overcome the bad bowing habits you have already developed at this time. Your playing will really suck while you try to improve, but from what you say, it already does, so that will be no loss.

Andy

August 22, 2009 at 04:32 PM ·

Imagine that you're bowing in a straight line, instead of observing it using your eyes.

You can have the pinky hanging in the air during the end of the down bow (tip on the strings).

Fingers firm, but everything else are relaxed and loose. Use more wrist movement.

And lastly, get a teacher, we don't really know how your bowing looks like.

August 23, 2009 at 01:08 AM ·

Try this exercise to get the feel of a straight bow. Robert Gerle, author of The Art of Bowing Practice, taught this to us and I believe it's the same basic exercise described in Simon Fischer's book as well. The bow is positioned parallel to the bridge at the tip. (You may need to have someone hold the bow there unless you can support the violin and use your left hand to hold the bow in place at that point).

   Place your  right hand at the frog and travel with your hand on the wood of the bow up until it touches the tip then go back down again to the frog. If you've got the bow staying still parallel to the bridge and you do not excessively raise your wrist or drop your arm such that it looks like a goose neck, you'll get a more or less accurate sense of what parts of your arms and hand/wrist move and when to keep the bow travelling straight. You are basically using the bow as a visual reference for how your hand and arm travels to preserve that straight line from frog to tip and back.

The "crescent bow" idea is a variation on a "straight bow" and is taught by many teachers.

You describe a loop as part of a "figure 8" when you are at the frog and at the tip. You essentially push out and away at the frog all the way to the tip, then you pull your elbow back and create a loop as part of the "figure 8"  as you come around up bow at the tip and create another loop pushing out as you start down bow again at the frog. You preserve your contact point where the hair is touching the string but because of this somewhat  circular "straight" bow  you can get smooth bow changes  and a very strong yet supple sound.

August 23, 2009 at 02:34 PM ·

YES! A mirror and figure 8 bowing!!!!!

August 23, 2009 at 02:54 PM ·

Hi Marty

I can only recommend finding a reputable teacher and have them work with you. The bow arm is, in my opinion, the most difficult thing to learn. I don't believe a good arm can be developed just by looking at a book or doing a few exercises.

First, 'just by looking at a book':

Surely, what you say is entirely true, or entirely not true, depending on the student. No book can replace an inspired, knowledgable and experienced teacher working with you directly, or the living, practical experience of playing or listening to music. You can't satisfy your hunger by reading about food, either.

But gaining information from a book, or gaining that information through having somebody listen to you playing - and then saying those same things to you - can often be the same thing in the end.

It all depends on who you are and how you tick. I have had many students who have a 'lose-the-will-to-live' reaction to anything theoretical or in print, and really you can't say that there's anything wrong with them. It's stating the obvious that you have to approach each student according to their own strengths, and if their eyes glaze over if you show them descriptions of playing given in a book, but their eyes sparkle when working in other ways, and the students enjoy themselves, and feel inspired, then of course it may be crazy to insist that they look at descriptions. (Let's not even go into the question of the age of a student, except to say: we're not talking about children, here. Who would give a text book on playing to a child?)

But others are different, or at different stages. Speaking for myself, if I went and played to Galamian (which I never did) and he observed me shifting in some way, and if he made some observations about a better way to go about it; or if I read, violin in hand, what he says about shifting in his Principles of Violin Playing and Teaching, to me there's never been any difference.

Just because what he is saying is not directly about me, as an individual player, doesn't matter, because the same is going to apply to me as to anybody else. Of course I'd rather go and play to him, but since that is not possible his book is a very good second-best when it comes to the whole business of getting information out of him these days. :-)

Dorothy DeLay used to say that if you want to change the way you play the violin, you have to change the way you think about playing the violin. You can do that by practising or by going to a concert, by having lessons, by watching great players on DVD, and by many other means; but reading for - what, five, ten minutes? - about, say, tone production, can so change your picture of bowing the string that your whole approach changes immediately and dramatically – even before you have actually put the bow on the string and started to try things out.

Second, 'or doing a few exercises'.

All I can tell you is that there are simple bow exercises that produce absolutely clear and immediate results. If someone can draw the bow straight to the bridge, then they can do those exercises. Dorothy DeLay taught some of these simple tone exercises (in which you balance the speed/pressure/soundpoint in different ways), which she got from Galamian, and which he got from Mostras in Russia, and Capet in France.

Some of these exact same exercises were taught by Casals, by Dounis, Yankelevich, Leopold Mozart, Campagnoli, and countless others.

I call them 'million-dollar tone production exercises' - because they are really are worth a million dollars. Literally in the space of five or ten minutes, they can transform just about anyone's playing, even if they don't have much tone yet; or if they are already a developed player; and even if they are already a very, very advanced player. And the results are always there, and they're always the same, and everybody can always hear the results, and the results are always immediate.

I find that these exercises are simply the best, and for three clear, demonstratable reasons: first, nothing could be simpler; second, nothing could be quicker to do; third, nothing could produce faster results.

So you can see why I felt compelled to refute your statement that  "I don't believe a good arm can be developed just by looking at a book or doing a few exercises."


SF
;-)

August 23, 2009 at 03:48 PM ·

Hello Mary,

I have to agree with all said before, though it was difficult to read it through... Second, I'm not a professional teacher, but perhaps it will help you to:

try to conceptualize the difference between the downbow, and the up-bow. Not knowing the difference makes bowing very unnatural. The downbow is a pull, from sort of above, not going under the bow, and the upbow is a sort of a push.

 

good luck!

(and get a teacher)

August 23, 2009 at 04:54 PM ·

Mr. Fischer,

I do agree with you, but perhaps I didn't make my point entirely clear. I think you CAN develop good bowing technique by reading a book and by doing simple exercises, but I don't think it can be done without the guidance of a good teacher to make sure they are applying what the student has learned in the correct way. The inexperienced student's interpretation of the information may (likely) be completely different from the author's intentions. Of course, there are some geniuses out there who just get it.

And also it depends on the experience of the player himself. A professional violinist already has a wealth of information and experience, therefore if they want to learn how to do some new trick (or how to do a technique in a different way), they would likely have the ability to do so from reading it in a book.

I suppose I was referring (in my prior post) to an inexperienced violinist with an average IQ. 

August 23, 2009 at 05:06 PM ·

I basically learn it mostly by watching great players at youtube - so much that you probably can't watch them all in your entire life. Observe many different ways of bowing, try to imitate and learn from there. Although my teacher covered many basics for me, but I can't wait so I watch a lot of great players, or best if there's any seniors/great players that you can watch them in person.

I find when watching great players, stare at their bowing arm, it can become an image stucked in the head and then when playing it'll just apply automatically.

August 23, 2009 at 06:47 PM ·

As someone who just spent a whole hour with a teacher going over bowing, I only have two things to add to previous suggestions:

1. Move your forearm, not your upper arm.  (You mentioned unpleasant shoulder sensations.)

2. Pretend like there is a face drawn on the back of your hand, in the fleshy part between thumb and forefinger.  Keep that face looking at you through the entire stroke.  This keeps your wrist turned the proper way.

Best wishes!

Fran Rizzardi

August 23, 2009 at 06:51 PM ·

 I'm not sure if this will be helpful to you, but when I feel like my bow arm is dragging or when I notice that I'm not bringing a nice sound out of my violin, I 'revert back to the basics..'

Try practicing a scale, it doesn't matter whether it's F sharp minor 3 octave or G major, just pick one! Turn your metronome to 60 (so that it beats every second). Now start playing the scale slowly. Play each note for 15 seconds, then move on to the next note and do the same (15 seconds). After ascending and descending, go even slower- now you'll give each note 30 beats. You may think 'goodness gracious, this sounds awful' and you're probably right. It should sound bad the first few times you do it, but once you gain more control over the bow, you can focus more on creating a better sound with a rounder tone.

If you practice this way every day for a week, your bow arm will improve hugely. Not only will you be more comfortable with the bow, but your bow distribution will improve! You may even notice your intonation getting better (you should be listening to the notes of the scale while your playing and adjusting until you get the note right)!

'Hope I've been of some help!

August 23, 2009 at 08:42 PM ·

Mr. Fischer,

Welcome to Violinist.com!  I have to say that it is wonderfully delightful to see someone of your stature, experience and knowledge taking the time to post here! 

Cheers and best!

Christian

August 23, 2009 at 09:30 PM ·

Hi Christian,
Thank you very much. It's extremely nice of you. This month is a good time of the year for it. It's all Laurie's fault. Blame her.
;-)
All the best to you too,

Simon

August 23, 2009 at 11:00 PM ·

After working with a lot of students on bow issues this past year:  If your bow hand is good, check your elbow.  Stiff elbow, or too high or too low, can make a HUGE difference.  That's often in conjunction with a stiff shoulder too and will probably tend to make the bow hand stiff, even if it's the right shape, making the bow awkward and hard to control. 

As others have said, a book can help you diagnose whether that advice is a fit for you, but a teacher's the best.  But hopefully that gives you a starting point to work from.  I know for myself, having studied with a teacher for many years, I'm not with one now but often a simple point from a colleague or from some of my reading can help me overcome a "hump" in conjunction with what I already know.  Best to you!

August 23, 2009 at 11:25 PM ·

Welcome to v-dot-com Mr. fischer, looking forwards to your posts & bloggs!

Royce

August 24, 2009 at 04:27 AM ·

So many helpful comments!!!  As Bart and Royce mentioned, a mirror really does great things.  It can be frustrating in the beginning, as you notice the many kinks that will eventually be worked uot, but that's part of the fun, learning experience!

August 24, 2009 at 09:06 AM ·

Hi Emma,

it also helps a lot to rotate your wrist both at the horizontal and verical plane. Try to go to concerts of violinists with good bowing technique. You'll see what I mean.

 

 

August 24, 2009 at 11:13 AM ·

I. This is a wonderful community. Thank you, Laurie!

II. When I was around 25 years old my teacher left the Netherlands to return to his native country. As a result I was on my own for a few years. In order to keep a straight bow I relied extensively on the mirror. Imagine my surprise when my new teacher told me that the angle was incorrect! She then proceeded to teach me proper propriocepsis. To achieve truly objective feedback with the aid of a mirror takes some arranging.

In preparing this post, two of F.M. Alexander's sayings occurred to me: "All the fools of the world actually believe they are doing what they think they are doing" , and "the thing you have to do is a sensation". Searching for both expressions on the Internet got me this link, and this. I know I'm rambling, but I wanted to share the links.

August 25, 2009 at 01:35 AM ·

Hello Bart,

 

nice post, though as a psychologist, I have to add that I think Alexander technique is not a good solution to ease physical tensions, at least not long term.

 

Normally the body naturally takes on a position which is comfortable. Telling the body (artificially, or externally) how to relax itself, either by focusing on posture, breathing, etc, is not natural, and will block (eventually) your ability to release yourself, and give out your own interpretation of a piece.

 

Breathing is a good way to compensate for physical stress, or tension, but then you cannot truly focus on playing. It might be regarded as a scaffolding, to hold on while discovering the hard to find biomechanics, which is comfortable and natural.

 

.... hope the community finds these thoughts valuable.. best: k

August 27, 2009 at 04:39 AM ·

The simplest solutions are always the best.

The quality of the tone is a result of bow placement, bow pressure and bow speed.

The bow hand and bow arm need to be able to control these elements.

Lets master the bow stroke just in the upper half of the bow, or even a small segment of the upper half, just on down bows on open strings or any note you like.

First and foremost, check your bow hold.  Bent thumb? Curved pinky? Then check your violin hold:  make sure your violin scroll is not pointing towards the floor at all, which will allow gravity to sabotage your bow stroke and have your bow fall toward the fingerboard. 

Next we'll check what is happening with your elbow when in the upper half of the bow on down bows.

On down bows in the upper half of the bow, not only does the elbow need to open your arm towards your right, but also out in front of you.  With a softening wrist, the bow index finger simultaneously pulls inward, which keeps the bow off the fingerboard.  Use a mirror to check you bow is parallel to the string AND your bow stick and bow arm are in the same plane.

The whistling sound, which happens when the bow hair slides away from the bridge instead of traveling parallel to it, is now gone!

Ruth Brons

 

 

 

August 25, 2009 at 11:52 AM ·

Hi Krisztian,

If I understand you correctly, you view AT as one of the disciplines that superimpose extraneous ideals of posture and movement, creating disturbance, not harmony, in the process.The difference between that and, as you wrote: "discovering the hard to find biomechanics, which is comfortable and natural" is indeed very important.

In my experience as an AT student, AT is about rediscovering and regaining for oneself the correct and natural use of the body, with the careful assistance of a teacher who knows that she does not yet know what is right for you. So, all in all, I believe you described it rather well in the sentence fragment that I quoted.

But as this is no longer about bowing per se, let's take it to another thread.

Best regards,

Bart

August 25, 2009 at 07:04 PM ·

Hi Bart,

Again, as a psychologist I can only say that rediscovering what is best and natural, regarding posture, is best achieved by taking a break off....... possibly as long as you can without picking up your violin :)

 

best,

 

Krisztian

August 26, 2009 at 09:02 PM ·

Hi Emma,

I'm in a similar position to you - started playing again recently after ten years away from the instrument. And while I found some right-hand technique came back to me very easily, I am having to completely relearn how to maintain the contact point.

The basic problem is that the motions you need to draw the bow in a straight line parallel to the bridge are very unnatural. Your shoulder, elbow and wrist are all built to move in arcs, not straight lines... no wonder it's so easy to forget how to do it.

I found a good explanation of the theory here: www.violinmasterclass.com/stance_qt.php (under Straight Bow Geometry)

I'll second the recommendation to practice with long, slow bow strokes.

I also found Kreutzer studies No 2 and 3  demand you to be able to do this after crossing strings, and Kreutzer No.4 absolutely forces you to pay very close attention to it.

August 31, 2009 at 03:11 AM ·

Helen Martin gives us an excellent example in Frank Almond's playing of the connected and full sounding  bow change at the frog rather than the suspended wrist look which, though also looking relaxed, does not project the thickness and connectedness of tone as well at the change of bow at the frog. One must be careful to not let the fingers whip too quickly lest you hear a rush of sound and an accent in the bow change but once that tendency is eliminated or better yet avoided to begin with by practicing the curling up of the fingers very slowly,  a thick, rich tone free of scratch at the frog will be yours for a lifetime.

August 31, 2009 at 03:22 AM ·

I haven’t heard people mentioning the method of playing without using the left hand.  I believe Mr. Fischer has covered this in one of his two famous books.  Basically, Emma, if you don’t like a sound you are making, stop the left hand and just do the bowing on open strings. Explore until you like the sound on the open strings and then apply the left hand.  

Bart, good posts and I entirely agree with you on AT and I like Chance's work.  What we feel comfortable can be harmful to us, if the comfort comes from a habitual misuse of the body, not unlike certain some comfy food can be unhealthy, or cergtain comforable way of thinking ...    The simplest truth is sometimes the hardest to establish.

Yixi

September 1, 2009 at 05:53 AM ·

Hello Helen,

I'm not sure what do you refer to as idiomatic (english is not my mother tongue), is it something which is peculiar, or, deviating from average? I don't know that.... but I find that unsolved psychological tensions such as conflicts with violin teachers etc can seriously hinder your playing to the level of excessive physical tension and stress. This is because not only bad technique results in squeezing and clinching, but mental problems too.

That's why I think the best way to deal with this is to take some time off, and find what's natural.

You could perhaps see this as a divergence between western and eastern methods, the eastern (yoga) focuses on relaxing the body, which eases the mind. Western tradition includes intellectual and mental exercises, which relaxes the body. However, as effective as for instance Yoga is, you cannot just try to correct posture and techniqe in a dynamic context such as violin playing if the distress is mainly psychological... 

 

September 1, 2009 at 05:57 AM ·

Actually, I'm writing down my own case here .. :))

September 1, 2009 at 06:04 AM ·

I really think (though I may be wrong) that it all boils down to whether you like your sound, and music or not. In that sense I completely agree with what was suggested earlier, that if you don't like your sound, try just the open strings.

September 1, 2009 at 05:53 PM ·

http://www.myidprojects.com/IDTECH/Columbia%20University/Julia%20T_Julia%20s%20Violin%20Site_3Z5TQ/Julia_T/Images/Kreisler.jpg

 

this is my favorite picture of Kreisler.. You see, this is what I would call a natural posture...

September 3, 2009 at 12:33 PM ·

Otherwise, just to keep spamming (smiley), regarding the original topic, improving bowing technique, well, just got back my violin from a luthier, who suggested some new strings, etc. With having the sound, I personally realised, what probably any advanced member knows here (smiley again), that if left hand is not ok (not loose, or fully on the string), then you may get the bowing right for sime time, but tension will break the feeling, and oops, the bowing is bad again...

 

cheer, sorry for the monologue :)

September 25, 2009 at 10:57 PM ·

One tip that can improve your bowing skills and help you to produce better sound is your actual approach to holding the bow.

Consider that the bow is not really being held. The idea is that you are placing the bow and that the violin is holding the bow. This allows the bow to relax into the string and assists in producing a clear sound.

I found a video on what I'm referring to, which is about good bowing technique and how to play violin

All the best with your violin efforts.

September 26, 2009 at 11:44 PM ·

Yeah, but then you have to learn a lot of complicated motions with the hand, like forearm pronation, etc, to keep that idea of the bow on the string..

September 29, 2009 at 04:23 AM ·

No matter how the mechanisms work of the arm, there are a few things that need to happen to create and maintain a steady sound. To work on this, I recommend just open strings legato using the entire bow. Make sure the bow stays a constant speed, making sure the bow is perpendicular to the string (parallel with the bridge). Make sure that the bow stays at the same sounding point on the string (if the bow drifts, then you will start to get different sounds).

 

having said this, there a lot of things that can go wrong in your bow arm that messes up what I wrote above. the best thing you can do is find a teacher who can draw a fantastic sound out of their instrument and get them to teach you how to hold the bow and use your arm.

November 29, 2009 at 07:09 PM ·

 You say it's moving on its own to your fingerboard? Try putting some more rosin on the bow, that might help.

November 29, 2009 at 07:10 PM ·

 Sorry for the double post (I'm not sure if that's such a big deal here) but yeah, it really sounds to me like your bow has no rosin on it if you can't seem to get any sound out of it. 

June 17, 2015 at 07:29 PM · It came to my attention most recently as I am upgrading the violin, bow and accessories. One thing I want to upgrade the most is my technique.

through intonation and fingering practices supplied in suzuki and other basic books, I am somewhat more confident with my left hand but I am learning that my bow hand is lagging behind a lot.

I find this most hard to change because you can't really "read" a bow technique. I've been watching a lot of videos on youtube, and it scares me to watch some professionals play at live concerts/quartets, it looks as if they have more control over their bow than the control I have over my own hand and fingers.

I wouldn't mind pointers for good articles/lectures to follow for bowing techniques.

-Edit, forgot to mention.

I have transformed my "practice wall" into a big mirror, so I can see myself playing. I am not making any screech sounds(anymore), but I certainly wish to develop my bowing hand better.

June 18, 2015 at 10:13 AM · A mirror can't talk back to you or advise you (except in a Walt Disney cartoon!) and can only give one view. What you see is a mirror image and then your brain has to translate that into instructions for your real body, adding another layer of difficulty.

On the other hand, a good teacher in the room with you will give the essential feedback you need. My teacher, for example, wouldn't look at my playing from just one position: she would walk 360º round me, observing and commenting from every angle, and was in a position to physically guide my bowing arm where necessary.

June 18, 2015 at 12:17 PM · Trevor is giving you the best advice, full stop.

Mirrors are good for my makeup, and on the car.

But they are unreliable teachers.

Get a real teacher!!

OR - even better, get really drunk! You would be surprised how it helps - you forget the obvious and get to the crux of the matter.

P S With a name like that i hope you don't get into my hard drive! (Ms Hacking ...)

June 18, 2015 at 07:50 PM · Very well, I guess I'll have to save up for some lessons. Rates are higher than how much I request for university level courses I tutor.

June 21, 2015 at 03:07 PM · Ask around a bit, though. Teachers are not always clear about the aspects which they theselves found easy.

June 21, 2015 at 04:43 PM · Tutoring for university level courses in most big cities in Ontario can go anywhere from $25-$85 per hour. But most charge $30 because if you go higher, you won't get much work. There are just so many people who can tutor. The same cannot be said for violin teaching. So $45-$55 per hour for violin lessons is not unreasonable.

June 23, 2015 at 06:14 PM · Choices:

Find a teacher locally (you don't have to commit for any long period -- it's perfectly okay to take a lesson or two and see if it helps.)

Explore Youtube -- between "Professor V" to the Sassamanshaus violin school and others, there is a tremendous wealth of good video instruction on basic violin playing. It might be great to just watch a lot of videos on bowing -- whether you find a teacher or not.

There are lots of online teachers who do video lessons, sometimes at very reasonable cost. One to consider is ArtistWorks which offers lessons with Nathan Cole -- who is associate concertmaster in LA, a fantastic player and also a really good and passionate teacher. I think he is really geared at advanced players but he does welcome more beginner players.

June 24, 2015 at 03:53 AM · I have explored the second option. I must admit, that I NEVER learned anything really properly online. Similar to any physical activity, it's best for me to actually have someone near me to "do it this way" and correct my position and etc.

I've decided to explore the first option, I just got in contact with a local teacher. I will likely ask her for lessons once or twice a month, one hour each.

One to teach me some techniques, tips and corrections, then another one to confirm that I've been doing it the right way/teach me more. That way I can practice throughout the month and actually work on it.

I am very interested in learning techniques properly and know that I am practicing them properly.

June 24, 2015 at 04:52 AM · Thanks Thomas for mentioning my school at ArtistWorks, and I wanted to say that I work with more amateur players than professionals, since there are so many more amateurs out there! And issues like straight bow and general bow position are things that the highest-level players still have to think about. Most people need more than one approach before they really feel confident with this, so that's why I like the ability to interact with players online, to see what works for them and what doesn't "click".

I'm glad you're finding someone nearby who can take a look; that's often the first step. Good luck!

June 27, 2015 at 12:05 AM · Thank you Nathan, I just had my first lesson today, and I asked my teacher to do criticize any and all bad habit I've formed. I learned a lot.

Things are making a lot more sense now. I also learned how to perform basic staccato but I am unsure if I am doing it right. Are there any reference videos on youtube?

So far, what I found on youtube under "stacatto methods violin" search didn't yield anything I found particularly helpful.

June 27, 2015 at 01:25 AM · I have found these websites to be helpful:

www.violinlab.com

http://www.violinmasterclass.com

https://www.youtube.com/user/professorV/videos?&ab_channel=professorV

https://www.youtube.com/user/professorgmviolin/videos?&ab_channel=professorgmviolin

June 27, 2015 at 05:55 AM · Staccato is tough to find videos about because it's not an easy term to define on the violin. I remember hearing it a lot in Suzuki, but as a professional I don't use it much. Those of you who have read much of my writing know that I love the Suzuki method, but this was one point of confusion!

You may want to search for videos on martele instead? If you really get stuck, I will work with you on any question at my online school. Good luck!

June 27, 2015 at 07:29 PM · Thank you both, that's very helpful. I learned that for the first time, I'm supposed to press the bow down into the string for staccato when I learned from my teacher.

From most of the people playing, it always looks like the player is just wiggling/jerking their bow hand/twisting the bow.

I learned that "twisting" the bow comes from gripping, letting go, gripping the string and jerking motion is just the way it looks from pushing and stopping.

I am learning to put less and less pressure and make the motion more natural. In process, I wanted to make sure that I'm not losing what I've learned.

June 27, 2015 at 07:49 PM · Greetings,

I also avoid the term staccato from a technical perspective as much as I can with beginners. From a musical perspective it refers to cutting a small quantity of sound form the end of a note so their is a gap betwene the next one rather than a smooth connection. How one does that then becomes a technical question.

I would be very careful not to get to enamoured of the idea of pressing with the bow. Of course we are only trying to describe somehting within the limitations of language , but violin playing should have a slitlte to do with the rather negative concpet of pressing as possible.

You might like to try this exercise..Place the bow on the string in the middle. Now push and pull the bow up and dow as though you are trying to do a normal bow stroke but have the bow remain exactly where it is on the string. You only need to use enough pressure to keep the bow in one place. Something has to give and that will be the string. So the bow stays on the spot and the string is spulled a very small amount backwards and forwards.. After a few moments release enough weight that the bow actually ttavels a few cms on a down bow. Now that you are a little closer to the point Repeat the process. You can do this on an up bow as well. Or you can do it on an down followe dby an up. Get used to the ide at the beginning of the note the bow is sticking to the string and puling it sideways until the tension of the string is too great and it releases, creating a clear and slightly articulated beginning to the note.

Cheers,

Buri

June 27, 2015 at 09:46 PM · Stephen, I'm a little bit confused, So I should be "pulling/pushing" the string with the bow then let go?

June 27, 2015 at 09:51 PM · Yes. Just release the amount of weight you are applying so that the bow can move along the string .

Cheers,

buri

June 27, 2015 at 10:07 PM · So, don't really "dig in" to the string?

June 28, 2015 at 06:47 AM · Your concept and my concept of dig may not be the same.

The bow has to form a relationship with the string such that it is one with it for a fraction of a second until it escapes to be recaught. It is like a perfect relationship . One is intimate and then steps back in a never ending cycle. If you just keep pressing everyone suffocates.

you could also try the click exercise which Simon describes in basics. You can use any part of the bow and anywhere on any string. Apply sufficient weight that you are into the string and the bow doesn't feel like mving. Same as a cat flopping down when you are trying to wrestle them of a suit you have just cleaned. Then add the smallest possible senose of pull to the vertical weight. You won't get a note but a click noise. It's really cute. You only get the click if their is a perfect relationship between the amount of weight, amount of pull and the place you are on the string. If you develop the ability to go click click click ad naseaum in any part of the bow on any string anywhere between bridge an dfingerboard you will be extremely sensitive to these relationships which are the underlying factors in producing a decent sound.

cheers,

Buri

June 28, 2015 at 03:17 PM · I see,

well I am now able to do scales using Staccato(One on bow, one off bow. Whichever the proper term is. on bow I mean by keeping the bow on after note, off bow I mean by lifting the bow after playing the note.), I think I'm doing it properly. For odd reason, I cannot, to save my life, play a piece properly with with the technique. I guess practice should polish this problem out.

June 28, 2015 at 09:42 PM · Hi Steven,

I seem to have confuse dyou a tad so let's examine very carefully what you are trying to do. This is important because if you are not clear in your mind your computer program in the brain will have a bug in it and things will never go quite right.

First of all you have two consecutive notes , and for musical reasons you have decided to play me stacatto. That is they are going to sound shorte Ethan their value if they didn't have dots over/under them.

Your first option is simply to stop the bow early on the down bow and early on the up bow, thereby creating space between the notes. There is no musical accent involved. The notes are simply short.

If you wanted to play leaving the bow on the string but add a musical accent to each note you would use a different technique to achieve that effect. This is the bow stroke know as Maretele which you can study independently of this mail.

Another option you have is to play both notes off the string. This technique is called spicatto. Both notES are short but the effect is completely different . This is an artistic choice for you to make.

According to your description you wish to do a kind of mixed bowing which is actually rather difficult. That is, both notes are musical staccatos IE short. You wish to play the first one on the string without an accent by stopping the bow after the note has sounded. Now you wish to play the second note off the string? OK what are your options now?

You can start the second note on the string and lift it after it has sounded. This is quite easy on an up bow. The problem you now fa e is how to play the next group of two notes. Your bow is in the air after the up bow. So are you going to replace it on the string before beginning the down bow or are you going to going to play the down bow stroke with the bow coming in at an angle in the air. In this case the bow must still set the string in motion on the musical beat.

You need to be very clear in your mind which of these techniques you are going to practice and do everything very slowly at first so you are absolutely clear about what you are doing with every single stroke.

Hope this helps,

Buri

June 28, 2015 at 11:26 PM · For what it's worth, I played for years without taking the bow off the string at the end of a note (spiccato). The bow only came off when there was enough time to do a "bow circle", such as at the end of a phrase! Trying to learn off the string techniques is a whole other ballgame, and not something I would recommend learning alongside the basic detache-martele strokes that are the bread and butter of violin playing. Buri is right to separate the two clearly so that there isn't confusion about what you're attempting!

June 29, 2015 at 12:24 AM · absolutely!

and it's often hard to understand that spicauto is an easy stroke while detache is a lifetimes hard study....

June 29, 2015 at 01:38 AM · You're right Stephen, I am quite confused..

I went on Violin Lab youtube channel, they have a video telling the difference between the spiccato and staccato. So Staccato should be an easy task?

June 29, 2015 at 04:06 AM · Well, I don't want to say it is hard because that is not helpful. As a player your ears and musical ideas will become more and more refined and you will see that perfection is elusive even at the highest level. If the staccato you mean is keeping a note short because it has a dot on it they you should perhaps keep the following in mind.

1 make the start of every note clean. Use the pulling the string exercise I explained above.

2 Plan exactly how much bow you intend to use. Put stickers on your bow so that you play with great precision. a lot pros still do this in private.l.....

3 decide exactly how long yu want the note to be.

4 end the note cleanly

cheers

Buri

June 30, 2015 at 03:16 AM · A little bit off topic, but one of my favorite violinist is James Ehnes, he is one of the motivations that got me re-started on the violin really.

I notice that he plays with his left thumb pointing up above the fingerboard on the neck, my teacher told me NEVER to put my thumb above the fingerboard.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zi1oZgqx0Kg

For me, I almost cut my left thumb off a few years ago, and due to scar tissue, it is more natural for me to keep my thumb pointing up, but my teacher insisted that the "proper" posture consists thumb below the fingerboard, is this true?

I do notice if I play with her advice, I can reach my fourth finger better at least in the first position, but very straining on my left thumb.

June 30, 2015 at 04:14 AM · Gretings,

one should never be dogmatic about the thumb. It's position is dictated by the structure of the hand and ease of finger use.

Cheers,

Buri

June 30, 2015 at 11:42 AM · Hi,

I agree with Buri. James Ehnes has his hand placed very classically - i.e. neck resting on the base of the first finger, with the thumb coming up to it's own natural height. He has very long fingers and a long thumb. What really determines the height at which the thumb will come up is its own length, and also the length between the root of the base of the first finger. In the case of James Ehnes, that distance between the base of the first finger and root of the thumb is not that long compared to the length of his thumb hence the fact that his thumb comes up rather high.

In a natural hand position, like Buri mentioned, the position of the thumb is not arbitrary, but rather the result of the shape the entire hand. Trying to force the thumb into a "separate" position can create enormous tension in the hand.

To find the position of the thumb is rather simple. Rest the neck on the base of the first finger. Make sure that your elbow is pointing down (not sideways to the right) - again, James Ehnes is a great example of this. Bring your fingers down on the A string and allow the thumb to come up to whatever height is natural on the opposite side. Do not try to force the thumb forward or backward in relationship to the base of the first finger. Whatever the height that it comes up to is the height that is natural for your particular hand. This classic way of setting up the hand has been around for at least a century, from Carl Flesch's Art of Violin Playing onwards. That doesn't mean that there are other ways, of course, but this is the closest to finding something that is natural for each individual hand.

Cheers!

July 2, 2015 at 01:10 AM · Well thank you both, after few days of 5 hours practice, I think I am back on track, here are what I'm noticing:

1. My right arm never really gets tired, with the right hold.

2. I am now quite conscious of the grip that I have of the string with my right hand. So, when I do play fast/strike the strings, I can sense the bow hair jerking(or is it the frog being loose... I hope that's not the case)

3. Cheap/inferior bow is rather inferior.

I picked the best bow that I can afford last month($300 Brazilian unbranded pernambuco), and when I compare it to my $85 Carbon Fiber bow, I feel the difference. Not so much hear it because I am dedicating the CF bow to play with a mute on.

With my $30 very old Korean bow, I can feel it, I can hear it even with a mute on and my arm gets tired fast.

4. My fingerboard is starting to have shiny spots where my fingers touch, and I am getting black dust on my fingertips.

5. curses to arthritis.

July 3, 2015 at 07:46 AM · Point 4.

The blackened fingertips can come from the aluminium string windngs.

July 10, 2015 at 02:03 AM · Prior to speaking to my teacher about this, I was wondering I could get some insight here.

It seems that I am getting better at alternating bow direction staccato, and up bow staccato, but down bow technique is lagging behind.

I can do it either extremely slowly using a lot of bow, but anything faster and less bow usage, my right arm wants to move up. I am jerking the bow up after I've made the down bow staccato, creating one note then another unwanted note.

Are there any suggestions to fix this?

July 26, 2015 at 11:54 PM · I thought I'd share,

after 2 and half years of playing, I finally learned to relax my bow hand.

For the longest time, I thought more pressure=higher volume. With help of Carl Flesch's books, I learned that this is only valid at certain parts of the bow and bow hold should never bee tight/clenched.

Now I can hear the more ringing and vibrations from the string with very relaxed light grip on the bow, in turn, better tone quality and projection.

I also ditched the "standard" method in Suzuki books and the way my teacher told me to hold the bow. I lost the tip of my right index finger 18 years ago, and I have very strong grip and I even hold pencils different than others.

If I include the pinky, in my hold, the grip gets too tight and unbalanced. I am adapting the "baroque bow" hold, except my grip is by the frog and I only use the pinky for balance. My current hold is very similar to Russian hold, except, my index finger is further up on the winding

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