Bowing Exercise Ideas?...going in cirlces without them

December 4, 2009 at 04:46 PM ·

Hello - I am trying to pay a lot of attention to my bowing right now (have been reading all of the recent related posts as well, and digesting what I could).  Is there anyone who wouldn’t mind sharing some effective exercises that I could add to my practice that might be appropriate for me?

So you know where I am at - playing for 3 years this December, an adult, no prior musical background except LOTS of listening (play through pretty much all of Suzuki Book 3 fairly well, still adding refinements and working on some dynamics etc., also play fiddle music).   A few months ago I felt a big (for me) jump in bow control, mostly concerning wrist looseness and flexibility - and now I’m noticing all sorts of other and new things that are bugging me.


These are the things that I’m working on and really want to improve:


-Direction control, especially on quicker and lengthy up bows

-Volume without brute forceJ

-More control over applying and releasing bow pressure

-String crossing control, particularly crossing entirely over a string (i.e. D to  E, or A to G etc.).


My teacher has me working on doing scales with very fast and absolute full bows – and this has definitely been helping with direction, volume and pressure a bit as well.  I would like to add a few more exercises to this that I could work through before practicing pieces every day.


Many thanks in advance for your ideas and help with any of these!



Replies (17)

December 4, 2009 at 08:25 PM ·

Hi Heather,

A few weeks ago I came across the preface and preparatory exercises to Rode's 24 Caprices, in an old edition in the Petrucci Library. I hope it helps. And Kreutzer etude nr. 7 is full of string changes.


Edit: on second thought, this may not be what you need at all. I'd have done better to wait and hear what the teachers on have to say.

December 4, 2009 at 08:40 PM ·


Hi Heather,

Seems like you're progressing well!

Here are a few tips.

Direction Control: (wasn't sure what you meant at first, until I read "...very fast and absolute full bows..." - hope I got it right)

1) Get comfortable playing straight bows, making sure there are no sticking points along the path, where your muscles seize.

2) Get comfortable balancing the bow in the air. Make sure you know how to suspend the bow without tension or rigidity in the wrist or fingers at whatever divisions of the bow your working on. It helps to think of the bow as hanging on the pads of your finger tips (and your hand hanging off of the wrist) when you're in the air. Keep the pinky on the inside, top facet of the octagon of the handle (unless you're lucky and have really fleshy pads, in which case you can leave it more on the top). If you find it difficult to counter-balance the bow with the pinky, use the 3rd finger to help out. Also, it helps to think of the pinky (and 3rd finger) spreading along the handle, toward the screw, with friction, rather than pressing down into the handle. The balance should be firm, but not rigid. Use the placement exercises in the 'straight bow' post I linked to in 1). When placing the bow in this exercise, make a big production of it, to encourage the arm to freely follow the hand to its target (this is a good warm up for putting the bow arm through it's range of motion). Raise the bow well above your head, with a relaxed, balanced hand, keeping the stick parallel to the bridge, and place the bow on the proper level of the string. Feel the level with the upper arm, but also imagine a radial line that intersects the string you're working on and the imaginary centre of the curve of the bridge. Get used to feeling the tangential plane of each string - this is important for off-the-string playing, which you'll get to soon. Two additional placement exercises for feeling follow-through in the arm: a) placing at the frog: instead of merely feeling the radial line above the string, place the arm from beyond the radial line, to the left (reach past the left shoulder), and place at the frog as if playing a down bow; b) placing at the tip: similarly swing the arm as far to the right as possible, keeping the bow as straight as reasonable (it doesn't have to be perfectly straight), and place at the tip as if playing an up bow.

3a) Pinch and float. Play a very short colle stroke at the absolute frog , downbow, using that stroke to launch your bow into the air. Float along the path of the bow an inch over the strings, until you reach the tip. At the tip, play a colle up bow to propel your bow in the air to the frog. Start with 4 beats in the air, 2 beats, 1 beat, 1/2 beat. 

3b) Once you're comfortable, make it a bit more difficult. Play a colle up bow at the frog, launching the bow well to the left of the fiddle, making a big circle in the air and going down bow in the air; play a colle down bow at the tip, launching the bow to the right (tip to the right of the fiddle), making a big circle in the air and returning up bow to the frog (use the follow through motions you learned in 2a) and 2b)). You'll be making a big side-ways figure 8 in the air in front of your face.

4) Pinch and ride. Same as 3a) above, but stay on the string, ride the string, in a pp.

5) Try the full bow detache and remember the lightness, and freedom of the arm from above. Don't stop your arm short but feel the follow through of each bow stroke, as if your bow is twice as long. It also helps to let your hand and arm pivot slightly: e.g. working on A string; on the down bow, as you pull the bow quickly, let your arm almost cross over to the D string (you can actually cross, or play double stops if it helps at first). On the up bow, it helps to release the wrist. These lifting actions help to lighten the weight of the arm (upper-arm in the down bow, forearm in the up bow) at the exact moment you draw the bow, making your full bow detache very light. As you progress, you can leave more weight on as you require. If you're having difficulty releasing the upper-arm on the up bow, do a lot of wall knocking exercises with the elbow from the thread linked in 1).


Volume Control:

1) Learn the division of the bow around the balance point: i.e. balance point to tip, add weight; balance point to frog, counterbalance weight; area around balance point, use weight of bow. As you get used to this gradation, you can apply more general weight, or use general suspension to get the desired volume, texture, color, or mood.

2) Learn to apply weight passively: (it helps to have a partner with this one) Mime bowing. But instead of making the bow look like it's playing on an invisible violin at your shoulder, let the tip drop until the stick is parallel to the line of the baseknuckles, the fingers curved, almost like a cello hold; keep your wrist neutral, and let the forearm pronate to follow the natural tilt of the bow; pretend the fiddle is at hip level. Get your partner to slip the violin under the bow in that position and slowly lift the violin under the bow. Keep the arm dropped; resist lifting it from the shoulder as the violin rises; let your partner lift your arm through the bow. Allow your fingers to twist and leave your forearm pronated, passively; don't let the forearm supinate; don't fight back with the fingers. Once the violin arrives to playing position (or you can try playing as it rises), move the bow; it will likely be too much weight, even at the bridge, but note this feeling as 'dead weight' of the arm and take some off until you get a full sound that you like.

3) Explore the floating arm feeling from above for a softer volume.

4) Revisit 1) and adjust the weight of your arm according to the sound you want.


Applying/Releasing Pressure:

1) Play divisions of the bow with even sound: e.g. play 1/4, stop, 2/4, stop, 3/4, stop, 4/4, stop, and back; make each segment of the bow, its start, middle, end, absolutely identical, so that if listeners closed their eyes, they wouldn't be able to tell what part of the bow you're playing in and what direction. Stop after each segment as long as it takes for you to analyse what you just did (repeat that segment if necessary) and prepare for the next segment.

2) Staccato (multiple segments in same stroke): maintain same sound at all parts of the bow; make the attack at middle and tip as strong as at the frog; make the release at the frog as clean as at the tip

3) Pinch and ride over smaller divisions of the bow: as in staccato, make it sound the same at every part of the bow. Make sure you get a true ride and not a partial staccato; i.e. each segment ends with no pressure; each segment begins with a pinch/release.

4) Parlando: like pinch and ride except with no attack to the beginning of the sound, a squeeze and ride; sounds like 'wah, wah', instead of 'kah, kah'.


String Crossing:

1) Make sure you know the level of your arm on each string (most learners don't drop the arm enough on the E string, for example). Without the bow, hold your hand open and straight, as in a salute, and place the left edge of the forefinger on each string to feel where your elbow should go. These are the approximate levels your arm must find each time it plays on each string. (More or less, depending on the hands position relative to the forearm.)

2) To get your arm to cross effortlessly, practice an etude like Kayser 7, or Kreutzer 7 (which are also good for above skills) using a) upper half, b) lower half, c) whole bow d) various bowings and rhythms. Time the string cross so that it happens at the end of the old bow; i.e. play the first note in staccato or martele and finish that note with the arm on the level of the next note in one motion - don't play the note, then cross, in two steps.

3) To hide a string cross, time the cross so that it happens on the new bow (and not the old bow as in 2) above). The crossing is still one motion: play first note; stay at that level; cross without moving the bow across the string; time the next note exactly with the crossing of the bow, so that the crossing and playing of the new note feels like one smooth motion.

Hope this helps,



December 4, 2009 at 09:55 PM ·

 Jeewon, you raise a lot of good points. 


I own Sevcik violin etude book (it's white with a violin [Strad?] on the cover). The 3rd one is for bowing. I have the same issues. I'm in college right now. My bowing has improved so much over the past year, I wonder how I even survived before then as a violinist. But It has every kind of etude for practicing virtually any bowstroke and you can apply Jeewon's concepts to them as well. 



December 4, 2009 at 10:16 PM ·

Hi Alexis,

Yes, I agree that Sevcik Op.3 is very useful. It should be mandatory and is usually studied too late in the game, after many poor habits have formed. It might be a tad advanced for Heather, but definitely worth a look!


December 4, 2009 at 10:39 PM ·

Drew Lecher's book is one you sould concider getting.  And Basics by Fischer, though a bit pricey, is one to own eventualy.

December 5, 2009 at 12:27 AM ·

Bart – I thank you very much for the thought! 

Jeewon – I’m going to find my little quiet space tonight after family stuff is done and read through this carefully and try some of these things - I’m really looking forward to it!  Thanks for being so generous with your thoughts/knowledge – very much appreciated.  Hope you don’t mind if I come back at you with questions?


Alexis – it’s great to hear what people actually use and find helpful for themselves!  Sounds like I might not be ready for this one yet, but since I have a reccommendation I could pick it up if I see it somewhere and have it for future use.  And Royce, I was also thinking about ‘Practice’…I think I have to see about some decent and quality books!  Thanks you guys.

December 5, 2009 at 04:48 AM ·

You're welcome, Heather. Feel free to ask away.

I've edited and added a few notes to the original post. I don't mean to discourage you from experimenting with the Sevcik Op.3, it's just that to get the most out of it, you'll need to be able to move the bow around with ease, both on the string and in the air. On the other hand there are quite a few variations which will help you do just that (Op. 3 is Theme and Variations, each variation focusing on a different bow stroke, or same bow stroke at a different tempo), so you might want to explore it sooner than later.


December 6, 2009 at 02:59 AM ·

The above advice is all very good, but here are some more thoughts:

I have used Sevcik's Op. 3 Variations with much success, and consider that opus to be essential to violin study, however, I am surprised that no one has mentioned (unless I missed something) Sevcik's School of Bowing Technique, Op. 2. You can find the first book of it on for free:

It is more appropriate for you than his Op. 3 is right now. Sevcik's Op. 2 is appropriate for violinists at any level. No matter how mundane and draconian it may seem, start at the very beginning and patiently go through everything without skipping anything, even if you think something is a bit too elementary. Set a metronome and do everything exactly as Sevcik specifies with each exercise. I myself, when going through this book, work patiently from the very beginning. The beginning exercises can reveal very embarassing weaknesses to even an advanced player, whether technical or psychological. Keep in mind that patience and discipline are among the most important assets a musician can develop. Sevcik was a true genius and, with the possible exception of Bartolomeo Campagnoli's Metodo per violino, I consider the best of all violin pedagogical methods. However, being that Sevcik's method was to focus strictly of technique, I will add Carl Flesch's 'warning' that it should be considered and used as a sort of violinistic 'medicine' or dietary supplement, which, taken in the correct dosage can have not only beneficial but truly miraculous results, but if taken in too high a dose, it has the potential to kill or severely harm.

In addition to Sevcik's Op. 2, I've got two more recommendations. The first of these can be found in Simon Fischer's 'Basics', which I believe has been mentioned by one of the others as a good book to consider getting. (I believe it's ex. 55 in the book for anyone who wants to look this up) I'll paraphrase it here. The main concept of this exercise is from the fact that, if viewed in slow motion, a bow stroke is more complicated than the bow merely moving the string. Rather, the hair 'catches' the string and pulls it. As this pulling occurs, the tension of the string increases until the string snaps back. Of course, the hair instantly catches the string again, and, as Fischer says, a 'catch, pull, snap-back, catch' process repeats numerous times. Too light a stroke will not allow the string to catch the bow. Too heavy a stroke will create the lovely chalkboard scratching sound made by every beginner. This exercise helps with many different bowing problems. First, you want to place the bow on the string and press the hairs into the string heavily enough so that they can catch the string. At the same time, start pulling the string as slowly as possible. Continue pulling the string with the bow until the tension is such that the string suddenly snaps back into place with a SINGLE click. When the string snaps back, don't release the bow; allow the hair to catch the string again, and continue the process. Fischer says that the ideal speed to get this up to is approx. one click per second. Practice this on all strings, at all divisions of the bow, and at various distances from the bridge. Doing this for a few minutes every day is one of the most helpful things for improving tone production and certain other bowing issues.

The last suggestion I've got has its origins in Giovanni Battista Viotti. It is the study of the so-called 'muted scale'. The concept of this is simple. The execution of it is not so simple. One must attempt to sustain each note of a scale with one bow-stroke for at least one minute, in a scarcely audible manner. Viotti considered this the most important secret to violin playing and is said to have entrusted the knowledge of it only to his favourite pupils. There should be no trembling of the bow and the tone should be even. Of course, when one starts learning this, they will not be able to sustain it for a whole minute, but they should sustain it as long as they can, and gradually develop the ability to sustain it longer and longer.

One book I recommend that has not been mentioned yet in this thread is Lucien Capet's bowing treatise. There is no book on bowing which can equal it, technically or philosophically. Capet is one of the most wonderful violinists I've ever heard (his recordings date from the 1920s). He was an absolute nut about bowing and devoted his life to it. There is a rather amusing story about Capet which I am always reminded of when I think about bowing exercises. One morning, some visitor arrived at Capet's house and was told that the master was not available at the time, but that he was welcome to sit outside Capet's study and wait until Capet was available. The listener waited for an hour, listening to constant nerve-wracking bowing exercises behind the closed doors. When Capet finally came out, the visitor greeted him by saying something like, 'Poor Maître! why must you waste your time on such an untalented student!' Capet good-naturedly responded, 'You are mistaken, my friend; you just heard me play my morning exercises.'

December 7, 2009 at 05:34 PM ·

Thank you Buri, and Jeewon also for your edits.  I have spent some time on these and I’m getting them!  I’ve also downloaded Op.2 and will decide on 2 of the previously mentioned books to invest in.  These will be doubly good to have in the house as my daughter can also use them, so extra good investment.

I’ve put together a group of 4 exercises from both of your suggestions to work on daily, along with a couple of others I have from my teacher/left hand exercises etc..  My plan is to spend half my practice time on exercises and half on pieces – I hope that is a sensible breakdown – and after a week or so I will rotate the exercises to a different group from the suggestions, and so on.  Practice time is usually about 1 hour to 1 ½ hours daily, sometimes more when I’m lucky, and there are always the days where it just can’t be that long.   Either way, I think I will stick to this breakdown.  Up until now, when applying concepts taught at lessons directly to my pieces only, it kind of feels watered down?? (I don’t think my teacher is huge on exercises and although they aren’t as exciting as playing through music, I’m learning that they work well on me, so spinach and broccoli eh?, which I also love incidentally).   I’m so happy to have some good ideas from some of you splendiferous people – I‘ll share them with my teacher and discuss.  Your thoughts are worth a million to me.  (and I love the Capet story).

December 7, 2009 at 07:56 PM ·


half the time on technical work is good.  I like Kievman`s suggestion(Practicing the violin physically/mentally) that however long you practice, be it fiv eminutes or five hours (not recommended;)) the split is always the same- half technique/half music.  But make sure your exercises includes scales.  Playing scales with diffenret rythms,  slurs and accents will imprive your playing markedly.

Do`t forget that when you do practice your pieces oyu can develop techniqueat the same time by perversity.  If a passage is maked down bow practice it up bow as well.  Learn to play it in all differnet parts of the bow even when it is not so natural and so on.



December 8, 2009 at 01:34 PM ·

Hi Bart,

I just got around to looking at Kross' prep. exercises you linked to. Thanks for posting it. Apart from his barbaric suggestion on 'arranging' the bow (I can't believe a whole generation of violinists did that!), it was quite an interesting read (and includes a description of Viotti's 'muted scale' which Stephen mentioned also.)
That's a great collection of exercises to do on whole bows. It probably runs the gamut of all the combinations in variable pressure, sound point, bow speed, and bow division/string cross/coordination with left hand, necessary to develop bow control. He also sneaks in the few lines to suggest detache exercises, including the one with triplets to emphasize up-bow strokes. Starting any detache exercise/etude on an up bow, making it sound like a down bow (and making the down bow lighter, to sound more like an up bow) is a great way to develop evenness in detache strokes. 
The exercises I mentioned above are geared more toward helping the student liberate the arm and work the hand, as general exercises (more physical warm-ups than specific technique and only when they’re needed) to be done prior to, or in conjunction with the many exercises and etudes in print. 
I'm glad you're getting them, Heather! I hope that means the exercises were fairly clear. It's inspiring to see how dedicated you are - your daughter is lucky to have such an example set by you. 
There are many good exercises available in print (as Stephen mentioned). It's great that you 'enjoy' incorporating exercises into your practice.  And I think the more experience you have with them the more you'll realize how to apply their methodology to solve problems in learning your repertoire. Perhaps you feel a 'watered down' effect because the concepts you're applying appear only briefly in the pieces you're working on at the moment. That will change as you progress to more complex works. See how you can use passages from your rep. to turn them into exercises where you can apply what you’re learning more completely. E.g. Buri's suggestions often help with evenness, eliminating false accents, adding extra control, etc. Sometimes, if you're having difficulty with a particular rhythm, you can apply it more generally to a section of the piece; that way you're still using the notes (which affect sound point and determine string crossings) to create a bowing exercise. A great exercise for detache or spiccato passages is to play each note several times; e.g. Kreutzer 2: instead of C,E,G,F play CCCC,EEEE,GGGG,FFFF etc.; then, CCC,EEE,GGG,FFF without changing the value of the sixteenth note - which is a little trickier than playing triplets; then CC,EE,GG,FF; then normally. For even groups and original, start them up bow as well. 
The more creative you are (the more you analyse rather than practice by rote), the better you'll become at solving problems, especially as they get more complex. But don't create and do such exercises slavishly either. Buri mentioned in another thread recently that many problems in playing occur between two notes. Exercises which pull the original music out of context often help to identify those two notes which throw the whole passage out of whack. If the rest of the passage is perfect and you've pinpointed the problem spot and know how to fix it, there's no need to work the whole passage over and over; only enough to test whether you can flow through the spot after you've worked it out. It's important to have a clear goal for each exercise and practice session, so you can be efficient and effective and not lose sight of the piece as an artistic whole. So if you're working on a specific technical problem, you may end up doing 100% technique: exercises, etudes, technique applied to the piece; if you've solved most technical issues and you need to work on dynamics, you may end up doing 20% exercises, 20% applied to piece (e.g. bow division/bow speed/sound point), 60% playing through phrases, passages, the whole work; closer to a performance, you may need lots of playing through without stopping (without analysis paralysis).  So it's great that you're already in the habit of planning your practice sessions.
Happy 'exercising'!

December 8, 2009 at 07:26 PM ·

Big whoops - sorry Stephen.  It seems that I thought, in my hurried excitement to dig into these ideas, that your post came from another ‘Stephen’ (should have noticed the superb typing right?J).  So my thanks to you Stephen.  And Buri, I also thank you for your subsequent post, and I understand what you mean about being able to use ‘parts’ of my pieces in an exercise-ful way, and I suppose in time I will get better at knowing creative things to try on difficult bits and passages, especially when in-between lessons.

Now I will wait to be chastised with something about inconsistencies with my Prune Juice intake affecting my mental sharpness….. but that’s OK.



p.s. – yes, Jeewon your instructions were very clear!

December 9, 2009 at 06:48 AM ·

Hi Jeewon,

Thank you for looking up the exercises and giving your -- well, how do you call it? Imprimatur? Fiat? Exerceantur? -- to them, except for the absurd idea of damaging one's bow.



December 9, 2009 at 03:50 PM ·

That was not my intention, Bart. I was glad to have found a new resource... sorry if I offended you.


December 9, 2009 at 03:58 PM ·

Please, Jeewon, I was not the least bit offended. Quite the contrary. You took the trouble to look into my suggestion, and approved it. I'm only happy that you did. And we agree on (not!) arranging the bow, as well.

December 9, 2009 at 04:13 PM ·

Glad to hear it Bart! I guess I'm being hypersensitive in light of that other thread I've been posting to. I haven't practised in a while, and those exercises reminded me of Kreutzer 23; I think I should go off into a corner and keep myself buried in some Kross and Kreutzer for a while... maybe a little Rode too.


December 9, 2009 at 08:24 PM ·



>The more creative you are (the more you analyse rather than practice by rote), the better you'll become at solving problems, especially as they get more complex. (Jeewon)

I think RR already mentioned it but you might be interested in a book called `The Talent Code` which goes into this kind of issue and the thinking behind it rather well.



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