Problems with bowing, not understanding tension

February 24, 2013 at 05:00 PM · For a very long time now I've had a hard time bowing, and it seems like I'm seeing a lot of contradictory instructions that don't make sense or add up.

Here's my problem, in short: my bow bounces a lot (mainly on downbow) and doesn't make good, even contact with the string.

Just so you know, I'm making finger contact with the first joint

Part of my problem originally was that I wasn't bowing straight. But using a mirror and lots of patience and reading/watching a lot about the mechanics of bowing, I've managed to correct that.

But my bow still bounces.

A lot of people talk about how you need to have no tension. I simply cannot grasp this concept. If you do anything with your muscles, they contract.

I've tried bowing while keeping everything as relaxed as I can which still having horizontal motion of the bow. Using this method, I can't even play on the G string, the bow just slides on top of the string. It barely makes a tone with an excess of rosin.

I've heard one person say that your index finger should be pressing down on the bow while your thumb should be pressing up, leaving the other fingers loose. At the same time, rotate your forearm into the violin. He that the gap between the hair and the wood should be reduced by half while playing in the "middle lane". This fixes the contact problem, but require a very substantial amount of force. This clearly produces quite a lot of tension in the rest of the fingers, although I can still bend them.

I've heard that you can't bend your fingers or tap your pinky if your bow hand is stiff. But this is clearly not true. I can squeeze my bow really tightly and still do both.

Interestingly, when I use my index and thumb to push into the string, or even squeeze the bow tightly, it doesn't actually look or sound worse. Smoother and better if anything, but very inconsistent with the idea that you should be relaxed.

I've heard in said that you should use arm weight to play into the string. But if you think about it, you either have to transfer that weight using your wrist, hand, or fingers. So what do you not tense up to accomplish that?

The most helpful thing has been to think of bowing as a single reaching motion, and this is what I've been focusing on. But I'm still struggling with with contact and bouncing.

Part of the problem seems to be similar to a problem I had while learning to drive I car. I would pay a lot of attention to exactly where I was in my life and try to make a lot of microadjustments to stay in the right place. I think I'm doing this and my bow speed is being uneven and bouncy as a result.

After enough time practicing, by the end of it I can generally bow pretty smoothy (but slowly), although it's still a bit shaky. And then the next day it's like I have to start over from scratch.

Replies (35)

February 23, 2013 at 11:09 PM · So clearly I was very frustrated when I posted this. I thought a bit after this about perfectionism, and listened to some Yo Yo Ma and noticed how expressive his playing was and remembered what music was all about.

I think I tend to focus on what I'm doing wrong and over analyse physical actions, and think too hard about how to correct mistakes.

But this is backwards I think. I think instead I need to focus on working being able to play beautifully and expressively.

So instead of trying to not play shakily, I should try harder to play smoothly.

February 24, 2013 at 07:43 PM · Just to cheer you up - bowing is never easy!!

But forget all those things about the thumb pushing up and the first finger pushing into the string.

Providing you are holding the bow correctly - just let it pull a smooth down bow not too near the bridge and not over the fingerboard. A nice straight sound from near the heel to point.

Not much downward pressure at all, and moving fast enough that it does not snag. (Even old Yehudi Menuhin had a problem with this!!)

On open strings this should sound pretty good, and when you can follow with an up bow you can progress to some stopped notes - and then to the Beethoven fiddle concerto!

February 24, 2013 at 08:39 PM · Being "relaxed" can play into or against your preconceptions. If I may be so brazen as to use peeling a potato as an example, when you peel, you have some weight on the peeler into the potato. You need to maintain constant contact with the potato, because it curves away from you as you move, being round and all. Relaxing your arm/hand allows you firstly to not get stiff and tired, but it also allows you to always be following the contour of the potato. That way, the weight is always optimally going into the potato, and you don't have to control following the contour, but your relaxed hand/arm does that for you. I have found the same to be true with shaving with a double-edge razor - The less I press and the more I let my arm hang down and use its weight to follow the contours of my face, the closer shave I get.

Your arm weighs a few pounds, so being relaxed really allows the weight of your arm to be directed down, transmitted through the bow into the string. Your relaxed wrist and relaxed fingers resting on the bow allow the full weight to be transmitted in the correct direction. Then you find the right speed of bow and listen to what sound you are making. You have to compare that with what sound you want.

Of course, don't torture yourself too much on your own. A teacher can work you through this much more effectively.

February 24, 2013 at 08:50 PM · Yes, I often think of potatoes, that's why I have an earthy sound ... that's why it often apeels to me ... (Sorry about that ...)

February 24, 2013 at 09:06 PM · Just be careful not to mash the bow. If I may further distill my point, then I'll have more advice when I wake up.

February 24, 2013 at 09:11 PM · Have you seen Simon Fischer's DVD "The Secrets of Tone Production"? Parts of it are on Youtube.

Good luck,

Bart

February 24, 2013 at 11:32 PM · Hi Matthew, I had problems with this for a long long time and it was a constant source of frustration to my teacher. When we investigated the problem more thoroughly, we realised that the 'stiffness' of my bow arm actually started in the shoulders. I am fairly strong in the shoulders and do a lot of heavy gardening, which created muscle tension that was working against me. A good round of physiotherapy sorted some of it out.

The rest was dealt with more slowly, almost as a mental relaxation technique from the shoulder to the wrist before beginning to play. Posture played a big part, I had to learn to open out my chest and straighten up rather than cringe inward as a reflex to try and stop bow bounce. Natural arm weight is plenty for a smooth bow, never force downward pressure. You'll realise that your hand is a little too tight on the bow when your fingers don't flex much when you play, but that's another problem for later on. Focus as much as you can on your posture, relaxed shoulder and natural arm weight and eventually it will come more naturally.

Good luck!

February 25, 2013 at 02:22 AM · Flat bow hair, elbow parallel with the string you are playing, and not so much of a downward pressure as it is a "picking" of the string (making "U"s). The force on the string should be rotational (more lateral than downward).

February 25, 2013 at 05:24 AM · hi;

i'm also trying to iron the now smaller bounces (they were more pronounced before). like you, i am puzzled but i have improved.

i think, given a decent arm/elbow- wrist posure, there is something to be said for the role of the fingers. for instance, i find that the little pinkie is a sort of fine stabilizer, especially with bow changes at the frog.

however, my little tremors happen probably around the middle part after the bow change and on the down bow stroke, tending towards the lower half on the downbow.

i'm wondering whether its a still lacking intelligence on the part of the fingers to act as interactive shock absorbers or whether it really is the larger units.

February 25, 2013 at 11:24 AM · Hi,

Some good advice already... A few other things for diagnosis of your issues: First, I agree with Nate on the pressure of the thumb and index. That is the biggest sources of tension for the arm and will cause tremor. The thumb should never press in either hand. Secondly, don't overspread the fingers. It gives a false sense of control but actually creates tension. Third, it is the weight of the arm not the pressure of the fingers on the bow that sustains the sound. Fourth, the bow moves sideways (not up in down in spite of how we call down-and-up-bow). A lot of people do a vertical drop at the frog which causes bouncing. The best advice for getting rid of this comes from Pinchas Zukerman: "One string, one level of elbow." Also, the bow is moved by the forearm, not the hand or fingers. This will get rid of unnecessary jerky movements that may cause tremor.

Cheers and best of luck!

February 25, 2013 at 11:54 AM · Christian

Great description of bowing method. But as I'm rather thick I don't quite understand your statement:-

"the bow moves sideways (not up in down in spite of how we call down-and-up-bow. A lot of people do a vertical drop at the frog which causes bouncing."

As you can guess I'm doing a root and branch clean up of my own bowing at present which includes hovering between the Russian and FB hold. It's all due to my being fed up with my awful sound in Bach D minor partita.

February 25, 2013 at 12:38 PM · Hi Peter,

Thanks for the kind words about my description. Sideways is perhaps not the best word, but I was referring to the idea that the bow moves laterally (horizontally if one wishes), not up and down. With the idea of down and up bow, a lot of people lift the elbow up on the up-bow and drop it down at the start of the down-up. This can create both an instability because of the sudden shift in weight, or a scratch as it interferes with the direction of the vibration of the string. The idea is that once the weight is on the string, the elbow remains at the same height throughout the stroke. Of course the elbow changes height if one changes string.

The advantage of this is that as the string vibrate from side to side and the bridge rocks from side to side, the more the stroke maintains this motion and does not make false vertical motions, the greater the purity of the sound (or the less distortions to the sound as the string is not hindered in the direction of its vibration).

Hope this makes more sense...

Cheers!

February 25, 2013 at 01:21 PM · Hi Christian

Yes, I think I get that! Fortunately the lifting of the elbow up and down on change of stroke isn't one of my faults. I really agree about the one level for each string and I've been consistant with that from students days. (Well, it's student days again for me - I'm trying to do things I should have put right years ago ...)

February 25, 2013 at 01:45 PM · Mathew - Have you ever played the wine glass harp thingy? You know, using your finger to "bow" the edge of the wine glass that's filled up with some water?

February 25, 2013 at 02:47 PM · Hello!

As a somewhat beginner, I have recently made huge strides in all of these areas of difficulty (Particularly with bow bouncing on downbows, a terrible problem with the bow sliding all over the strings, and of course a problem with the bow seeming to pass over the G String producing odd or little to no sound at all) so I thought i would share some of my realizations with you.

Lets start with the bouncing down-bows. Theres alot of things that contribute to it from what ive found in my research, however i found that the biggest 2 from least to greatest are 1: Crooked bowing and 2: a stiff and/or uncurved pinky. (This is considering that the placement of your hand on the bow is mostly correct) Forcing my pinky to have a bend in it causes it to act as a shock absorber. Think of the shocks in a car. Take them off and hit a small bump in the road and you are bouncing all over the place. Put them on and you didnt even realize the bump was there. Ive found fixing my pinky only completely resolved my bow bouncing when i corrected my crooked bow which i will get to next. (Also Note: The thumb should have the same bent shape espcially on downbows)

As far as a crooked bow, not having the bow straight caused my bow to slide all over the strings. It was very frustrating and i couldn't figure out why it was happening. Partly i found that 'pressure' had something to do with it but ill touch on that in a minute, the main point i'm getting at is that what 'looks' to be a straight bow from the perspective of your eyes while playing is completely crooked if you look into a mirror, not so much on G and D but absolutely on A and E due to the curvature of a properly set bridge (curving down towards the E string) and the angle of the violin. When the bow is perfectly straight on the A or E string, from the perspective of your eyes while playing it will look as though the tip of the bow is shifted towards the front of the violin and the frog is pulled towards you a bit. If you check in the mirror, its perfectly straight, and its caused by an illusion created by the angle of the violin to your eyes. This is how it all worked out for me at least with the way i hold the violin. Also the upper arm needs to be in the correct position at all times otherwise the bow will start straight, but wind up crooked. The best trick i found was to stand with the back of your upper arm against a wall. Start a downbow at the frog and the upper-arm should start lifted off the wall slightly, about 1/5th of the way down the bow the arm touches the wall and stays there until about 4/5ths of the way down where it will come off again as the bow nears the tip. Reverse that process for an up-bow.

Lastly, let me touch on pressure and tone with a tense arm. As others have stated if you set the bow on the strings roughly in the middle and completely relax your arm (in that order) you can feel the weight of your arm slightly putting pressure on the bow. It doesnt feel like much at all, but its just enough. Its hard to describe, but when you need a slight amount of additional pressure such as when playing on the G string, all of that weight for me is provided by resistance in the wrist. This is where a teacher is great because its near impossible to put in text, but if the wrist is completely relaxed its going to naturally want to bend backwards due to the weight of your arm. The wrist counter-acting that natural tendency to bend backwards is where all my additional weight comes from on my bow.

I hope any of the above helps you out as i know how frustrating these exact problems can be.

February 25, 2013 at 03:06 PM · PRONATION! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pronation

Pronation - that is how one applies arm weight to the bow through the fingers and about the thumb as a fulcrum.

The arm should pronate more as you approach the tip of the bow and less and less as you approach the frog.

The excess weight of the arm may become apparent to you as changing pressure of the thumb on the bow, since different force is required when you are playing with different parts of the bow.

Several of us old folks who have developed significant tremors in our hands are still able to draw a smooth bow because we hold it without tension- so you can too! (Actually I consider that I don't really "hold" the bow except when it is not on the strings - or for some special percussive strokes.)

Andy

February 25, 2013 at 09:13 PM · There's a lot of useful advice here to try out!

And a lot to respond to, which I'll do in no sensible order:

The potato peeler analogy is an interesting one. It seems like "relaxed" in this context plays into the shocks in a car concept, keeping the wheel/peeler/bow in constant contact with the road/potato/string.

I have tried the wine glass thing pretty recently actually, and it seemed a pretty good comparison to me.

It seems like the consensus is that pressure on the bow comes from arm weight. But that still leaves the problem of how to transfer that weight. Do you use the muscles in your wrist just enough to keep it flat? It seem like pronating your forearm is an insufficient explanation, since if you don't tighten your fingers at all, they just come off the bow (except your thumb and index finger).

I used to be uncomfortable with the frog, but not so much anymore. And now the bounce/trembling seems most pronounced in the middle.

I haven't payed attention to if my elbow level is changing, so I'll have to investigate.

I'm unfamiliar with the picking of the string concept, and I'm not sure I understand.

February 25, 2013 at 11:54 PM · I'm in the camp that thinks no advice short of a good teacher is going to help teach proper bowing- and I think teachers who can teach the skill are very valuable. That being said, I think the potato peeler analogy is valuable because after a lifetime of peeling, much of it unconscious, your body learns exactly which little muscles are needed to perform the skill, and it doesn't use any more than the bare minimum necessary to accomplish the task. It also uses the necessary muscles in the exact sequence and amount needed, with no tension. Which gets back to the teacher- it's impossible to know exactly which muscles are needed and when in advance- so it's a very circular process.

Something above also reminded me that the French words for bowing translate to "push" and "pull" and these are more accurate than "up" and "down" bows.

February 26, 2013 at 02:02 PM · Once you get alignment and general "geometry" issues fixed, you may want to try less pressure with the index finger, and a very little skooch more pinky pressure.

In fact, don't think of it as pressure. Think of it as balancing the bow to be lighter on the string. Don't seize up the hand -- just make a minor shift in balance. Many times, a bounce happens because you are putting too much force down to the string, which causes the springiness to go into oscillation. (OK, I admit it: I'm an engineer!)

Think of the right hand as doing a delicate balancing act, while holding a live bird between your fingers.

February 26, 2013 at 03:26 PM · Hi Matthew, when we speak of tension in violin playing, it has mostly to do with incoordination and parasitic movements.

Parasitic movements, a term used by Moshe Feldenkrais, are those which serve no purpose, and as the term suggests, may interfere with desired movements. Of course some parasitic movements are more harmful than others in a given context. Holding the shoulders shrugged is an example of a movement harmful to bowing efficiently.

Coordination and good, efficient movement have a lot to do with learning to inhibit unwanted movement, or learning to selectively engage only the muscles needed for the job. Reciprocal inhibition describes a well coordinated movement in which the muscles on one side of a moving joint release as the muscles on the other side engage. For example, when we pull a downbow from mid-bow to tip, we engage our triceps to extend the elbow while the biceps relax, and engage the pecs to swing the upperarm foreward as the rear deltoids relax. If we haven't properly trained this release of the opposing muscle, the resulting braking action causes unwanted tension. In the 'downbow' motion we need to learn to inhibit the biceps and the rear deltoids. To keep the upper arm at the proper level of the string, we engage the middle delts, but to be 'relaxed' we need to learn to inhibit the upper trapezius (shrugging muscles) and latissimus dorsi (antagonist to the middle delts.) Efficient use of muscles is also context dependent. For slower string crossing motions, to cross from a lower (in pitch) string to an upper string, we need only to release the middle delt. To engage the lats would be overkill, parasitic. But for fast and/or big string crosses, the lats must kick in.

It's difficult to tell exactly what might be causing the bounce in your bowing without seeing you in action, but you might want to check a few things.

Causes of excess tension which might affect your bowing directly or indirectly (and/or long term health):

1) Clenching the jaw

2) Twisting the neck, and/or craning the neck forward

3) Clamping down with jaw and/or neck, often in conjunction with

4) Clamping up with left shoulder

5) Shrugging with upper trapezius

6) Pressing down shoulder with lower trapezius, rhomboids, latissimus dorsi

7) Over extending thoracic spine and/or lumbar spine

Many of the muscles involved in the above list are postural muscles. So called "good posture" might look good, but if excessive, or 'stuck', can impact bowing, especially in softer dynamics. Once 'good posture' is ingrained, it must evolve into a dynamic and fluid posture, balanced but 'ready to move,' and appropriate for context.

8) Holding the shoulder joint, and/or the elbow, and/or the wrist, and/or the base knuckles, by contracting any two (or more, in the shoulder and thumb) opposing muscles at the same time.

9) Holding the breath

10) Creating rotational tension through the spine (shoulders rotated relative to hips,) or hip sockets. Depending on proportions and stature, a symmetrical stance can cause tension in the upper body and shoulders for some.

11) Holding poor alignment in the body: too much forward lean ingrained as upright, i.e. balancing generally on the toes rather than the heels, locked knees, pelvis tilted back ('tucking the tail' a.k.a. tight a** ... er... butt,) poor spinal coordination (i.e. a part of the spine, lumbar, thoracic, cervical, doesn't respond to movement in another part)

12) Using a setup which doesn't work for body type

13) Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, lack of coordination, or employing contradictory motions in the arm and hand. Engaging opposing muscles at the same time would fall into this category, but the larger issue involves timing and sequence, which is also important for left hand technique, and the interaction between the two sides. As you mentioned it's better to 'get' the simple action, such as reaching, rather than having to breakdown the compound motion, just as it's usually better to show than describe. But sometimes it helps to break down the component actions one step at a time before putting them back together again into a single, simple action.

For example, when bowing with a 'straight bow' from frog to tip, the proper sequence is as follows: the upper arm swings back until the elbow opens to 90 degrees, afterwhich, the upper arm swings forward again as the elbow continues to open, with the bow at 90 degrees to the string. If the elbow opens too soon, or too late, or if the upper arm doesn't change from swinging back to swinging forward again, just at the right moment, the bow goes 'crooked.' In a similar vein, the proper coordination in the hand on a down bow is as follows: as the arm starts moving, the wrist opens, the base knuckles open and the fingers curl. If the wrist (and/or base knuckles) closes on a down-bow, there will be excessive pressure, to which many students respond by lightening the upper arm, resulting in a loss of traction. As was mentioned, the wrist and fingers can act like shock-absorbers and provide a cushion on which the arm rides. Of course the details of how all this happens depends on bow hold type, placement of fingers, violin hold (height, angle, tilt angle,) which, in turn, is affected by stature, proportions, alignment, mobility.

Applying traction with the weight of the arm mostly involves controlling the middle deltoids in concentric (i.e. as the muscle shortens, as you raise the upper arm) and eccentric (i.e. as the muscle lengthens, as you drop the upper arm) contractions. Except in loud dynamics or forceful bowing, flexing the lats disrupts traction with too much pressure, but perhaps worse, can cause a sympathetic simultaneous contraction of the biceps/triceps, locking the elbow and most certainly disrupting bow control. The other difficulty with assimilating the concept of applying weight with the upper arm has also to do with coordination. The effect of releasing the mid-delts to apply upper arm weight can by cancelled by a simultaneous external rotation of the shoulder, and also by raising the hand/dipping the wrist (extending the wrist,) and when playing at the tip, releasing pronation (or the lean of the fingers onto the bow.) So to apply weight implies coordinating those motions to keep the weight of the upper arm funnelled onto the bow, through the fingertips.

Of course the great difficulty with applying weight is the asymmetrical balance of the bow. Here it helps to know precisely where to counterbalance the weight of the bow and where to start pouring on the weight. Every bow has a slightly different balance point, but it's roughly at the lower third of the bow, toward the frog. Start by playing around the balance point using only the weight of the bow, with a feeling of no added weight from the arm. Bowing toward the frog from the balance point on an up-bow involves counterbalancing the weight of the bow. Bowing toward the tip from the balance point on a down-bow involves releasing the upperarm and leaning the fingers into the bow. Again the details will depend on your manner of handling the bow. Mapping out weight distribution along the bow is essential to being able to draw an even tone. After you get used to weight distribution, or what's 'simpler', playing with even tone throughout the bow, you can then start scanning for parasitic movements to see if and how they affect your bowing and tone.

Along the lines of playing wine glasses and peeling potatoes, imagine painting a straight line on the plane of each string. Imagine how you might maintain the same thickness of the line if a brush were mounted on your bow and you were drawing the bow at the frog, the middle, the tip of the bow. Let's make it a stiff brush to approximate the traction required between bow-hair and string. Imagine what might happen if you lifted and released the upper arm with the middle delts. Imagine what would happen if you got used to drawing an even line back and forth, then suddenly flexed the wrist, or seized the elbow.

Hope it helps.

Further reading: http://www.bettermovement.org/2012/parasitic-movements/

February 27, 2013 at 01:12 PM · "I have taught myself new manual skills lately. We have a high shelf in the kitchen for cereals etc. I bought one of those long handled pickers with a trigger control. I manage all sorts of delicate moves now without a teacher`s help."

Are you sure a teacher could help? Or are you beyond a teacher's help? Maybe it should be more brain orientated rather than manual.

"Manuel? Who aked him? If you had a wife like Mr Clees maybe you would need manual help. Like murder ... *

* This needs translation for people outside the UK - John will provide it.

But it just goes to show that we ALL in the UK are totally bonkers.

February 27, 2013 at 07:32 PM · See here for the most useful advice I've found on how to "get the power down" without tension or shaking:

Written for cello, but it's easy to adapt for violin.

A related cello site with excellent, Rolland-inspired advice.

Haven't found anything this helpful on the fiddle pedagogy sites, but would be delighted if someone knows of anything...

February 27, 2013 at 08:07 PM · Oh yes - one more thing.

I noticed that good players were generally moving their bows much faster than me, and using more bow for the same note-length.

Simon Fischer is always saying how most things on the violin can be explained with simple ratios. The slower you move the bow, the harder you have to press to get the same volume - simple physics. So a faster bow allows you to reduce the pressure. Obvious when you think about it, but I'm constantly falling back into bad habits with a slow bow and heavy pressure... Something that needs to be actively developed, I think.

I'm a self-taught amateur so the usual health-warnings apply.

February 27, 2013 at 08:19 PM · "The slower you move the bow, the harder you have to press to get the same volume - simple physics. So a faster bow allows you to reduce the pressure. Obvious when you think about it, but I'm constantly falling back into bad habits with a slow bow and heavy pressure... Something that needs to be actively developed, I think.

I'm a self-taught amateur so the usual health-warnings apply."

I think I should add that it's not quite as simple as that.

If you play a slow bow very near the bridge you get a big sound, especially if its a very long note. The amount of pressure is dictated by (1) the ability of the instrument to produce a big sound and (2)the amount of pressure versus speed that the sound will take without crunching.

February 27, 2013 at 08:24 PM · You're right, of course - I should have said:

"at any specific sound point the slower you move the bow the harder you need to press"

If that's not correct, please let me know because I'm misunderstanding something fundamental!

February 28, 2013 at 02:35 PM · Geoff Caplan wrote:

but I'm constantly falling back into bad habits with a slow bow and heavy pressure...

If you have a habit on doing that to achieve the same volume, it's because your instrument didn't respond different to different bowing.

A "responsive" instrument will tell you that heavy and slow bow doesn't sound the same as light and fast bow. My experiences on this is, lighter (but not floating) bow with faster bowing speed sounded more "throwing", useful when big volume is needed but still maintaining smooth tone. More weight with slightly slower bowing speed (you can't go to too fast with more weight on the strings anyway or you'll find yourself go sharp) will give more edgy sound, good for aggressive music when you don't want your instrument to sound gentle.

Also, more weight on bow most likely going to accentuate the attack of the sound, which will not work for everything.

February 28, 2013 at 03:29 PM · John is right.

To give an example, the opening of the G major string trio of Beethoven has two minims in 4/4 so each note is half the bar in slow time (adagio) - 4 beats to each note. The first note (a B on E string) has also a crushed chord before it (G,D B), and the second note is a G a third down. The only way to play these notes ff as marked is with a slow bow very near the bridge.

February 28, 2013 at 04:33 PM · Casey -

Useful insights, but it's not my instrument - it works pretty well with a wide range of bowings - it's simply that I have a health issue that affects my stamina and I find slow bowing less tiring. I just have to work on building my endurance.

My understanding is that reducing tension and playing with the momentum of the arm is the key, which is what I focus on.

February 28, 2013 at 05:19 PM · Geoff Caplan,

Sorry for the assumptions!

March 2, 2013 at 01:07 PM · Watch the angle of your bow stroke and use the pinky to help maintain the bow's balance if you're not already doing so.

March 13, 2013 at 08:33 PM · I've made pretty significant progress on this issue, so I feel like I should follow up.

I started out trying an exercise where I held only the bow in the middle position, supporting the tip with my left hand. Then I used my left hand to push the bow into tip position, allowing everything on my right side to flex to allow this to happen.

This made it pretty evident that I was dropping my elbow, and I think it helped my muscles learn what they needed to do.

I did this for a couple of hours a day, for a few days.

Then I tried playing, thinking about what somebody else here posted about being well supported but flexible. I thought about this in relation to my posture as well as my movements. I also thought about how I needed to avoid extraneous movements to accomplish the task. Just thinking about this made a profound difference.

I also tried closing my eyes, and just focusing on the sound I was producing, and how to solve the problem of changing the sound as to produce the sound I wanted. And pretty much magically, everything gradually began to resolve itself.

What definitely didn't work was staring in a mirror trying to manage the movement. It was probably good for getting the basic straightness of the bow and arm mechanics down, but not for actually learning how to do it well.

What also didn't work was trying to relax or avoid tension, because the way I interpretated relaxation and avoiding tension was bad.

It seems that when I open my eyes, I start trying to micromanage my actions again, but I'm just starting to get to the point where I can open my eyes and still play.

March 13, 2013 at 08:40 PM · I find that drinking a bottle of single malt whiskey before I play each day makes me very relaxed.

March 14, 2013 at 09:16 AM · Peter, do the fumes damage the varnish? Does it need to be a single malt? I only ask for reasons of economy.

Cheers Carlo

March 14, 2013 at 10:47 AM · Carlo

Any whiskey will do, and it will be OK for the varnish, if its a spirit varnish.

Just avoid breathing over your maiden aunt or she might strike a match ...

March 18, 2013 at 12:06 AM · More follow-up:

I tried playing with my eyes open and paying attention to my motions. At first the normal jerky motions from micromanagement happened, but then I got into this mindset where I could listen and feel what I was doing, and adjust accordingly.

I think that closing my eyes for a while taught me to use my ears to adjust my movements.

It kind of seems like sculpting, not that I've ever done that. You start out with the basic concept (the blank), and then you use yours ears to work it down to the correct movements.

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Annapolis Bows & Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of Violinist.com in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews.

Violinist.com Interviews Volume 1
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn

Violinist.com Interviews Volume 2
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine

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