Practicing long notes

July 23, 2013 at 01:56 PM · I'm going to be tackling Schubert's Fantasia in C Major for violin and piano next semester, and I've started practicing it already. The first note alone is probably the hardest thing in the piece. My teacher simply advised me to set the metronome to 60 for the eighth note (which is roughly the tempo I'll be taking for that introduction)and try to gradually increase the amount of notes I can play in a single bow. Is there any other less straightforward method you'd recommend? I feel that what he advised me to do is skipping some crucial step which doesn't allow me to produce the tone I want to.

Replies (21)

July 23, 2013 at 02:42 PM · Well the way I practiced long notes is of course with SCALES :D (yay scales!!). I usually practice rhythms( quarters, eighths, triplets, sixteenths, quintuplets, and sextuplets) with my scales so the metronome is at 40 bpm. To practice long bows I started doing half notes, then whole notes, and then holding for double whole notes. Has you increase how long you hold the note you also have to slow down your bow considerably while still getting a good sound. Make sure that when you do bow these long notes that as you get to the tip you flat your bow hair and as you get the frog you pronate your wrist (bow starts facing toward the fingerboard).

I hope this helps and good luck!!


July 23, 2013 at 06:30 PM · Tomas,

Actually you are sort of asking two different questions. First you're asking how to control a long bow. Then your asking how to approach the first note in the Schubert Fantasie in C.

The Fantasie is probably one of the most difficult pieces to play well. Not one violinist feels comfortable playing this piece (including Heifetz). The pianists aren't very fond of this piece either. My good friend and a very fine pianist said that it was too much trouble and didn't yield enough for all the work you had to put into it. But to answer your first question, playing long bows is a question of good bow control. Since you need to save your bow, the bow will have to move at a slower rate which means that you probably will be bowing closer to the bridge and you should use a flat bow. You control the weight from your arm that you apply to the bow with the fingers and the wrist. The idea is to keep the string vibrating freely so that you achieve a clean tone. Vibrato will help here since it will allow you to get into the string deeper without cracking the tone. Now for the Schubert. The first note begins after a brief piano introduction. There is a built in crescendo as you get to continue the phrase. I actually start this note down bow and change the bow mid-note as the note starts to grow into the phrase. You need to do this skillfully and the vibrato helps in giving you a smooth bow change. Practice long bows but change the bow about midway and see if you can learn to change the bow without disturbing the sound. Then go back to the piece and see if this helps you in making sense out of this phrase. You should only have to change your bow for the first note the other phrases somehow fit better. Although bowing and phrasing does become a personal thing.

July 23, 2013 at 07:20 PM · Greetings,

see if you can find my old blog on son file. Its in Buri`s garden(?)



July 23, 2013 at 09:22 PM · Instead of thinking "save the bow", think "I'm going to move my arm very slowly". This tends to eliminate tension.

July 23, 2013 at 11:23 PM · Joel - I completely disagree with your pianist friend. I adore the wistful, regretful innocence of everything Schubert wrote in his last two years. Last year I played the String Quintet in C Major at my own initiative, and this time I chose the Fantasie as the 'virtuoso piece' which is required for next semester, while all of my peers went for Wieniawski and Ysaÿe. I've done a lot of those pieces, and felt this time around the Fantasie would be a bigger challenge (not to mention the fact that I love it).

But sorry for getting off topic. I understand the basic pointers of playing closer to the bridge and moving the bow slowly. What I can't wrap my head around is the balance between arm weight and suspension. I usually find that the pitch wavers either because I'm weighing too much or because contact with the string is too flimsy. Do you suggest a way to practice achieving this fine balance?

July 24, 2013 at 12:10 AM · I'm not exactly sure what you mean by the pitch varying

I think you mean that the quality of sound varies

There is a difference in adding weight and pressing down on the bow. The bow always has to draw sound which is why Bruce's comment of slow bow rather than saving your bow makes sense regarding tension and the feeling that the bow is constantly moving even if its slow keeping the string vibrating.

With the bow close to the bridge and moving slowly you need to add weight for balance. You should still be able to see the string vibrate as you play otherwise you are choking the tone resulting in poor quality sound

You should experiment with the different sound points varying speed and weight but never press

You should be able to get a good sound on the fiddle no matter what sound point you are playing on

Be conscious of your fingers and your wrist because this is where you transfer the weight that is applied from your arm

Going back to the Schubert I still like to start down bow and change the bow as the note grows this helps prevent choking the sound and it allows the bow to move better

Besides aesthetically it looks better starting the phrase down bow

July 24, 2013 at 04:24 AM · Tomas, I think I understand what you are saying. The 60 min bow saving thingy your teacher asks you to do only addresses the eveness of the bow movement but not immediately the tone production, even though two issues are related. Have you seen Simon Fischer's Tone Production ( DVD)? Check it out.

Alternatively working on one of his books on the tone production excersices should help too. Aside the wrist and arm weight balance, also check you're bow hold, and make sure you fully utilize your 3rd finger to move the bow.

I also agree with you on pitch variation when change bow pressure. That's why i think the 3rd finger, not the index, should be noted.

By the way, Schubert's string quintet is the best chamber work there is and very hard to play. You must be a very strong player to tackle it. I envy you.

July 24, 2013 at 09:13 AM · Greetings,

that@s interesting Yixi. Personally I would not use the son file specifically as an eveness of bow movement although that is obviously much of what it is about.

To develop son file I would start at about 20 seconds and work up over a long period of time. One should look for the best possible sound but at the same time one should ,like in Tai Chi Chuan be moving from n initila struggle and lack of smoothness to an understanding of the dynamic tension and delicacy it requires wich affects all aspects of our bow control.

For actuall eveness of bow speed which adresses the almost universal problem of speeding up when changing bow direction at te heel I divide the bow into 8 parts and set the metronome at 120. Each part must be traveresd in exactly one beat, after mastering this one immediatley begins using only 6 beats so two segments are left unused. if you start right from the heel then the top two are unuses, if you start from the point the bottom two and so on. After doing this a few times change to only four segments used before chnaging direction. Then two , then one.

By means of this exercise one learns to keep a constant bow speed in every single part of the bow. I think if one plays it everyday for a few minutes at the begining of each practice sesison after one week the benifits in tone production become obvious.

Simon Fischers tone production exercises are pretty much the best and simplest available and will, as you suggest, resolve the issues of the ratio between weight, speed and soundpoint extremely well,

Best wishes,


July 24, 2013 at 12:03 PM · Yixi - Thanks for the tips! I've often heard Simon Fischer's books be praised, but I never dug into them myself. I might order all of them once my purchasing power recovers a little bit. And yes, the Quintet is otherworldly. Fortunately our group worked for a whole year on the piece, so we developed good cohesion of intonation, gesture and musical ideas. We got a pretty spectacular grade in our final exam, so I was pleased. We played it live for the radio, too!

Stephen - That sounds like a terrific exercise. It'll definitely come in handy for a lot of other little nuances in the opening phrase of the piece, which require absolute legato and very even and smooth bow changes. I'm finding those to be a challenge.

Just for example's sake, I filmed one of my long open strings. I think the problem I was talking about is clearly noticeable: though the pitch doesn't necessarily 'break', it wavers considerably.

July 24, 2013 at 04:30 PM · Buri, I always wonder if I'm doing son file to its full advantage. I'll try the way you described. Thank you!


July 24, 2013 at 07:14 PM · Greetings,

kee in mind one of the dangers of too much son file. It makes the bow arm sluggish. Its a good idea to follow it up with some rapid wb`s. In fact, Simons exercises would be perfect;)



July 24, 2013 at 09:54 PM · I wish I could have your 'problem' Tomas.

July 26, 2013 at 10:34 PM · Sharelle - I've been studying the violin since I was 4, and I've devoted most of my life to it since I was 13. It's hardly comparable! :)

July 26, 2013 at 10:55 PM · I love Simon Fischer's exercises as well, and thank you Buri for bringing them to my attention these last few years! (I got my copy of The Violin Lesson two weeks ago)

I watched your video, and you certainly get the concepts. It's easier to play a "musical" note, because you'll get the opportunity to change the sound, add vibrato, etc. Many soloists would struggle to play an open string with that slow a bow, and to do it more evenly than you did.

Kreutzer 1 is a great exercise for just this problem, and you can treat it like music as well. Your arm and other "equipment" are up to the task, so it will be about mastering the transitions from one sounding point to another, one bow pressure to another, etc. In other words, I wouldn't obsess about a bare note with no expression for too long. It may be the ideal, but you will find frustration as well. You can come back to it after a time.

Good luck!

July 27, 2013 at 12:53 AM · Nathan - Thank you for the encouragement! What you say is true: I manage a lot better playing the actual C from Schubert's piece, with crescendo, but I see it much like strapping weights on your feet so that you'll run faster when you take them off. I talked to my teacher on the phone and he mentioned an elastic band (?!) as a useful tool for practicing son file. Attach it to something, stretch it almost to breaking point and practice long notes with it tied around your right wrist. I'm not sure what the point is!

And thank you for mentioning Kreutzer 1! For years I thought that étude was irrelevant.

July 27, 2013 at 04:50 PM · Haha! I certainly tried to ignore it when my teacher mentioned that I should practice it. The crescendos on down-bows/dim on up-bows are great challenges, and very satisfying. It's also great rehearsal for shifts that match the "musical" speed of what you're playing (in this case, nice and relaxed, but with a purpose).

July 29, 2013 at 02:30 PM · 1 - Start with short notes in the middle of the bow, then gradually lengthen them symmetrically.

2 - Don't try to make a straight stroke: apart from sunbeams, there are no staight lines in nature, only very flattened curves..

Menuhin, with tremendous problems of bow control as the years went by, kept control of long notes by waving the hand slightly. The bow oscillates but not the sound.

July 29, 2013 at 11:24 PM · "apart from sunbeams, there are no staight lines in nature, only very flattened curves.."

Adrian, even that depends on the gravitational field! The path of light from distant stars is measurably bent as it passes our sun for example.

July 29, 2013 at 11:59 PM · I blame the bra.



July 31, 2013 at 05:39 AM · Eric, I was waiting for that one!

But I suspect that at human speeds, good old Newtononian physics are adequate, never mind a "mass" of posts on "weight" and "pressure"....

August 1, 2013 at 06:44 PM · portato subdivisions by 8ths, quarters, half, etc. help organize the bow, pressure, vibrato, and location re; bridge.

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