Bowing from the shoulder

June 30, 2015 at 11:27 PM · Here is the link:

The playing sounds wonderful, but is this really how I should try to play these passages? It just looks like the stroke is coming from the shoulder a lot of the time. Even in the close-up shots you can tell because of the way the bow angle changes on the string during the stroke, that the player's wrist is basically locked.


July 1, 2015 at 02:44 AM · I'm fairly overtired, but I do not see anything wrong with how he's bowing. The tux is giving off an illusion he's only using his shoulder but as with the piece, he's using the correct movements from elbow, forearm, whole arm, etc depending on bowing need. Far as his wrist, they're fluid enough. Thinking you need your wrists to be flapping about like a wild chicken while playing is both silly and wrong.

July 1, 2015 at 03:02 AM · In "The Way They Play" Milstein advocates initiating bowing from the shoulder..

But this does not imply locking elbow nor wrist.

July 1, 2015 at 07:02 AM · Nothing wrong as others have said, at all. Adrian's Milstein comment was also spot on. Good confident bowing technique. Also a good example in the development section of the use of the martelato stroke, which has been discussed in another thread on bowing. (Pity though that the orchestra strings played the same material at the heel to middle rather than as the soloist from middle to point. It would have given a tighter clarity. Unless they had all been on the Claret ...)

He can't be much good though as he uses a shoulder rest ... (wink)

July 1, 2015 at 07:19 AM · Greetings,

can`t see it either. Look how beaurifully relaxed and elegant the wrist is in the opening few notes. Typical horrendously tight hair for classic FB style. the jacket does move up but it also does for the concertmaster. They must have the same tailor.

Probably be a million times better without the rest ....or not.



July 1, 2015 at 07:44 AM · Now THIS is what you call bowing from the shoulder!

Strange technique, but he's a wonderful fiddler with a great sound. Just goes to show that touch and freedom trump external form...

July 1, 2015 at 08:32 AM · A good crushed sound on every note. Or maybe too much. Good in Brahms concerto. Ricci would have said the sound should have had a little more air ...

July 1, 2015 at 08:39 AM · I also note that his bow is never parallel to the bridge. (Capucon that is!) Heifetz bowed that way too. (As do many others).

(I should say not parallel at the point).

It looked like the orchestra were following the soloist and ignoring the conductor, who seemed to be on another planet.

July 1, 2015 at 09:30 AM · Perhaps Heifetz should have use a shoulder rest?

July 1, 2015 at 09:30 AM · Oops! ((DDoouubbllee ppoosstt))

July 1, 2015 at 11:21 AM · Are you making a parellel point Adrian, or giving me the cold shoulder rest?

July 1, 2015 at 11:25 AM · "the jacket does move up but it also does for the concertmaster. They must have the same tailor."

You mean they had a tailor and looked like that! T shirt and jeans would have been much better.

July 1, 2015 at 01:03 PM · Good players indeed do not always play with the bow geometrically parallel to the bridge. However, most of the time they keep the bow on the same sound point on the string for the length of the stroke, unless there is a good reason not to.

It is the lesser skilled player who not only plays with the bow not parallel to the bridge but also skitters it away from the sound point to the detriment of the tone. It is therefore understandable why most teachers place great emphasis on the beginner playing parallel to the bridge in order to avoid straying from the chosen sound point.

July 1, 2015 at 01:12 PM · Thank you all for your responses so far. I should have been perhaps more specific about what I am seeing in the video. If you don't mind, please look at 2:20 and 3:00 in the video and again at 6:00 and 7:25. Even though it is somewhat zoomed in, the way his bow is moving looks like his wrist and elbow are essentially locked and he is playing the passages entirely from the shoulder.

I agree with Buri that his bow movement in the opening bars looks absolutely gorgeous, but I meant the other passages. And as far as his bow being tight, I noticed that too. But I heard that older bows can lose the tension in the stick and maybe his stick needs to look tighter in order to behave correctly in terms of actual tension that is present.

I love Capucon's trills and his vibrato although I think Mutter's vibrato is more interesting in this piece.

July 1, 2015 at 01:16 PM · Regarding Trevor's excellent point, I suppose I was addressing the more advanced players or at least ones that have got quite a way along the path. i would certainly agree that beginners and less advanced players have to learn to stay on the soundpoint before deviating to more exotic places.

In fact I have often to remind myself where I am meaning to play, and that is also a listening thing where you might hear a slight loss in sound quality.

I'm also discovering how bad i am at doing short off the string down, up, up (quavers in 6/8) followed by a quaver rest and then two slurred bowed quavers, and how the hand has to adjust from pinky control to first finger control. (Beethoven A major vln sonata first movement) The whole sonata looks dead easy but its not!

Paul: I don't quite understand when you say - he is at the point and the heel (in/out).

I see his bow at the point at an angle away from the bridge, and at the heel more or less straight. But maybe my eyesight is bad.

July 1, 2015 at 01:23 PM · Peter, I edited my post to try to be more clear by indicating the specific spots in the piece where I think he is "bowing from the shoulder." I should have done that at the outset. The times are 2:20 and 3:00 and again at 6:00 and 7:25.

July 1, 2015 at 07:52 PM · I'm puzzled why YouTube, in its undoubted wisdom, elected to categorize the 8th Rozek video as "comedy".

July 1, 2015 at 07:53 PM · Divine comedy?

July 1, 2015 at 07:54 PM · I don't see anything particularly at 2.20 and 3.00 - it's just normal bowing.

July 1, 2015 at 09:04 PM · There are a few different approaches to bow technique and in particular where the impulse of the bow stroke starts from, or rather which part of the arm is used to initiate bow strokes and bow changes.

One extreme is initiating the stroke solely from the forearm with the elbow joint used for the swinging motion. This is the motion advocated by the traditional Franco Belgian and Galamian schools and something you will see many of Delay's students playing with ie Sarah Chang, Midori, etc.

The 'Russian' school people associate with Heifetz, Milstein, etc. tended to emphasize starting the stroke from the upper arm and shoulder. Some argue that this is less tiring and more efficient. Milstein in particular was a big advocate of bowing from the shoulder muscle. The modern Russian school is more of a hybrid--see Bron and his students.

There is no single correct way to bow, and many modern soloists utilize both approaches depending on what the repertoire calls for--Vengorov is a good example. Players tend to fall somewhere on a spectrum between the two and adapt depending on how they were taught, their body proportions, and what feels most natural for them.

There tends to be this sort of pedagogy tug of war between the two approaches fueled on by teachers who insist that their approach to bowing is the -correct- way to do it and that anything else is "wrong" but really both work just fine and it's up to players to experiment and find the most efficient play style for themselves.

So next time you see someone play from the shoulder, it's important to evaluate the whole of their technique and see how well it integrates into the rest of their playing rather than just say "this is wrong."

To end, here's an example of playing from the upper arm by Yu Chien Tseng, who just won the Tchaikovsky Competition earlier today.

July 1, 2015 at 11:29 PM · Austin, I'm glad you can at least see and acknowledge what I'm getting at. I appreciated your remarks. When I was taught detache bowing, I was not taught to play from the shoulder like that, my teachers emphasized a smooth arm motion that maintained the bow parallel to the bridge. Capucon's bow does not seem to be staying anywhere near parallel to the bridge especially in the passage at 3:00 (but note what happens when he switches to all-upbow portato at the end of the phrase, what a difference, suddenly perfectly parallel), so it seemed "incorrect" to me in the context of what I'd been taught. But it plainly works just fine for Capucon, he gets a very good sound, and it did seem odd that such a well-regarded player would allow some kind of grade-school flaw to infiltrate his technique. That is why I asked the question. Perhaps this method of playing detache is something I will learn later on when I become more advanced.

July 2, 2015 at 06:48 PM · One bit of caution, although I don't see much of a problem with normal people. I am forced to bow entirely from the shoulder because I don't have a wrist. A result has been minor rotator cuff problems that showed up after about 25 years and limit my playing time. Wish I had more flexibility.

July 2, 2015 at 07:00 PM · What I see in Capucon's video is that he is able to go seamlessly from shoulder-detache to what I learned as 'regular' bowing with smooth motion of wrist and elbow joints. I think he only does the shoulder-detache when he wants to create a certain type of effect, just not really sure what the rationale for that is. I'm not connecting the dots.

July 2, 2015 at 09:23 PM · In Heifetz "seems" to be breaking a few bowing "rules" in order to get the desired effect.

July 3, 2015 at 06:48 AM · Paul, a violinist should always bow almost entirely from the shoulder, particularly for playing detache (short strokes). The reason is that it is more natural, relaxed, more effective and much better sounding. You can transfer the weight of your whole arm much better with this style of bowing. You need to use much less of the entire joint motion range at the same time.

If you play "long distance" :-) strokes, (from the frog to the tip), you cannot bow entirely from your shoulder of course. But you can do it for detache, especially near the tip and frog. As for the detache in the middle of the bow, involving also your elbow is appropriate. However, the most important rule: Even if the motion for the detache in the middle of the bow would consist of 20% shoulder and 80% elbow motion, the shoulder motion should be perceived and felt as primary one, much more important. Feelings are very important in the violin play.

This is the most common mistake of beginners. Teaching violin is not easy, so teachers often limit their requirement just on a few priorities. Perfectly straight bowing is often among their priorities unfortunately.

Even for long slow strokes, you should not aim for perfectly rectangular bowing direction. Bowing slightly sidelong will ensure you much better contact and tone. However you need to keep the right directions strictly. Always in front of you bowing down and behind you bowing up. A curve at the tip allows you doing the stroke change much more natural, smooth and relaxed.

I have known this rule from my childhood fortunately. But I have never know how and why it worked. Just now I realized the principle, since I deal with string acoustics. It is caused by the phenomenon, that the string is never being straight when vibrating. This is why you never get rectangular contact point by rectangular and straight bowing. Paradoxically you need to bow slanted to get the rectangular contact point at the particular nanosecond when the bow is griping the string again and again.

You can also observe the right (slanted) long stroke bowing style at the most reputable violinist. Some of them has been taught to do it, some of them build this style instinctively during looking for best tone production.

July 3, 2015 at 01:18 PM · Bohdan, wow, that's very interesting. I'm going to show my teacher this Capucon video and investigate this kind of bowing further. This is something I just never learned. Obviously a violinist like Capucon is not going to choose his bow strokes randomly, there had to be a reason. I appreciate your insight from the physics perspective as well.

July 3, 2015 at 02:20 PM · Trevor

Re Heifetz - yes, see videos of Ricci playing all the Paganini caprices and you will see the same crazy bow angles on up and down bow stacatos. You have to bend the rules to bring off that sort of music.

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