Sarah's bow arm

September 28, 2015 at 01:39 AM · The mechanics of the right arm during violin bowing could fill many a thesis - one of the biggest challenges is not just to learn the motions but to integrate all the pieces into one effective whole. I'm sure that most here, like me, have looked at videos of the greats trying to find The Clue. And also like me have been stymies by the conclusion that they don't seem to be doing anything special! Of course doing nothing special doesn't work at all!

I was watching this video of Sarah Chang playing Sarasate's Carmen fantasy when the photographer, I'm sure entirely accidentally, filmed her bow arm along the axis of her upper arm: thus, you could see her forearm and hand motion unobscured by the up-down action of the bow itself. This view ws maintained for a delicious 34 whole seconds (7.28-8.02) and was, at least for me, transformative.

Chang Carmen fantasy

There are two main points that I notice (I'm sure others will see more). The first is that there is a small up-down action of the upper arm (hinging on the shoulder - which stays down) like the action of a bird wing. This I have been taught but its nice to see it in action.

The other action is much more dramatic: the hand curls at the wrist when the bow is at the frog and straightens at the tip. The consequence of this is that the bow is flat on the string while at the tip but on its R edge at the frog. Again I have heard of this as an outcome but have never seen it executed - Sarah does it so naturally and with such a relaxed hand it is easy to see why she would seem to be doing nothing in a more usual side-view.

Perhaps this is old had to many of you - but as a teaching and demonstration shot I think it quite a collectors piece.

Incidentally, the performance is delightful. Although she is a little OTT in the first few bars she settles down to give a spirited, emotive and compelling performance that captures not only the vast audience (I don't know where this was shot - NY central park??) but creates a unique relationship with the conductor - none other than Placido Domingo (who, though looking a bit uncomfortable with the baton does a stellar job).

Replies (22)

September 28, 2015 at 04:04 AM · I really enjoyed this, thanks for the link Elise.

I went back to 7:00 and you can see how her bow arm is boxed out, and then you also get a good shot of her bow hold before 7:28. The passage you referred to is some fingered harmonics and those consume a lot of bow (in my experience, at least) and I think that's why we are getting such a nice lesson in long legato bowing here.

Personally I don't care for the piece (or really anything by Sarasate) but that's just my own preference. The video that came on afterward was Sarah Chang playing the Sibelius D Minor and that's one hell of a concerto, and that video also has some good close-ups of her bowing technique.

September 28, 2015 at 07:26 AM · Greetings,

good idea for discussion and interesting commentary . I am wondering if I understand this correctly though:

'The other action is much more dramatic: the hand curls at the wrist when the bow is at the frog and straightens at the tip. The consequence of this is that the bow is flat on the string while at the tip but on its R edge at the frog. Again I have heard of this as an outcome but have never seen it executed -'

There are different schools of thought on how much tilt to the bow that errs into the intensity of the shoulder rest debate. However, even though some wonderful players say they play with a completely flat bow hair this is , in my experience, never the objective cad rand is very easy to check visually. Of cours ei am only referring to when they approach the heel of the bow. For almost everyone. the bow tilting to us else's hair as one approaches the heel is the default action unless one want to create a very unnatural and detrimental wrist position. That is why I am confuse day the notion that you have never seen such an effetc.

Best wishes,

Buri

September 28, 2015 at 08:00 AM · Buri,

I think its one of those 'tacit' things - most discussions on the subject argue either for tilted or for flat, not for a regular exchange. For example right here:

http://www.violinist.com/discussion/response.cfm?ID=22614

I didn't read every post but not one that I looked at suggested that flat-edge is a natural cycle for legato bowing. I have found that it is the key to establishing an even full tone for my playing.

The main reason this caught my eye was in the elusive explanation for why great violinists have such a relaxed R hand - its often so relaxed you can't figure out why it doesn't drop, let alone make the kind of tone Sarah is capable of.

September 28, 2015 at 08:46 AM · Greetings,

Simon Fischer actually posted the same point in a flat versus tilted discussion here but that may have been a few years back now.

Cheers,

Buri

September 28, 2015 at 02:47 PM · There is some sort of patented frog design that has the hair tilted at like 15 degrees or something like that to compensate for the biomechanical tilt that always occurs, thereby actually allowing for flat hair all the way up and down the stroke.

Great video!

September 28, 2015 at 03:01 PM · Last time I had a master class lesson the teacher specifically advised the group to strive for tilted hair at the frog and then flatten out as you reach midbow for long legato bowing. Maybe the reason we don't see this advice being given is because it's kind of putting the cart before the horse and something that happens organically from good bow hold, hand, and wrist positions.

I know what you mean about relaxed hands of the pros, hands that mostly don't seem to be doing anything. But I think it only seems that way. I think they've just learned to minimize/optimize motion to conserve energy and thereby increase their overall stamina. It's interesting that there are a few great violinists who often look like their right hand is tense, such as Mutter. Probably that is just an illusion too. There's no way she could have such a career for so long with a tense right hand.

September 28, 2015 at 03:21 PM · Probably a miss-perception on my part or camera angle or something but to me near the it looked like the bow rolled away from her onto the other side of the ribbon of hair. About a half foot from the frog, high position and sound point near bridge. Optometrist in January.

September 28, 2015 at 07:23 PM · Paul: I think a relaxed hand (and arm, and shoulder... and foot-pinkie) is essential for great tone. I've been doing about 30 minutes of this bow-exercise twice a day for a week and the violin sometimes resonates as if its going to burst its seams. Its probably my relaxed toe-pinkie...

Dave: I didn't catch that (flipping the bow at the tip) but maybe that's the price of short arms. Which brings us to the other mystery: how do these tiny people command the violin when tall people like myself struggle to reach?? Actually, I have some ideas about that for another topic one day...

September 28, 2015 at 08:18 PM · Nope this flip was near the frog. If it really existed. I'm waiting for the day when a method book shows a 300+ lb gorilla in its pictorial exemplars. I'm tired of these children and young ladies demonstrating violin form.

September 28, 2015 at 09:44 PM · Sarah Chang exemplifies in many ways the Dorothy Delay American style of bow hold and approach to sound. So, I think one has to understand it in that context. The rather large separation of the index is characteristic, and the wrist motion is for getting as much weight and "digging in" as possible, perhaps in contrast to a more lateral approach to sound production. You can hear the NY setup in the sound-post to accommodate that approach to tone production. So, like anything, you have to look at it within a whole context rather than simply isolated movements, IMVHO.

In my opinion, titling of the bow is more the result of hand structure and bow used if not done artificially than anything else. Again, part of a whole setup.

Cheers!

September 28, 2015 at 10:19 PM · There were also a couple spots (10:55 and 11:40)

where she jumped! Danial Heifetz was talking about this in one of the blogs Laurie did of his school.

Wish I could find it and reread what he said...

September 29, 2015 at 09:29 AM · "The mechanics of the left arm during violin bowing could fill many a thesis"

I always found that the mechanics of the right arm influence my bowing more ;-)

September 29, 2015 at 09:34 AM · Hi Christian,

You wrote: "You can hear the NY setup in the sound-post to accommodate that approach to tone production." What the heck is a 'NY setup in the sound-post'?

and: "In my opinion, titling of the bow is more the result of hand structure and bow used if not done artificially than anything else." I'm not sure I agree, it seems that some rotation of the bow at the frog is the natural action for any arm. It also has the advantage of reducing hair contact with the string and helping to keep the volume even during the stroke. However, I find it really helps my hand to relax and, paradoxically, the tone has become much more intense.

September 29, 2015 at 10:36 AM · ""The mechanics of the left arm during violin bowing could fill many a thesis"

I always found that the mechanics of the right arm influence my bowing more ;-)"

Ahha! So thats what I'm doing wrong!

Sometimes I wonder if I am lexdisish....

September 29, 2015 at 12:11 PM · Hi Elise,

What the heck is a 'NY setup in the sound-post'?

A NY soundpost setup is one where the post is slightly longer and set rather tightly. René Morel did this a lot, and I think pioneered it, but I am not entirely sure, so don't quote me on that one. It allows the instrument to take much more bow pressure, in a way by limiting the freedom of the plates. Some modern makers near NY have even put discs that would normally be associated with a soundpost repair in new instruments to accomodate this. It goes along with a certain approach to sound and tone production.

Yes "some rotation of the bow at the frog is the natural action for any arm." I agree that it helps on many levels. But, a softer bow that needs to be tighten more, will often end up have greater tilt that a stiffer one. Also, bow hold and other elements of setup can play a role. For example, Sarah's extension/separation of the index further will cause a lower wrist a the tip than if the index was closer to the rest of the hand. Most all things are interdependent.

Have to run. Hope this helps.

Cheers!

September 29, 2015 at 02:54 PM · Yes, Sarah Chang was a Dorothy Delay student, but rolling the wrist/bow goes way back in Russian teaching of bowing. I know because my teachers came out of that tradition. It is not an affectation. Dorothy, and many Russian teachers (probably others as well) teach this movement for sound reasons. The forearm rolls the bow to put the weight of the frog onto the finger tips when the frog is near the strings. This produces even volume across the bow stroke without having to think much about maintaining constant volume. Absent this roll move, the additional weight of the frog increases volume at the bow end of a stroke - not good.

In my own case, this movement was taught in beginning lessons.

September 29, 2015 at 03:57 PM · Hi Mike,

I agree. The difference though in the Russia school vs what Sarah is doing is the bow hold. The idea is the same but the outcome and reasons are different.

Cheers!

September 29, 2015 at 08:14 PM · Ehm, once you struck your thumb painfully against the bridge when approaching the frog during quick bows, you will learn to tilt the bow at the frog very quickly, regardless of violin school.

September 30, 2015 at 12:00 AM · LOL! Pavel - actually with me it was hitting the corner when bowing on the E string. That's what started my quest for a solution. But the outcome was way more than I expected.

[And thanks for the NY setup explanation Christian, I had never heard of that before.]

September 30, 2015 at 11:07 AM · Elise - you're welcome!

September 30, 2015 at 11:07 AM · edit: posted above twice for some reason

October 3, 2015 at 07:50 PM · And this one: (copy and paste) https://youtu.be/gpS_u5RvMpM?t=3m11s

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