Bow Hold, String Crossing and Right Shoulder Ache (PREPARE TO BE BOMBARDED)

Edited: July 25, 2018, 2:54 AM · Nice to meet everyone here! Have been a lurking member for quite a while.

Just a short summary of myself:
I'm a 3 month violinist from a small country called Singapore and am 24 years old. I have a teacher. I am super determined to be a violin busker after completing an unrelated degree.

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC68N8hscmzwrmRlgtbK8COw?view_as=subscriber

I was playing Happy Farmer and Minute 3 from Suzuki Book 1 recently and realised that I have quite a few problems which I can't seem to resolve on my own. Thus, am seeking advice from the violin senpais in this forum.

1) My right shoulder is still aching. I am aware that my right shoulder is high when I'm playing. However, when I drop my shoulder, I have a tendency to drop my elbow as well. Does anyone have cues or videos to solve this issue?

It usually occurs when I am playing upbow towards the frog on the G string

2) My intonation still sucks and uneven.
I have been doing open strings (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NtWGUJcWmns) and 1 min bowing (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WnH6EvvzCk8).

Would it resolve this issue if I do this long enough?

3) My string crossing still sux. While string crossing, I would unintentionally hit neighbouring strings.

Anyone have good videos for this?

4) My bow hold is a bit tense. My right hand is slight rotated to the left. Ever since I have listened to my teacher to bent my pinky while holding the bow, it has resulted in some tension. Bending my pinky requires quite a bit of effort since I am double jointed at the pinky.

I do bend (downbow) and unbend my thumb (upbow).
I have followed this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZMChoF-syJ0

5) Vibrato
I have been using a mix of Joy Lee's Arm Vibrato tutorial (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OLpDZPAF_H4) and Nathan Cole's Vibrato Tutorial (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q3lhoutwB14)

I use point #2 and #3 from Nathan Cole's tutorial (bending at the first knuckle and pulling/pushing from the base knuckle)

a) arm vibrato without the bow
b) arm vibrato without the bow and violin towards the wall
c) vibrato with the bow without the wall (2 vibrato/bow, 60bpm)
d) vibrato with the bow without the wall (4 vibrato/bow)
e) vibrato with the bow without the wall (6 vibrato/bow)

CURRENTLY I AM @ PHASE C!

Would this be alright?

6) I could do BC#DE on A string with ease but I can't seem to find a sweet spot for place my fingers for

->>> BCDE on A string (Song: Happy Farmer/Minute 3)
->>> BCD#E on A string (Song: Gavotte)

If I do place my left thumb to the left of the scroll (thumb can be clearly seen from left of scroll), two things usually occur while playing any of the 2 combinations stated above:

a) I would grip the scroll really tight
b) My third finger/fourth finger would collapse

I have tried placing my left thumb closer to the bottom of the scroll which helped a little. I have rotated my left hand to cause my base knuckles to be parallel to the scroll to create a more ideal arc for my fingers. However, this resulted in some tension.

I have tried strengthening my pinky by placing a tissue in between the pinky's first and base knuckle. (05:00 of Nathan Cole's Pinky Video - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ur2W6Ld6V5c)

Are there any videos or cues on these issues?

SORRY THAT THIS IS SUCH AN-ASS LONG MESSAGE. THANK YOU FELLOW VIOLIN SENAPIS AND HAVE AN AWESOME DAY GUYS!

Replies (18)

July 25, 2018, 6:42 AM · 1. Too many questions!
2. I think you are trying to do too many things at the same time.
3. Vibrato is not something to worry about at 3 months
4. What does your teacher say about all this?
July 25, 2018, 10:13 AM · I think Andrew nailed it. Forget vibrato for now. Concentrate on the two or three main bow strokes that you need for Happy Farmer, and think about the muscles you are using to do them. Learn to engage more your wrist and fingers in your shorter strokes (such as lifts), think about drawing whole bows by coordinating your fingers and your wrist with your elbow. Use your heavier arm muscles just for overall gross movement and overall bow positioning. It sounds like you are trying to do too much with your shoulder and back muscles. Experiment with angling your violin more toward the left (away from the center of your body. Especially if you are a larger person or if you have long arms, this can give you a more natural stroke. If you are playing Happy Farmer then I assume you have mastered the previous pieces. Perhaps you could share a video of yourself playing Minuet No. 2 and we could evaluate your posture, hand positions, and bow strokes. Those things are so critical to learning to play properly, you can hardly imagine how important they are.
July 25, 2018, 12:06 PM · I would like to add this about Caleb's right pinky:

I know the guidance about placing the pinkey on the "inner" top of the violin bow. However, when I, 10 years after I had started taking violin lessons, started cello lessons, somehow my right pinky on the violin bow slipped into cello bow position (which is not on top of the bow) and while I was playing this way I earned concertmaster position in my high school orchestra and about 15 years later concertmaster chair in community orchestra (where I sat and played for the next 20 years). I never realized I was holding my violin this ay too.

I was still holding the bow that for about 20 years when I new conductor pointed out that I was playing "fine" but appeared to him to be holding my violin bow in a "funny way." So I spent a month "correcting" my bow hold. That was almost 50 years ago, and I continued to hold my bow "correctly" until about 3 years ago, when certain instabilities and tremors in my right hand wrecked by violin and viola bowing. I found that by reverting to my old "cello bow hold" I can stabilize my bowing more and my playing does not suffer as much from that as from other aspects of my advanced age.

So, in these nearly 80 years of playing violin I have learned that the most important thing about playing is what comes out the "front end." We do whatever we have to do at the "back end" to make that happen. If you have body parts that do not fit the norm, you may well have to do things differently than other players. Certainly, double-jointedness qualifies as one of those outliers.

Edited: July 25, 2018, 3:47 PM · Hihi Andrew and Paul! :)

Thanks for replying my messages. Will take a look at it once I wake up tommorow morning.

But here is a video of my humble minuet 2. I have lowered my thumb position when I played this as I found it easier to reach the 4th position on the A string.

I realised my bow hold went back to improper again once I started playing. Have not completely incorporated the habit of bending my pinky.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wat9Y1D_ohw&feature=youtu.be

July 25, 2018, 4:08 PM · hi Caleb, for three months this is quite OK! just keep practicing well!
Edited: July 25, 2018, 4:35 PM · Caleb, it looks to me as though the bow hold you are trying to set up at the beginning is too stiff and tight, but what it changes to very quickly is just fine. You have fairly large hands and must adjust how you play to your size. Your bowing is quite straight.

Unfortunately to my ears every fingered note sounds a little out of tune. Try playing more slowly and listening - it may help.

July 26, 2018, 2:02 AM · While most of what I would say has already been addressed, I want to note one thing: you probably SHOULD drop your right elbow. I spent months intentionally practicing with a paperback novel under my right arm in order to keep my elbow from rising too much.
Edited: July 26, 2018, 3:00 AM · "Unfortunately to my ears every fingered note sounds a little out of tune. Try playing more slowly and listening - it may help."

what may help is playing away from the sheet music, i.e. if you stop reading the music you're better able to listen to yourself. Surely you know this lil piece by heart.

PS is busking on the street even allowed in Singapore? I thought Singapore is really really strict in public places.

July 26, 2018, 5:52 AM · I agree with Herman's advice. If you have the music completely in your memory and then start playing it from the sheet music then a conflict is set up in the brain between the decoding and interpretation of what the eye sees on the printed page and what is already in your head waiting to be played. In effect there is unnecessary sight-reading going on which is always slower than memory, and so silly little mistakes will probably happen.

Every week I play for folk dancers and make sure that all the tunes I play are in my head, so that as I am playing I am able to give my attention to the important business of what the dancers are doing.

Edited: July 26, 2018, 8:21 AM · Yo Paul!

Thanks for this advice: "Learn to engage more your wrist and fingers in your shorter strokes (such as lifts), think about drawing whole bows by coordinating your fingers and your wrist with your elbow. Use your heavier arm muscles just for overall gross movement and overall bow positioning."


However, I have problem trying to visualise? Are there books or videos on this?

Yo Andrew,

"Unfortunately to my ears every fingered note sounds a little out of tune. Try playing more slowly and listening - it may help."

I would definitely take note of this. Will switch to 60bpm and start listening.

This was my violin schedule/journal last week:

Sunday:
Warming Up (42 – 50 minutes):
Body Stretches for Violinist (5 mins) - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wa_PvxRkDNs
Vibrato Practise (5 mins) – 2 Vibrato/Bow for 2 times for all strings ((https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OLpDZPAF_H4)
Tuning (2 mins)
Open Strings for all Strings (10-20minutes – using this as a guide https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NtWGUJcWmns)
1 min bowing (7 minutes - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WnH6EvvzCk8)
F Major Scale (5 minutes)
C Major Sluured (5 minutes)
C Appregio (3 minutes – Keep 1st Finger on String)

New Song:
Gavotte – 20 minutes

Monday:
Warming Up (42 – 50 minutes):
Body Stretches for Violinist (5 mins) - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wa_PvxRkDNs
Vibrato Practise (5 mins) – 2 Vibrato/Bow for 2 times for all strings ((https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OLpDZPAF_H4)
Tuning (2 mins)
Open Strings for all Strings (10-20minutes – using this as a guide https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NtWGUJcWmns)
1 min bowing (7 minutes - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WnH6EvvzCk8)
Bb Major Scale (5 minutes)
C Major Sluured (5 minutes)
C Appregio (3 minutes – Keep 1st Finger on String)

New Song:
Minute 2 (15 minutes)
Gavotte (20 minutes)

Tuesday:
Warming Up (42 – 50 minutes):
Body Stretches for Violinist (5 mins) - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wa_PvxRkDNs
Vibrato Practise (5 mins) – 2 Vibrato/Bow for 2 times for all strings ((https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OLpDZPAF_H4)
Tuning (2 mins)
Open Strings for all Strings (10-20minutes – using this as a guide https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NtWGUJcWmns)
1 min bowing (7 minutes - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WnH6EvvzCk8)
Bb Major Scale (5 minutes)
C Major Sluured (5 minutes)
C Appregio (3 minutes – Keep 1st Finger on String)

New Song:
Minute 3 (20 minutes)
Happy Farmer (20 minutes)
Minute 2 and Gavotte (40 minutes - if got time)

Thurs:
Warming Up (37 – 47 minutes):
Body Stretches for Violinist (5 mins) - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wa_PvxRkDNs
Tuning (2 mins)
Open Strings for all Strings (10-20minutes – using this as a guide https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NtWGUJcWmns)
1 min bowing (7 minutes - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WnH6EvvzCk8)
F Major Scale (5 minutes)
C Major Sluured (5 minutes)
C Appregio (3 minutes – Keep 1st Finger on String)

New Song:
Happy Farmer (20 minutes)

July 26, 2018, 8:24 AM · "While most of what I would say has already been addressed, I want to note one thing: you probably SHOULD drop your right elbow. I spent months intentionally practicing with a paperback novel under my right arm in order to keep my elbow from rising too much."

Wow, how did you manage to keep it under the right elbow? With a full bow, my elbow would from low to high.

July 26, 2018, 8:25 AM · "PS is busking on the street even allowed in Singapore? I thought Singapore is really really strict in public places"

Hahaha you need a license but it should not be that difficult to get one!

Edited: July 26, 2018, 8:33 AM · Anyone has a book/video with solutions to my problems:

1) Improving string crossing (tend to hear other strings while crossing)
2) Improving intonation (still uneven)
3) Solving right shoulder ache
4) Getting BCDE on A string without having tension

What I'm doing for warm-up before a new song: Scales (slurred and separate), open strings (with semibreve/bow, 2 minim/bow and 4 quavers/bow), 1 min bowing for 4 string.

I plan to add a string crossing exercise which involves double stops to the warm-up above.

July 26, 2018, 9:01 AM · Caleb, if you have an analytical mind, the two books "Basics" and "The Violin Lesson" by Simon Fischer will benefit you immensely for many years to come. In these books, some aspects will be much too advanced for your current beginner's level, but other aspects will appeal also to you and you can work on them with the correct information on correct technique and execution.
Edited: July 26, 2018, 10:32 AM · I'm quite sure that keeping a book under your arm (arm pit, not under your elbow) is very, very old school and for a completely different bowing style -- I REMEMBER IT WELL, even though my age was in middle single digits! I don't even remember that they had paperback books in those pre-WW II days. However use of wrist for some fast short strokes will be important - you are not there yet.
July 28, 2018, 5:53 AM · @Jean
thanks jean! I have actually just started reading the basics and yes, they are good!

@Victor,
Would this apply to modern violin playing as my elbow is much higher. I try to main a square with the bow, forearm, bicep.

Edited: July 28, 2018, 7:34 AM · I think Carl Flesch somehow mocked the position of keeping the elbow low by the side in his book saying that someone who used his hand to give a handshake and kept his upper arm to the side would be seen as being feebleminded. Not very diplomatic :) He is against this posture for the reason that there is no transition of weight to the bow. By contrast, he has far less criticism for the excessively high upper arm position, stating that while unaesthetic, it would not be detrimental to the sound. Ideally, he advocates keeping the upper arm on the same plane of the string being played, with some exceptions.

I think that aside from a niche baroque way, no one plays with a low upper arm like that anymore. No? Ok Kavakos, as my previous teacher told me, is a big guy and thus he would be somewhat of an exception when he approaches the frog. Altough personally I dont see why that would be the case unless his lower arm is long relative to his upper arm.

Ive been reading Paul Rolland's little book as well; there is a nice explanation of the mechanics of bowing, which features the role of the elbow during bow changes, when there is a slight raise and dip, thus introducing a bit more subteltly to the idea of the level of the upper arm relative to the lower arm.

The issue of the level of the wrist relative to the lower arm has also been raised with my (new) teacher who wants me to minimize the (vertical) distance it travels (ie from the 'swan' position to the 'hill' position). So the role of the wrist plays in communicating the weight of the arm is also important.

I think the idea is that the different parts of the arm should be in an optimum position to communciate its weight into the bow. if the elbow is too low, there is a disruption, a disconnect there. if the wrist is too high or low(at the frog), also another disruption. At least this is the general idea Ive arrived at so far.

July 28, 2018, 7:31 AM · Shoulder pain is, in my opinion, is #1 issue you should address. If you develop a chronic injury it will impact your ability to learn and have fun.
I do not have time to watch all your videos, but a cursory preview does not show lower body or hole body. It seems to me that you are slightly leaning toward left and that your backbone (and neck) is not straight. This calls for inspection of your feet position and also violin setup (CR and SR choice) as well as overall posture.
You would benefit from a few sessions with an experienced physiotherapist to show you a few exercises for re-balancing your shoulders.


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