How do you achieve a great sound without much strain?
I currently use the Russian bow hold as Heifetz does. However, when I use great force in order to pull out a great sound (I don't use my arm for force, just my fingers), my fingers strain and are bent or straightened unnaturally (greatest of all my ring finger becomes straight and uncomfortable). When I observe Heifetz playing he seems so effortless, even at age 70 playing the Chaconne. Does anyone know the reason for this (even though he was a great master of the violin and was born several aspects of his playing)?
Have you *tried* the other grip?
In my experience, Russian grip actually allows more leverage to be able to push down than the typical bow hold (Franco Belgian).
Thank you for your response. I will try what you have said about the elbow position during my practice session tonight. I knew that the effortless looking bow strokes did indeed need great force, but I was wondering if there was a way for me to apply great force to my bow strokes more naturally (fluidly).
You should never "strain". You're less likely to get the desired result and the possibility of injury is greatly increased. The secret of avoiding "strain" is relaxation, and the best way to achieve this is from a good teacher who will pay attention not only to the local muscles but the whole body.
If you are using "force", something is wrong. Your bow hand should be relaxed even when playing at maximum volume. (I also use a Russian hold.)
Thank you for your responses. It feels fine to bow regularly, as my bow strokes are fluid, relaxed, and natural (even when a strong tone is needed). The strain only occurs when I play extremely emotionally intense passages where great force is used.
You should use whatever bow hold is nost comfortable and effective, and not just copy what Heifetz did.
Yes, I understand that. I am a great admirer of Heifetz and I know that he greatly encouraged individuality. He disliked imitators and stated that it was no way to succeed. I was just wondering what he did to make his playing seem so effortless. I only mentioned Heifetz as an example of what I might be looking for.
One starting point is; Let the string hold the bow more than hand. Push and pull against the natural friction of the rosin. Don't push down on the bow, it might skid sideways off of the optimum point of contact.
Nicely put, Joel.
Yes indeed nicely put. Thank you Joel. I will think of this when I play. Do you have any suggestions on what to do if I need a sound that is supposed to be very “dug in” and pressured.
do what all the great violinists do- learn how to play the best way for you by developing your technique and style to the fullest! Let others set a guide for your own taste, but you have to develop your own technique inch-by-inch and incorporate it into your own hands and ears.
Most modern set-ups work on the assumption that using force is a necessary part of technique. I don't believe that this should be the case. A 'son filé' approach might give better results with more scope for colour, dynamic etc. Of course heifetz was playing a great violin...
continued-- yes, good equipment is part of the solution; violin, bow, string, rosin, in that order. To get that "dug in", full sound, depends in part on the bow hold, which changes the mechanics. The Franco-Belgian-American hold is easier to describe in words. For a G-string note, near the frog, catch the string with the hair at a flexible spot on the string, about half-way between the bridge and fingerboard. Then let your arm hang down, as if you were hanging on a tree-limb. With that arm weight, start a down-bow, you will be surprised how loud and full it can be. The upper half of the bow is about forearm leverage, and the E string is different because you are pushing sideways, and it's a topic big enough for a small book. In general, don't Try to play louder. Instead go for the best quality sound, then, like a good singer, let it blossom, add energy in the form of bow speed.....
Not site if this helps, but I've had to give up playing viola and now violin seriously for the moment due to back pain (compressed discs, pinched nerves).
When I made the comment a few posts back about the "whole body" I did have in mind the back muscles. They give the power that drives the muscles of arms and hands.
When I did physical therapy for a different problem, I brought the violin in once, played with the shirt off. He pointed to a spot between my scapula and spine and said "O my god, you use that muscle ALL the time!" I re-read the Erik's original post. Using force mostly from the hand is asking those small muscles to do too much of the work. The third finger of the right hand is the least useful of the 5 and can cause problems if you try to use it for anything other than on-the-string staccato or ricochet. Best to just let it go along for the ride.
Wow, the conversation is so deep! By a dug in or pressured tone I meant a very strong, robust, but sustained bow (requiring pressure on the bow). I tend to focus on using my fingers, hand weight, and arm weight to produce the tone. Sometimes when I try to play with a passage in a piece requiring very strong bow strokes, I feel some pain in my lower arm. However, when I bow strongly on open strings, random notes, or scales I feel quite natural and fluid. Could it be that I build too much emotion in the passage of the piece and in turn my playing becomes tense?
Eric, the way you describe your bow hold suggests a great deal of stiffness and strain. Whether you're Russian or Franco-Belgian or something in between, the goal is to have flexible, relaxed fingers and not be clenching when you hold the bow.
You never want a sound that is
I do understand that the sound should not ever be pressured, I’m just saying that I would like to know the correct way to put pressure into the bow in order to get a strong, robust , rich sound. And as much as I am of an admirer of Heifetz, of course I know that there is no possible way that I could be a fraction of Heifetz, I just set him as an example of fluid and natural playing.
Oh, by the way I do feel great while bowing regularly (including strong bowing), but if I play an intense passage (emotional) I seem to strain a bit.
Be aware that stiffness or straining in the left hand will manifest as stiffness in the bowing arm and hand. And vice versa.
I was getting really upset at all the responses to my name until I realized OP is also Erik. Lol.
What a coincidence! Haha. Your response was very helpful and insightful.
Hey Erik, I meant to post here, before I fell down that rabbit hole on your other thread.
On pressure, there is the opinion that distinction should be made between arm weight and applying pressure. The idea behind arm weight I think is that this encourage a good alignment of arm parts with the bow on its journey. But also pointed out is that pressure or arm weight here is in the application of a force on the string...not the idea of pressure in terms of sound coming across as too pressed. The latter is a related to how much digging in one is doing in relation to the sound point and speed.
Something I find insightful is to look at a spectrum analyser app on my phone while playing, which gives visual feedback on how resonant you are actually being.
There are many ways to apply "pressure" to the bow. The method you select depends on the sound you want to create.
Carmen, I second your remarks. I moved over from the F-B hold to the Russian early this year. It couldn't have been easier, or more obvious in retrospect. The change in tone and control was immediate.
OK..but the fact remains that there are plenty of great players with great tone who have or are closer to FB. That alone would questiin the idea that the Russian hold is implicitly any better than the FB, minus consideration of individual technique and physical makeup
Tammuz, it seems like with the greater leverage that the Russian hold gives you, people that maybe didn't get enough weight transmission from their arm might find an improvement in sound by switching. Maybe the exponents find that it helps them stick closer to the string. I use more of a FB, but that's my conjecture. I find the Russian hold sort of uncomfortable, like the bow is too deep in my hand to really have control, but I haven't put any significant time into "getting it".
I've always found that curious too, Christian. Reading between the lines, I suspect Flesch didn't really understand the FB hold. I think he must've used a German hold in his early years and switched to a 'Russian', which I suspect was derived from a pre-Belgian influenced French style of bowing. Flesch, who seems to have been the first to coin the terms, or at least was the first to write about it, defined the Russian hold as making contact with the stick *at* the second joint. The deeper Wieniawski-Auer-Heifetz hold he considered too extreme, though I can't remember the source for that.
Hey Jeewon, nice to see you again! Thank you so much for the exercises. I just have one question: when you state in your first paragraph about pivoting, in what ways should my fingers pivot? And another thing, I have a hitchhiker’s thumb, and so my thumb tends to bend back at the joint under the pad at a 90 degree angle. Should I ignore this and proceed, or should I do something else about it?
I started out with the FB hold but found it uncomfortable due to the shape of my hands. They are shaped more like stubby clubs than long, elegant webs. It forced me to do odd things with my wrist and elbow positions to bow perpendicular to the strings.
Hey Erik. You're most welcome! I was going to write "pronate," but I suspect you're quite pronated already. (Any chance you wanna post a video?) As Carmen suggested, slight turns can make a difference. But my main point is that you need to vary the leverage according to where you are in the bow to achieve a fluid stroke, even in loud dynamics, and even if there's actually no visible rotation. What's important is the 'force' transferred through the fingers. Many students underestimate the strength and firmness required of the pinky+ring-finger to balance the bow at the frog, and the leverage required at the tip, to generate a big tone. Making contact with the stick more towards the inside tip of the thumb will give you a slight release in the rotation of the hand (to a slight supination) on the stick, and leave you room for that extra rotation when you need to lean into the tip. Also, it's important to remember that any force through the fingers should act to move the bow, not to hold it, which is why I say you don't want to apply simultaneous pressure, but rather alternating pressure, a twisting action applied to the bow, clockwise at the frog and counterclockwise at the tip, even when there's no actual rotation happening. We learn the 'windshield wiper' early on to practice this, but it's often taught only with arm rotation. It should also be done within the hand, flipping with only the fingers to teach them how to twist. You can twist or flip with the pinky and add leverage with forefinger, but you can also help the pinky with the ring-finger (I think you're already doing this) and twist between middle finger and thumb (in both directions.)
P.S. dunno if what I wrote above made this clear, but another way to think of it is that you should never hold the bow with 'static stability' in your hand and move it through the air (you don't want stability like in a table) but rather you need a dynamic stability, like in a seesaw. Of course the seesaw is unbalanced, because the fulcrum, your thumb, is way over to one side. But when balancing at the frog, you don't need any pressure from the forefinger or thumb, just counter balance from the pinky and ring fingers. Similarly, as you lean into the tip, pour it on like Carmen said, pronating toward the tip, but simply resist with the thumb, or conversely, pull up with the thumb and simply resist with the leaning fingers, but don't do both. You want to prevent the baseknuckles of the fingers and thumb (the thumb's baseknuckle is near the wrist) and the second joint of the thumb from becoming rigid. So to address your question about your hitchhiker thumb, it's OK to let it cave in as long as it's reversible, as long as it's never stuck like that. Notice that as you move your thumb closer and closer to the pinky across the palm, the thumb rotates so that it's pad faces the palm. Also the muscle of the ball of the thumb contracts, and if you press into the palm with thumb rotated like that, it's easy to lock the thumb's baseknuckle at the wrist. The less rotated the thumb, the more flexible it's baseknuckle. I don't know for sure, but suspect people who use a Russian hold have the thumb opposite the left side of the middle finger, or even closer to the forefinger, because of the added leverage the contact at the forefinger provides and also the ball of the thumb remains more relaxed.
Jeewon, thank you so much for your detailed responses! After reading your posts, I tried bowing based on what you said, and I feel more fluid now. I think my thumb and fingers clamped together at the stick too much before. Now it feels much better. Thanks.
Give a set of gut strings a try Erik. I’m not saying you’ll sound like Heifetz right away but they will teach you about sound and bow technique. You’ll be able to draw sounds that are more similar to what you have in my mind. Of course that might be ‘irresponsible’ for me to suggest on here...
Glad it helped Erik!
Nate- I’ll look into gut strings. I had been wondering a bit about them in the past.
My two centimes d'Euro.