Migrating Bow

Edited: April 18, 2019, 10:58 AM · Bowing straight appears to be one of those things that remain with me from back in the day. My teacher has commented on that from when I returned 5 months ago - not saying I don't ever bow crooked, it's just not a consistent problem and I'm thankfull for that as I've lots of other areas on which to focus.

Still odd noises happen that are usually associated with a crooked bow, and we chased the cause down. While I do bow parallel to the bridge, my entire right arm is somehow drifting towards the bridge while not changing the angle of the bow. So it's not crooked at all but the unintended migration up the strings cause similar sounds. I hope my description is clear.

My teacher advised more quality time with mirror practice (after saying that this was quite unusual) - and I am following that advice. I can't do this for my full practice sessions however- any tips on how I can keep an eye on this in normal playing? Additional ways to address it? Thanks!

Replies (11)

April 18, 2019, 2:51 PM · Thanks for sharing this. My entire arm is somehow migrating so slowly toward the bridge without angling at all that it's really difficult to see the movement before it reaches a certain point where odd noises draw attention.

My teacher said my entire arm is somehow moving as a unit while maintaining the exact same bow position. Perhaps if I could figure out how it feels then I can figure out how to catch it before it happens - or at least when it starts? I think the idea behind the mirror for this is if we see/correct what we're doing often enough that it will translate over into normal playing as a habit? Then again I DO tend to over-think things - in case that hasn't become apparent in the 5 months I've been here :-)

I've started work on Marche (Bach) - it's a supplemental fun piece we picked outside of the book - I would like to have this solved by the time I've finished learning this little piece.

April 18, 2019, 3:24 PM · Marche is a nice piece! My suggestion is to review your already-learned repertoire whilst focusing on your bow-arm issue. Preferably pieces that have a variety of bow strokes using all parts of the bow. The only way you can solve a problem like that is by giving it time and mental bandwidth so that you can really learn how it feels in your arm to have your bow in the right place.
April 18, 2019, 3:34 PM · Catherine,

Your upper arm is pulling back while your forearm, wrist and hand maintain the straight bow. Therefore, the bow gets closer-and-closer to the bridge and since you aren't playing in a very high position the change of sounding point creates that scratchy sound because it is the wrong sounding point for the position you are playing in.

Practicing in front of a mirror will help if you know where to look. It is possible that your shoulders are pulled inward when you begin playing and then open-up, it could be that the muscles just pull your forearm closer to your upper arm.

Reading your post reminded me of a concert where I watched the first Violin in the Brahms First solo section making all those micro-adjustments as she played in ever higher positions the bow crept towards the bridge, when she played in lower positions the bow moved back towards the middle of the space between bridge and fingerboard.

Most of us don't even think about the bio-mechanics of playing but they are part of us and we have to learn to control them (FWIW: I think like an engineer, so...)

If you start playing with shoulders inward you need to relax and get shoulders back. If it is just muscle pull you need to become more aware of where your elbow and bow are and relax those muscles pulling the bow toward the bridge while in lower positions.

Edited: April 18, 2019, 5:08 PM · Thanks Paul and George! That makes perfect sense. I've only been back to the violin for 5 months after 45 years and while things seem to be going well, there haven't been much in the way of pieces with a variety of bowing yet. That is slowly changing.

George, your description is clear. I can picture the mechanics, and given I've had major shoulder surgery it makes even more sense. I just installed a new, and large, mirror on the wall next to my music stand so I can use it as needed for this type of thing. You've given me something to look for, thank you!

Edited: April 18, 2019, 8:00 PM · I haven't read other responses so I might be repeating advice but the first thing I would suspect is unconscious trapezius muscle tension in the right side (this is the muscle that connects your neck to your shoulder... It's the classic "massage from behind" muscle). Try lifting your shoulder to your neck, then dropping it into complete relaxation. Do this often and at random stopping points in the music to increase your awareness of the muscles's tension. It must be checked frequently, and not just at the beginning and the end of an exercise/song.

The other potential cause, if you find this is primarily happening on downbows, is that the violin itself is simply positioned too far to the left and your bow arm isn't long enough make it to the tip without being forced back into the bridge. The solution would be to bring the violin more towards your center and/or accept that your bow can't be fully parallel in the upper portion; it's better to have a non-parallel bow in the intended sound point than to have a parallel bow which is being forced into the bridge.

Obviously, a simple video from the side would allow me to tell you assuredly what is happening, rather than speculating.

EDIT: something else I meant to mention, and possibly most important: your focus should be drawn to adjusting your bow based on sound/feel (e.g. raspy tone means move away from the bridge, crunchy means pull back) rather than thinking of it like a static object that will stay put just because we're bowing straight and started correctly. Think of bowing g like driving on the freeway and staying in your lane. When you see yourself drifting lanes, you naturally steer back into the correct lane. We don't ask ourselves "what's wrong with the road so that it keeps pushing me out of my lane?". Instead, we realize that staying in our lane requires constant corrections based on the feedback our eyes are giving us.

Edited: April 18, 2019, 8:18 PM · Get a "Bow Guide" type device, attach it to your violin, and practice using it for at least two-weeks. In particular, practice end-to-end bowing.

Problem solved.

The problem with mirror practice is that it teaches hand-eye coordination more than muscle memory. Using a bow guide that forces your bow to stay straight in the lane with tactile feedback teaches muscle memory quickly and painlessly.

You can even do it with your eyes closed!

Yes, I know that some old-school teachers don't like this method because of [insert reason], but all I know is that it works faster and more effectively than the mirror method.

April 18, 2019, 11:19 PM · When moving "naturally", the motions of the arm are arcs, from the shoulder, from the elbow. To get the bow to move in a straight line requires some rather complex compensating motions at the elbow and wrist, and, depending on the bow hold, possibly a pivoting inside the hand. I would not attempt to describe it in words. That's why we do private lessons.
April 19, 2019, 5:39 AM · I do appreciate all of the feedback and Joel, I agree that's why we do private lessons. I know my teacher will get me there, was just trying to think about this as I noodle away at it before my next lesson.
April 19, 2019, 8:52 AM · Catherine, I don't think there is a bad suggestion in any of the advice you've been given above.

I think George's idea is an excellent one. A bowing guide (that attaches to the violin's C bout) will give you an immediate tactile response to your bowing problem and all your prior violin-playing experience will aid your rapid correction of it. You will not likely need to use the device for more than a day or so.

As Joel said, circular motions about our arm joints are our natural motions that have directed our species in throwing rocks and spears at prey and enemies - but it doesn't work for our more recent applications to bowing string instruments. We have to adjust all our joints to keep the bow straight - and our brains to change the sounding point when and how we want to.

Also how we hold the instrument, how far to the left we direct the scroll is related to two things: our arm length (and wrist flexibility) and our choice of chinrest. Another factor that may bear on this is our age and body size when we first learned to play the violin and the size of instrument(s) we had during that process - and how those relationships have since changed.

Really, I would think your teacher could very quickly diagnose how these factors are affecting your bowing and what corrective measures to suggest.

One concern I have is the way any change in the direction you point the violin's scroll can affect your vibrato.

Edited: April 19, 2019, 3:29 PM · Thanks Andrew, and all of the feedback here has been great. We don't need to worry about any changes affecting my vibrato as we've not gone there yet. I do have shorter arms along with my small hands, so the scroll is pointed more in front than to the side. Interesting thought of yours about my perhaps still falling back into positions from childhood...each of you have given me good food for thought.

I agree my teacher will be able to figure it out and get me to where I want to go, he's been teaching for at least 30 years and is great. The helpful discussion here helps me to think over things before my next lesson- thank you!

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