Better response on a viola with violin bow?!
In general, I'm pretty happy with my viola bow, a contemporary German bow from a renowned maker, chosen out of maybe 80 sticks (antique and new, of various provenance) for sound and playability. With my viola / bow combo, it's easy to pull a big, warm, juicy, "typical viola" sound. However, in faster passages when there isn't the time to start the motion slowly, I've got serious issues with response, especially on the C string. The hair just doesn't catch the string in time, no matter what I try and do, and until the string reacts, music will have already proceeded to somewhere up the D-string, at least. I'm pretty sure that this is due to bad technique most probably. On the violin, my bow arm is fairly good enough and my main fights are rather left handed, but the viola is quite some different animal! And despite regularly performing in public (most lately the Telemann and Doemming viola concertos and Schuberts Maerchenbilder, mostly for beneficial purpose) without completely losing my human dignity, after less than a year without specific formal viola training I would still regard myself as a viola novice.
After getting more and more used to my latest acquisition, a wonderful German violin bow from the early 70ies (62g, maybe slightly stiffer than average and making my violin really stand out of the flock but without getting sharp, so rather for solo performance than for orchestra, and allowing me a precision in articulation I would not have dared to dream of a few weeks before) I once again tried it on my viola today. Which I already did several times, as well with some other violin bows, but never with favorable results. Today I somehow (accidentally?) clicked into a modification of my bowing technique, higher elbow / heavy arm, et voila! Responsive C and all the rest, a small chop of that huge tone missing but still gamechanging. What is that?!? I would have thought that with a heavier bow (71 vs 62g) and the slightly thicker ribbon of hair that comes along with that, it should be rather easier to activate the heavy C, and now this...!
I know it's nigh impossible to tell anything serious without knowing instrument, bows and player, but still - any ideas about what's going on are welcome! Especially from the violists among us. I know that there are other people out there who are using violin (and cello!) bows on there violas. Do you, and if so, then why?
Forgot to tell... The viola is a 42 cm Amati model, so not a really small "violinist's viola" model...
Seems like I remember that Primrose was an advocate of using a violin bow. Also, it seems like Bob Vernon (Cleveland) used a violin bow.
That's interesting. I'm sure Mr Primrose explained why?
Apparently Lionel Tertis also used a light bow.
I think the low elbow is more important on viola than violin. I used to play with a high elbow, and over time it killed my back.
A very fine viola player here in Albuquerque used a violin bow as well. I agree with Andrew, though, that the elbow is more important on viola and may take some experimentation (as you found) to realize the right place for everything. Primrose advocated for a lower right elbow, thus adding weight to the string. Also, violas often don't respond well to the typically faster bow strokes for violin. More weight, more "into" the string, possibly closer to the bridge - all of these are typically viola bow issues.
Whatever instrument and bow you use you want to be sure to start moving the bow with enough "weight"to instantly start the string vibration.
I have a great viola bow that is my favorite one on the violin.
I have a couple of cheap, heavy, violin bows that work well on viola.
Once you try viola bow made by Eric Gagne, you will not need a violin bow!
I enjoy my arcus. Light bows are typically great for fast and easy articulation and bowing. However it can be difficult to draw out the warm rich darkness of a viola. It’s a pick and choose
Thank you for your thoughts. High vs. low elbow - isn't it easier to give weight with a higher elbow?!
It's much easier to dig into the string with a low elbow. You should never feel like you're pushing the bow into the string with your arm; the arm should pull, not push.
... and I thought the index finger pressure should mainly derive from wrist rotation anyway, also in violin playing?
You can't generalize that violin bows are better on violas than viola bows. Every instrument and every bow is different. A professional violist I know bought a snakewood cello bow from a retired SFSO cellist to use on her viola. I added 2 bow spinners to my viola case to add 2 cello bows - but there were viola frequencies the cello bows did not support so well, even though it was easier to be loud with them.
Nuuska, I haven't tried the Spirocore strings, but compared to anything else I've tried (Evah, Vision Solo) the PI C string is the most responsive by far. The closest was the Warchal Brilliant, but it wasn't as powerful.
Karl, then I'll definitely give it a try and save my Spirocore as a spare. Meanwhiles I'll definitely have to train my close-to-the-bridge bowing - no matter if with violin or viola bow, this is something I rather suck on viola. It's such an incredibly low bow speed you need...!
One of my violas works very, very well with a full set of Spirocore strings years ago and a full set of Evah Pirazzi Gold now. In fact it has never been intolerant of any strings I've had on it since I got it in 1973. (I only tried the Spirocore viola strings after hearing that Bashmet used them (at least back then). As a cellist I have been very familiar with Spirocore G and C strings for a very long time - as are most cellists.)
Besides playing around with bow weight, speed and contact point, have you paid any attention to the tilt of the bow? Especially on viola, I would aim for flat hair, as in, using all the hair. And also, are you spending most of your time in the upper half of the bow or in the lower half? I find that it is easier to get a big sound in the lower half. And also, definitely try to play closer to the bridge.
Ella, yes - full hair whenever possible. Still have to concentrate on that from time to time, but in general I'm getting along.
Andrew, my viola seems to be one of those which sounds great no matter what you'll put on. At least until today. Only thing is that since I switched for the current combo, it not totally even anymore between the G and the D, the D has become a bit more nasal. Since both strings are Evahs, this should have something to do with the A, I guess. Let's see how things will develop with the PI-G.
My viola came with a fiberglass bow that is just too stiff. I tried using my pernambuco violin bow, which feels much better. But the violin bow is just too light to get a good sound out of my (16 1/2-inch) viola. I have since gotten a wood viola bow.
I thought it was always "arm weight" the difference being which finger(s) apples it to the bow. Pronation, pronation!
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