Right Arm Technique

September 24, 2020, 3:55 PM · Hello! I'm just going to dive right in :)

As of late when practicing, I've been trying to improve my bow arm technique: bow straightness in relationship to the bridge, general bow arm ergonomics, and overall trying to understand and become familiar with the feeling of letting gravity do most of the work (mainly down bows) while minimizing unneeded movement in my fingers/forearm/shoulder.

Here are just a few questions I have...

1. How should I approach increasing the tempo of whole-bow strokes (frog to very tip and back) while maintaining a straight bow, a consistent tension-free bow arm? (As an example: one note per bow on any scale, say quarter note upwards of 90?

2. Piggy backing off of my first question, How should I approach a fast bow stroke, that includes string crossings? (ex: triplets, 3 notes per bow ((whole bow)) alternating from G string to D and back - gdg dgd gdg dgd)

3. Piggy backing again off of everything I've said haha, when executing fast bow strokes that take quite a bit of bow, how do I know that my right arm is doing what it's supposed to do? To dive into greater detail on what I'm trying to explain,(ex: should by shoulder be moving that much? more? not at all? Should by wrist be static in this part of the bow, or should it be more involved? what about my fingers? should I apply more pressure? less? should there be any finger movement at all? Is this a big arm movement or should it be broken down into smaller muscle groups? How does this all change throughout the parts of bow and at different speeds or with different color/tone intentions?) These are just a flood of questions I have when analyzing my bow stroke.

That's basically it haha :)

I do suppose, I might be over thinking this drastically as one might argue that in order to achieve an authentic performance one must not be so hyper-focused on every small aspect of playing. On the other hand, I look at the masters of violin and can't help but think they all studied the technique with great care and detail, and that's how they are able to perform with such confidence and ease - yet deliver such stunning and virtuoso performances.

Thanks for your time!!

Emma :)

Replies (23)

September 24, 2020, 3:59 PM · Also, how much time would be best to dedicate each day working on this? I'd imagine it could be paired with scale practice perhaps?
September 24, 2020, 7:11 PM · https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xjJpqeeeSsE

Might be a little too basic for you at the start, but by the end you have the basis for a solid bow stroke.

The video does not focus on the mechanics, but rather lets the player's natural physical instincts "figure things out" by playing a series of progressively longer bow strokes.

It assumes you already have a "good" bow hold.

Edited: September 26, 2020, 8:04 AM · Emma's profile says that she's studying for a baccalaureate degree in violin performance at a private institution in Denver. As such, she should have access to a qualified teacher who can explain these things to her and give her exercises to improve her bow-arm confidence.

The video linked by Carmen seems rather low-level, but there is a lot of wisdom in it, that is likely applicable to a strong player.

I'm recalling a youtube where Josef Gingold is giving a lesson to a very young Joshua Bell, and Gingold tells Bell to just focus on making his right-arm motions elegant. He says something like "if it's not elegant, then don't do it." Imagine giving that kind of advice to a 10-year-old boy whose violin looks just a LITTLE too big for him.

September 25, 2020, 5:57 AM · Emma, since you're working towards a performance degree in violin and are already enrolled at a college, I have to wonder if maybe you're overthinking this too much. You must have an acceptable bow arm already or you wouldn't have been accepted into your music school for a performance degree. What does your teacher say about your bow arm? You definitely need to ask these questions of your teacher, who is a person better able to judge by watching you in your lessons.
September 25, 2020, 11:34 AM · Emma, I think it may better to not get so caught up in the individual parts, and let the sound you are looking for be your primary guide. Focusing on relaxation is almost as important. I would go with that and focus on long, straight bows. To aid in both sound and relaxation, you can place your focus at the elbow, trying to keep your elbow heavy, like an anchor for your whole arm.

Secondary stuff you can consider is that the weight of your fingers on the bow can subtly shift throughout the stroke, which to me is like the motion of turning a doorknob, so that you turn to the left and into the 2nd finger as you get to the tip, and then you turn back into the pinky (making sure that it's curved) as you get back to the frog. But even that can be something you get in your head about.

Really long and slow bows can (10+ seconds) can be a way of really making sure your focus is on your elbow and on a relaxed bow-hold, but primarily, you are listening for the sound you want, which is something you need to develop with your imagination.

September 25, 2020, 9:46 PM ·

....you can place your focus at the elbow, trying to keep your elbow heavy, like an anchor for your whole arm.....

I think this happens naturally when we focus on the sound, but great analogy, thanks.

September 26, 2020, 6:15 AM · Most important is to have a loose right shoulder at all times!
September 26, 2020, 2:14 PM · I have friends who also studied with the teachers at your school. They are excellent players, and attest to the high quality of their teaching. I would listen to your teacher, heed their instruction, and ask as many questions as you can. Practice diligently, but not blindly - trust but verify.

Good teaching comes in as many forms as there are teachers, but all the great variety of good teaching tends to arrive at the same place - good playing. So supplement your teacher's instruction with other (reliable) sources, particularly the masters' treatises. In addition to your practice, read the landmark books - Galamian, Carl Flesch, Capet, Robert Gerle, Szigeti, Menuhin, Dounis, Hodgson, Simon Fischer.

Continue observing your peers, particularly the advanced seniors and graduate students. Watch the professionals in your area with a keen, analytical eye, and watch the famous soloists on video and, when things eventually go back to normal, onstage when they come to town.

I don't think you're overthinking anything, in fact this is exactly the time in your life where you should be thinking about what you're doing and how you're practicing as much as possible, so that you develop as many good habits as you can now, and don't have to struggle as much down the road.

September 27, 2020, 5:09 AM · Lots of good advice here -- but one piece of advice that's important to keep in mind -- Don't fall prey to "paralysis by analysis." Thinking carefully about what you're doing is important but you can reach a point where you're thinking so much about your right elbow or right shoulder or right wrist that the music stops flowing, it stops happening at all, all you get is sounds that aren't combined into music.
September 27, 2020, 5:32 AM · Over-thinking? I find it vital to renew that total awareness that allows us to just play...
Edited: September 27, 2020, 8:51 AM · Emma, for #1 I recommend the section on bowing in Simon Fischer’s Basics and adapting some of those exercises.

These are all reasonable questions for a conservatory student to be asking. People do re-work their bow arms. It can get analytical if you want to deepen your understanding after bowing automatically for years. Some conservatory violin teachers also expect their students to try to figure things out on their own in addition to lessons. If this were a beginner, maybe it’s overthinking, but it’s not overthinking for an advanced student.

To others: the quality of violin professors varies, and “go ask your teacher” doesn’t always work. I don’t know Emma’s situation, but some violin professors don’t teach technique much, their communication style doesn't work with yours, or they are delinquent in giving lessons. Their students can't do much about it unless they transfer.

September 27, 2020, 9:47 AM · It's true there are good teachers and bad, but Lorenzo said they're good.
Edited: September 27, 2020, 12:59 PM · Yes, I have acquaintances who have had good experiences with teachers at the school. The teacher-student relationship is very individualized. People communicate in different ways, and what teachers teach doesn't always reach each of their students the same way. It's also enriching for someone to post a question for their own curiosity. You can only cover so much in a lesson.
September 27, 2020, 1:27 PM · Frieda, yes, that is quite true.
Edited: September 28, 2020, 1:04 AM · I like D.B.'s phrase about avoiding "Paralysis by analysis" Menuhin is an example of that, he admitted to it in an interview and in his autobiography, so I would avoid his technical book.
There are a lot of discussions of bowing on this forum, current and archived. After all, it is the more mysterious half of violin technique.
-#3, fast string changes. We all first learn to change ("cross") strings with arm motion to the 4 string levels. But the angular difference is so small that using only the arm is slow and inefficient. Bariolage is best done with wrist and fingers only; the right elbow is stable. Changes of 3 or 4 strings, or skipping over a string will require some arm movement. Sometimes the right elbow will appear to be moving in the opposite direction of a string change.
September 28, 2020, 11:01 AM · Mr.App..

I like your bowing demonstration.
However, my left hand is so different from yours (short pinky on a rather curved knuckle line, but a longer thumb than yours) that I cannot do exactly what you show. At least you show your hand open, so we can compare.
This is very rare!


I find Menuhin's Six Lessons remarkable, especially the bowing chapters!
His "over-thinking" must be absorbed away from actual perfomance.
I need to "revive" these basic sensations so that I can play without thinking about them. Perhaps you are luckier..

September 28, 2020, 11:41 PM ·
How to play fast heavy long bow strokes without tension?- you can't.
Playing light strokes with a firm grip and shoulder tension is problematic.

Practice going in and out of different angles or positions from the bridge "with you eyes close" when bowing. This will help you learn to feel straight bowing and position.

Edited: September 29, 2020, 3:43 AM · since you were discussing bowing, I *think* Adrian meant "right hand" when he wrote "left hand" :-) anyway this is funny as Violy replied with something that Adrian himself has been saying countless times on this forum :-) hint to Violy: (1) welcome to this forum; (2) we are not all beginners ;-) and (3) you are supposed to write something in your biography so people can know your level which makes discussions more pointful.
Edited: September 29, 2020, 9:52 AM · No, I meant "left hand" (higher up on the well-presented web page).
As I have said once or twice (for a modest 2 centimes d'Euro), hands are as varied as noses..
Edited: September 29, 2020, 10:31 PM · I will respectfully disagree with something. You can play loud without tension, if your ergonomics are correct and you emphasize bow speed over force. The bow is about as light as a badmitten racquet.
With my main job (mariachi) I am competing with two trumpets and have to play continuously loud for 2-4-even 6 hours a day. I find that it is more fatiguing to play extra soft in an orchestra.
A bowing warm-up that I do: hold the bow with only the thumb and second finger. The only weight on the stick is from gravity. Do a slow up-bow on the D or G string, to the middle where it starts to become unstable, then down-bow to the tip. The only way to control the point of contact, and the angle of the bow to the string, is with the position of the right elbow. Notice that the bow is pivoting inside the hand. Once that elbow motion is set, then add the other fingers to do a full bow stroke. The spread of the fingers depends on whether you want to do the Russian or F.-B. hold, or something in between. This gives you a mp-mf tone without any added force. To play louder add bow-speed first, then force/weight/leverage last.
September 29, 2020, 4:35 PM · Oh my goodness!! Thank you all so much for your time and energy! Every bit of this is incredibly useful :) I am certainly thinking with great detail about everyone's input. Thanks again!
October 6, 2020, 1:36 PM · Hey Emma!

Well I've been around this site for about 10 years, and this topic has been discussed earlier. Perhaps you could see the archives!

What I would like to say, is that I think it is ok, that you (my suspicion is that) practice too much! But.... there is a point, or vanguard, that you should never cross! Please keep that in mind!

Frieda, I think I saw you playing violin in a French film. I think that is good. Perhaps you should try to play more at the frog, but maybe your anatomy, or African intonation is better for that technique yu have.

Please keep in mind, that I am suggesting things, just because in classical terms, people might say things like probably you might end up with an injury, because of your technique. So long for violin playing!

Please correct me if I'm wrong, but I think if you feel totally ok with that technique, then it's ok.


October 6, 2020, 1:54 PM · Then how? I'm not talking about technique, because I posted an advertisement here in budapest, and nobody called me.

But, Itzhak Perlman keeps talking about listening to yourself, Mrs. Benedetti emphasized that you're never alone. For instance she has excellent videos, I was watching them too.

Slow bow is good too. K

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