Bow in one place

November 14, 2021, 4:22 AM · Hi all,
So this is an issue I've had for a while, and thought one of my teachers would mention during a lesson, but alas not yet. Its an issue that is more prominent on the violin than the viola, I don't have an issue really keeping the bow parralell to the bridge. That bit is fine. My issue is keeping it in one place. I know that its not supposed to be all the time, but when it moves its not a conscious decision on my part to move to a different sounding point. Anyone have any suggestions? I intend to ask my teacher during our next lesson, but want to get a bit of a head start as it won't be for a little while yet.


Replies (29)

November 14, 2021, 8:08 AM · Do long very slow bows while watching to make sure it stays at the same soundpoint. Do it a lot. Next do long bows while changing from one soundpoint to another while watching. And then time to time do it with your eyes closed. You have to develop a feel for where the bow is.

Another good exercise is to close your eyes and do slow bowings (constant speed) while gradually changing from the 5th to the 1st sound point and back again, think about sound volume not just position. This way the sound point becomes a natural volume changer and not an artificial 'position' on the string.

November 14, 2021, 8:09 AM · If it's moving then it's clearly not parallel. The usual recommendation is to practise in front of a mirror.
November 14, 2021, 9:51 AM · And remember that as we go into high positions the bow has to play progressively nearer the bridge.
November 14, 2021, 10:54 AM · You have to imagine bowing along a very large circle, whose center is somewhere at the scroll. Put more simply, downbows have to be slightly "out" and upbows have to be slightly "in".
Edited: November 14, 2021, 11:42 AM · Cotton, how parallel the bow stays really depends on how exactly the bow moves. You can move it away from the bridge or towards it while keeping it 100% parallel. And anyway, for most of you, the OP made it clear that that is not his problem.

The other question is: how parallel is parallel enough? When I had just started my lessons and was impressed with the need for parallelity (if this is a word) I was surprised to see violinists play quite far form parallel, especially at the tip and you know what? Their tone wasn't at all bad. I was shocked at the time. It taught me to take rules like that with a grain of salt.

As to the actual problem: This is a bit like intonation: You are supposed to anticipate the pitch before you hear it. In this case you have to have an idea of the tone you want in a specific situation, then listen to the tone you actually produce and compare and correct*. If the tone you produce matches your anticipation you are ok. You end up doing much of this stuff subconsciously.

* Obviously much more than the sound point goes into producing a specific tone.

Edited: November 14, 2021, 11:27 AM · A common problem for us all. We want the bow to run parallel to the bridge, 90 o to the string precisely because we do not want the hair to drift off of the optimum point of contact. The physicists call it vector forces. All of our natural arm movements will result in circles. To get a straight line we have to do some subtle compensating motions with the right elbow, wrist, and fingers. It feels wrong when done right.
Every good violinist has spent some time checking their bowing in a mirror. Try running the bow through a cardboard tube without scraping the sides. One thing that helped me a lot was to hold the bow with only the thumb and second finger and do some slow bows in the upper half. That forces us to control the angle of the bow with the position of the elbow. After bowing is improved and reasonably straight one can add the next refinement, shallow figure-8 bowing. That intentionally uses a slight angle to keep the bow tucked close to the bridge. There is a good explanation of that at the Warchal web-site.
November 14, 2021, 11:31 AM · If your bow is at any kind of angle, then you will have to work hard to keep the bow in one place - Sometimes we do it on purpose.

If your hold of the bow is really loose and your wrist and elbow are relaxed, then any little tilt from parallel will mean that the bow moves readily, so if you want to really find the spot where the bow is parallel, then you need to have a really light hold and find the particular angle where a short detache doesn't move the bow at all. If your wrist is stiff, then it's going to be hard to do.

Edited: November 14, 2021, 12:30 PM · The angle that you point the scroll and the length of your forearm are two factors that work together to support or counter parallel bowing within a "soundpoint." You want to be sure your chinrest is positioned and of the optimum shape for you to do this.

Length of the player's arm can also affect ability to bow "straight" all the way to the tip, however many great players "tip off" the bow at the very tip (tip moving away from the bridge possibly to cover the noise of the bow change - but it's the same direction the bow would move if your arm is too short).

Because of my long arms I find it more natural to do this right on viola than on violin. On violin my scroll must be angled more to the left for natural "straight" bowing, otherwise my right elbow cannot clear my torso (or my right wrist must twist too much). Unfortunately I'm pretty sure this is why I have a bit more trouble with vibrato on violin than on viola. (I'll let you work that one out.)

Edited: November 14, 2021, 12:37 PM · The bow moving sideways without any sort of angle relative to the bridge is in defiance of physics, unless your contact is very weak and it's skidding along the string. Try moving the bow just sideways, without any motion perpendicular to the string... it doesn't want to move that way.
Edited: November 14, 2021, 9:16 PM · Cotton, what he's saying is that he's not bowing at a harsh angle that one could see in a mirror, but his contact point is drifting. Why can't we just take his problem at face value?

For now my own feeling is that Jake's only solution is going to be spending some more of his bandwidth on maintaining his contact point. Contact point is super important to overall tone production, so you really don't want to be satisfied with "merely" keeping it steady. You want to feel like you are in continuous, intentional control of it! It is alleged that Hilary Hahn stares at her contact point all the time while she is playing.

As you practice three octave scales, you should be intentionally drawing your bow significantly closer to the bridge as you reach into higher positions on the bridge, plus most teachers recommend that you put a crescendo as your scales rise into the high portion and that will demand a contact point that is very close to the bridge.

Alternatively you can practice a slower piece with a range of dynamics, and start to experiment with the combination of bow speed, downward force (pressure or "weight") and contact point to get the tone you want at the different dynamic levels. Concentrate on getting a resonant, focused tone until you become a reasonably good player. The various airy or skittering-bow type tones are more specialized things that you can learn later.

Edited: November 16, 2021, 1:47 PM · continued,- @C.M.,-- The bow hair can still drift sideways, out over the fingerboard, even when the bow is parallel to the bridge and one is doing the proper wrist bending, IF, the elbow is stationary. It is a geometry problem; how can one draw a straight line if the only tool is a compass?
Edited: November 15, 2021, 3:48 PM · You could use the very beginning of Kreutzer 23. Because it's just a bunch of detache clusters without frequent left hand changes, it's quite good for focusing on your bowing while having lots of bow movement, which can introduce the problem that you're having, giving you a chance to address it in a sterile etude. In a Heifetz masterclass, he gave it to a student playing Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. He told the student to use it while focusing on his bowing and tone production, in a similar way to how I am prescribing it. In Heifetz's case, he told the student to practice this while using only the tip and frog, alternating between the two every time the cluster changed notes, which would hopefully help the student become more comfortable with using those areas (he was avoiding the tip and frog).
November 15, 2021, 3:49 PM · I think what Paul is saying makes sense in regards to legato playing and longer bows, but what I'm thinking about, and I think the relevance of what Cotton is saying, pertains to detache bowing.

In long bows, you are more into the string, and you can maintain a soundpoint with a crooked bow, like Joel points out, without worrying about the geometry of your right arm setup as much - I don't think working this out is super pertinent, since I think the ear can guide better in long bows than needing to look into the mirror (although the mirror should be helpful as well).

Jake didn't specify, but I think the more difficult and more relevant problem is in establishing a detache (and spiccato and sautille etc) that is perfectly parallel. Mike points out Kreutzer 23 for long legato bows (unless Mike, you mean to disregard the written bowing and play the etude detache on each note in order to establish the coordination (or perhaps you have a different edition where 23 is a different etude than what's in my edition)), but I was more thinking working Kreutzer 2 (there's a reason so much time is spent on a million variations of this etude) and any number of detache studies in establishing what kind of geometries and relaxation are necessary for a free detache, with the complications of string crossings, shifts and mixed bowings being added on top of that.

It's not that you can't hear that as well, but the mirror work is really important here, and as Cotton points out, there's really no mechanism by which the bow will drift except that the bow isn't perfectly parallel throughout the motion, and as Joel points out, the geometry of your arm and wrist can be causing the angle of the bow to change throughout the stroke.

These are really two different problems, so Jake, you need to specify whether your soundpoint is drifting during detache or legato bowing.

Edited: November 15, 2021, 4:06 PM · "unless Mike, you mean to disregard the written bowing and play the etude detache on each note in order to establish the coordination (or perhaps you have a different edition where 23 is a different etude than what's in my edition"

What edition do you use? It seems that mine is quite poor; it doesn't mark the etude with legato. I really want to buy a new one, hopefully below $20.

My version has slurs on some shifts, only slurring two notes each time. Most bowings on my score of Kreutzer 23 are detache.

November 15, 2021, 4:09 PM · I use the International edition (Galamian). I believe many editions follow the same numbering, but I believe a lot of Russian editions have a different order (or editions calling it 40 etudes rather than 42), where I think the Russian edition has the basic detache etude as number 1, whereas most other editions have it as number 2, with an impossible son file etude as the opener.

So, this is 23 for me.

Edited: November 15, 2021, 4:23 PM · This is not the one that I have in mind. My Kreutzer 23 is just a bunch of octave clusters.

Edit: My copy lists them as 40 etudes. The publisher is Leipzig something...

November 15, 2021, 4:24 PM · Another mystery solved!

Jake, be sure to report back when you've implemented our advice (lol)

Edited: November 15, 2021, 4:28 PM · It's here
November 15, 2021, 5:05 PM · That's a good call, Mike!

Having to bow two strings simultaneously in detache should especially encourage keeping the bow parallel, additionally because if your fingers are in place, then keeping the double stop in tune will depend on not deviating from your soundpoint on one of the strings relative to the other, so a crooked bowing should stick out.

November 15, 2021, 5:12 PM · Greetings,
Kreutzer 2 is great but I wouldn’t even bother with that. Daily practice of of quarter segments of bow on open strings, combine to half bows and soon.
November 15, 2021, 5:26 PM · Mike, the "standard" Kreutzer editions are 42 etudes these days. IMSLP strikes again.

You can also practice your scales or K2 or any other all-detache piece using slur-2 and then martele-2. Virginia's all-state orchestra requires ascending scales in this style (descending scales are slur-4).

November 15, 2021, 5:52 PM · I'm out of touch with them youngins...
November 15, 2021, 6:05 PM · Buri, I think open strings is a great first step, but I have found in my playing that my messy angled bowing would tend to only show up once the left hand had something complicated to do - it showed up for me in a tense right arm. So eventually, I think it's good to add more and more complication in the left hand.

There's a reason Auer's method starts you on only open strings to begin - it's so foundational, that if you don't have that down firmly, it's going to echo in all your later playing.

November 15, 2021, 6:16 PM · Greetings,
Christian, yes that’s true. The extra load can create a new set of problems. The open string is a less than perfect start point. Personally I think one of the most useful overall exercises is a rapid bow from heel to square and then square to point in front of the mirror.
Also note that by systematic practice of angling the bow to move it =where you want it- is a useful way to approach the problem form the other direction. The exercises in Simon Fischer’s Basics and Warming Up are perfect for this approach.
November 15, 2021, 6:16 PM · Greetings,
Christian, yes that’s true. The extra load can create a new set of problems. The open string is a less than perfect start point. Personally I think one of the most useful overall exercises is a rapid bow from heel to square and then square to point in front of the mirror.
Also note that by systematic practice of angling the bow to move it =where you want it- is a useful way to approach the problem form the other direction. The exercises in Simon Fischer’s Basics and Warming Up are perfect for this approach.
Edited: November 16, 2021, 3:45 AM · When my boy plays, his bow often drift to the fingerboard. So these are my observations (i.e. YMMV), and some of the things I am asking him to do:

1. Ensure that the violin itself is held properly, more or less parallel to the floor. I find that when the violin is held is a way that when the scroll is pointing more to the front, rather than to the left, the violin scroll tends to drop a little when playing. The violin is slanted downwards, string is slanted, bow wants to move down to the fingerboard.

2. Placing the score at the correct height. In my case, the score is a little low, and had to “look downwards” to read the score. When this happens, again violin will drop, bow position moves.

3. I am with Joey regarding wrist movement and 2 finger practice. 2 fingers essentially “free up” the wrist during practice, giving more liberty to “twist and turn”.

4. With 2 fingers, up/down full bow practice to condition the muscle and get a smooth bowing motion. Initially without a violin. With the left hand near the left shoulders (and keeping it there without moving), using two fingers (left hand) to form a “circle”, and the right hand bow up/down with 2 fingers, with the bow stick through this “circle”. The right wrist will turn and twist as the bow goes up and down.

5. When trying this on the violin, due to twist and turn of the wrist, the bow hair will angle and flatten against the strings. When done correctly, the bow hair will flatten as bowing downwards, and the bowhair will angle towards the bridge when bowing upwards (like scooping the hair towards you), meaning less hair contact. In a way, this sort of counter the extra weight when playing near the frog.

November 16, 2021, 7:11 AM · Buri where abouts is it in Basics? I had a quick look through to see if I could find anything, but couldn't...
November 16, 2021, 7:43 AM · hi Jake, check out the section "bowing parallel to the bridge" starting on page 20. I know you say that this is not your problem, but it actually must be, as Cotton also wrote, there is no other way to leave your soundpoint than to bow not-parallel. just "pushing" or "pulling" it vertically cannot be the reason (that would be *very* strange). or you don't use any rosin whatsoever :-) anyway, that section mentioned gives a lot of deep insights.
November 16, 2021, 8:04 AM · Ah I see. Thanks!

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