Technical imagery

September 10, 2023, 11:00 AM · Often imagery is used to describe a technique in string teaching, making the technique more understandable.

An example is that the right arm is like a wing when doing string crossings. Or that you should feel as if you are hanging from the edge of a cliff to achieve good left hand balance.

Do you have any favorites that have increased your understanding of violin technique without complicated descriptions? Thanks, Bruce

Replies (29)

September 10, 2023, 1:39 PM · Bruce -- great thread idea. Probably the one I've heard most often is "arm weight." I think a lot of teachers also connect bowing/phrasing with breathing. I believe Rosand was among the champions of that concept.
September 11, 2023, 5:33 AM · good topic Bruce, but for me personally, such images have never helped. not that I am not a romantic soul!
September 11, 2023, 9:23 AM · Interesting - but such images can be a double-edged sword (hehehe) since they can inhibit growth. For example the arm wing can be interpreted as if that is the only factor in string crossings - and miss that (for scales) the first finger leads on changes up while the fourth leads on changes down. At least that's how I do it!
September 11, 2023, 9:31 AM · A double-edged sword is not to be confused with a Sword of Damocles.
September 11, 2023, 10:41 AM ·

I think images like those you describe can be helpful. Our brains are, first and foremost, made to process images especially images that describe motion. But like any analogy, they shouldn't be taken too literally. All analogies break down eventually.

I've enjoy viewing master-classes on YouTube, and I noticed where Zukerman has used some sports analogies in that way. In his collection of excellent videos on, Perlman effectively uses a horizontal figure-eight image to describe bowing. Etc.

Edited: September 11, 2023, 12:55 PM · For bow control: think of a phonograph needle riding in the record groove. [Remember those big black round things?] The bow hair makes a kink in the string and then tracks in that groove. A minimum amount of force or weight is needed to stay in that groove. With zero weight, or unwanted sideways force, the hair pops out of the groove and skates out of the optimal point of contact.
Edited: September 12, 2023, 4:26 AM · Weight vs Pressure (or "weight" vs "pressure" ?)
The actual bow contact will be the same, but the surrounding shape of the bow stroke, and the internal use of muscles, will be different.
September 12, 2023, 8:40 AM · I always liked the image of crawling around on the fingerboard rather than jumping.
September 13, 2023, 9:06 AM · Joel's groove image is a nice one!
September 13, 2023, 6:32 PM · Greetings,
I think it might have been Galamian’s idea but I really like the notion of calling colle ‘pizz with the bow.’ I also use Drew Lecher7s warm up where one keeps a firm bow hold (the shape of the hand doesn’t change) and wave the arm about in all directions ‘like spaghetti.’
I recently heard the words ‘wet slap’ for the sound of the flat fingers hitting the fingerboard in a wrist vibrato preliminary exercise. I think the interesting thing about this thread is actually the crossover between imagery to aid a specific technique and imagery to elicit musical ideas or specific sounds. It may be harder to separate than one might think.
Idle thoughts,
September 13, 2023, 8:54 PM · For the Star Trek fans, I like to tell my students that they should shift as if they were on a shuttle craft, not trying to beam down to the surface.
September 13, 2023, 9:53 PM · I vibe with the image of ice skating
September 13, 2023, 10:03 PM · Mary,
If I had a student called Kirk who constantly played too close to the fingerboard I could shout at him:
*Kirk to bridge. Kirk to bridge.’
He would have to learn to make the bow klingon the strings more.
Live long and prosper,
September 13, 2023, 10:04 PM · PS I hate it when my bridge is warp factor 8.
September 14, 2023, 6:33 PM · I thought nothing could top the "prunes" suggestion, but perhaps we have a contender!

Love it!!

September 14, 2023, 11:05 PM · LOL Buri!

Just today I told a student that when playing three note chords, his bow needed to land like an airplane, not a helicopter.

Edited: September 15, 2023, 5:22 AM · 'Weight VS pressure' is probably the most confusing thing I waa ever taught in violin playing. Did anyone really understand it from the onset? They seem to mean the same thing as both sound like pushing down.

IMO it should be taught as the actual intent: 'A relaxed and not a tense arm'.

September 15, 2023, 6:21 PM · Weight vs Pressure. I prefer the word Force. With the bow it is leverage at the upper third, arm weight at the lower third, and a mix in between, depending on which string and the tilt angle of the violin. What we want to avoid is the feeling of pushing down on the bow, with a high elbow. That can crush the tone, or the hair can pop out the optimum point of contact.
Edited: September 15, 2023, 6:32 PM · Pressure is something you *do.* Weight is something you *allow.* When it comes to making a beautiful sound on the violin, the effect of gravity on the weight of your arm is your friend.
September 15, 2023, 6:47 PM · My teacher uses the image of a sleepy/lazy arm, too sleepy/lazy to do anything but hang onto the bow. Pulling as opposed to pushing down. I had a very hard time getting a decent tone at first, when I was thinking in terms of pressure or force, because I was basically shoving the bow down onto the strings from above, which for me anyway is very much a way to generate a lot of tension and deaden all the natural flexibility of the bow. I'm still working on the feeling of hanging off the bow and letting gravity pull my arm down.
September 15, 2023, 7:10 PM · I thought pressure was from turning the wrist.
September 15, 2023, 7:21 PM · I'm trying to think of pronation more as leverage than pressure. But my whole thing with tone has been a long battle between getting the hair into the string and not creating tension in my hand/arm. It is not intuitive at all. You sort of have to do it right almost by accident the first time, and then remember how it felt, and hopefully be able to recreate/control that feeling afterwards. Or something like that.
September 16, 2023, 7:13 AM · In a recent online fiddle workshop the teacher used the image of the right arm as that of a marionette being tugged from the wrist. I’ve also read of the arm being compared to a heavy rope that wants to collapse. This whole right arm thing is to me the most difficult hurdle I’ve yet encountered, and it’s getting all my attention right now. Luckily I’ve recently found an in-person tutor who immediately calls me out when my tone degrades and offers great suggestions.
September 20, 2023, 10:18 AM · Joel, even the smaller shiny round things have reached that status!
September 20, 2023, 4:44 PM · So many good ideas in this thread! My favorite images:

Let the spine expand (for tone and posture)
Pet the dog (for flexible hand and string contact)
Take in things that are in your periphery of vision (for not concentrating too hard)
Pretend your LH fingers have faces - they should always be "looking" towards the fingerboard (for efficient left hand set up)
Touch the string like it's a secret (for harmonics)
pianissimo bow for a mili-second (if you don't want the shift in a slur to show too much)
Pretend there is a pillow under the armpit (for slow spiccato)
Elbow dripping towards the floor (for relaxing the left arm)
Every string crossing goes through a double stop (for getting close to the next string)
Feel a round object within the hand (for bow grip)
Off the string is almost on (for out of control bouncing)

Edited: September 21, 2023, 5:01 AM · Susanna - I think you just won this topic!
I go to pet the dog...
September 21, 2023, 6:20 AM · the "dripping" left elbow is a nice one!
Edited: September 22, 2023, 6:10 PM · My approach to the bow is a synthesis of aspects of Franco-Belgian, Russian and Dounis. The beginning of the downbow is basically F/B, with all the fingers very round. A lot of students have trouble with this and bend their thumb and pinky in. I tell them to imagine that they are picking up an apple or an orange from a table. How would their fingers be? It is often quite helpful - for about five seconds! ;-)
For students who tend to scratch at the frog, I tell them to suspend their weight and imagine that they are petting a little kitten or puppy and have them do some repeated down bows and up bows at the frog.

Paul, you’re right about Rosand and breathing with the bow. I sometimes have students play long bows on open strings, inhaling on the upbow, raising the upper arm slightly and exhaling on the down bow. I also ask them to think of bellows.

For the left hand, if they have bumpy shifting, I ask them to imagine that they dipped their left hand into a tub of buttered popcorn and then went back to the violin neck. This sometimes helps - but it also sometimes makes me hungry!

September 22, 2023, 9:54 PM · Raphael,
Popcorn is just when some worn out old geezer like me makes another stab at humor…
I do really appreciate the willingness to share experiences gleaned from master players. Preserving these small gems is part and parcel of our self sustaining universe. Too much gets lost.

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