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Bowing Technique


CountryBoy
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I would like to post a question to the board for opinion/advice.

First, let me state that I am not a player. My daughter (8 years old) has finally found that by letting go of the pressure on the bow that the sound is improved dramatically, however in this an entirely new set of issues have arisen.

When holding the bow she has a very, very slight grasp on it. In fact, only her thumb and middle finger are in control with some help from her index to keep it from falling completely down the fingerboard.

Problem 1)

If the violin was positioned scroll to the north and tailpiece to the south, utilizing such a slight grasp on her bow it (the bow) has a tendency to be northwest at the tip and southeast at the frog. She will almost always stay above the ff-holes with the bow, but it looks quite unorthodox and when she gets into a fast fiddle song (Orange Blossom Special or Tom and Jerry for example) the bow is moving all over the place.

Problem 2)

With such a slight grasp her fingers tend to migrate up the bow away from the frog on very long songs with no breaks where she would normally reposition her hand.

If anyone has an opinion or suggestion, please reply on or off board.

Thanks,

CountryBoy

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Your daugther has the right "grip"(that grip should change slightly when bowed), and next is to pay attention to the direction of bow, the bow should "ideally"

perpendicular to the strings at all time (or equivalently parallel to the bridge) when she is using her bow. To do that she should extend her arms (upper as well as lower arm of her right side )in such a way that the bow will parellel to the bridge. There are two schools of this, German school or modern school? Not to say, if the holding of her violin position is allowed to change. Andy Victor, or other may be able to do a better job to explain this.

PS. In consideration of Contryboy's daughter is a performer. I would like to share this: The general audience is very critical to a performer. From my own experience, some were so rude (became self-appointed critics)and got up to leave if they saw something wrong in holding the bow for a short period of time even nothing bad about the sound. (Only way I could save my neck, was to play some fast tricky bowings that were they were looking for)(share you with my public,non-ticket performance horrifying experience) /yuen/

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I'm sure the learned folks on the boards will have some great advice for you, Countryboy.

It's amazing, when studying the violin, that making a great breakthrough (bow speed vs. bow pressure) seems to just lead to another host of issues that need resolving. Ah, well. That's the nature of the thing.

Regarding the movement of her bow, I got confused with the directions, but if I've got it right it seems possible she might have it the wrong way around, at least according to my daughter's teacher (which, I've learned, is a Galamian-DeLay approach). At the frog, it's acceptable to have the bow hair tilted slightly toward the face and the tip tilted slightly away from the face (bow angled toward the face at the frog he would never accept); moving down bow toward the tip, elbow/hand pushes out slightly to create a vaguely banana shaped path of the hand. Such movement ensures that the bow moves parallel to the bridge at the sounding point -- with no movement of the elbow the tip would begin to angle toward the fingerboard on a downbow. Have you ever checked out violinmasterclass.com?

When my daughter's teacher was correcting her bowstroke the recipe was long slow bows on open strings with a metronome from frog to tip watching the sounding point to make sure it doesn't move. He had her do this 15 minutes per day. What am I saying, she still does it every day -- though not quite fifteen minutes.

It is important, as you know, to not have the bow flying around. Perhaps go as slow as necessary to ensure proper bow control and then gradually build up the speed.

As for the fingers migrating, what my daughter's teacher did was sort of extreme, so you'd definitely have to run it by her teacher. He took one of her hair scrunchies, or whatever they're called, those things that they make pony tails with, and basically pushed it through the frog and slipped the two ends over the back of the bow to create an x-shape over the eye of the frog; in the top of the x, he had her insert her third finger (one next to pinky) and the pinky found a spot where it normally would. He kept it on for months and months, and I would say it helped to create a supple wrist and fingers that didn't migrate. I've never seen anyone else do this, but it seemed to work quite well. I know he did it for another student as well, and he's got a lovely bow stroke now.

I'm not sure if that helps or not, but best of luck.

Stringdad

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It sounds to me that she is drawing her bow with her whole arm and making a circular motion with the bow. Such a motion will cause the bow to wander up and down the strings. Have her stand in a doorway with her upper arm (bow arm)against the door jamb. Then slowly bow open strings. The bow should stay perpendicular (or very nearly so) to the strings at all times. She could also practise this looking in a mirror. The bow stroke is accomplished from the elbow to the fingertips, the shoulder and upper arm really don't get involved except when changing strings and maybe a little at the end of an "up" stroke.

Hope this helps a little!

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In respect to my original post I feel that I must clarify some points in order to better illustrate the issue in question.

Using my original description of North/South, etc., my daughters bow does not go from northwest at the TIP (downbow) to southwest at the TIP (upbow), it maintains a continuous angle at all times. For example, if bow is in contact with the strings at the frog it is in more like a 105 degree angle to the bridge (as opposed to 90 degrees), it is at the same exact angle when the bow is on the strings at the tip. She maintains enough of a tilt to the bow to keep the bow from sliding down the strings, but with every bow stroke it would seem that the bow hair would have to be pulled or pushed at a somewhat sideways angle. I fear that having her use her first finger as a means of correcting the angle issue would be a slap in the face to the "NO PRESSURE" rule that has been emphasized to her. Currently she is working on ensuring that the violin and strings are level, and holding her right elbow somewhat forward of where she is accustomed to playing "with a tight grip". Both of these seem to be helping somewhat, but please feel free to flood me with replies concerning this issue both on and off list.

I hope that this makes the issue clearer. Thank you for all posts.

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The angled bow problem is pretty common, and I still do it sometimes when I'm concentrating on other things. One sure way to fix is is by getting a couple of drinking straws and folding them up and stuffing them in the top of the F holes so they stand straight up and and directly opposite each other. This will make the violin sound terrible, but by practising her bowing with these as guides for about five or ten minutes she will get a good feel of where she needs to position her arm to keep the bow straight. It's good to start out a practise session with this for a week or two. I'm guessing that she is probably just pulling her elbow in too close to her body. Another problem in fiddling is that there is a lot of quick passages that require wrist circles and not whole arm movement. If she is having difficulty keeping the bow in place on fast passages then she probably needs to concentrate on moving just the wrist. I was shown an exersise for this that might be a little difficult, but worth a try. Have her kneel, or sit, beside a chair so that she can rest her bowing arm on the back just above the elbow making sure her arm is perpendicular (not too high or low). Then practise some of those passages that require the wrist circles and she will find that she will be forced to use just her wrist, and the bow won't be able to wander.

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I am surprised that everyone is discussing the angle that the bow is going on, how it should be going, and what the arm is doing, without looking at the original situation. As I understand it, the bow of Countryboy's daughter is doing something new which seems disturbing after she made a particular change in how her hand relates to the bow. I would want to look at that. I'd prefer to see the input of some really experienced players and/or teachers but once in a while a student can have insights because of recent foolishnesses.

As I understand it the young violinist has "discovered" the better sound through using less pressure. It seems from the description that first of all she has little control of how the bow sits in her hand, so that it angles "downhill" (sorry, I got lost in the norths and souths, but I would assume that's what's happening) because it would naturally pivot along the axis of the hold. It would also seem that formerly she was using her first finger for pressure (correct) and that the first finger was also what she was using to keep the bow angled properly, in other words to stop it from sloshing around in the hand along that pivotty thing. This is where I'd like to see some teacher input. Because while the first finger and the fourth can be used to adjust the angle of the bow on the string in some complex manoeuvering, I don't believe that is the first finger's role. I am able to keep a straight bow, i.e. stop it from being pivotted by gravity, with my second and third fingers and the thumb working together, with the second being the main hold.

The advice about wrist flexibility, making certain the elbow isn't locked etc. is excellent advice. If those things aren't done, then the bow travels in an arc in a full bow stroke like a windshield wiper. However, with a "sloshy bow hold" that problem doesn't even arise because the bow is so loose in the hand that it doesn't get affected by the angles of the arm. I think that here gravity itself is creating the bowing angle.

I have the dubious "advantage" of having tried every new idea under the sun in my second year, getting all of them wrong, and doing them stupidly. I read something about having everything relaxed and loose, (Havas?), and gave myself back pain for half a year until I realized I was creating a dead weight into my back and making just about everything ineffective. My "loose bow hold" under the same philosophy became a limp bow hold. What Countryboy is describing reminds me very much of my "limp is relaxed" period (it's not!).

I think this is what has to be looked at: regardless of what style of bow hold you adopt, Franco-Belgian, Suzuki, Galamian, Russian, fiddler (I think I'm making some of these up, but you get the picture) there are four fingers and a thumb. Each of those fingers have a specific and different role. Some of them interact with the thumb in a particular way. When I had my "sloshy hand" situation, my teacher and I reestablished the role of the middle finger(s) and the thumb. I experimented in the role of the other two fingers by playing (no more than 5 minutes) while lifting certain of the fingers, seeing what the others were doing, getting a feel for them, and so on. I got to "know" my fingers. I think there's something going wrong in that area, and possibly in the role of the first finger as a steering device. Violinmasterclass has a lot to say about the roles of the various fingers.

I hope this can nudge someone with much more knowledge than I have into some better advice than I can give.

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I'm lost in the "geography."

There are certain principles of bowing for good tone.

1. First the bow should be under the player's control and move parallel to the bridge "at all times" except when there are musical or sonic reasons why the player wants somewhat different motions.

2. The "sounding point" (that is, the location of the bow between fingerboard end and bridge affects the tone quality and is one of the variables a player uses expressively to make music and to change the sound.

3. The loudness is related to the speed of the bow (faster makes louder), but how this works is related to the "sounding point."

4. A light bow hold allows the vibrating string to sound more freely, but some pressure is needed to get the sound started. Index finger pressure (which is applied almost autonomously by pronation of the right forearm) allows the player to make the same loudness at tip and frog. Holding the bow in the hand in such a way as to allow this pronation and index finger pressure also allwos the bow to move straight (parallel to the bridge) from frog to tip.

5. Constant hard pressure of the bow onthe string (of many violins) dampens the tone. The strings will not vibrate freely under such pressure.

Everyone who plays well exhibits these principles, but the way the accomplish it does vary according to players' physical attributes - strengths and weaknesses. One extreme in bow hold is exhibited by Joshua Bell, for example, whose right arm is held very high.

In general the bow is tilted to the string somewhat away from the bridge so that the right wrist is higher than the bow (when playiing between frog and middle of the bow). But I have seen some players who do very well with the hair flat on the string (I think it is harder to play this way - and it is more the "Franco-Belgian" style that started to vanish with Heifetz's arrival in the west. WHen one wants the bow stick to interact strongly with the hair in off-string strokes (like "sautillé") it can work well to hold the bow stick directly above the hair so the hair is flat on the string. For other strokes - for which direct interaction with the bow stick may be too springy - the tilt is very helpful - even for off-string strokes like "brush strokes" so important in late 18th - early 19th century classical music.

Andy

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Quote:

I am surprised that everyone is discussing the angle that the bow is going on, how it should be going, and what the arm is doing, without looking at the original situation. As I understand it, the bow of Countryboy's daughter is doing something new which seems disturbing after she made a particular change in how her hand relates to the bow.


How her hand relates to the bow is going to be directly affected by the position of her arm. I, and I'm sure many others, have found that when I try to relax while playing the first thing that happens is that I drop my elbow too low, there-by causing the bow to travel at the wrong angle. The exersise using the straws in the F holes is a great one because it forces you to keep your elbow up in order to get the bow to run straight.

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+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

When holding the bow she has a very, very slight grasp on it. In fact, only her thumb and middle finger are in control with some help from her index to keep it from falling completely down the fingerboard.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Why not just try to hold the bow in the air first to get the feel of what each finger pressure is required to hold the bow.(i.e. a Standard bow hold with left hand help holding the tip of the bow, right hand at frog). Important thing here are the placements of the fingers (of right hand) on the bow and the pressure of each finger. As the bow moves in air the (all) fingers have to move or change slightly too (or it won't balance, or stiff ,too much pressure on the stick, or not natural, all bad things happen etc). Now put the bow on strings and play. This time, the elbow and arm extension and hand( what manner of elbow away from body ,extent of up or down etc)will play (determine the direction of the bow) the role of bow direction. That is what I think.

the whole thing should be natural and

Nothing is complicated. It is does not mean "finger does not have pressure on the bow". It means fingers not having "extra" pressure on the bow (seemed natural).

all pressure are equalized so to speak . Please correct me if I am wrong. I call it bow basic, bow technique is the fancy things we do on bowings, another subject. /yuen/

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Everybody has said some great things about bowing here. I just want to get back to the fact that this is an eight-year-old we're talking about. It's probably best for her to only work on one thing at a time, and right now that thing is straight bowing. It's hard to tell what may be affecting this besides the limp bow grip -- her teacher is the one on the spot, who will have to evaluate that. But possibly you can help her by encouraging her to feel the "other side" of the bow a little more with her first finger, so her fingers can help more with the steering; and when she bows down-bow, to feel as if she's pushing the frog away from her (toward your "northeast" a bit), and straightening the elbow more than she is now. The contact with the ring finger, the tilt of the bow, and all that other good stuff, could come later.

Most of my young students bow really straight if I hold my hand out as a target close to the end of where a down-bow should finish up; they can easily see that out of the corners of their eyes, and get the feel of the path a straight bow travels.

Does she understand and accept that bowing parallel to the bridge is important? Does she *want* to bow straight? (Many of my younger students really don't want to be bothered with this! Odd, isn't it.... ) Can she look at the placement of the bow on the strings, and tell whether it's straight or not? One can't take this for granted, really; some people, of any age, have a hard time with it. But if so, StringDad's ideas about long, straight bows might really help.

Yuen, I don't think anything you've said is wrong, but I am hesitant about having little kids make bowing movements in the air in anything but a vertical position. Without the support of the violin, the bow hand carries much more weight and the torque is much harder to manage; little fingers tend to collapse, and grips tighten up considerably. Anxious adult beginners have the same problem. I think that approach is more suitable for a more experienced student who is really studying the dynamics of the bowing hand.

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Quote:

Does she understand and accept that bowing parallel to the bridge is important? Does she *want* to bow straight? (Many of my younger students really don't want to be bothered with this! Odd, isn't it.... )


Many observerving violinists have commented about how beautiful her bowing (grip, motion, and distance from the bridge) was before she "discovered" the difference that the pressure issue made to the voice of the violin. (it is extremely different on her electric violin) It is an issue that I noticed initially. I mentioned it to her and she asked what to do to fix it without tightening her grip, hence I turned to the professionals for advice. So yes, she is concerned about it.

Quote:

Can she look at the placement of the bow on the strings, and tell whether it's straight or not? One can't take this for granted, really; some people, of any age, have a hard time with it. But if so, StringDad's ideas about long, straight bows might really help.


I pointed it out once, now she is noticing that it is occuring and keeps asking me how to fix it. It has become her mission in playing to fix it as she can very much tell that she is doing it.

Once again, every post is read for suggestions/advice/past experience and is greatly appreciated.

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Quote:

I mentioned it to her and she asked what to do to fix it
without tightening her grip
, hence I turned to the professionals for advice. So yes, she is concerned about it.


Is there any chance at all that in order to achieve less pressure in bowing, she did so by loosening her grip, which is why she is now trying to solve the problem of the out of control bow while worrying about doing the opposite, i.e. tightening it? If she achieved the less forceful bowing by relaxing her hand rather than just the pressure through her first finger - and that would achieve the immediate aim of using less pressure - that might be an overall relaxation that also compromises a reliable hold as well. She should be able to get a solid hold with the middle fingers without it becoming a tight "grip" and I'm still wondering if the culprit might not be too lose of a hold with the essential fingers and thumb. I'm throwing this out just in case it might be of use.

I just reread the first post again, about the hand migrating along the stick during a long piece, etc. The bow hold has to become a "hold" and working just on straight bows while the hand has no control and is travelling about on the stick seems important but secondary. I had a very loose hold for a short while a long time ago and it creates an insecure feeling all round.

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I am no expert so take these comments with a grain of salt.

Straight bowing: I second the use of a mirror. When watching herself in a mirror she should find it fairly easy to make the right arm movements to get a straight bow. Is this the case? Once she can bow straight at all, she's going to need to re-work any piece she's been playing by practising it specifically for straight bowing until she can sustain the bowing at speed.

As has been said in some form already, the feeling of very relaxed bow hold, i.e. just holding with the finger and thumb, can be preserved while returning the other fingers to their appropriate tasks, so long as all the fingers act like springs and don't get tense. Springs can hold something firmly but loosely, that's what she needs her fingers to do.

Sliding up the bow: There are bow-crawling exercises which are fantastic for developing a better feeling of close but loose contact with the bow, perhaps her teacher can show her some.

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+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Yuen, I don't think anything you've said is wrong, but I am hesitant about having little kids make bowing movements in the air in anything but a vertical position. Without the support of the violin, the bow hand carries much more weight and the torque is much harder to manage; little fingers tend to collapse, and grips tighten up considerably. Anxious adult beginners have the same problem. I think that approach is more suitable for a more experienced student who is really studying the dynamics of the bowing hand.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Hi,

You bought out here an excellent point that many of us may have overlooked, namely a "dynamic" situation vs "static" situation.

As this young talented performer plays, bow in motion, the bow grip should be light,and that is all required, gravity is in fact shifted to

other place (on strings) not on hands, "tight grip" is entirely unnecessary (the momentum will be doing its work).

When this young performer is not playing, she holds the bow with all her fingers, the pressure of her fingers would be quite different.(tight grip would be using)to keep the bow balance in air, a dead weight situation.

Two different sets of finger pressure will be experienced.

(dynamic vs static). I think that is the problem.

As much as I know, all classical trained violinists use light grips, looked so easy and natural to anyone who wants to mimic. Their finger placements change about 1/16 inch within motion, as I was told. /yuen/

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  • 4 weeks later...

Countryboy, what does your daughter's teacher say about the change in bow angle? I'd be intested to know if it may be a short term issue that he/she is developing a long term solution for and with.

Stillnew has some good ideas from a teacher's perspective. I would venture to guess that is exactly what the teacher may be doing--looking and working with a "root cause" that may not be noticeable to you as a lay-person.

The changes you see may be part of a greater scheme.

Often, one can only change things in stages rather than all at once. Also, a temporary over-correction can be part of an over-all and eventual correction.

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