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mommag

bow arm excercise for left handed

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Hi, although it is getting better, my son's bow arm is somewhat

tense.  He is left-handed, so it took a while to come to this

point where he could control his bow better.  But, he tends to

get tense on his shoulder when he plays forte or tremolo.

 Also, he uses too much upper arm (side way) which at times

makes his bow slide toward fingerboard.  When he makes

conscious effort, he could draw his bow straight, but when he

starts to look at the  music, sliding of the bow occurs.

 Is there any exercise he can use to better his bow arm?

 

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Southwest Strings sell a "Bow Right" and a "Bow Stopper" that might give him the exercise and

the training he needs to keep the bow in the groove.

P.S. I receive no compensation whatever from Southwest Strings.

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Scratchybow, have you used it yourself or with your children? Does it work? I purchased it a long time ago for my younger children, but their bow got stuck between the metal things and it was just a disaster. Maybe it was just my kids. My oldest son tends to slide side way sometimes, but my concern for him is more on relaxing his bow arm. When he tends to slide, it seems due to him trying to produce forte sound. Instead of using index finger pressure or arm weight, he press it down with his whole arm and the force of drawing the bow toward right side at the tip. When he plays piano or other not so strong in dynamics, his bow is straight. When I look at the professional violinists' videos, their bow arm seems to be very relaxed, yet absolutely in control. I know it will take a lot of work, but I want him to get the relaxed bow arm (shoulder).

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It may sound bizarre, but practising in front of a large mirror can be very useful for practising scales etc without music.

The music stand can be also placed so that the bow arm can be viewed by the player whilst looking at the music.

Eventually, the player develops a feel for the correct arm movement without looking at the mirror.

ps - also works very well for practising off string playing near the frog.

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Mommag, Yes, no trouble. And Janito, you are right. A large mirror is a great training aid. As far as tension in the arm and shoulder, this can be caused by

too tight a bow hold. Have him practice awhile, with the feeling that he is holding the bow so light, that it is about to fall out of his hand. This will relax the wrist,

the hand, the shoulder, and the whole body. As for the forte, I would wait awhile, until he got the bow on a little better path. Also, if the practice session is a little

too long, he could be getting tired, causing him to tighten up. I'm sure you will work this out, and he will be on his way to being a fine violinist. Best Wishes.

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Something has been bothering me in this. I know your son has a teacher. Is he or she seeing these problems, and then, more importantly, finding causes and solutions? If the teacher is seeing these errors - i.e. the errant bowing, is that teacher simply pointing out that it needs to be corrected, or telling your son how to? A locked joint, for example, can cause errant bowing, or a number of other things. If the teacher finds what is causing the problem, he or she may also have exercises or things to do to help your son overcome this. Are you getting any input from the teacher as to the why's and hows?

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How old is he? Would he enjoy that old "on the table" science lesson with the bow running a perfectly straight track, frog to tip, near the bridge while he looks straight down at the violin, one finger and thumb lightly holding the screw to keep the bow from falling off? Then he could ease the instruments by stages toward normal playing positions while maintaining THAT tone.

He sounds like a regular talented kid to me, craving that big-muscle "loud feeling" as his musical passion heightens. Raising your head and feeling tone from somewhere below the beltline is a rather adult experience, which comes to us in due time. Be not afraid.

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He is eleven. His teacher ordered him to do very slow G scale 4 octaves this past lesson. He is becoming aware of himself when his shoulder goes up and quickly release his shoulder. Someone told me to try holding the bow with your left hand. This is what the left handed person feels when they hold a bow. It is awkward and feels less controled. Yes, Janito and Scratchybow, A mirror was also suggested by the teacher so he can check his posture and arm. I am not a violinist so I don't know if I am observing right, but his bow hand seems to be very relaxed. I would say he gets tense more or so on upper arm and shoulder. I am showing him the stretch exercise that you raise your arms high but put your shoulder down so he can feel that he doesn't necessarily have to raise his shoulder when he raise his arm. Scratchybow, maybe I'll tell him to practice the piece he's working on without dynamics for now and focus on his relaxing the bow arm. Do you think it's ok?

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I would surmize that the issue of left-handedness is largely irrelevant. Bowing well is hard -- very hard -- regardless of the handedness of the player. Players at all stages in their careers, whether right or left handed, may suffer from tightness, pain, stiffness, weakness, etc., from a bewildering variety of causes, but I've not heard a credible argument that handedness figures especially prominently.

HS

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I agree with Hank. I am focusing on my bow hold almost exclusively right now, as it is holding me back as I get into pieces which require more advanced bowing techniques. It is good that your son is focusing on this vital aspect of playing so early.

The issue of handedness is, in my opinion, irrelevant, as said by Hank. I am a strongly left handed person, and the fact that my bowing is not ideal is not because I am sinister, but because I never really payed it any credence until my bad technique became an inhibiting habit!

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Right after I read your initial post yesterday, I tried to bow left-handed, which would be equivalent to your son's predicament. If I had to play "backwards" like that, i would work on playing whole bow open strings every day until I could coordinate the balance of the bow in my hand without tension in my upper arm, shoulders or back. Then I would add string crossings. I would also do various rhythmic bowing patterns at different parts of the bow.

I do not understand what you wrote about a 4-octave G scale. That would indicate very advanced fingerboard ability - perhaps I misunderstand something.

i have a left-handed adult cello student and he had problems adapting to using the bow during the first years But he did solve the problems.

I think handedness can be a big issue for bowing - probably even more than for handwriting, because one is required to bow in so many different ways, but write in only one.

Andy

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Andrew, you didn't misunderstand. He is somewhat advanced for his age. He is working on Mendelssohn right now. But the more advanced piece he is going to play, the better bow control he will need, so I wanted him to acquire good bow arm while he's still young. Hank, you are probably right. Regardless of right or left handedness, it is hard to have a good bow arm. Plus, he held his bow with his right hand since day one, so maybe it feels natural to hold the bow in the right hand for him. (Although he apply rosin with his bow in his left hand. Isn't it funny?) But maybe it is slightly weaker than his left arm since it is not his dominant arm. What about letting him use chopstick with his right hand when he eats? It may help him with his finger strength and coordination?

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mommag,

The only thing that will show results is what your son's teacher has asked of him.

I would suggest that you yourself try only using your off-hand (left, if you are right-handed) for eating and writing for the next month and it might enlighen you.

Also, which "Mendelssohn" is he attempting?

It may very well be that your son is trying to learn pieces that he should not, until he has his basic bowing figured out.

-E

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Hi Mommag,

Allow me to try to get a broad perspective and maybe act as a bridge by sharing some things I have learned. I am both a parent and a student. My son is now in the last steps of getting hsi degree in music and as a later starter had to acquire the skills more quickly than normal in order to be competitive by the time auditions came around. When he was your son's age, he was a few years away from even starting music! Second, I'm left handed. Third I began violin a few years ago and that combined journey, including the mistakes I made, has taught me a lot.

First, learning the skills of playing the violin does not always going on as straight a path as academic pursuits. It's a rather subtle affair, and every good teacher has his own methods. For example, a teacher may want his student to acquire perfection gradually in a certain area. He may hear the slightly off intonation or see the somewhat awkward bowing, but he may beleive that if everything is done at once, the student will become so uptight and stiff and self-conscious, that in the long run it will do more harm than good. OR he may be building a framework you don't know about. Maybe he is slowly, grdually forming some kind of physical component in his seeming random instructions, and then when that physical bulwark is there, he can go on to the next step.

There is a balance between the task and the physical action. By that I mean - physical: if a bow hold is completely wrong, then it is impossible of learning to bow correctly, which is the task. On the other hand, sometimes by working on an assignment, over time the small muscles and nerve endings and so on begin to adjust, grow and learn, and the movement refines itself, the hand becomes more coordinated and takes on a better shape and so on. If on the other hand as a student you are too deliberate about always watching for perfect form, you may interfere with the natural growth of the human body. Just try this: For a few days analyze how human beings walk. Then try to walk in the correct manner, placing your feet this way, shifting your weight that way, until you are aware of every perfect nuance of walking. You will probably find yourself becoming clumsy, helpless, and losing some natural control. This phenomenon can happen in a complex skill like the violin.

So a teacher knows all of that. His training and experience stand behind him if he is a good teacher. You wrote about the 4 octave assignment, and that your son has become aware of his bowing through that assignment. Your son's playing is in the process of improving at this very moment, from what I gather. How is it improving? He is forced to carry out this smooth bowing while playing those scales He needs to be very attentive, and attentive of the results. By being extremely attentive, he is increasing his ability to concentrate, his awareness of his instrument, and all of that are creating skills in a subtle and natural way. By aiming at a good sound, or correct intonation, we cannot help adjusting our bodies, and this happens in a balanced and good way. Secondly, he is bowing slowly. Do you have any idea how difficult that is? As you bow up and down a string, the bow constantly gets lighter and heavier, with a constant need to adjust to this, as well as being aware of the shapes and curves of bowing. If you play fast you can wing it, but not if you play slowly. I would surmise that your son's teacher is totally on top of his progress, and has a plan in mind. I'm guessing that he is using this approach where the task teaches the body. Your son's attention is to be on the task, and away from the body except for the straight bowing. He also needs to focus on one or two simple things, goals that have been set for him by his teacher, and stay with it.

In essence, in your wish to help your son, you are taking over a teacher's role. You have set goals for him, what he ought to achieve. You are looking for learning and teaching methodology, and giving your son different things to do. If for example you want him to pay attention to something physical at the moment when his teacher wants to steer him away from it (if, I don't know what the teacher's goals are), then you are working at cross purposes. Above all, leave the different methods and idea alone! I went through that, and it can have horrid results! One gets so mixed up and doesn't know which way to turn anymore. It takes forever to untangle from that.

Is it possible to talk to your son's teacher? Ask whether he is concerned, what he has in mind, what role he would like you to play to assist him in teaching your son. Do you have concerns about what he is doing with him that you would like to have clarified?

About being left handed - yes, it is more difficult in a way because the non-dominant hand is taking on the role of dominant. After over 5 years of playing I will still mime bowing with my left hand at times: it's rather freaky, considering. But each hand has its task and role, and it is not good to mix them. Do not under any circumstnaces have your son try bowing with his left hand in order to teach his right. I would say, do not make it an issue at all - your son may begin having a hangup up his right as a problem when maybe it isn't one. As an adult I sometimes tried to get my right hand to teach the left flexibility in a non-violin context: doing circles with my hand at the wrist and similar activities. But in general, I just want to get as much experience as possible into my bow hand because it is not my dominant hand. Lots of stimulus, sensation - that exercise that your son's teacher has prescribed for him seems excellent for that.

Some people have expressed concern about the level of assignments he is being given: is he becoming tense because it's beyond him? It's possible. Most teachers try to teach up to their student's level, making certain each thing is mastered solidly, and the pieces are well within their reach. A few teachers, however, have a "stretching" kind of program. You reach for something that is almost beyond our reach, probably don't sound so great while you're trying it, but when you go back to what you were working on before, you've gotten new skills through that reaching. It's sort of a back and forth between when you "reach" and then when you go back to basic technique. The main question is whether your son's teach has a method of teaching. If he does, he needs to be free to apply it fully without another method being applied to his student at home. If there is concern, that should be addressed.

I mean to be helpful and not critical. It's a pretty rocky road.

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Stillnew, thank you for your input. I may be really overly concerned. Thinking back, he's been progressing for the last 4 and half years. You are right. Each piece he finished he gained something new. I am noticing his bow arm is getting better gradually, too. I shouldn't rush him to perfect it quicker. I think I will let him progress as he is now. For the record, I don't even mention about his left handedness to him at all. This is between me and this forum. I was told to remind my son when the blow slide. I have total faith in his teacher. He explaine things to him in very simple to understand language for my son. As far as the current piece is concerned, I don't think it is over his ability. My son wanted to play Mendelssohn E minor about six month ago, but his teacher told him it is better to work on Kabalevsky concerto before attempting to learn Mendelssohn. So he worked on it for several months. His teacher is not, by any means, a pusher. He has not been given any Mozart concerto as of yet. Considering his age, it is hard do Mozart justice musically, I was told. I'm sure he will be able to play the notes correctly, but that's not what his teacher wants, and I appreciate that very much.

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That sounds good all around, Mommag, and you certainly sound like an involved, aware parent. It also sounds as though you have good, open communication with his teacher and are handling it all with wisdom. It is good to see many sides to playing and then to use that knowledge judiciously.

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I've been following this discussion with a bit of anxiety because your description of your son (down to the age) fits my son so well I was worried that his teacher would think it was me posting... His teacher has assigned him the task of playing an open A, long bows, attempting to disguise when he switches from up to down. She turns her back and tries to tell when he has changed direction. He's gotten good at controlling the bow doing this. This control does not transfer when he plays difficult pieces though because he is working so hard on other issues that he goes back to the stiff hold thing. Some days are better than others.

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Rutherford, I am glad you can relate. Although I want to be as much of help to my son, I also know my son is still physically not fully developed and including my younger children, they still don't know how to separate one muscle to the other fully. For example, if I tell my son, to raise his elbow bit more, his shoulder comes with it. I tell him to keep the elbow where it is but drop his shoulder and he does it. Now, he notices by himself with me telling him. It soulds like he is on the right path. It just takes time until he's more mature physically. Stillnew's comment made me go back to what was in my mind. I know sometimes it is hard for a child to do what's right even though he/she knows what to do, but physically they are not capable yet. But if he/she consistently keep at it, he/she'll get it sooner or later. That's what I believe.

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I tend to believe he will get it. Or not. I'm in an odd situation and while I like and trust his teacher, I could not change teachers even if I did not. I have taught fiddling myself in the past but with this kid I just back off and let things develop.

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I think you are doing the right thing by backing off and let him develop on his term. Especially, with pre-teens, (I don't know about yours, but mine is) are getting annoyed with parents' input even though they know we mean well. He listens to his teacher very well, but when I repeat the same thing his teacher said he doesn't like it. Nowadays, we video tape the lesson and when I want to remind him in a certain area he needs to pay attention, I just turn on the video and let him absorb what his teacher was telling him. It seems to work well for him. I also started to back off when he was turning eleven. His teacher told me to gradually let him practice on his own so he can develop his practice habit without me. (I continue to take notes so that he can go over whatever he was assigned or the things he needs to work on that week.) Is your odd situation related to his teacher? Are you wanting to switch teacher if you had a choice?

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quote:


I also know my son is still physically not fully developed and including my younger children, they still don't know how to separate one muscle to the other fully. For example, if I tell my son, to raise his elbow bit more, his shoulder comes with it. I tell him to keep the elbow where it is but drop his shoulder and he does it.

Mommag, that's not a child-thing, it's a people-thing. I have grown children, so I am definitely not a child. But as a student it is hard to separate body parts. I am of two minds about what you described. Would I want someone to be involved in my practicing and observing what I am doing physically? Will that allow me to become self-aware? Also - when I practice, my violin cues me as to what I am doing. For example, if I am not bowing straight, there is an ugly sound, and I adjust in response to the sound, and my body goes right. If your son's teacher is trying for the same thing, but your son is frequently getting input from the outside, he may not begin inputting from the inside. I may be wrong about this.

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Mommag, I don't even go to lesson very much anymore. I really feel that he is old enough to know if he wants to continue advancing (every now and then I check with the teacher to make sure that everything is OK). My odd situation is geographic. I like in a small town on a narrow fjord on the west coast of Norway. If I put the kid on a bus for 2 hours, he would reach the largest town in the region - it has 45,000 people...

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Stillnew, I'm sorry. I used to be a dance student. So these muscle separation things came very easy for me and I assumed all the grown-ups were capable Well, adults and children are somewhat different, I think, when it comes to practice. Adults can self-discipline, but not every child can. I don't want to involve in his practice forever, but until a child is capable of analyzing what and which areas he/she needs to work on, I believe they need some help at home. Whether you are an adult or child, I think sometimes you need someone to tell you whatever it may be that you didn't even realise you were doing. I think that will make you self-aware to a certain some degree. If that person didn't tell you, you wouldn't' have ever known. You may not want to fix it, but you are aware of it. Don't you think?

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quote:


Whether you are an adult or child, I think sometimes you need someone to tell you whatever it may be that you didn't even realise you were doing. I think that will make you self-aware to a certain some degree. If that person didn't tell you, you wouldn't' have ever known.

You are right, of course, Mommag. I was thinking in terms of developing self-awareness and getting info from the outside - it's tricky business. But in regards to being told, and appreciating it, yes.

I am in a different situation. I am the student, and my son is close to professional level. He has passed by the closed door as I practised and mentioned later, "Your fingers are too steep." or on one occasion had me move the bow slowly because I had been skimming the strings, and pointing out how much richer the sound was. Those few seconds, which is all it was, created a world of difference to my practising from then on. In each case his initial observation was through a casual passing by a closed door.

My son began at age 13 and from the very first day made it clear that he did not want me near him or observing him when he practiced. I guess that is where my idea of self-awareness comes in. But each person, adult or child, is different.

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