DogukanL

Shaky bow arm

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Hello, 

So I recenlty picked up the violin and my bowing seems okay for a beginner ,at least that's what my teacher told me. However as I get closer to the upper end of the bow while bowing down my arm and wrist start shaking a little and it irritates the hell out of me. And I tried bowing at very slow, very fast and normal speeds, it happens all the time no matter what I do. And for some reason it happens on the E string most of the time, other strings are fine. It also happens when I try putting something(anything) down slowly like a cup or a glass. So the problem is probably my arm. Has anyone ever experienced this kind of a problem and if you have, how did you fix it? If it's something that can go away with practice that's okay by me but it feels like something else so I thought I would ask.

Thanks in advance.

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Being able to pull a full bow with good control is really not that easy.  When we work wih little kids we usually  keep their bowing in the middle of the bow at first with rather short bows.  The control will come with time and practice.

DLB

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A medical doctor might be able to diagnose your symptoms. You may have "essential tremor' (also called "familial tremor" - does anyone else in your family have this problem). Your experience with the glass and cups suggests that to me. I have that problem (especially carrying a dinner plate in one hand), although it did not affect my bowing (at least not badly) until my 80s. If that is the problem, one way to reduce it when bowing violin might be to hold the bow differently.

As an experiment you could try holding the entire frog rather than the stick. If that works, you will have a temporary fix and can experiment further from there, perhaps sticking your thumb through a little more - or not being religious about keeping your pinky on the stick. For me, the tremor has a relationship to my shoulder and the fact that violin and viola bows are held high. I don't have as much problem with a viola bow, which is 1/6 heavier than a violin bow - but I still have a problem. I do not usually  have the problem with cello playing - the shoulder is well above the bow, which is at waist height and held more solidly (not more tightly)..

By the way, this is not a serious affliction. Two of my kids seem to have inherited it from me - one is a successful architect and the other an artisan wood turner (goodlywoods.com). But it is probably one reason I have lousy penmanship.

My MD informed me that there are shoulder/arm exercises that an help with this problem. I have found going up and down your back from below with a back brush in the shower simulates one of them (in case, like me, you are averse to exercise for its own sake).

And - as Dwight contributed (post above) little kids are first started with short strokes - in the Suzuki program they can spend months doing pre-Twinkle short bow strokes.

 

EDIT on Dec. 21: If it worked for your shakes to hold the frog, you might try the UK product: Viotech Violin/Viola Bow Cushion - $9.95 for two cushions. Google it because there are a number of sellers in the US. Johnson String may have the lowest shipping charge.

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As Andrew says, essential tremors, also called benign tremors sounds likely.  I have it and affectionately refer to it as right hand vibrato.  If your doctor diagnoses you with it there is medication to lesson the symptoms.  No cure, but also doesn't lead to anything life threatening hence the term benign tremors.  When it affects my knife or gouge work I'll probably go on meds.  I play for myself not an audience, so I learned to live with it as a quirk of my playing.

-Jim

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As Jim said, there are meds. My doctor prescribed both beta blocker  and Gabapentin (not taken together), but neither is specifically for this affliction. I find neither completely effective and both can have annoying side effects for some people - including me. 

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On 12/2/2017 at 8:45 PM, DogukanL said:

Hello, 

So I recenlty picked up the violin and my bowing seems okay for a beginner ,at least that's what my teacher told me. However as I get closer to the upper end of the bow while bowing down my arm and wrist start shaking a little and it irritates the hell out of me. And I tried bowing at very slow, very fast and normal speeds, it happens all the time no matter what I do. And for some reason it happens on the E string most of the time, other strings are fine. It also happens when I try putting something(anything) down slowly like a cup or a glass. So the problem is probably my arm. Has anyone ever experienced this kind of a problem and if you have, how did you fix it? If it's something that can go away with practice that's okay by me but it feels like something else so I thought I would ask.

Thanks in advance.

It may simply be "muscles" and not nerves and with diligent practice it'll go away. Lots of people who play violin have at one time or another problems with tremors, E in particular. "How to pull a smooth bow in the beginning of Mozart's A Major c/to ?" is a common enough question. There are specific exercises to cure this problem and I think with diligent work you'll see a sufficient improvement.I wouldn't just give up.

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I agree that it sounds like essential tremor. There is some indication this is caused by ammonia buildup at the cellular level due to a genetic mutation inhibiting its metabolism. I've found significant help by taking phosphatidylserine daily.  

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When you get near the frog you have to carry some of the weight of the bow with the  pinkie.  When you get near the tip you have to introduce some pressure through the index finger. 

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I find that it helps to keep all four fingers on the bow - just a little more stability overall. Individual results may vary. Heifetz certainly didn't always keep his small finger on at all times! (In his case, he was constantly engaged with the bow.) If you've ever planed wood with a large block plane, I think that is the feeling to emulate.

Also, consider the act of drawing on chalkboard/whiteboard. If you "draw" a line with your just your fingers ahead of your arm, it's going to be shaky. If you draw "pulling" your entire arm (with the joints relatively relaxed, and more passively involved), with the hand kind of trailing from the arm, it's going to be a lot smoother. The same applies to the violin: If you focus on where your hand is in physical space ("drawing from the hand"), the chances that a tremor will be magnified will be increased. If you focus on where your back muscles / arm muscles, entire right side apparatus is (basically the overall "shape" / feel of the arm), with the hand naturally following, any shakes will naturally work themselves out.

Lastly, if your fingers so loose they are like wet spaghetti on the bow, it can make for a very insecure feeling. Experts talk about relaxation so much, that it's easy to forget that there is some necessary tension involved with playing the violin. You will need enough firmness of grip (read: thumb counterpressure) to transfer the energy of your overall arm-weight. Another word is confident. You have the right to a confident bow grip, as long as it doesn't stray into the realm of a static (insensitive, unchanging or uncompromising) dead weight.

This may sound counterproductive, but you might try a reductionist approach: Grip the bow with a death-grip; overtense your arm muscles, and basically, anything that seems wrong and tense, do it (overdo it, at least for a few seconds). Try to systematically relax, say from the back downwards. "Ok, I'm going to relax my upper arm, now my elbow joint etc..." You will find that at the end of this process lies the fingers on the bow. This can be good for identifying where your muscles actually are, and how they can relax. Hope this helps!

Cheers,

Scoiattola

P.S. Essential tremor is good for staccato, chromatic glissandos with the left hand, and starting finger vibrato. Don't let anyone tell you differently ;) It also seems to help Maestro Gergiev with his conducting at times.

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On 12/4/2017 at 3:27 AM, Andrew Victor said:

A medical doctor might be able to diagnose your symptoms. You may have "essential tremor' (also called "familial tremor" - does anyone else in your family have this problem). Your experience with the glass and cups suggests that to me. I have that problem (especially carrying a dinner plate in one hand), although it did not affect my bowing (at least not badly) until my 80s. If that is the problem, one way to reduce it when bowing violin might be to hold the bow differently.

As an experiment you could try holding the entire frog rather than the stick. If that works, you will have a temporary fix and can experiment further from there, perhaps sticking your thumb through a little more - or not being religious about keeping your pinky on the stick. For me, the tremor has a relationship to my shoulder and the fact that violin and viola bows are held high. I don't have as much problem with a viola bow, which is 1/6 heavier than a violin bow - but I still have a problem. I do not usually  have the problem with cello playing - the shoulder is well above the bow, which is at waist height and held more solidly (not more tightly)..

By the way, this is not a serious affliction. Two of my kids seem to have inherited it from me - one is a successful architect and the other an artisan wood turner (goodlywoods.com). But it is probably one reason I have lousy penmanship.

My MD informed me that there are shoulder/arm exercises that an help with this problem. I have found going up and down your back from below with a back brush in the shower simulates one of them (in case, like me, you are averse to exercise for its own sake).

And - as Dwight contributed (post above) little kids are first started with short strokes - in the Suzuki program they can spend months doing pre-Twinkle short bow strokes.

 

EDIT on Dec. 21: If it worked for your shakes to hold the frog, you might try the UK product: Viotech Violin/Viola Bow Cushion - $9.95 for two cushions. Google it because there are a number of sellers in the US. Johnson String may have the lowest shipping charge.

Thanks for the response, as I've neen practicing I've found that the shakes are more present when bowing at different angles. Not the bows angle on the violin but the violins angle on my shoulder. I get a lot less shaky if the violin is sitting at 1-2 o'clock angle.(I play left handed because I have no rhythm on my right hand, I know that from the guitar). And I get less shakes if I'm not stressed that I will shake or make a mistake. I'm kind of a perfectionist and have some anxiety issues when those two mix we could say I'm under a lot of stress. And I've also considered essential tremors because I get muscle twitches too. But I thought they might be related to my smoking plus anemia plus anxiety, nevertheless I will go get checked soon. I'm practicing and trying to get confided with my bowing because my teacher pointed out that I look very insecure when bowing. Will check out the product by the way. Thanks again!

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