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Smooth Bow Changes with Collé


tchaikovsgay
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Hi. I understand when playing a stroke, with:

Finger involvement only

The fingers are stretched to play a down-bow; curled to play an up-bow.

Contrastingly, with

Finger, wrist and elbow involvement

The fingers are curled before a down-bow;  stretched before an up-bow.

 

My question is, assuming the stretching and curling are done before the bow change, when stretching or curling the fingers, are wrist and elbow involved, or if that part of the stroke is strictly only a finger involvement? Thank you

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it's integrated with the arm movement of course, otherwise there'd be a disruption at the end of the stroke while you do your wrist thing.  you can learn a lot at that level of detail by watching players very closely.  robert rozek says the first instant of bow stroke should involve the whole arm

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17 minutes ago, Bill Merkel said:

it's integrated with the arm movement of course, otherwise there'd be a disruption at the end of the stroke while you do your wrist thing.  you can learn a lot at that level of detail by watching players very closely.  robert rozek says the first instant of bow stroke should involve the whole arm

If so, do you think the arm movement and the finger movement are towards the opposite direction? (i.e. during stretching the fingers before an up-bow, the arm is moving up)? Because I'm really confused by the term 'auxillary motion' in this video:

 

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the video reminds me that where the fingers happen noticeably is near the frog.  what he terms the "auxiliary motion" seems to be raising the elbow upward at the frog in preparation to start the downbow by moving the elbow down.  the finger thing is like what would happen naturally from inertia if the wrist was loose, e.g. the hand wants to stay behind from inertia as the arm begins the downbow.  likewise at the end of the upbow as the arm begins to stop the hand wants to keep going.  it's the same as what your hand would do painting a house with a brush if you can form that mental image.  you wouldn't paint with a stiff wrist.  you'll encounter ppl stressing this or that thing and ignoring other things.  my approach after i stopped taking lessons was to pick what worked for me from all the possibility thrown around

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3 minutes ago, Bill Merkel said:

the video reminds me that where the fingers happen noticeably is near the frog.  what he terms the "auxiliary motion" seems to be the elbow going upward at the frog in preparation to start the downbow by moving the elbow down.  the finger thing is like what would happen naturally from inertia if the wrist was loose, e.g. the hand wants to stay behind from inertia as the arm begins the downbow.  likewise at the end of the upbow as the arm begins to stop the hand wants to keep going.  it's the same as what your hand would do painting a house with a brush if you can form that mental image.  you wouldn't paint with a stiff wrist.  you'll encounter ppl stressing this or that thing and ignoring other things.  my approach after i stopped taking lessons was to pick what worked for me from all the possibility thrown around

So can I say, with finger movements, the elbow moves first, then the hand follows? So before a down bow, when the finger is curling (making the bow go upwards), the elbow is going downwards (in preparation of the down-bow)?

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This is a subtle issue which divides teachers and for which examples can be found at both extremes among very fine players.  I would suggest that it's best not to focus much on how it looks when you're practicing (analyzing players is a different matter).  Rather, develop the flexibility, bow hand feel, and related techniques to make it part of your fingers' 'vocabulary' and then focus on sound. 

If you do a search engine search for "Bow Changes at the Frog: Cushioning or Neutral Fingers?" you'll find a thread on another forum which covers the gamut of opinion usefully.  You'll find more material if you search for "violin" "bow" and "fingerstroke" and the variant "finger stroke"

 

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This is actually a misconception of many violinists and schools of violin technique. Obviously Mr. Sassmannshaus is in this camp - the video example shows the EXACT OPPOSITE of the actual movement needed:

In the video, the student's hand is leading the bow stroke followed by elbow (the "auxiliary motion") followed by the  upper arm, with a very "artistique" small finger flourish thrown in for good measure. To give credit where it is due, the student does a good job of balancing the (completely unnecessary!) variables to create a pretty even bow change.

Like many, I had to master this technique as a student, which was absolutely not helpful in professional / performing life. It also affects musical phrasing quite negatively.

In reality, the bow change should initiate from the back muscles, which are then followed by the upper arm (really the upper arm muscles are located in the back, so it can help to think of the upper arm as the first thing to move), followed by the elbow (at the frog, there should be minimal opening/closing movement at the elbow), followed by the hand, followed by the bow

I often use the example of the Chinese ribbon dancer, with the ribbon being an extension of the momentum / direction initiated by the body or arms of the dancer. The ribbon is the bow. The dancer is the musician!

The "artistique" finger flick (which feels so good!) is actually the worst thing one can do when trying to change the bow; it speeds up the turn around, creating a catch in the sound, which our ears can better hear. Keep the hand calm, initiate the bow change from the upper arm, and HOLD THE BOW (not a death grip either). Just inactivate the flicking motion, and calm the wrist down. You can experiment with holding the bow in your fist, to avoid those well practiced, perhaps hardwired motions of the fingers. The weight change needed to change bows will automatically present itself.

By the way, one can apply the above principles to spiccato or other bouncing bow strokes.

Cheers,

Scoiattola

 

 

 

 

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Both sides of the debate have plausible-sounding anatomical descriptions of how things are supposed to work.  In some cases the opposing view is negatively characterized using words which imply improper motivations for its preferences.  Unfortunately one can easily find examples of professional players of both schools.  (Imagine how much better Perlman would play without that awful precious finger-flick, a technique so insidious even poor Heifetz fell for it although he was more subtle--so much wasted talent.)

This is why in the end, having developed your foundations so you have a breadth of means, the ultimate standard of right and wrong for your particular anatomy and capacity is sound.  Not a theory in the sky about how Plato thought it ought to be, not copying the superficial visual appearance of a violinist whose anatomy, history, and innate abilities you probably don't share, just sound.

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1 hour ago, Andres Sender said:

Both sides of the debate have plausible-sounding anatomical descriptions of how things are supposed to work.  In some cases the opposing view is negatively characterized using words which imply improper motivations for its preferences. 

I hope I haven't implied improper motivations to the extraneous movement camp! My guess is that people use/practice that technique for the same reason that I did; I thought it was something that helped me, only to find later that it didn't. This is not to say that someone else could not make the technique work, just because I could not! I know for a fact that there are circus musicians who can play upside down, balancing on a unicycle, while juggling with their feet. My hat is off to those who are able to perform such feats! In my experience, however, extraneous motion always takes more concentration, and limits one's musical response.

Quote

Unfortunately one can easily find examples of professional players of both schools.  (Imagine how much better Perlman would play without that awful precious finger-flick, a technique so insidious even poor Heifetz fell for it although he was more subtle--so much wasted talent.)

Or perhaps fortunately? I think you'd probably agree that the world would be a very boring place indeed if everyone used one kind of "orthodox" technique (whatever that means!) - music making might tend be derivative by default!

The stellar examples you mentioned, Perlman and Heifetz, obviously have different physiologies, and of course different solutions to various technical matters. Thank goodness! Nevertheless, if someone comes into the studio playing with something resembling Heifetz's or Perlman's technique, without the accompanying sound benefits, I will steer them towards what I consider a more "sustainable" technique.

Quote

This is why in the end, having developed your foundations so you have a breadth of means, the ultimate standard of right and wrong for your particular anatomy and capacity is sound.  Not a theory in the sky about how Plato thought it ought to be, not copying the superficial visual appearance of a violinist whose anatomy, history, and innate abilities you probably don't share, just sound.

I totally agree - would that more people approached music this way!

That said, I have found that there are certain things that help one create good sound (good posture, for example), that will last many years. Thus I make my recommendations to our original poster with that in mind.

To address the original question more specifically:

Quote

My question is, assuming the stretching and curling are done before the bow change, when stretching or curling the fingers, are wrist and elbow involved, or if that part of the stroke is strictly only a finger involvement? Thank you

On an up-bow, try preparing the fingers as you approach the frog, "ahead of time." I often describe this to students using the analogy of an airplane landing; prepare your landing gear. Initiate the bow change with bigger muscles (elbow basically), which are paradoxically more capable of fine control. Aim for a calm hand, with some range of motion (judge by the sound). To stretch the analogy, the airplane landing gear also has a suspension system, to cover for any unforeseen circumstances during landing!

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Yes, great discussion here.  Much to appreciate on both 'sides' of the approach.  I have found, and I'm sure all would agree, that finger (and wrist) flexibility that one can develop by practicing colle' does much more than cushioning the bow change.  It plays a big role in faster bowing, nuances of expression, string changes, staccato, bow lift at the end of a stroke, etc.  

Oh, and of course articulation, if you want the sound to start with a 'pop'.  I remember being dazzled by this sound and always curious how it was achieved.  

One thing about the artistic index finger flick, I really had to reign that in so my index finger wouldn't catch on the upper corner of the C bout!  Hate it when that happens...

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2 hours ago, Andres Sender said:

Oh but Stephen, collé at the bow change is an "extraneous" "unnecessary" "artistique" "flourish thrown in for good measure" on par with a circus trick, for all that it can be considered an example of "different solutions to various technical matters" used by some "stellar" players with "accompanying sound benefits".  :)

Andres, that's a lot of quotation marks! Let me know if there is some way I could rephrase something to make it more accurate.

I feel quite strongly about the topic! In stressful situations, the muscles that are the most dependable are the bigger muscles. Going back a few million years, we might say the flight or fight response evolved before the concert stage was a thing ;) - our small muscles are unfortunately not our body's main priority!

Stephen's point about collé being a useful way to bring awareness to one's small fingers / bow interaction is well taken, and (IMHO) not in opposition to what I propose. I just think the motion of the fingers should be limited (not locked, rather inactivated, and certainly not flicked) during actual bow changes, so that the bow arm can lead a circular motion for a gradual and hopefully imperceptible change. This is the same concept that master calligraphers use; a flowing, free arm, and calm wrist for smooth transfer of ink to page. I've always envied this, as someone who "draws" letters with hand locked to the page, using fingers. If you compare my handwriting to someone who knows what they are doing, my faults will be immediately obvious!

violinsRus, I also like the use of finger (and wrist) activation to bring out different characters. As far as that "pop" articulation at the beginning of a note, Pinky calls it "catch and release." I can't imagine starting the Brahms violin concerto without a little controlled crackle!

Cheers,

Scoiattola

 

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On 8/22/2020 at 11:26 PM, Scoiattola said:

I hope I haven't implied improper motivations to the extraneous movement camp! My guess is that people use/practice that technique for the same reason that I did; I thought it was something that helped me, only to find later that it didn't. This is not to say that someone else could not make the technique work, just because I could not! I know for a fact that there are circus musicians who can play upside down, balancing on a unicycle, while juggling with their feet. My hat is off to those who are able to perform such feats! In my experience, however, extraneous motion always takes more concentration, and limits one's musical response.

Of course you implied "improper motivations". It's fine if you think you are smart - you may well be. It's a mistake to suppose the others are stupid just for not converging to your idea of how to do things.  Many times people just don't care for our ideas. 

The "extraneous movements" which did not work for you do work wonderfully for others and are a physiological necessity for them. There is no single way to skin a cat in this violin playing business.

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20 hours ago, Scoiattola said:

Stephen's point about collé being a useful way to bring awareness to one's small fingers / bow interaction is well taken, and (IMHO) not in opposition to what I propose. I just think the motion of the fingers should be limited (not locked, rather inactivated, and certainly not flicked) during actual bow changes, so that the bow arm can lead a circular motion for a gradual and hopefully imperceptible change. This is the same concept that master calligraphers use; a flowing, free arm, and calm wrist for smooth transfer of ink to page. I've always envied this, as someone who "draws" letters with hand locked to the page, using fingers. If you compare my handwriting to someone who knows what they are doing, my faults will be immediately obvious!

It's interesting...

When I explain the motion to students, I explain it how you understand it.  The motion begins with the large muscles and proceeds to the small muscles and the collé motion is simply a loose-handed reaction to the friction of the hair on the string.

But I still teach the opposing motion collé when students are at an advanced level and it does seem to give greater control over the smoothness of the change.

Anyway... I would just caution you that people have differing levels of proprioception and what might be understandable to one person requires a completely different explanation for another person.

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