Most Common Misconceptions About Bow Technique & Sound Production

by Rozanna Weinberger

For many string players, there is very little about playing a violin, viola or cello that feels natural without plenty of practicing. While no one can avoid plenty of practice to master a piece of music to the point where it is ready for performance, no doubt, discovering the easiest way to perform technically will ensure the player can perform with the least amount of stress.

One of the main points to consider in the bow arm is that where there is an action, there will be a reaction.For example if arm weight is exerted to produce a sound, the hand, wrist & fingers are capable of reacting, just as the instrument will react by producing a sound. And thanks to gravity, if the player initiates movement in the bow arm in a circular fashion, there can be a corresponding sense of weight falling into the string, with the wrist, hand and fingers functioning as shock absorbers to this weight.

Karen Tuttle often spoke about a ‘spun sound’ that has great resonance, with reference to an ideal that could be attained by cultivating a bow arm technique that relies on balance and arm weight rather than excessive force through pressing and over exertion. Perhaps the simplest explanation is that when sound is produced by exerting excessive pressure on the string vertically there is the chance of crushing the sound. And when the sound is produced by relying too much on the hand and fingers rather than the weight of the arm, there will be too much tension in the hand, ultimately limiting ones technical agility.  When this pressure is exerted as a result of the arm weight being dropped into the string as a by product of gravity doing its thing, far less exertion is required.

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Large circular movements of the arm helps student feel the weight of the arm going into the instrument, thanks to the laws of gravity!

Making a simple circular motion with the bow arm helps the playing get a sense of the momentum created by a circular feel when approaching the string to play.  While bringing up the arm to start the circle takes effort, once the maximum height of the circle is reached, there is a ‘falling feeling’ in the arm as the circle is completed.  This ‘falling feeling’ is not unlike the sensation one feels when arm weight is used to produce sound vs. force. 

The bow hand plays an important role in pulling out the sound vs. pressing it. The challenge is to have a feeling of balance in the bow hand which can never happen if the fingers are relied upon to produce the vertical pressure needed to produce the sound. Many many beginners make this mistake. In reference to D.C.  Dounis Principals Of Violin Playing, Valborg Leland stresses the importance of the  right hand as being crucial in producing a spun sound. In a previous blog, reference was made to what Leland calls the ‘natural inclined position’ of the hand. (With arm outstretched in front of body with fingers outstretch, drop the hand as though limp.) This shows the player the natural inclined position in the right hand which needs to be maintained from frog to tip to ensure wrist can have optimal relationship between the arm and hand movements.

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Close up of William Primrose wrist at the tip of the bow. Notice how the wrist is slightly above the hand & fingers.

It is essential that this natural inclined position be maintained as the player plays at different parts of the bow. Whether playing towards the frog or the point, this openness in the right hand (which has been compared to the feeling one has when holding a small orange in the palm of ones hand) is the same open feeling inside the hand that is necessary for a balanced bow hand.

This natural inclined position also functions like a ‘shock absorber’ for the weight of the arm.

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Example of wrist that is bent too much. Once the wrist has too much bend, the natural line of the bow arm is lost, forcing the fingers to work too hard to produce the sound. Hyper pronation of wrist further makes it impossible for wrist to function as shock absorber for arm weight.

 

If the wrist is bent too much, this will stop the weight from reaching the string. Conversely if the wrist is positioned too low in relation to the hand, again the weight will not reach the string but will instead be manifest in the arm alone, unable to be transferred into the string. Many string players make the mistake of allowing the wrist to bend too much.

The elbow produces momentum and the wrist reacts.

  1. Place bow on string at the mid point. Make sure the wrist has the natural curve discussed earlier and allow fingers to relax on the bow as weight is transferred into string.
  2. Begin an up bow towards the frog while maintaining a natural curve in the wrist for the entirely of the bow stroke.
  3. The key to achieving this is by initiating movement with elbow. It is the elbow that drives the weight of the arm and the elbow that ‘moves’ the wrist.  
  4. By allowing the wrist to be a ‘passive component’ of the overall bow stroke, it is possibly to maintain the ‘natural bend’ in the wrist so it can maintain the relationship to the bow, necessary for it to function like a shock absorber for the arm weight into the instrument.
  5. Repeat this same study from the tip of the bow.
  6. Again, it is the elbow that propels the forearm, wrist and hand. 

 

 

 

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2 thoughts on “Most Common Misconceptions About Bow Technique & Sound Production

  1. Many thanks for this very helpful article! I wonder, should we always think of initial movement as coming from the elbow (for any bowstroke); is it our “engine”, as such?

    Sometimes I find it easier to draw a good flight path by focusing on the hand/wrist instead of the elbow, though I found your naturally inclined wrist/elbow exercise to help very much.

    Like

    • Dear Toby,

      Greetings and good to know this article is helpful to you. Depending on where I am with a technical issue sometimes I naturally tend to focus on one part of the puzzle over another. There are definitely times when focusing on the hand and wrist are really helpful. But in terms of where we ‘power’ the sound, definitely the elbow is the driver, bringing with it the power and weight of the upper arm and back.

      Feel free to contact me for a Skype lesson if that will be useful to you. Cheers, Rozanna

      Like

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