Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Violinists - How to Liberate a Bow Arm

By Clayton Haslop

Today's article should be very helpful to you, IF, that is, you are like most violinists and can always use an insight or two to keep your right arm technique sharp.

Most violinists have four main challenges when it comes to their bow-arm; keeping it straight, keeping it horizontal, achieving clean, non-disruptive string crossings, and coordinating changes of string and direction with the left hand.

Now, you may disagree with me. You may be thinking, "my biggest problem is with spiccato or martel - I can do all those other things."

If that's the case, I'd say, you'd be wise to pay attention - your spiccato challenges may have more to do with these things than you may realize.

Actually today I'm just going to discuss the first two challenges - keeping the bow straight and keeping it horizontal. For most of us 'straight' is pretty well understood to mean parallel to the bridge. What is less understood, in my experience, is the need for the components of the bow arm to facilitate the horizontal travel of the bow.

And for these to happen there are exactly 3 joints you have that must ALLOW them to happen - the wrist, the elbow and the shoulder.

Take the wrist - one of the most common mistakes I see is a raising of the wrist at the frog. Raising the wrist immediately takes one component of your bow-arm out of the horizontal plane of movement that is so necessary to an efficient, seamless bow.

So how should the wrist flex? The wrist must flex forward and remain within the 'plane of motion' the bow arm inhabits, while also maintaining the bow in a position parallel to the bridge.

This idea of staying in the plane of motion extends to the elbow as well. I see a lot of players introducing unnecessary complications to their bow-arm by elevating and lowering the elbow in the course of drawing a full bow; and then they wonder why the bow 'chatters' on the string, or they have difficulty with quick string crossings and such.

Well, there's just too much going on, and all that contrary energy is getting fed right into the bow stick.

Finally, there's the shoulder. How fresh is the memory of my father standing next to me tapping my shoulder to get it to relax during my early years of practice.

Though relaxed, the muscles in the shoulder must nonetheless control critical movements of the upper arm that comes into play at the lower part of the bow and during string crossings.

I'll talk more about string crossings tomorrow, yet for now it is important to understand that, although the shoulder is bearing the weight of the arm and bow, it must nonetheless be relaxed, since it plays a critical role in moving the bow straight and horizontally at the frog.

This is to say, you cannot confuse the vertical movements involved in string crossings with the lateral movements of the upper arm involved in bowing.

This morning I again made a worthwhile investment into my practice by playing Kreutzer #2 at the extreme frog. And you might be interested to know that for me to accomplish it, at tempo from top to bottom with a really smooth detach bowing, I 'belly-breathed' like a stallion in heat. You see, you've got to keep the upper body absolutely relaxed to do play cleanly this way, and belly-breathing is a secret every violinist should know to facilitate this penetrating kind of relaxation.

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