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Today we’re going to look at some really great violin straight bow exercises, especially designed for those of you who are just starting out with using your whole bow but also really helpful for those struggling to keep their bow parallel to the bridge or who can’t create a strong, even sound throughout the bow. For those of you working towards exams, I’ve also included a video on Exercise PF from the AMEB preliminary grade syllabus.
Why Must My Bow Be Straight?
As many students will know, beautiful and even sound quality doesn’t always come easily; it results from the perfect combination of bow pressure and speed which is almost impossibe to achieve if your bow isn’t straight.
Try placing your bow on the A string such that its tip points towards your left ear. Now move your crooked bow across the string and listen to how empty and slippery the note sounds; also note how uncomfortable this feels!
Move the bow at different speeds and take note of how increasingly ugly the sound becomes as you get faster.
As you can see, straight bows are absolutely imperative if you want to play beautiful music so do take the time to ensure you master this skill before moving to more complicated music.
Before You Start:
Just like all the other techniques we’ve covered, there are many different technical issues that can lead to your bows not being straight. Take the time to ensure that you have set yourself up correctly and you’ll be far more likely to experience success.
Is Your Bow The Correct Size?
It goes without saying that if you buy a 3/4 sized violin, you’ll be given a 3/4 sized bow. Although this makes sense, it is not always in the best interests of correct technical development.
I’ve met many students over the years who are unable to create a smoothe detache sound becuase they have developed a ‘kick’ at the tip of their bow. If your right elbow needs to straighten completely or if you cannot use the whole length of the bow without curving your right arm at the tip, then your bow is too big and you’d be better off with one size down.
Make sure you can move from one end to the other of your bow easily and without curving or straightening your right arm completely.
Is Your Posture Correct?
Often when a student comes to me with bowing issues, the problem is not actually to do with the bowing hand or arm but rather to do with the position of their violin on the shoulder. Take some time to review holding a violin properly and make sure that your violin is up and to the side in the correct position. Check yourself out in the mirror and make sure you’re able to maintain this position even when you take your left hand and place it by your side.
Are You Holding Your Bow Correctly?
If you’re not holding your bow properly, it will be very difficult to move your bow correctly acoss the strings. Check out my post on ten tips for holding a violin bow which goes through the beginner and more advanced bow hold position. Make sure you look in the mirror to ensure that your hand is correcly leaning and that your wrist is flexible and loose.
Now For The Exercises:
As usual, I’ve made some videos to help you out; take a look at the two videos and read through my tips below before you try for yourself. Practice all three exercises each day and make sure you are not rushing or allowing poor technique to slip in. You’ll see that I have played the exercises slowly and this is what you should be doing; the aim is not speed, it is correct technique and quality of sound.
I’ve called this exercise ‘Bus Stops’ because we can think of the bow stops as bus stops. The bus drives smoothly until it reaches each stop where takes time to let people get off and on before moving smoothly to the next stop.
Start by ensuring that your posture and bow hold are correct and then place the nut of your bow on the A string. Move your bow smoothly to the middle and then stop and check that the bow is straight, your bow hold is secure and your wrist has started to bend in slightly.
Now move your bow smoothly to the tip where you should stop again to ensure your technique is correct. You’ll notice that at the tip of your bow, your wrist is further bent inwards. Repeat this for eight stops, ensuring that your bow is straight and strong at each stop.
Note that you should not experience any tension in your wrist or hand as you perform the exercise; the stops simply come from stopping, not tightening your hand or wrist.
You’ll see on the video that I’ve placed a sticker in the middle of my bow. This will give you an aim and ensures that your stops are evenly spaced. You could also place a sticker at the tip and the end of the bow if necessary.
Walking To The Park
This one is pretty basic but very effective in ironing out any bow crookedness. ‘
I’ve called it ‘Walking To The Park’ because I want you to move your bow smoothly and fluently like a nice stroll to the park.
All you need to do is play eight short notes in the top and bottom of your bow whilst ensuring that you remain straight and strong. The sticker in the middle of your bow is especially helpful here as it will prevent you from using uneven bows.
AMEB Preliminary Exercise PF
This exercise is really good for establishing straight and strong bows and employs all the skills we have covered in the previous two exercises as well as introducing long bows.
The first line of the exercise employs whole bows and half bows. Ensure that you move your bow parallel to the bridge and that the sound quality is maintained throughout the minim note. When playing the crotchets, we use half the bow; ensure that you don’t go past the middle sticker and that the sound is strong and even.
The second line of the exercise also has whole bows but this time uses bus stops. Using the same technique as described above, stop cleanly and gently in the middle and at the ends of the bow.
Although there’s a lot more to strong, straight bows than the three exercises above, you’ve made a good start. Don’t forget that good bowing technique is developed over time; you’ll need to practice these exercises daily to ensure that the techniques covered become a habit.
Also remember that these exercises aren’t only for beginner students; I often meet with very advanced students who need to go back to the basics to fix bowing problems.
I hope you’ve found this article and the videos useful and please remember, if you have any questions or comments about stright bows or anything else violin, leave a comment in the comment section below and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible!
Best of luck with your bowing!
Founder of myviolinbff.com