Do you want to improve your violin skills? Bow arm movement and direction are important violin techniques every beginner should master. Below, violin teacher Julie P. shares some tips on how to get a stronger bow arm…
In violin playing, the bow is what creates the sound. The bow arm has two basic movements: moving the bow vertically between strings, and moving the bow horizontally across strings. In order to achieve a beautiful tone, these movements must be understood and continually practiced. Below are some tips and tricks to help you develop a stronger bow arm.
Vertical Movement Between Strings
Due to the curved shape of the bridge, the four strings on the violin are in the shape of an arc with G at one end and E at the other. In order to get the bow to come in contact with all four strings, the bow arm moves higher and lower, with the movement originating from the shoulder. The arm is held highest when playing on the G string, and lowest when playing on the E string.
Even though this motion comes from the shoulder, it’s important that the wrist and elbow follow along and remain in the same plane as the shoulder. For example, if a board was placed on top of your bow arm, all three joints should touch the board.
Place your bow on the G string with your bow arm held high. Make sure your elbow is not drooping. Rock the bow downward to the D string, making sure the whole bow arm moves as one unit. Continue to A and E. Then, rock back in the other direction to A, D, and G, making sure the elbow rises along with the wrist and shoulder. You can use a mirror to make sure the different parts of your arm are moving together.
Horizontal Movement Across Strings
Horizontal movement across strings takes much more practice to master. This is because bowing parallel to the bridge requires movement from the shoulder (upper half of the bow), elbow (lower half of the bow), and flexibility in the wrist. The goal when bowing is to keep the bow parallel to the bridge, which provides the best tone quality and most control over the bow.
Long tones are great for developing your ability to hear the nuances in your tone. Without using a mirror, play long notes of at least four slow counts, using the full length of your bow. Aim for an even sound from frog to tip. You’ll find that the pressure and arm weight needed to maintain a steady tone will change depending on which section of the bow you’re using.
This may seem like a boring exercise, but if you do it for two to three minutes a day over the course of a few weeks, you’ll notice a big improvement in your sound, as well as in your ability to hear different elements in your sound.
Once you have the basic bowing motions down and you’re able to keep the bow parallel to the bridge, you can start to work on different violin techniques that will increase the control and sensitivity in your bow arm. Here are some additional tips to getting a stronger bow arm:
- Slurs: Slurring requires even pressure and movement from your bow arm while you’re moving the fingers on your other hand to change notes. Use a scale you’re comfortable with, and slur two notes at a time. Listen to see if both notes have the same tone quality to them, and whether your bow changes are smooth between slurs.
- Tenuto slurs: Again, using a scale you’re comfortable with, bow four notes at a time in the same direction with slight pauses between each note. This tests your ability to start and stop the bow cleanly.
Practicing the various exercises above are beneficial to players of all skill levels. By breaking down the bowing motion into individual elements, you can focus on perfecting specific movements. Although these exercises are effective, the best way to get a stronger bow arm is to work with an experienced teacher who can identify the unique ways your bow arm can improve.
Julie P. teaches flute, clarinet, music theory, and saxophone lessons in Brooklyn, NY. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Music Education from Ithaca College and her Master’s in Music Performance from New Jersey City University. Learn more about Julie here!
Photo by Hen3k Hen3k