BOW HAND EXERCISES
By Bayla Keyes
The following exercises will develop flexibility in the right hand, leading to deeper and more beautiful sonorities and a greater ability to produce any dynamic in any part of the bow at will.
Windshield wipers: hold your bow with the tip pointing to ceiling; move from elbow only, so that the forearm rotates and the bow swipes from side to side like windshield wipers on a car.
Vertical - Hold the bow with the tip pointed straight up. Keep it stable as you crawl first up and then back down the bow with your fingers.
Horizontal - Hold the bow parallel to the floor. Keep it stable as you crawl towards the tip with your fingers and then back towards the frog. For extra points, when you have crawled to the tip turn the bow around and crawl back to the “frog” (which is actually the tip)!
Bow rolling: Use your thumb and mid-finger to roll the bow towards you and away from you. You can also do this with the bow; keep your tone even while the hair goes from one side to flat to the other side and to flat. Do this on both downbow and upbow.
Pinky push-ups: Hold the bow with the tip pointed straight up. Use your left arm to stabilize your right forearm with the thumb side pointing up. Allow the tip to drop towards the floor slowly, balancing the bow horizontally with your thumb and pinky; then return the tip to pointing straight up. The movement happens only inside your hand, with no rotation of the forearm.
Pronation & Supination
In the following exercises, maintain a constant sound and bow speed. Change the bow at the frog and tip seamlessly. Adjust your elbow level – higher is better because it will enable the hand and fingers to soften.
Add & subtract fingers:
Upbow - Start at the tip with only the thumb and index finger on the bow. Travel one quarter of the way towards the frog. Add the next finger, reaching out one whole step away from the index finger; pull the bow up into the palm of the hand and check that the base knuckle has disappeared. Repeat for the next two fingers as you continue to the frog. Pay special attention to the third finger! When you end at the frog, all your fingers should be on the bow a whole step apart, and the third and fourth fingers should be curved; this is called supination.
Downbow – Starting at the frog in the position of supination, draw a downbow, subtracting fingers one at a time with each quarter bow. Notice how as you reach the upper half you are leaning onto the index finger, and your forearm has rotated in; this is called pronation.
Rotation of forearm:
Divide bow in two halves. Starting at the tip upbow, hold for each half with the thumb and 3 fingers; from the tip to the middle, the pinky is in the air; from the middle to the frog, the index finger is in the air. Starting at the frog downbow, from the frog to the middle, the index finger is in the air; from the middle to the tip, the pinky is in the air. Reverse the process as you pull a downbow.
Divide the bow in three thirds. Starting at the tip upbow, hold for each third with the thumb and two fingers. Allow your pinky to go over the bow so that you can balance at the frog! Reverse the process as you pull a downbow.
Advanced only – ****You may want to try this over a bed or sofa at first!****
Divide the bow in four fourths. Starting at the tip upbow, hold for each fourth with the thumb and one finger. Allow your pinky to go over the bow so that you can balance at the frog! Reverse the process as you pull a downbow.
– From Mary Lou Speaker Churchill’s Studio Packet
Lean deeply onto pinky, even allowing it to go over the bow. Release the index finger, letting it slide towards you as you lean on the pinky. Notice how your thumb has to bend and its contact point has to change; notice how your fingers are square on the bow; this is called supination. Try supinating at the frog when you want a deep rich sound. As you draw a downbow, come out of supination and begin pronating just above the middle of the bow.
Give of Hand into Bow:
Squishy Spider - Make a tent with your hand upon a flat surface. Release your knuckles directly down while keeping your wrist and forearm unmoving. Do this pronated (fingers slanted, forearm turned in) as well. Notice how your thumb has to soften and move closer to the hand in order to allow the knuckles to melt down.
Hold the bow with your left hand and put your right hand in its normal place and position on the bow.
Downbow - Pull your left arm to the left and your right arm to the right (your arms are pulling apart). Curve your fingers and allow your right knuckles to release so the bow moves closer to your palm; the space inside your hand will flatten, and the index finger will slide back towards you. Try to keep your wrist and forearm unmoving.
Upbow - Push your left arm to the right and your right arm to the left (your arms are pushing together). Allow your right knuckles to lead; the space inside your hand will enlarge and your fingers and thumb will straighten.
Now do these actions on the string. You will have to reach your left hand behind the violin (to the left of the neck) in order to hold the tip. Your left hand is providing the resistance, going in the opposite direction from your bow.
Play a sustained downbow and upbow; feel the string resist the push and pull of the bow in each direction. With each downbow, allow your knuckles to release fully; with each upbow, lead strongly with your knuckles.
Play a sustained downbow, beginning with fully released knuckles and supination; gradually roll across hand into pronation, straightening fingers and thumb.
Play a sustained upbow, beginning in pronation, with knuckles leading; gradually roll across hand into supination, bending fingers and thumb.
For the smoothest changes at the frog, try to supinate by the middle of the upbow; then simply remain in this position as your arm moves the bow across the frog. Relax your thumb. Strong finger motions on a bow change will lead to bumps, whips, and jerks.
For sustaining in the upper half across the tip, be sure to lean into the thumb; do not think of pressing up with the thumb, but feel its cushioning quality. Extend your fingers into pronation, and keep your wrist supported, not collapsed. It may help to allow your index finger to travel over the bow at first, á la Heifetz; this will help you feel the weight transferring from the inside of your arm into the bow. Then try to get that connection without a big change in your bow hand position.
“BIG HAND,” COLLÉ, AND MARTÈLÉ FOR CLARITY & PROJECTION
By Bayla Keyes
The shape of your bow hand is fundamental to the type of sound you want to create. For clarity and projection, a firm (but not rigid!) large hand (I call this “Big Hand”) is best. It will efficiently and effortlessly transmit the maximum weight of your arm and back into the string, leading to a large, clear, focused sound.
If you experiment by holding the bow on the outside of the frog, playing only at the frog, you will notice that your sound becomes automatically big, clear, and bold. To create this hand shape with a regular bow hold at the frog, bend your thumb, placing it so that it faces the frog. The bow will rest on the outside corner of the thumb (which while holding the bow is actually uppermost). Your second finger forms a ring with the thumb, but the thumb should have a feeling of going not up into the second finger but instead across the hand in the direction of the third finger. Place the other fingers so that the pads of the first joints are on the side of the bow away from you; the pinky finger may rest on top of the stick, but ideally it still curves. Maintain spaces of a whole step between all fingers, and have the spaces be even; do not let the second and third fingers be closer together than the other fingers.
The space inside your bow hand when you are at the frog should be as large as possible. Allow your bent thumb to rotate out and drop down in the direction of the hair and nut, away from your index finger. Do not allow the base joint of the index finger to drop toward the bow or toward your thumb; keep a mild support so that the space inside your hand is open. Supination (rotating the forearm outward) will roll your weight onto your pinky, freeing the index finger so that its contact point is farther out; this allows an even bigger shape inside the hand. You can experiment with this shape on a table. Notice how soft and powerful it feels when your relax your arm weight into the table through a big and open hand as compared to when your fingers are close together.
One of the lovely paradoxes of this bow hold is that you should be able to drop your arm weight right into the string, producing the fullest possible sound, without your hand tightening or losing its springs. Learning how to create and hold this shape in your hand without stiffening is crucial.
As you draw a downbow, your fingers and thumb extend. As you arrive at the tip, your thumb will have straightened and rolled onto a different contact point, more toward the inside of the thumb. With the upbow this process is reversed.
A slight pinch at the start of a stroke gets the string to speak immediately. The pinch is followed by a release, so that the sound will not be pressed. This “catchbow” requires a good sounding point, a good hand position, and an immediate release of pressure, thereby making it possible to move the bow more rapidly. The combination of diction and generous use of bow are ideal for concertos and other repertoire requiring brilliance and power.
Ivan Galamian believed that every bow stroke should begin with a slight catchbow. The fact that you start the sound crisply and immediately and therefore must be at a good sounding point is a huge help to many violinists who suffer from “banana bows,” my name for the bow stroke that starts small, grows, and then gets small again. I especially recommend practicing concertos and repertoire with piano with this technique, even in lyric passages. Be careful not to do the pinch by contracting your entire arm; it must come just from the fingers -- the arm remains relaxed.
The movement of the fingers in collé is rapid. To develop this movement, begin with the bow on the string, fingers extended; pinch the string and curl the fingers rapidly, lifting the bow out of the string. Galamian called this stroke pizzicato with the bow! Then start downbow, fingers curled and on the string; extend rapidly. Be sure to let the string ring. Practice upbows and downbows in all parts of the bow, but particularly in the middle to upper half. When you feel proficient, progress to alternating downbows and upbows. I particularly like doing scales with a two-octave leap: start upbow on the E string and then downbow on the G string – then for a real challenge, do the opposite!
If you have trouble doing this stroke, check to see if your fingers are pronated on the bow. If they are too square, you will not be able to attain the sideways finger movement necessary for the stroke.
The ability to produce a good collé is one of our most important skills. I use Kreutzer #s 4, 6, and 7, as well as scales, for working on this stroke. Paganini Caprices with upbow or flying staccato such as #s 7, 20, and 22 will develop your ability even more.
The martèlé stroke is related to the collé stroke, but it requires more bow and therefore more arm movement. Start each stroke with a slight pinch; then release and move the bow rapidly – the collé movement will help you accomplish this. Do at least one of your scales daily with a martèlé stroke; begin with the middle half of the bow and progress to full bow strokes. Proficiency in martèlé will help you use greater amounts of bow as you learn how to keep the path of bow straight. It will also help relieve overpressing. “More bow”was a favorite Galamian remark!
MODIFIED DOUNIS ENGAGEMENT EXERCISES
By Bayla Keyes
Demetrius Constantine Dounis was a great violin pedagogue who devised a small series of exercises designed to develop flexibility in the fingers of the right hand. He likened the right arm to a car and the fingers of the right arm to the tires of the car – if the fingers are not flexible, you will bounce uncomfortably at every pothole! He also taught that the fingers of the bow hand must learn to have the engagement necessary for every part of the bow, and for every dynamic.
It is important to remember that the fingers do not themselves make the sound; they merely allow your arm weight to drop into the string as much as is necessary. When they are unengaged in any part of the bow, you can play as lightly as you wish. When they are engaged, you can carve out a single note or an entire stroke.
To find the ideal finger engagement and hand balance for a strong upbow, hold your bow with your arms far apart. Your right hand should be on the bow in a normal playing position; your left hand should hold the wood at the tip of the bow. Without moving your hands on the bow, press your arms together. Your left hand is providing the same resistance that your string will give on an upbow. Notice how you automatically pronate, throwing your weight onto your index finger and the inside of your arm, and how your fingers extend as your knuckles rise.
To find the ideal finger engagement and hand balance for a strong downbow, assume the same position of arms but have them pull in opposite directions. Allow your knuckles to relax and your fingers to curl; the bow will be much closer to the palm of your hand. Simon Fischer calls this the give of the hand. Release the index finger entirely so that the base joint of your index finger has room to release down. [Note from BK: if you wish to add Galamian supination, allow your weight to roll into the pinky; you will see the index finger release and slide toward you slightly.]
FIRST STAGE: ACTIVE MOVEMENT – FINGERS ONLY
Begin with fingers curled and knuckles collapsed. On the downbow extend the fingers only. On the upbow curl the fingers. Stay ppp and completely legato. Do this first in the middle, then the tip, and lastly the frog. Do not allow any part of the arm to move.
Begin with knuckles up and immediately collapse as you begin the downbow; keep the knuckles collapsed throughout the stroke. As you begin the upbow, raise the knuckles suddenly and keep them raised throughout the stroke. The suddenness of the change in the hand is what will cause the accent – you are practicing the world’s worst bow changes!
Begin with knuckles up and immediately collapse as you begin the downbow; keep the knuckles collapsed throughout the triplet, which should be played as lightly and quickly as possible. As you begin the upbow, raise the knuckles suddenly and keep them raised throughout the triplet. Again, the suddenness of these changes in the hand is what will cause the accents, and the fact that your hand is out of engagement for the triplets is what will allow them to be played softly and rapidly.
SECOND STAGE: PASSIVE MOVEMENT – PAINTBRUSH
Once the active finger motions are easily executed the base joints of your hand will be more flexible, and you can begin to incorporate wrist releases as well. These smaller muscles react passively to the movement caused by the larger muscles of the arm.
As you change to a downbow, allow first your wrist and then your knuckles to melt down (George Neikrug called this “Pet the Kitty”); as you change to an upbow, allow first your wrist and then your knuckles to lead upward.
Just before you change to a downbow, allow your wrist to begin a gentle downward motion; as you begin the downbow itself, allow the knuckles to follow, melting down. Just before you change to an upbow, allow your wrist to begin a gentle upward motion; as you begin the upbow itself, allow the knuckles to follow, leading upward. This circular coordination is what George Neikrug called the paintbrush.
Just before you change to a downbow, allow first your elbow and then your wrist to begin a gentle downward motion; as you begin the downbow itself, allow the knuckles to follow, melting down. Just before you change to an upbow, allow first your elbow and then your wrist to begin a gentle upward motion; as you begin the upbow itself, allow the knuckles to follow, leading upward.
ALTERNATIVE APPROACH TO LOWER HALF (courtesy of Magdalena Richter)
For incredibly smooth bow changes and comfort in the lower half, these additional exercises focusing on the movement of the upper arm are extremely edifying; they are particularly helpful in reducing overactive finger motions at the frog.
Using an étude or scale, play in the lower half of the bow only. Keep fingers curled, knuckles down, and move the bow across the frog using only the upper arm. Use a medium to slow bow speed.
Now play from the frog to the middle with fingers curled; from the middle to the tip allow the fingers to extend gradually. Returning, allow the fingers to relax and curl from the tip to the middle; from the middle to the frog, remain curled and use only the upper arm to move the bow.