ANGLE OF WOOD TO HAIR: SCYTHING TOWARD THE BRIDGE VS. FLAT HAIR
By Bayla Keyes
Violinists typically think of applying pressure down into the string, in order to get it to move maximally. However, the process of sound production is somewhat more complex. The movement of the string underneath our bow agitates the bridge; then the movement of the legs of the bridge is transferred into the entire top of the violin and through the sound post to the back of the violin as well. It can be therefore more useful to think of applying pressure in the direction of the bridge, in order to create the most movement there.
Applying pressure with the stick of the bow angled slightly away from you, so that the wood presses through the hair and toward the bridge, rather than directly downward into the string, can produce a warm, beautiful, rich sound. The wood when angled in this way has a feeling of softness and give, but if you make sure to keep all the hair in contact with the string, you can apply enormous pressure without ever scratching or straining. Kim Kashkashian calls this scything with the bow, because the circular motion you are making with the bow in the direction of the bridge resembles that made by a scythe when used to harvest crops.
A clear advantage of using this sideways curving pressure is that you will be less likely to trap or pin the string underneath your bow. The string needs to spin and circulate underneath your bow, thereby producing overtones which add depth and quality to your sound.
To experiment, use your left index finger as a substitute for the bow. Place your bow hand on top of the index finger and apply pressure directly downward. You may notice that there is a tendency of your right shoulder to come up and forward as you press down. You may also notice tension throughout the right arm, especially in the wrist, the upper arm near the shoulder, and the pectoral muscles at the front of the armpit.
Now place your right fingers around your left index finger and apply the pressure in a sort of curve in the direction of the bridge. Because you are curving toward yourself as well, you may notice how your right shoulder is opening back and your right shoulder blade can tuck down and under. Your shoulder will feel freer and more open. You can feel the work in this pulling motion coming from the strong muscles in the back of the shoulder, rather than the weaker muscles of the front.
Especially on the downbow, this pull also encourages a natural engagement of the fingers on the bow. You will not be straightening the fingers and pushing down, but instead gathering the bow with the fingers, encouraging them to relax and curl into the bridge. Not only does the bow hold feel looser, it also feels paradoxically stronger; your fingers feel secure and fleshy on the bow stick.
Now try the above on the bow and violin. What is the type of sound produced when you apply pressure straight down into the string? What happens when you curve toward the bridge instead? For most violinists scything will create a deeper and more sonorous tone. This kind of sound is often ideal for romantic and lyrical expression.
Here are examples of pieces to which you can apply scything:
· Beginning of first movement of Tchaikovsky Concerto
· Beginning of second movement of Bruch g minor
· Outer sections of second movement of Brahms Concerto
· First movement of Brahms G Major Sonata
· Beginning of first movement of Sibelius Concerto
· Beginning of first movement of Barber Concerto
FLAT HAIR IN THE UPPER HALF OF THE BOW
Flat hair, which is what Ivan Galamian recommends for maximum sound production in the upper half of the bow, produces a brighter, more direct tone. Even a détaché sounds different when done with flat hair as compared to slightly angled hair. Flattening the hair so that the wood is directly above the hair from the midpoint of the bow to the tip during a downbow stroke can alleviate the natural tendency to diminuendo. It is best to push the frog away, thereby flattening the hair, using the thumb, rather than allowing the wrist to pull the wood over. (Support the wrist by turning onto the inside of the arm, pronating onto the index finger, and extending the fingers when you are near the tip. The thumb should NEVER be above the wrist.) It is also best to turn the bow very slightly on the side for the upbow stroke. Combine flat hair with the forearm stroke, drawing the frog in an elliptical path towards the bridge, to create the best sounding point for heroic, masterful, or brilliant expression.
Here are examples of pieces to which you can apply flat hair in the upper half:
· Beginning of first movement of Saint-Saëns b minor Concerto
· Brilliant fast passagework such as in the last movements of Sibelius or Tchaikovsky Concertos
· Beginning of first movement of Lalo Concerto
· Beginning of first movement of Brahms Concerto
· Middle section of second movement of Brahms Concerto
CONTINUAL AWARENESS OF THE RELATIONSHIP OF WOOD TO HAIR
Whichever type of sound you wish to produce, and whichever method of sound production you utilize, remember that the wood and hair have a constant relationship. When scything, you should be able to look in the mirror and see the strip of wood next to the smaller strip of white hair at all times, and the amount of white should not change. When flattening the hair on a downbow you should be able to look in the mirror and watch the bow roll smoothly from being slightly on the side in the lower half to flattening directly over the hair in the upper half; on the upbow you should be able to see the strip of wood next to a very small strip of white hair at all times, and the amount of white should not change. Just as you are continuously tracking your sounding point in relation to the bridge, you should be continuously aware of the angle of the wood of your bow to its hair. This will make an enormous difference in your ability to create sustained bows and to achieve the colors and characters you want.
EMOTION WITH THE BOW: SOUNDING POINT, COLOR, PHRASING AND ARTICULATION
By Bayla Keyes
As musicians, one of our most important goals is to be able to communicate different feelings, moods, and emotions. The fascinating interdependency between bow speed, sounding point, and arm weight or pressure, first described by Ivan Galamian, must be fully understood and properly utilized. The use of articulation is also critical in creating character. Mastery in how the bow interacts with the string is paramount for true artists.
SOUNDING POINT NEAR BRIDGE
Correlates with heavier arm weight and pressure because of the resistance of the string; usually slower bow speed, although advanced players can use faster bow without sliding; maximum power and projection; louder dynamics; sustained slow bows; clear good sound for standing out
Can communicate powerfulness, strength, confidence, mastery, clarity, purpose, musical stress OR stubbornness, resistance, despair, stasis, paralysis. With strong articulation -- anger, hostility, aggression, punctuation
Can unfortunately result in overpressing, tension in the bow arm, scratching due to stiff springs in bow arm and hand, laborious “worked” quality to sound
SOUNDING POINT AWAY FROM BRIDGE
Correlates with lighter arm weight because string is less taut; often faster bow speed; lighter dynamics; avoiding false accents; traveling quickly to another part of the bow; diffused sound good for blending
Can communicate transparency, lightness, gentleness, tenderness OR anxiety, indecisiveness, nervousness, breathlessness, spookiness OR ease, comfort, happiness, effortlessness
Can unfortunately result in lack of contact, core, and projection, tension in bow arm due to holding weight out of string, poor intonation due to lack of overtones
FASTER BOW SPEED
Correlates with usually slightly less arm weight and pressure, sounding point farther away from bridge, more air in sound, sound more diffused, more ring
Can communicate energy, excitement, anticipation OR overexcitement, frenzy, hysteria
Can unfortunately result in disturbance in rhythm, poor bow planning, lack of sustaining
SLOWER BOW SPEED
Correlates with usually slightly heavier arm weight and pressure, usually sounding point nearer to bridge
Can communicate timidity, reticence, modesty OR repression, anxiety, fear
Can unfortunately result in lack of confidence and projection, lack of ring
EVEN BOW SPEED
Correlates with sounding point remaining the same; fast or slow bow speed, but especially useful in slow music in steady tempo
Can communicate nobility, calmness, purpose, resolution, spirituality, sense of peace
Can unfortunately result in monotony, lack of variety, lack of shape in line
UNEVEN BOW SPEED
Correlates with varying sounding point, use of rubato
Can communicate whimsicality, unpredictability, capriciousness, imagination, creativity OR flirtation, seduction OR unreliability, sense of discomfort
Can unfortunately result in poor rhythm, difficulty in matching in ensembles, bumps or holes in the line, whips on bow changes
Correlates with large space inside hand, quick pinch at start of stroke, collé, martèlé, projection in large space, with orchestra, piano, large groups
Can communicate strength, definition, authority OR anger, aggression, ferocity
Can unfortunately result in habitual accenting of unimportant notes, tension in bow arm if done improperly
SMOOTH CHANGE OF BOW
Correlates with springs inside hand, fingers, knuckles, vocal lines, long lines
Can communicate love, warmth, tenderness, comfort, lyricism, longing
Can unfortunately result in a lack of profile within a group, boring uniformity in line
HEAVIER ARM WEIGHT
Correlates with louder dynamics, usually sounding point closer to bridge, usually slightly slower bow speed, shoulder must be relaxed so that sound comes from back muscles
Is best in romantic concertos, late 19th, 20th, and 21st century repertoire , large ensembles
Can unfortunately result in ugly sound due to lack of springs in arm and hand, tension in bow arm if done using wrong muscles
LIGHTER ARM WEIGHT
Correlates with less dense sound, usually sounding point slightly farther from bridge, usually slightly faster bow speed, well-developed springs in forearm, wrist and hand
Is best in classical and Baroque repertoire, some French repertoire, often orchestral playing
Can unfortunately result in uninteresting, unsupported sound, tension in bow arm from lifting out of string, floating wispy inaudible sound
GOOD RHYTHM IS NOT AN ACCIDENT: MASTERING YOUR BOW SPEED
By Bayla Keyes
Rhythmic control is what enables us to play well with others, to shape phrases, and even to delineate characters. A violinist without a good sense of rhythm is devastating in any type of ensemble. There are many useful physical exercises in rhythmic accuracy for both the right and left hand.
I have been struck by the frequent connection between tension in the bow arm and the resulting tempo variability due to lack of control of bow speed. The parallel congruence, perhaps not so immediately apparent, is that in working to achieve perfect control of our bow speed, we will also be relaxing our bow arms. Below are several of my favorite rhythm exercises.
SLOW BOW SPEED
Start by playing a 3-octave scale in whole notes with the metronome set at a tempo you can reasonably sustain, e.g. eighth note = 60 (this means a count of 8 per bow). Use the fullest, most beautiful and vibrant sound possible. Each day try to go slower, until you can go at sixteenth note = 30 (this means a count of 32 per bow). Stay relaxed and patient; do not allow your tone to vary in any part of the bow. This simple practice will have amazing results on your tone. Orlando Cole had his first year students practice a full hour of scales in this way daily. Josef Gingold famously pulled a 5-minute bow (a count of 300 per bow), although apparently what one heard was only the click of each passing tooth of the horsehair catching upon the string!
Play at eighth note = 60, starting up bow and then down bow. Pay scrupulous attention to dynamics, especially crescendos on downbows and diminuendos on upbows.
This exercise is a variation on the first slow bow speed exercise, but it is particularly useful for solving the typical problem of downbow diminuendos and upbow crescendos. Practice lines two and three on the first page, and lines six, seven, eight, nine and ten on the second page.
FAST BOW SPEED
For practice in drawing the bow rapidly, play scales using the entire bow, one bow = one quarter. Start at quarter note = 100 and work up to quarter note = 140. Let the bow travel lightly; do not press or engage the string. When you are comfortable with this, play full bow sixteenths at a tempo of quarter note = 50. You may discover that you have trouble keeping your bow parallel to the bridge with this exercise! See if you can discover the quick circle back that will make this easier. Practice in the air before trying it on the violin.
FAST: A Useful Variant
Martèlé exercises are excellent for developing a quick bow speed. Try a short stroke in the middle half of the bow and then repeat, later adding bow until you can perform the stroke from frog to tip in one short, rapid motion.
ALTERNATING FAST AND SLOW
Play scales with four fast light whole bows, one count each, followed immediately by a slow deep bow of twelve counts. Then repeat both steps, starting upbow.
SCALES AND ARPEGGIOS
Use the acceleration exercises presented in Ivan Galamian’s Contemporary Violin Technique and Simon Fischer’s Practice. Practice with legato and also separate bows. When you begin, go slowly enough that you can play these exercises perfectly; then put yourself on a metronome diet and begin to inch up the tempo every day, staying at the level of perfection. Do not play faster than you can play well!
For mixed bowings, when the bow must be used in different amounts and at different speeds, an understanding of sounding point and pressure are a must. I particularly like the mixed bowings presented in Ivan Galamian’s Contemporary Violin Technique.
Galamian devised these fundamental exercises so that the upbows and downbows are of uneven duration. The ability to move the bow lightly and rapidly on separate notes, while pushing weight into the string for slurred notes, is essential for producing phrases and lines unmarred by false accents or strange tempo variations. In addition to manipulating the amount of weight going to the string, a barely perceptible angle of the bow towards or away from the bridge may be helpful.
In my experience as a teacher, I have noticed that students will frequently vary their rhythm in passages with mixed bowings, rather than staying precisely in tempo. A thorough study of Galamian’s mixed bowing exercises, using the metronome in an exacting manner, is my recommendation.
GOOD STARTING PIECE
There are almost as many examples of tricky mixed bowings as there are works in the violin repertoire, but a good place to start is in a last movement of one of the Bach Solo Sonatas, such as the g minor. In your early study of this movement, treat it as an étude, so that you are striving for absolute evenness of sound and tempo. A great paradox is that in order to achieve perfect evenness of sound, you will have to be at times quite UNEVEN in your use of pressure, weight, and to some extent sounding point (the distance from the bridge; the point at which the bow meets the string). For the first four bars of the movement, your use of the bow is quite even, but for the upbow slur on the second sixteenth of the fifth bar, you will need to have an excellent sounding point near the bridge and a good amount of weight into the string, so that the slurred notes will not be lighter than the separate notes which preceded them. Likewise, in the sixth bar, you will need to lighten up on the separate sixteenths, so that they will not sound enormously heavy after the long slur which preceded them; having a sounding point somewhat farther from the bridge as you begin these notes will help. The entire movement is full of such situations; in my opinion, for most violinists, the bow work is more demanding than the left hand -- it necessitates a real mastery of mixed bowings.
Since evenness in technique and rhythm is essential, it is always helpful to play through your piece slowly and steadily. Find examples of mixed bowings in your own pieces and listen carefully to make sure you do not have any false accents, holes, or other flaws in your line. You should become allergic to such false accents; they should hurt you as much as an out of tune note. The ability to create a sculpted, perfect line is an essential musical skill!
CHANGING NOTE VALUES
A significant number of violinists fail to keep tempo as they change note values. Similarly they may enter after a rest with a slightly different tempo than that played by others before or during the rest. This will be particularly noticeable in a chamber music ensemble, where you often need to enter in a fast section already in motion, or at certain structural points in your piece, where you must suddenly shift gears to faster note values. I always practice my music with the metronome at some point early in the learning process, just to make sure I am not cheating long notes or slowing on fast notes. As part of this metronome work, I also recommend practicing starting from a dead stop with the metronome already going; enter exactly with its beat and make exactly the proper number of subdivisions to land with the metronome on the next beat. This is harder than it sounds. If you cannot do the exercise at tempo, start more slowly and work up to tempo, keeping your bow arm as relaxed as possible. It may be necessary to do this over a period of several days before you are comfortable with fast strokes at a fast speed. You may also find the necklace technique helpful -- play one beat plus one note really fast; repeat; play the next beat plus one note really fast; repeat; then string the two beats (beads) together. Continue. The exercise can also be done starting from the end of a passage, working backwards. I find this particularly useful in coordinating bow and left hand.
In this exercise, keep the bow arm relaxed and keep your arm weight in the string throughout. Make the accents by pulsing with the hand. This will develop your ability to use hand and arm weight independently.
The same exercise can be employed in repertoire, and is particularly helpful in slow movements of concertos, where a rich full sound must be produced without strain. Play the opening lines of the second movement of the Sibelius Concerto with the metronome at sixteenth = 80. Play a relaxed, full fortissimo throughout, pulsing the hand on every sixteenth note subdivision. You will quickly notice where you need to save or spend bow in order to arrive at the next bow change in the best part of the bow. MAKE ALL PHRASING AND DYNAMIC SHAPES! Repeat with the metronome still on the slow tempo, but do not pulse the hand. Notice how much smoother is your bow and how much more sustained is your sound.
AIMING THE BOW: SOUND POINT, BOW PLANNING, COLOR AND ARTICULATION
by Bayla Keyes
As artists and musicians, one of our most important goals is to be able to communicate different feelings, moods, and emotions. The fascinating triadic relationship between bow speed, sounding point, and arm weight or pressure, first described by Ivan Galamian, must be understood. The use of articulation is also critical in creating character. Mastery in how the bow interacts with the string is paramount to true artistry.
A Sounding Point Nearer to the Bridge will often require a slightly slower bow speed and deeper pressure.
Technical Uses: Musical stress, Sustained slow bows, Louder dynamics
Musical Uses: Power, Projection, Strength, Confidence, Clarity, Mastery OR Struggle, Stubbornness, Resistance, Despair, Stasis, Paralysis
OR (with articulation) Anger, Aggression, Punctuation
A Sounding Point Further from the Bridge, closer to the fingerboard, will often require a faster bow speed and lighter pressure.
Technical Uses: Avoiding accents, Traveling quickly in order to start the next bow at a certain point, Lighter dynamics
Musical Uses: Transparency, Lightness, Gentleness, Tenderness
OR Anxiety, Indecisiveness, Nervousness, Breathlessness, Spookiness
OR Ease, Comfort, Happiness, Effortlessness
Using More Bow requires mastery of bow angles. One of the reasons that a violinist may sound timid is because he or she has not yet learned how to move the bow without losing the sounding point. An ability to use more bow, good contact, and a sounding point next to the bridge will result in --
Technical Uses: Projection, Louder dynamics
Musical Uses: Power, Projection, Strength, Energy, Excitement, Confidence, Security, Mastery, OR Overexcitement, Frenzy, Hysteria
Using Less Bow is easier for some, but if the player is in the habit of using lots of bow he or she may have to use this technique very consciously.
Technical Uses: Softer dynamics, Blending
Musical Uses: Timidity, Reticence, Modesty, Repression, Anxiety, Fear
Even Bow Speed
Nobility and Calmness
Purpose and Resolution
Spirituality, Sense of Peace
Uneven Bow Speed
Whimsicality, Unpredictability, Capriciousness
Unreliability, Sense of Discomfort
Strength, Definition, Authority
Anger, Aggression, Ferocity
Smooth Bow Changes
Love, Warmth, Tenderness, Comfort
Heavier Arm Weight
German & Russian Repertoire
20th and 21st Century Repertoire
Lighter Arm Weight
Some French Repertoire
Often, Orchestra Playing
Angling the Bow to Make Sounding Point Changes:
THE STRAIGHT BOW AND THE THREE GALAMIAN BOW SHAPES
By Bayla Keyes
Keeping a constant sounding point, so that your bow is always at the same distance from the bridge as it travels, is an essential skill for a violinist. To learn this skill, observe your bow in a mirror or watch your sounding point as you play slow bows. Your sounding point – the distance from the bridge at which your bow contacts the string – should not change. Controlling this variable will make it easier for you to sustain, make long lines, and avoid holes at bow changes.
BOWING PARALLEL TO THE BRIDGE
It is possible to keep a constant sounding point and yet bow at an angle, either frog slightly pulled in or pushed out; however the great pedagogue Ivan Galamian taught that the best way to bow is in a line parallel to the bridge. To learn this skill, visualize that the bridge is elongated in space, creating an imaginary line extending in both directions; try to keep the line of your bow parallel to the extended line of the bridge as you play slow bows. When you look in the mirror, you will observe a square box created between your bow and the bridge; you can also see the H shape created by the bow and bridge with the crossbar being the string linking them. With practice you will be able to feel the track of the bow, and you won’t need to watch it anymore.
THE THREE SHAPES
Galamian described three shapes created by the arm when bowing parallel to the bridge: the small triangle at the frog, the middle bow square created when your forearm and upper arm are at 90 degrees near the middle of the bow, and the big triangle created at the tip. Many subtle adjustments must be performed in order to keep the bow straight:
From frog to middle, the upper arm moves back in space.
From middle to tip, the forearm opens and the upper arm moves slightly forward in space.
From tip to middle, the forearm closes and the upper arm moves slightly back in space.
From middle to frog, the upper arm moves forward in space.
FREEDOM OF THE SHOULDER BLADE
An important advantage of the Galamian bow arm is that it encourages the right shoulder blade to move as freely as possible. The shoulder blade is the first bone of the arm. When you move your elbow, your shoulder blade also moves. Engaging this area is what it means to “play from the back muscles.” When this area is accessible, your sound will become fuller, warmer, deeper, and louder; chords are also easier, because you can use the full weight of the large back muscles.
SHOULDER BLADE ELLIPSE
To encourage as much motion in the shoulder blade as possible, feel what your blade does in relation to the spine as you create the three shapes:
At the frog, your shoulder blade will be some distance from your spine.
From frog to middle, the shoulder blade moves slightly back toward the spine.
In the middle of the bow, your shoulder blade will be a few inches away from your spine. Release your arm and imagine your elbow resting on a pillow of air. (Without the violin, you can drop your right elbow onto your left hand in middle bow square position; feel your shoulder relax.)
From middle to tip, the shoulder blade moves away from the spine. Allow your arm to fall open, as if gliding down a diagonal glass surface.
From tip to middle, the shoulder blade returns toward the spine.
In the middle of the bow, your shoulder blade will be a few inches away from your spine. Release your arm and imagine your elbow resting on a pillow of air.
From middle to frog, the shoulder blade moves away from the spine.
At no point in the bow should your shoulder be raised. At no point in the bow should you feel pinching between your shoulder blade and your spine. Become familiar with the released arm feeling in the middle of the bow, where you are perfectly balanced!