“BIG HAND,” COLLÉ, AND MARTÈLÉ FOR CLARITY & PROJECTION

BIG HAND

The shape of your bow hand is fundamental to the type of sound you want to create. For clarity, articulation, and projection of a direct sound, a firm (but not rigid!) large hand (I call this “Big Hand”) is best. It will efficiently and effortlessly transmit the weight of your arm and back into the string, leading to a large, clear, focused sound.

If you experiment by holding the bow with your thumb on the outside of the frog, playing only at the frog and using very little bow, 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 inside corner of the thumb (which while holding the bow is actually uppermost). Your second finger forms a ring with the thumb. 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.

The space inside your bow hand when you are at the frog should be as large as possible. Do not allow the base joint of the index finger to drop toward the bow or toward your thumb.  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.

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 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 outside of the thumb. With the upbow this process is reversed.

THE CATCHBOW

A pinch at the start of a stroke gets the string to speak immediately. This 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.” 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.

COLLÉ EXERCISES

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.

MARTÈLÉ EXERCISES

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.

 

THE SECOND GREAT CIRCLE: SCYTHING TOWARD THE BRIDGE

BOW, HAIR, STRING, AND BRIDGE

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 is therefore more precise 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 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. I call this scything with the bow, because the circular motion you are making with the bow 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 the string underneath your bow. The string needs to spin and circulate underneath your bow. If you press straight down, you can all too easily pin the string, restricting its movement and removing many of the overtones which add depth and quality to your sound.

THE FEEL OF THE HAND AND ARM

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 is naturally tucking 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 think of applying 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. There is almost no limit to the amount of sound you can produce in this way, so long as you keep the hair of the bow in complete contact with the string and the wood of the bow pressing sideways through the hair and into the bridge. What I particularly like about this method of sound production is that when done properly, you will find it almost impossible to scratch or overplay!

MUSICAL USES

Scything is especially wonderful when you want a warm sound, and since this sound can be both warm and huge, it is extremely useful in concertos and in any situation where you want to project without strain or edge. Here are some 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

Scything may not be the best choice when the sound you want to produce is direct, brilliant, heroic, or even angry. Catchbows and slightly flatter hair, when the wood is more directly above the hair instead of being angled, will be better for this type of expression. Flat hair, which is what Ivan Galamian recommended 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. Here are some pieces to which you can apply flatter hair:

  • 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

Have fun experimenting — learn how to scythe in your lyric melodies, and switch to flatter hair for brilliant or more aggressive passages!

THE FIRST GREAT CIRCLE: PLAYING THROUGH THE VIOLIN

PARADOX

The best sounds and the longest lines are produced when we can draw the bow in a line, usually quite parallel to the bridge so that the sounding point remains steady.  However our bow arms work best in circular motions: our shoulders are ball-and-socket joints, and our elbows are hinged to allow the rotation of the forearm. If we are concentrating only on the straight line of the bow, we may inhibit the natural circular motions needed for the arm to function well, and our sound may become stiff and thin. I call these natural and desirable circular motions the smile bow.

SMILE BOW

AIRPLANE   A great exercise for developing the smile bow is one I call the airplane landing.  Before starting, drape a cloth across the midsection of the violin, under the strings. Begin with your upper arm rotated entirely outward so that it is actually touching your face. The tip should be so far to the right that it is pointing to the floor. Now rotate the upper arm to trace a giant circle, beginning a downbow from a point as far as possible to the left of the violin. As you circle in for a landing on the G string, curve into the string so that you are incredible close to it before you land. Land without stopping the slow steady motion of your arm. Think of your bow as an airplane. Before an airplane lands, it levels off, and its touchdown is very gentle.  Never hit as you land — don’t make your passengers spill their coffee! At the end of your downbow, draw the frog upwards and gently pluck each string (G, D, A, E) with the tip of your bow. You should end with your bow in the air, off of the violin, with the frog high in the air and the tip rotated downward, facing the ground. To perform an upbow, continue from this position, drawing the upbow from a point as far as possible to the right of the violin. As before, circle in for a landing, curving gently into the string without stopping. At the end of your upbow, gently pluck each string (E, A, D, G) with the metal of your frog; you should end with your upper arm touching your face, ready to start the downbow again. If you are not comfortable coming from above the string, or if you often hit the string when starting a stroke, this airplane exercise will be marvelously effective. Practice landings in all parts of the bow, on all four strings.

DEEP CIRCLES UNDERNEATH THE VIOLIN   For the deepest sonorities (think chords, Brahms, and concertos) your smile bow should trace a circle far under the violin. Stand with your violin in your left hand, but hanging downward under your right armpit. Now with your bow make a slow and giant circle in the air, starting far above and descending far below where your violin normally is on your left side. You should feel quite relaxed, and there should be no change in the slow speed of your arm during this circle. After a few of these air circles, gently but quickly place the violin on your shoulder, without stopping the slow circles of your right arm and bow. The violin will intersect your circle; the bow will land on the strings of the violin; but you should continue to feel as if you are playing deep circles underneath the violin. Land once and return the violin to its position under your right arm. Your bow should continue to circle slowly, largely, and without stopping. Repeat.

What is most prominently and noticeably circling during this exercise is your upper arm. However you can also see your elbow drawing circles in the air; if you can, try to feel your right shoulder blade circling as well. This is what it means to “play from the back.” When your bow lands, the weight of your whole arm and upper right back is relaxing into the strings. If you were to stay pressed into the strings the sound would buckle, but the beauty of the smile bow is that it will lift you out of the string before the sound can be pinned and crushed. Try playing chords while feeling and envisioning this giant circle. Feel your whole back and arm releasing into the strings. At the end of your downbows, feel your frog lifting to the balcony; at the end of upbows, your tip.

FOREARM HINGE   Another important circle is created by the forearm. Try holding your ulna bone and rotating your radius. You’ll be startled to see the range of motion possible without ever having to move your elbow, and without your ulna moving. To feel this circle, stabilize your right upper arm with your left hand and swing your right forearm. You can easily see the smile created by this motion – it is as if you are tracing the bottom of a hammock! These small circular motions of the forearm give smoother bow changes and a more liquid, creamy quality to the sound.  This ability of the forearm to move at its elbow hinge is very important in classical repertoire such as Mozart and Schubert, and it also is crucial in string crossings, particularly in fast passages and barriolage. To practice passages using this motion, stand so that the back of your upper right arm is flat against a wall (D string level is best for your elbow) and practice Kreutzer #13 without allowing the upper arm to participate. Feel your arm opening and closing at the elbow as you draw the bow; also feel the tiny circles of rotation. After this, step away from the wall and produce the same arm motion, keeping your elbow level stable while using a free, even exaggerated forearm movement; use lots of bow.

PREPARING YOUR BODY TO RECEIVE THE WEIGHT OF THE BOW AND ARM

We often think of producing sound simply by moving our arms to press the strings into the violin, but we should remember that the quality and richness of our sounds will be greatly helped if we have springs and openness in our bodies. Remember the deep circles underneath the violin? If we think of those circles as continuing through the violin and into our chest, abdomen, and torso, we’ll realize that those parts of our body must not be rigid and stiff.

TREE GIRL   One of the most beautiful, sonorous tones I ever heard was produced by an incredibly thin young girl. The tone could not be explained by arm weight, because her arms were the size of twigs. Her posture, however, was remarkable – her entire back was rounded forward so that the violin appeared to be wrapped inside her chest and body. It was as if she were a tree with a violin enveloped within. If you experiment by playing with this (admittedly terrible) posture, you can learn to feel as if your arm weight is going through the violin and directly into your chest and belly, and you will hear a big change in your sound. After doing this exercise, return to your regular upright posture, but imagine that you are still carving a C shape into your chest and belly.

SCRUBBING INTO THE BELLY   (Karen Tuttle Exercise) Another excellent way to get the feeling of playing through and below the violin is to bend over, place your bow on the D and A strings, and make a loud, rapid détaché stroke. Push the wood entirely down as you feel your force going straight into your gut. Continue scrubbing as you straighten to playing position; continue feeling the force going right into your gut. If your sound changes, start over — you have lost the connection into your belly!

 

 

 

Mozart Should Not Sound Like Brahms:
Essential to being a fine musician is the ability to produce sounds appropriate to different styles, emotions and composers. The works of Mozart are masterpieces which often benefit from a particular sense of ease and effortlessness. Think sun, bubbles, high energy, celebration, and operatic joy!

Bow Speed:
In general faster bow speeds often convey a lighter, sunnier, more classical quality, while slower bow speeds communicate tragedy, stubbornness, difficulty, and suffering. Faster bow strokes are also useful when intensity and energy are key.
Beginning downbows with the frog angled slightly away from the bridge will help speed the bow and also lighten the frog, avoiding the gritty quality produced by playing near the bridge. Likewise, maintaining the frog away will help the sound production at the tip, because the bow is lighter at the tip and needs the heavier sounding point. (Remember, frog away from the bridge = tip into the bridge.)
The mixed bowing exercises found in Ivan Galamian’s scale book are useful. Familiarize yourself with the different feelings of sticky, resistant, slow bows vs. quick, free, traveling bows. In particular, exercises that alternate quick full bows with very slow bows will be challenging and rewarding.

Special Strokes and Smaller Muscles:
The flexibility of the wrist and fingers is vital to the lighter quality we associate with Mozart. The “Mozart” bowing, 2 slurred and 2 separate done in middle of bow, is used throughout the repertoire.

Phrasing:
Always know where you are in the structure of each movement.
Microphrasing at all times is recommended. Be clear about where you are aiming; show high points with both bow and vibrato.
Often crescendos in Mozart are best done by adding bow speed rather than arm weight.
Natural phrasing, up and down with the line just as you do in Bach, will give an organic quality to your playing.
Be aware of sequences; start them at a lesser dynamic and build them so that they make a larger line.

Vibrato:
Vibrato which is faster and narrower will work best with your lighter bow, but take care it does not become tense or constricted. Sculpt the rise and fall of harmonic tension in your line with your vibrato.

The best sounds and the longest lines are produced when we can draw the bow in a line, usually quite parallel to the bridge, so that the sounding point remains steady.  However our bow arms work best in circular motions: our shoulders are ball-and-socket joints, and our elbows are hinged to allow the rotation of the forearm. If we are concentrating only on the straight line of the bow, we may inhibit the natural circular motions needed to keep the arm functioning well, and our sound may become stiff and thin.

 

The first bone of the arm is the shoulder blade.  When we move our elbows, our shoulder blades also move. The movable shoulder blade (and therefore elbow) are an important part of the sound; engaging this area is what it means to “play from the back muscles.” When this area is accessible, our sounds become fuller, warmer, deeper, and louder; chords are also easier, because we have the full weight of the large back muscles. There will be a circular movement of the upper arm, turning inside the ball-and-socket joint. The elbow will also make small circular motions. To encourage this movement, use your left hand to turn the upper portion of your right arm. Notice how the turning results in your right elbow circling down and up. Can you feel the motion of your right elbow all the way back into your right shoulderblade?

 

The second important area is the forearm itself. Try holding your ulna bone and rotating your radius. You’ll be startled to see the range of motion possible without ever having to move your elbow. The small circular motions of the forearm give smoother bow changes and a more liquid, creamy quality to the sound.  They also help in string crossings, particularly in fast passages. To develop this range of motion, place your right arm on a stand, with your elbow resting just beyond the left side of the stand. Now play Kreutzer #13 in the middle of the bow. Your upper arm will remain still while you cross strings using the forearm motion. This is one of the most useful capacities to develop in your bow arm; it will help you with fast barriolage passages, spiccato, and détaché.

 

As the forearm rolls, there is a resulting change in the hand balance which we call supination and pronation. The give of the hand into the bow facilitates these tiny adjustments. If we grip the bow too hard or are unable to bend the thumb, little or no forearm rotation is possible. There will be holes at the bow changes. We will not have enough variety of color or dynamic.

Creating your Gorgeous Tone in Legato

June 10th, 2013 | Posted by BaylaK in Goal 01: Sounds | Right Side - (Comments Off)

Imagination, Visualization, Emotion:

Your sound is your soul. Expose yourself to wonderful violinists so that you may learn what is possible; but — your sound must be uniquely your own voice. What do you hear in your mind’s ear?

Physical Facts:

All sounds will be a mix of bow speed and weight/pressure. Choose your sounding points:

Nearer the bridge = more tension/resistance = more weight = slower bow speed

Farther from the bridge = less resistance = less weight = faster bow speed

The angle of wood to hair also affects clarity and warmth. Although at the frog the hair should be slightly angled, experiment with flatter hair from the middle of the bow to the tip, especially in concertos.

Find strings that suit your violin.

Bow Arm:

Think of your hand, arm and entire body as a set of springs. If anything is locked the sound will be stopped, as water by a dam. Keep all joints open. Avoid strain or forcing.

Carve, caress, slide, pour, sink, curve – never hit or strike the violin!

Execute the bow smile. Land in a flattening curve, never with an abrupt vertical descent. (Airplane exercise)

Flexibility in the bow hand and wrist, facilitated by the proper relaxation of the thumb in combination with the proper hand shape, is essential for beauty.

Left hand:

The relation of the fingers of the left hand to the string can affect the sound greatly. Make sure your tips have a feeling of cushion; in lyric playing, play on the pads, not on the bone. The first joint should flex easily. Do not overpress with the fingers or clench with the thumb. The softness in the tips and first joints will especially help sound and intonation in multiple stops.

Vibrato is a key component to your sound and will help loosen your joints.

The arch shape of the fingers can give clarity and focus to your sound. Flattened fingers are fuzzier and warmer.

 

Calm Shoulders

June 10th, 2013 | Posted by BaylaK in Body | Goal 05: Ease | Left Side | Right Side - (Comments Off)

Avoid the drawstring effect

Many violinists crunch their shoulders up and their heads down into the violin. This shortens the muscles of each arm and greatly affects sound and left hand facility. It also isolates the arm from the shoulderblade, which is the first bone of the arm.

To avoid this, try the following exercises:

Stand and play with your head against a doorframe. You may feel you have to press backwards with your head in order to maintain contact. Now step away and feel the same backwards, upright position.

In a straight chair, sit with your back against the back of the chair as you play. Maintain contact.

With a partner, take turns holding each other’s heads back. (This is really easy if you have a ponytail!)

Draw an upbow, allowing your head to travel in the same direction as the bow. Draw a downbow, and move your head slightly to the back of the chinrest, in the opposite direction from the bow. Can you feel the slight tug of the string?

Loosening the Head on the Violin

Settle your head into the chinrest gently, balancing the violin with the relaxed weight of your head.

Incorporate Karen Tuttle’s breathing exercises into your bowing: each time you breathe out, allow the head to settle towards the back of the chinrest gently.

As an exercise, play downbows holding the violin with your left hand as you move your head around; play upbows with your head gently relaxing into the chinrest as you take your left thumb off the neck of the violin. Are there moments in your music where you could do one or the other, to release muscles?

Interesting Dilemma

Holding still helps your nervous system sort out the fine movements of your hands and arms, because the variables are fewer; but moving releases muscles and combats rigidity. Moving also is often more exciting for the audience. Think of a modern day performer such as Joshua Bell and compare him to videos of Heifetz and Oistrach.  My own experience is that it is generally best to move lyrically during singing lines and slower music, with swaying being preferable to the crunch, to keep the shoulderblades as stable as possible; but it is almost always best to have calm shoulders, a stable violin, and a centered balance which allows your weight to drop through both your feet during fast passages and string crossings. It is also usually true that a stable violin produces a stronger tone.

Try fast passages with your violin scroll on a stand, on a ledge, or against a towel on the wall. You will find that shifts and string crossings are much easier when you do not have a moving target!

Bow Hand Exercises

June 10th, 2013 | Posted by BaylaK in Goal 01: Sounds | Right Side - (Comments Off)

The following exercises will develop flexibility in the right hand, leading to deeper and more beautiful sonorities and a much greater ability to sustain.

Bow only:

Windshield wipers: hold bow with tip pointing to ceiling; move from elbow only.

Bow climb – vertical & horizontal: try to keep bow stable as you crawl with your fingers.

Thumb & mid-finger roll: downbow and upbow. You can also do this with the bow; try to keep your tone even, while hair goes from flat to side and back.

Pinky push-ups: balance bow horizontally with thumb & pinkie. Hold your forearm with your wrist pointing up so that the movement happens only inside your hand.

 

Add & subtract fingers:

1} Divide bow in ½ – start upbow; hold each half with thumb and 3 fingers.

Divide bow in 1/3s – hold each 1/3 with thumb and 2 fingers.

Divide bow in 1/4ths – hold each ¼ with thumb and corresponding finger.

Put all fingers on– vacuum each bow – seamless bow changes.

 

2} Start upbow with thumb and index finger only. Travel ¼ bow; add next finger. Continue to frog. Make sure that all fingers reach out and around the bow, especially the 3rd 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.  Draw a downbow, subtracting fingers one at a time with each ¼ bow.

 

Supination:

Lean deeply onto pinky, even allowing it to go over the bow. Notice how this releases the index finger, which slides towards you as you lean. 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 knuckles directly down while keeping wrist and forearm unmoving.  Do this pronated as well.

Opposites:  Hold the bow with your left hand and put your right hand in its normal place and position.

1} As your left hand pulls to the left, your right arm will pull to the right (your arms are pulling apart). Allow your right knuckles to release; the space inside your hand will flatten, your fingers will curve so the bow moves closer to your palm, and the index finger will slide back towards you. Keep your wrist and forearm unmoving.

2} As your left hand pushes to the right, your right arm will push 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.

3) 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.

4) Play a sustained downbow and upbow, feeling the string resist the pull of the bow in each direction. With each downbow, allow your knuckles to release fully; with each upbow, lead strongly with your knuckles.

 

Integration:

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 the bow changes will lead to bumps, whips, jerks, and blemishes.

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.

The Roll/Role of the Thumb

June 4th, 2013 | Posted by BaylaK in Goal 01: Sounds | Goal 03: Rhythmic control | Right Side - (Comments Off)

Straight thumb

A straight thumb results in straight stiff fingers and a relentless, overly tight bow hold. It also prevents the flexing of the wrist.  This lack of small shock absorbers in the wrist and fingers will greatly affect the perfume, nuance and quality of sound, particularly in softer dynamics and classical works such as Mozart, Schubert, and Bach. Carl Flesch famously said that all artistry resides in the small muscles of the bow hand and wrist.

Natural strength and shape of the hand

There is an ideal size and shape for your bow hand which will take advantage of the natural function of your hand and allow a constant conversation between your thumb and fingers.

First make a ring between your thumb and second finger; space the other fingers with whole steps in between. Don’t put your thumb through the bow – find the “captain’s chair” (the little bump on the nut) and bend your thumb as you seat it there.

Galamian believed that the thumb should always be bent at the frog to allow for the maximum space between the thumb and index finger. Put your thumb outside the bow and play at the frog; notice how full the tone is, even though you don’t have much flexibility or control. This is because the space inside your hand is ideal for its strength and therefore your hand can transmit the weight of your arm efficiently. Now replace your thumb in its proper position on the bow, but try to keep the internal space of your hand as large as possible.

The action of the thumb is sideways, not straight up: as the thumb pushes, the third finger answers.

Draw long bows, rolling the bow from the side of the hair to flat hair using only the thumb, not the wrist. Keep an even, good tone.

Thumb counterpressure

Subtracting thumb counterpressure at the frog will allow smoother changes; adding it during downbows when nearing the tip will increase contact and avoid diminuendo. (Exercise)

11.3 pounds is the difference in thumb pressure between frog and tip!

Supination

Supination can be done in the middle to lower half of the bow, but is especially valuable at the frog.

To supinate, roll onto your pinkie. The thumb and fingers will bend, the pinkie will curve, the knuckles will relax slightly, and the fingers will be square on the bow. Your index finger will slide toward you, releasing the front of the hand.

Notice the change in the contact point of your thumb – there will be a second dent created.