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.

Injury Treatment

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

As violinists and musicians, it is easy to get so caught up in our intense love for music and our need to practice endless hours that we forget that we are physical creatures with wonderful bodies which do so much for us. We are athletes, and just like athletes, we must get to know our own bodies with all their strengths and limitations. Unlike athletes, however, we will want to practice our art for decades, and in caring for our physical self we must develop both incredible sensitivity and power.

 

When you are injured, whether due to an accident, sudden overuse, poor playing habits, long hours at the computer, or some combination exacerbated by worry and stress, it is easy to panic. This will not particularly help! Remember that nearly all musicians, particularly string players, will deal with injuries at some point in their careers. There are many ways of treating injuries and getting the help you need. In the process, you will become a better player AND you will live more happily in your body.  I love the Chinese character for crisis; it is actually a combination of two characters – one for danger and the other for opportunity.

 

Here are some possible ways for you to get help:

1. Medical doctor – Dr. Michael Charness at Mass General specializes in musician’s hand injuries. He may splint the hand for a period of a few weeks and send you to a physical therapist who gives you exercises.  I am not usually in favor of splinting, mainly because when you immobilize an area it gets weaker, therefore the risk of injury remains when you return. I am also very wary of operations, because of scar tissue, and cortisone shots, which are temporary but do not help your body learn to heal itself.

2. Chiropractor – Dr. Stuart Grey (617-738-7428) has an office near BU and has helped musicians. Often hand and arm problems in violinists originate in the neck.

3. Feldenkrais – Olivia Cheever, at oliviacheever.com. Feldenkrais is a system of retraining your nervous system so that you perform actions without strain.  I see Olivia once a month and my work with her has been invaluable in my teaching. She works at Longy. Google Moshe Feldenkrais, the founder of the method.

4. Stretching and related activities – yoga, tai chi, qi gong – anything that teaches you more body awareness. I attend Brookline Tai Chi Academy. I love tai chi because it is a form of moving meditation; it centers me, teaches me to feel inside my body with ever more awareness, opens my joints, stretches my muscles, and is great for balance (both mental and physical).

5.  Alexander Technique classes are a well-established body awareness path. Betsy Pollatin at Boston University is an excellent teacher.

6. Personal trainers can give you carefully calibrated exercises and stretches to balance your muscles, strengthening arms, shoulders and back. Find someone with experience of injuries, if possible someone who has worked with violinists and musicians, not just a local sports jock. Kelly Bellinsky at Performing Arts Occupational Therapy, 1330 Beacon, is great. (617-277-1550)

7. Deep tissue massage therapy such as Reiki. For pain relief, massage is often the first and best line of defense. My violist friend in the National Symphony gets a weekly massage – it’s tax deductible!

8. Tui Na is Chinese acupressure, and is fabulous: Carolanne Oller at Ancient River Healing Arts, 1141 Beacon Street in Brookline, 617-566-3603

9. Some people find acupuncture to be life-saving.

10. If you have tendonitis, icing and aspirin or Ibuprofen (not acetaminophen) are great.

11. Find a violin teacher who can help you identify areas of tension when you play, particular in your hands, arms, shoulders, neck, hips, legs, and feet.

 

 

 

 

 

Injuries are likely to occur because we are out of balance, weak in some area, working muscles without releasing them, or not able to listen to the signals our bodies give us when we use them. Most often healing will mean a combination of:

  • retraining muscles to work more easily and efficiently, with every action followed by a  release
  • learning how to listen to early signs of distress from all related body areas
  • feeling ourselves in our bodies as much of the time as possible, so that we don’t strain or pull ourselves in daily living
  • getting massage, stretching, or other exercises to help us loosen up and learn what a relaxed muscle feels like
  • getting strengthening exercises for imbalanced and weak muscles– violin is extremely asymmetric
  • getting our spine and neck into alignment so that nerves can give proper signals to muscles
  • calming inflammation with icing and anti-inflammatories such as aspirin or Ibuprofen

 

 

Except for certain cases of prolonged or chronic injury, I always recommend the slower route of healing, stretching, strengthening, and reconnecting to your own awareness of your body—intense people are often so focused on thoughts and musical expression that they miss their own kinesthetic sensations.

 

You may have to try several things before you find just the right combination.  For me it was retraining on the violin, seeing a chiropractor, getting some exercises, finding a great Feldenkrais teacher, and then doing Tai Chi.  I still do many of these things and am stronger and more flexible than I ever was as a youngster. Be patient, this is important work and it will affect your whole life, not just your violin, and you will be better off for having undertaken it!

 

 

Left Hand Relaxation: Why Footies Matter

June 10th, 2013 | Posted by BaylaK in Body | Goal 01: Sounds | Goal 05: Ease | Left Side - (Comments Off)

Moving from the Shoulderblade:

The left arm works more easily when movement initiates from the back and shoulderblade, rather than from the small muscles between the shoulder and hand.

EXERCISE: Take the left elbow back behind and away from the body; scoop under the violin and forward.     Keep the inside of the arm soft.  Initiate the motion from the back and shoulderblade.

EXERCISE: Swing up and tap the body of the violin to the left of the G string with all four fingers.

EXERCISE: Remember to stabilize the shoulderblade, keeping it near the spine, so that the left arm does not collapse into the side of the body, but instead maintains a lovely relaxed open space. Notice how the inside of the armpit feels soft.

EXERCISE: Hug a tree while keeping the shoulderblades back. Notice how maintaining your shoulderblades’ positions in relation to the spine helps the arms feel lighter and more relaxed.

 

Alignment:

At all times we should strive for the easiest, most natural positions when playing the violin. When muscles stream into each other, the electric nerve signals can pass through unimpeded. Avoid breaking the lines of the wrist and arm; keep roundness, curvature, and openness wherever possible.

EXERCISE: Compare playing with the wrist forward and collapsed, backwards, or neutral and straight.

EXERCISE: Pair up and hang each other’s arms, first in the air and then on the violin. Really relax and let  your arm become dead weight. Does it matter if your finger is arched or flat?

Relaxing the hand to get into position:

We need to be able to get the heel of the hand close to the neck of the violin, so that our 3rd and 4th fingers do not overreach, flatten, or strain. In order to hold the all-important octave frame in comfort, our hand must soften and relax.

EXERCISE: Using the right hand to hold the violin perpendicular to the floor, bring it around into position under your chin, allowing the left hand to follow passively. Do the same thing with a pencil, curving your     left fingers and pushing down while your right hand  turns the pencil into violin position.

EXERCISE: Massage the webbing between the fingers. Visualize the tissues opening and melting.

EXERCISE: Start with the hand perpendicular to fingerboard and the palm facing you. Use your right hand to melt the left knuckles in, ironing them gently into the neck of the violin.  Hold the position and notice how relaxed your arm feels. Repeat several times. Now get into that same position only by turning the     arm. Notice the tension in the forearm. Do the fingers move as freely?

With all stretching exercises, your goal is to allow the hand to open – never force, and never overpress. Think of your hand as relaxing apart, with the 1st and 2nd fingers melting back towards the pegs and the 3rd and 4th energetically reaching forward.  I call this “split hand.”

EXERCISE: Dounis Stretchback from 4th Position – place 3 fingers on the E string; gently slide the 1st finger    as far back as is comfortable on the A string. Repeat, leave in place, and then place 2nd finger on A string. Continue with all fingers. Do NOT allow other fingers to move. Do NOT overpress

EXERCISE: Simon Fischer contrary motion; also slide up and down a half step with each finger. Keep your fingernails facing you.

Keeping the fingernails facing you (this is called pronation) will result in easier manipulation of the spaces between your fingers, improving your intonation and solidifying your finger patterns.

EXERCISE: Simon Fischer Fingertip Placement

EXERCISE: Simon Fischer Thumb Spa – relaxing the thumb. Also try resting scroll gently on a stand.

 

The Footie:

Loosen the 1st joint to broaden the point of contact to aid in the transfer of the weight from the arm.  Do NOT flatten the finger; the 2nd joint should remain higher than the 1st. This is especially important in high positions and while shifting!

Fourth Finger (Left Hand)

June 10th, 2013 | Posted by BaylaK in Goal 01: Sounds | Goal 05: Ease | Left Side - (Comments Off)

Exercises for Strengthening (do just a little each day!)

  • Kreutzer #9 using 2-4 instead of 1-3, every time. Lift and drop cleanly and quickly for maximum articulation. Build speed slowly.
  • Simon Fischer Basics pp. 126-127. You’ll be amazed how quickly your finger gains strength and therefore speed.
  • Sevick Opus 1 Part 4: Numbers 19 and 20. Left-hand pizzicato, with as much 4th finger use as possible.

Exercises for Loosening (be gentle and light!)

  • Practice entire concerto ONLY vibrating on 4th finger. Vibrating makes you connect the finger back into the elbow; thus you are encouraging ONLY the 4th finger to feel its balance and connection.
  • Dounis Artist’s Technique: shifting exercise on pp. 37-40 – the pattern using 123 (4-1-4) – 1234; 423 (1-4-1) -4321.

Do this exercise ppp in both hands at first, so that your shift into  the 4th finger lands softly, lovingly and easily.

  • All the Simon Fischer Basics vibrato exercises are good; pp. 213-226. Especially note Numbers 275, 277, 279, 285, 286, 289, 293, and 299.
  • Place all fingers on string and lightly slide the 4th finger up, keeping the lower fingers still. If you need to help the finger move at first, use the right hand to train it. The more it can separate up from the 3rd finger, the more open the webbing between the fingers will become.

To Do:

  • Keep heel of hand (the fleshy part underneath the fourth finger, on the left side of the palm and hand) as soft as possible, especially while putting pressure on 4th finger.
  • Experiment with where you put the pad of the finger – on my hand, placing the 4th finger with as much flesh lying on the string as possible (ergo, a flat pad and fingertip) automatically softens the heel of my hand; playing on the point, with a strong square shape, hardens it. (You can feel your left hand with your right hand to find out.)
  • Feel the 4th finger going up and over a large soft space (I think cloud) as you put it down for a lyric note. You can shift from each finger in each low position into the 4th finger. Loosen everything and keep the inside of the hand relaxed as you land.
  • Try playing on your right arm with the 4th finger; vibrate, feel the softness of the contact, and feel the connection from the 4th finger all the way up into the elbow.
  • Lift the 1st and 2nd fingers and see if the hand opens up to vibrate more freely.
  • Eventually, see if you can feel the 4th finger all the way back into your freely sliding left shoulder blade!

 

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.

Great performances are about so much more than any individual self.  An artist is really a messenger for humanity. You don’t cry about the death of your own loved one; you cry about how every person must experience loss in this way, and yet find a way to go on. The timeless portrait of life, blackened daily by constant wrongdoing and inexplicable pain, must be cleaned and restored with our belief in the possibility of beauty, goodness, memory, and redemption, communicated through the art music which is one of the highest forms of spiritual expression known to humankind. Sometimes this transformation happens involuntarily, when the music catches us and takes us into another space; but we can also foster our own spiritual growth in order to become artist-poets who speak ideas deeper than words through our instruments. When we find this connection to the infinite, we escape our own boundaries, and our playing nears greatness. It is a humbling experience. If we are lucky, it is why we were born.