“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.