Science behind the fun
Welcome back, friends! Now we get to talk about string levels! It’s exciting. There’s some geometry and science that goes into it, dealing with angles. So let’s dive right in!
Each string has it’s own angle at which you can place the bow and not hit other strings. There’s some room to fudge a little bit, but not much. This is important, because our ultimate goal is to play with a straight bow and a clean sound.
In full disclosure, there will be times later on that you will intentionally play multiple strings at once. However, today is not that day. For now, I want you to make sure that you are trying as hard as you can to play only one string at a time.
If you’ve been feverishly working on your bow stroke and implementing all of our bow games, exercises and tips from previous articles, you should be on your way already. Important tip: the elbow and the forearm, if used correctly, will decide which string you play on. Remember that you don’t want your wrist to ever be above or below your hand. It will always be directly in line with the top of your hand.
Here’s a few key things to know about playing each individual string.
The E string will find our elbow directly next to our body just above the hip bone (in the general area). This is the best position at which to bow the E string. If we get too high, we will run the risk of hitting the A string.
As far as the E string goes, we have a little room for error as far as having the elbow low. However, we do need to be careful so that we don’t hit the C bout or we will end up rubbing too much rosin off of our bow. The upper arm is going to be nearly vertical in that it will be almost straight down.
The A string is a little higher. If you’re looking at yourself in the mirror, your elbow is still just above the hip bone, in front of your body. This is similar to the E string. However, now our elbow is closer to rib cage level. The upper arm is still noticeably tilted downwards, but not vertically like the E string upper arm is.
We don’t have as much room for error here as now we have the E string on the bottom and the D string at the top. My advice: don’t be afraid of hitting other strings. Think of any mistakes or the hitting of other strings as was not to do it, and you’ll always be learning something.
The D string finds our upper arm even higher. It’s still slanted downward, but now only slightly. The elbow is now widely separated from the body, but still slightly in front of the body and the hip bone. However, now our elbow is nearly even with the chest. Interestingly enough, many of my students find this to be one of the easiest strings to play by itself. However, we still need to practice it.
The G string has our elbow and upper arm almost completely parallel to the floor. It is not slanted or tilted downward at all. The elbow is still hovering over the hip bone, but now it is squarely even with the chest, at times maybe even a bit higher. Be careful not to raise the elbow too high or you may risk hitting the C bout on the other side of the violin.
However, it should be noted that like the E string, we have more room for error in our quest to not hit other strings when we play the G. You’ll notice that when you play the G string, your forearm does not move downward, but is played in a more side to side motion.
Applying what we’ve learned
Now, there’s a few things we want to do. First, make sure that each note gets one bow stroke. Don’t slur, or play multiple strings in one bow just yet. When you change strings, you are going to very very briefly stop playing your current note/string and quickly change the level of your elbow to match the string you intend to play next.
Throughout these exercises, we still want to maintain a good bow stroke and posture both with our right hand and left hand. Also, throughout these strokes, you can hold either the upper bout, or you can hold as you would to play fingers. Don’t worry, we will add fingers soon. Check out our next article for some open string exercises!
As we have already mentioned, don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Look at it like this: if I made a mistake, now I know what not to do. Keep practicing and getting to know your instrument and remember, music is magic!