The stroke starts here
Welcome back friends! In this article we are going to discuss the form and action required to perform a good bow stroke. I’m going to give you an in-depth analysis and some fun ways to remember the key points of bowing. Let’s go!
The elbow does the lion’s share of the work. You want to open and close ONLY the elbow. For your first go at bowing, I don’t want you to use the shoulder. We will deal with that later on, once you’ve got this part down.
So first, set up a great bow hand like we previously discussed in our article on how to hold the bow. You’re not going to hold the bow yet, stick with just making the bow hold. Next, make sure your arm is by your side, it can even be slightly in front of your body. But do not use your shoulder at all when bowing.
Now, I want you to open your elbow and close your elbow. Open will be a straight arm. Closed will be an arm that is folded so that your upper forearm is touching your bicep. I call this “opening the door” and “close the door”. Throughout this motion, it’s important to remember that your upper arm will be at your side, next to your body.
Next, we will address the wrist. Your wrist is going to bend up when your hand rises, and down when your hand lowers. I help my students out by asking them to visualize how a T-Rex holds it’s arms. Can you see it? Your elbow is completely bent and pointing towards the ground. Your upper forearm is touching your bicep, and your wrist is bent so that the top of your hand is completely flat to the ceiling.
This is important: your wrist should never be above or below the hand. I know that sounds weird, but follow me. Your hand and wrist should always be completely level with each other. If it’s not, the wrist might be above the hand making the hand dangle below it. Or, your hand might be straight up so that your wrist is dangling below the hand.
Either way, we only want the wrist to be flat and level, enough so that you could actually set something on top of it. Now, the bow stroke is always in transition from open elbow to closed elbow. Therefore, the wrist and hand will always be moving to make adjustments in order to keep the top of your hand flat throughout the entire motion.
When you are at the middle of the bow, the wrist and hand will be just about in a straight line with each other.
The fingers will come into play after you’ve gotten the whole wrist/elbow thing down. Not long after, but give yourself time to work on the previous two things first.
The fingers will also be constantly moving throughout the bow stroke. When you’re in the middle of the bow, your fingers will be slightly curved. When you’re at the tip of the bow, your fingers will be nearly straight. When you are at the frog (which will happen once you start employing the small amount of shoulder movement at the end of the up bow), the fingers will be completely curved. This includes the thumb and the pinky.
The shoulder is used when you have become at least semi-comfortable with the elbow and wrist portion of this guide. You don’t have to have it perfect in order to use the shoulder, but you want to be competent in opening and closing the elbow, and letting the wrist bend.
The shoulder will move very slightly up towards the violin once the elbow has completely closed. Again, this is not a big movement. When you go in reverse and head towards an open elbow with your down bow, your shoulder will return to the it’s original position, right next to your body.
Always remember that for the vast majority of the bow stroke, we say, “No to the shoulder”. In other words, we want to use only the opening and closing of the elbow for the vast majority of the bow stroke.
Use these tips to make a good bow stroke and in turn, produce a better sound from your violin. Remember, great sound starts with great technique. Don’t lose sight of that and stay focused on the best form you can. Music is magic and keep practicing!