Violin Technique: Simple Exercise for Activating Motion from the Bow Wrist

November 28, 2018, 3:26 PM · How much does your bow arm freeze up when you suddenly need to play a passage fast notes, even if they are repeated notes?

I've been working with several students on this issue, and I thought I'd share one simple exercise to help un-freeze the arm and shoulder and activate the motion from the wrist, using the smaller muscles of the hand and forearm. The exercise is meant mostly to help conceptualize what is actually a more complex motion in practice. But the first step is to learn to relax the shoulder while activating farther-away muscles, and I find this to be helpful for that.

To demonstrate, I've used a relatively familiar passage of fast double notes from Seitz Concerto No. 2, third movement, in Suzuki Book 4. The first step is to make sure the left hand has its act together, and one can do this by practicing the passage without the double bows, just moving from note to note with single notes. This is an important step for this exercise, to get a solid concept of the passage as single notes. The next step is to take this single-note version and knock it out - literally!

Let's break that down: first, with your right hand, just knock your knuckles on any wooden surface, as you would to knock on a door (make sure you are just knocking on the door, not pounding!). Then synchronize this motion to that single-note version of the passage. Go through the whole passage, knocking with the right hand, using the hand and keeping the rest of the arm relatively still. It's nice to do it on a wooden surface such as a table, so you can hear each knock landing in time, but if that hurts a bit, you can just knock on something softer, even just on your lap. It's pretty easy, isn't it?

When translated to the bow, this knocking motion is actually the "double" motion that you need - each knock will will produce both a down-bow and then an up-bow. The next step is to incorporate this feeling and some of this motion into your bow hand with the passage. Let go of any tension in the shoulder, and try simply doing this passage from the wrist. The first attempt may be pretty bumpy (this is the same motion we use for spiccato, after all!) and you will have to adjust the way you hold your bow to make the doubles more smooth. But it is a simple way to get a feeling for exactly how fast to activate your hand from the wrist and where that motion comes from. It's a very relaxed stroke, and it is possible to play quite fast, using this set of muscles.

I hope that helps you to simplify your thinking about this and to activate the muscles you need for these kinds of passages. Please feel free to add your ideas or suggestions for these techniques in the comments!

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November 29, 2018 at 04:56 PM · You could also put your elbow on the edge of the box so it can't move and you have to use your wrist and fingers to move the bow.

December 1, 2018 at 06:52 AM · A good idea!

December 1, 2018 at 11:27 AM · Great tip. Thank you!

December 1, 2018 at 07:26 PM · That is an awesome way to put it!

I am totally going to use this in private lessons and with my beginning orchestra classes.


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