Watching the string players in an orchestra manage the exact movement of their bows is a beautiful sight. The bows travel great distances, followed by sudden shifts from the frog to the tip. It looks so uniform, so easy -- but bow distribution is a skill with many roadblocks.
When rhythm and the bow arm start working together, though, then bow distribution becomes almost spontaneous.
Exercises which promote this kind of sudden and spontaneous bow distribution can be effective for freeing up the right arm. Every musical passage, down to the individual bars, contains a unique example of the path and speed of the bow. But generic exercises can provide an overview which can improve flexibility.
Exercise for Moving the Bow Freely
Here is a typical example of bow distribution gone awry: when the down-bow plays three beats, and the up-bow plays one beat. Without some conscious intervention, the longer down-bows will cause the bow to get closer and closer to the tip and eventually run out of bow.
This exercise aims to solve that problem, using the same pattern in different parts of the bow, while keeping the right proportions.
Exercise for Managing a Runaway Bow
One mistake violinists can make is forcing the bow to go all the way to the tip and frog, all the time. While "full bows" can promote total bow freedom, in many situations it’s too much. It can also affect the rhythm because it takes extra time to travel all the way to the ends of the bow. Instead, the bow length should fit the music.
To learn how to make the bow length fit with the music, remember which beat you’re on and how fast the bow is leading to the next note. You don't always need to use a "whole bow."
Using the Ends of the Bow Most Effectively
Just before the bow change, whether it’s the tip or the frog, the last inch is the most important, when it comes to keeping with the rhythmic motion of the music and balance of the sound. The best bet is to match the music’s momentum with the proper bow momentum when changing the bow.
There are two ways of managing the end of the bow, to keep that momentum going. You can either add speed to give it a final boost of energy before the bow change, or slow it down to highlight each moment. For instance, you may need a sudden crescendo on a down bow, so a burst of adrenaline and a faster bow will accomplish that. On the other hand, if you are trying to avoid an overly abrupt bow change, a slower bow will prevent that.
Spontaneous Exercises Unlock the Bow
Try experimenting with slower bows, faster bows and different locations of the bow. If you make up your own bow distribution exercises you’ll see first-hand how your thinking and bowing intersect. There will be no distractions or obstacles, like prescribed notes or rhythms that may be confusing to follow. Bow distribution can be complex, but experimenting with these exercises can prepare your mind to be ready later for notes, rhythms, and phrases in the context of music.
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