Noticing the Bow

“The bow is the breath of the instrument,” Teacher said to me way back when we started our journey.  “Just like with your voice, the breath is all-important.”  I didn’t really understand that when I started playing the violin again.  So much goes into proper sound production on the instrument that isolating the parts wasn’t really possible for me, especially early on. But my right hand and arm have been there all along, growing and learning all the while.  The past couple of days I’ve been playing through some of my Book Two tunes and I’m noticing that I’ve developed a lot more control over the bow than I had before.

Relaxing the bow arm is vitally important – I’ve mostly worked through a major problem I had caused by a failure to relax the arm.  Up until a few months ago, I had a lot of trouble with the bow bouncing as I drew it across the strings – the bouncing was especially pronounced when I was trying to bow slowly; it plagued me from my earliest days.  Ironically, the more I try to control the bow the tenser I become and the less control I have.  I still tense up and bounce the bow from time to time (not at all the kind of vibrato I’m after!), but these days mostly I can keep it from happening by focusing on relaxation.

I’m also working on smooth starts and stops of the bow.  There’s a tilting that you can do as you begin a down-bow, and there’s a small movement of the fingers as well that can help that I’m just starting to appreciate.  Coordinating these things is very tricky.  It’s tricky because relaxing the hand and basically balancing the bow between my fingers and the strings, versus gripping it, is what I’m going for, yet these tricks are intentional movements, which by definition require a little tension in the muscles of the hand.  The project is a balancing act of utmost proportions.  Ultimately, the violin reveals, in sounds both ugly and beautiful, every horse hair’s width of movement the bow makes on a string.  The instrument is not at all forgiving!

In other right hand news, I’ve noticed that I can now pluck more precisely.  The Suzuki repertoire does not include much plucking so far, but in going back to my Gossec Gavotte I’m finding the strings with my pizzicato quite a bit more readily than I had been.  I’m learning that I really have to go for it, otherwise the sound isn’t very full and the pluck mostly comes off as a mistake.

Soon I will test for my next rank in karate, and as I’ve been preparing I’ve been reminded of the words of the founder of our style, “The way (do) requires patience and constant practice, because there is no end and no goal, there is just the practice.”  Obviously, with the violin, at this stage of my life, I have no aspirations of becoming a concert violinist or a music teacher. My aspiration is only to play and improve steadily – the “goal” is not at all unlike that of my karate pursuit.  I played for about 3 ½ hours yesterday; that’s what I’m talking about.

Thanks for reading.


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