Straight Talk

It’s been eight days since my last post! The reason for this hiatus is twofold. After a ten day bout with an upper respiratory infection which seemed to zap so much of my strength and energy, today is the first day I am feeling somewhat better. I have had more days without practice during this period than all the days off since I started learning back in February. However, the days I have practiced during this period have been devoted to something very important, straight bowing. Yes, very important, but inspiring little to post about here this past week.

Straight bowing continues to elude me unless I play very slowly, and as much as I do this, the moment I increase tempo, my bow begins to slide up and down, in an out, emitting less than desirous and sometimes down right awful sounds. While I know this is very common among beginners, and even haunts many well into the first few years of learning, it is the largest source of discontent and lack of confidence I seem to experience thus far. I can deal with physical fatigue, overcoming the death grip, less than perfect intonation, and so much more, but those other-worldly sounds that are the result of not bowing straight are driving me nuts! While I would never do it, I get visions of taking this frustration out on my violin.

I have touched upon and written about this topic before here, and in the past week I have read more articles and watched more videos on this subject. I have examined the physicality of straight versus crooked bowing, how the human anatomy is not designed for straight bowing and the necessary adjustments we need to make to overcome this. I have read and watched scores of exercises, techniques, tricks and gimmicks folks have used to overcome this dilemma, from the scientific to the practical to the bizarre. Really? Using an inverted egg carton to learn straight bowing?

My bowing looks straight when I look down at my fiddle or into my practice mirror, so why do I hear those sounds and why does my bow ride down over my fingerboard or more often drift up towards, and sometimes over, my bridge? I know it has to have something to do with my mechanics, but it looks correct. Could my eyes be deceiving me? This is the exact thought that popped into my head a few days ago. My bowing looks straight to me, but the sound and traveling bow tell me differently.

I decided to change my position in my practice mirror from looking straight into it to sitting at a 90 degree angle with my bow arm shoulder facing the mirror. I began to play open strings, and to my surprise, what was revealed to me in this new position which looked like straight bowing when looking down at my fiddle actually was quite crooked when I glanced to my right into the mirror. My bow was crossing the string on an angle with the tip pointing towards my left shoulder, not quite as severe, but in a plane closest to the red line number 3 in the picture below.

Immediately, this showed me why I keep pulling my bow up towards the bridge when playing. Now, granted, trying to observe all this in the mirror is a bit difficult, but there was no mistake about it what I was doing. It never occurred to me before that the angle of my bow when looking down at my fiddle or directly in front of the mirror was almost an “optical illusion” and was not straight bowing at all! But, how do I begin to correct this?

One thing I have been working on the past few days at the beginning of each practice is to slowly bow twenty long strokes on each open string carefully checking in the mirror that my bowing is straight and adjusting it when I begin to go off track. During this exercise, I pay attention to the movement and feeling in my hand, wrist, forearm, elbow and shoulder. This slight change in movement and feeling is different from what I was feeling before, and I am trying to replicate this new movement and feeling with each stroke during this open string exercise.

After the exercise, I turn away from the mirror and begin playing the open strings concentrating on my form. If I feel my bow traveling, I either stop for a moment or return to the mirror. Eventually, I do this same routine with a tune I already know and don’t have to think about too much on the left fingering side of the equation, stopping or returning to the mirror when I feel the bow sliding or hearing the thin sounds returning. It’s not the most entertaining exercise, nor does it make for a very fun practice session, but it is needed to help me improve my straight bowing. And, when I can get through more of a tune before going crooked, I feel more confident.

So, that’s what has been going on the past week plus. As always, I would be most happy to hear your input, especially if you struggle with straight bowing and how you work at it.

  2 comments for “Straight Talk

  1. wildflower
    June 24, 2019 at 7:36 am

    My teacher is constantly pointing out when I am not bowing straight. Bowing straight is really an “un natural” movement. She told me, in her opinion, it is one of the most difficult aspects for new players to master, and it just takes time and practice, practice, practice. That was a smart thing you did changing your position in the mirror. For me, I have a lot of difficulty using a mirror…every thing seems so backwards. Glad I have my teacher to observe, and sometimes I get my husband to watch when I am practicing…when I can drag him away from his sports! 🙂

  2. old cowboy
    June 23, 2019 at 3:51 pm

    I started fiddling in Aug. 2018 I bought a DVD by Jim Woods entitled Fiddle for the absolute beginner. It has exercises to do on a regular bases. One of them is bowing on open strings. You start out slow and then gradually speed up starting on open G and going all the way thru open E and back to open G. You do this for about 5-10 minutes. I do this on a regular bases. It helps a great deal. A metronome helps to keep in time. Start out slow and keep increasing the speed.

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