The Bow Arm, Part 1: Governing Principles by Heidi Castleman

The following post is by Heidi Castleman.

General principles governing the bow arm:
• bow is an extension of the right arm
1) it should feel like a third segment of the arm
2) middle finger and thumb (“fluid loop”) function as a second elbow
3) hand and arm always follow tip (try writing name on imaginary blackboard with tip)
4) body should feel mobile, like a juggler’s following bow

• first step always is to set bow weight in string and relax
1) giving a signal allows weight to be released during the exhalation
2) a deep sound usually means the upper arm bones will feel low in the shoulder socket
3) hold should feel as if it could come off easily if someone tried to lift hand away
4) from the balance point to the tip, flat hair (perpendicular stick) makes transfer of weight from arm to the contact spot easier
5) at frog feel locus of weight in the hand, at the middle in the elbow, and at the tip in the shoulder

* bow stroke shape
1) strokes follow the shape of the stick (vertical arc); the hand and arm pronate on the down bow and supinate on the up bow.
2) drawing the bow in a crescent shape (horizontal arc) is essential to producing a big sound; remember “in” at the frog and “out” at the tip
3) clarity and strength of strokes are achieved most efficiently when the inherent weight of the tip and frog are utilized.
4) play on the tangents of the string (rather than on the top) for the most ringing sound; pull on a contact spot slightly on the left side of the string on the down bow and slightly on the right side of the string on the up bow.

• the thumb may oppose the hand (especially in the upper half) to articulate, but only after the bow weight rests on the string and then only for a split second

• Use the upper arm:
1) to draw the bow from the frog to the balance point,
2) to change string levels
Conceive of string levels as planes (like a table surface) in specific locations; rest arm weight on one of these four locations; notice if timing of arm level changes seems appropriate
3) to establish arm weight (heavy vs light)

• Use the forearm:
1) to draw the bow from the balance point to the tip
2) to change the balance of the bow hand from frog to tip and back
(helpful to have elbow in same plane as hand)

• Use the wrist (= the end of the forearm):
1) to pull and push, to establish resistance against the string
2) to initiate the up-bow stroke (wrist has slight leading feeling)

* Right hand motions

1) Colle motion –

hand moves bow from side to side, fingers follow

do the smallest possible version of the movement

controls inflection (speed of initiation) in all strokes

Practice: a) hand without bow, b) with bow in hand and tip toward ceiling, and c) bow parallel to floor as if at frog and also as if at middle and tip.

At tip, if feel strain, make sure wrist is not dropped excessively.

Caution: do not overdo!

2) Elevator – drop hand / lift hand

3) Circles – clockwise/ counterclockwise

4) Scissors – helpful in guiding bow “in” and “out”

5) Windshield wiper – essential to balancing bow in hand; thumb serves as fulcrum

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