Fiddleheads.ca Technique Advice and FAQs
You may also find these articles helpful:
Q: I am a beginning violinist and I seem to have trouble keeping my bowing arm loose. My teacher said my upper arm is to tense, and this affects the playing. Is there anything I can do to loosen up? Any input would be most appreciated.
A stiff bow arm will not only cause a skipping bow and is also hard on the arm (and player) involved. I speak from experience and have had the chiro bills to prove it! Easiest cheat thing for a teacher to say is "just relax" but that's not very helpful. There is more to the problem and I have spent a great deal of my career finding ways to make playing more comfortable for myself and my students, to the point violin playing is very natural.
For you I think there are three things to consider here:
Is your arm too far to the front? Raise your arms up in front as if you are conducting an orchestra. Elbows out to the sides and shoulders loose. With elbows still, rotae your left forearm up as if holding a violin and drop your right forearm as if holding a bow. See how the elbows and upper arms are the same; just the forearms have changed. This is what you should do when playing. Watch yourself in the mirror and see if you still have this pose. I am guessing your bow arm creeps too far forward and the violin is off to your side. This adds strain to the bow shoulder. OR you could be bowing too far to your side and violin is in front, but I doubt it as much.
2. You probably need a more supportive and ergonomic Shoulder Rest
Your shoulder is, perhaps, tense from holding the violin and the bow arm is suffering as well. Maybe you are raising the shoulder to meet the violin rather than dropping the head and using the weight of it to hold the violin in place. I did this for years and everything was stiff. The left is scrunched and the right is super tense from the head pulling at the muscles. The right shoulder will then raise to compensate. Bad pains here, I know.
So, if either problem one or two is the case, an ergonomic shoulder rest will help considerably. I won't go into a sales spiel as I am a violin teacher and player by nature and just offer sales as an additional service, but these things really can make a difference to anyone's playing.
I honestly do think that having the right shoulder rest makes all the difference to the comfort a player experiences in violin. I cannot imagine not playing with my Bon Musica rest. Even my chiropractor noticed a difference and I have since convinced him violin playing is NOT bad for the body; it's bad technique that is bad for the body.
(And I'm not blaming anyone for having "bad" technique. I mean, we are not born playing violin and it is not natural, but there are ways to do it that feel as natural as we can make it and without any harm to our bodies).
If your bow is poorly balanced or has a warp or poor camber you will find it sliding around. Even if you don't notice it now since you are used to it, a bad bow can really exhaust the bow arm and shoulder.
Case in point, before I was selling instruments and bows I sent 3 of my really nice bows away at once for rehair. I used a crummy bow for two weeks to fill in. Each night my shoulder and upper arm was on fire. Each teaching day it got worse and I felt like I was battling with my bow each day. This is because I was used to using very nice bows and my technique was not compromised by struggling with a brick with hair 5 hours each day! Add a bad bow to the mix and we have to alter good technique to make up for the bad bow.
A good bow is well balanced and has a nice camber, I particularly like a stiffer camber so the bow has more "life" and spring in it. When I need the tone it is there but I am not tensing up in my shoulder to keep from putting too much pressure into a soft bow, which will bottom out against the string. A warped bow is like bad wheel alignment on a car; it is always pulling to one side and the shoulder and arm are forced to compensate for it all the time.
My fav bows for students are the Prism bows. These are the coloured ones and I have had tremendous feedback on them from many players from all over. Even better and what I use is the Jean Tabary L'Original (my baby, I love mine) and I have great feedback on that one as well.
Take a look at how you play and what your arms are doing. Is it a violin hold or a bow hold? Is your bow making you weave around or keeping your arm stiff? It's easier to change out your bow or rest or both than to try to mentally release your arm's tension. There are too many things going on as we learn to play to relax something which has become ingrained.
All the best for your music and we hope our shop will earn your business.
Response from the Customer:
Thank you so much for you response to my e-mail. I really appreciated your thoughtful advice. From what you said, I think I have a combination of all three.