In the last article we did some troubleshooting for physical problems, and that’s not only useful for easing or overcoming problems but also for preventing them. The same applies this time — for bowing and sound problems. You can always come back to these for reference, and also refer to corresponding technique videos on this site.
This article will focus on 10 ways to improve basic bow awareness. This provides a foundation for fixing most any bowing or sound problem. The next article will troubleshoot more specific problems such as squeaks & squawks, bouncy bowing, hitting wrong strings, thin or inconsistent sound, disconnected bows, running out of bow, difficulty playing fast, timing problems, coordination between left and right hands, trouble playing near the frog, trouble crossing back and forth between two strings, trouble playing two strings at once.
Let’s start with the heart of the matter — three variables that make for a good (or bad) bow sound.
Keep in mind that understanding an exercise has little to do with allowing your ears and muscle memory to really learn its benefits. Doing it, at least a few times in a row, gives your ears and hands a chance to get the feel of it and get something out of it. Working with the videos is helpful because they give your eyes something to besides get in your way!
About videos — many of the exercises described below correspond to technique videos available on fiddle-online.com. These videos allow you to work in real-time or at your own pace to make sure you learn and make use of the exercises while being reminded of what to aim for. They can be very helpful because verbal descriptions are only a rough sketch of what to do. In fact, often videos are not even enough — I’ve had many students discover that it takes a personal context to apply these ideas to their own playing. If you feel this way, a one-off online lesson can be arranged via the Credits Store.
The Heart of Your Bow Sound. There are three factors that are at the heart of a good (or bad) bow sound. You can fix your own squeaks, whistles, scratches & other annoying sounds by becoming more aware of these three variables — bow pressure, bow speed, and distance from the bridge. There’s a ratio between the first two — generally, more pressure and more speed go together, and less pressure/speed work together as well. Notice that playing closer to the frog automatically adds pressure, and playing closer to the tip removes weight/pressure from the bow, so your sound can change simply by moving the bow. These relationships all change, though, depending on the distance from the bridge (which is why staying in the middle makes it easier to have a consistent sound). Playing close to the fingerboard requires less pressure, and close to the bridge requires more pressure. Squeaks, whistles and scratches happen when these rations get out of whack. If this seems like a lot to think about, remember that the whole point is not to overthink it, but rather to teach your muscle memory and ears to handle these things for you, and to help you troubleshoot when there’s a recurring problem.
Below are 10 practical games/exercises to help you get a feel for these issues, so you can play better, and be able to diagnose the cause of unwanted noises or movements you may find yourself making.
Continue reading 10 Ways to Build a Good Bow Sound