Teaching right arm bow technique to violin students
Learning how to coordinate the movement of the right arm between the fingers, wrist, forearm, elbow, and shoulder is the goal of every violinist. Developing such a right arm can be very difficult however, because the subtlety that is required in the coordination of the parts is so fine it’s hard to communicate.
In the past I’ve tried to teach this subtly by focusing on certain parts of the student’s arm, for instance the wrist or the placement of their fingers. The student would focus on these things in exclusion to any other part of their arm. What resulted was the student, perhaps, becoming a little bit more skilled with whatever part they were focusing on but the majority of the time the student tightened somewhere else in the arm or body. This exclusionary focusing on parts, lead to a decreased coordination of the arm as a whole.
One day I realized while going through the same cat and mouse game, of fixing one thing with the student and having another thing going wrong, that the student was shortening and narrowing their overall stature. Her right shoulder was hiked and pulled in toward her torso, her hips were locked forward causing her head to push forward at the neck and her thoracic and lumber curves to increase. After I realized this I had her take her violin down, at which point everything went back to its normal functioning. Her head went forward and up, her whole back went back and her shoulder released down and away from her torso. As I looked at her I realized that her overall coordination improved when she was not trying to hold the violin and bow.
After allowing her to walk about the room and stand with an awareness of where her head was in relation to her neck and back I placed my hand on the back of her head and asked her to try bringing her violin up without coming away from my hand. This activity was meant to increase the student’s awareness of what she was doing with her entire system and unbeknownst to the student allow me a chance to help her with her primary control. It took the student a couple of attempts to not move her head forward and away from my hand but she was able to sense immediately the change that occurred in her head position when she put her violin up. When she had finally been able to put her violin on her shoulder without moving her head too much from its resting position, I had her try bowing again. Both of us were amazed to realize her bowing had improved overall, to the point she was getting professional scale coordination with her wrist and finger movements.
Since the experiment with this particular student I have done replica experiments, in which I focus on the student’s overall coordination. I’ve done this with both introducing and improving a student’s right arm technique and time and again I found that even though a discussion of the specific parts maybe necessary it is not nearly as important as having the student understand the overall coordination of the arm and how it functions with the rest of their system. In many circumstances a lack of coordination between the parts of the arm is caused by stiffening in the arm and body and can be alleviated by having the student focus on the length and width of their entire system.