I work on bow hold a LOT in lessons because it is foundational to producing a beautiful tone. But even when my students have learned a correct, relaxed bow hand posture, that ease doesn’t always translate into the bow arm. To get the maximum tone, the bow elbow should generally rest slightly below the wrist. If the elbow starts to go above the wrist, the student is not able to transfer the weight of their arm efficiently into the bow, and both tone and bow control suffer.
Some students may have heard that they need to “push” or “apply pressure” to the string to make a sound so they suspend their arm weight from lifting the elbow or shoulder, producing either a weak, unfocused tone, or they press downward to make a scratchy, unpleasant tone. It often takes a lot of repetition over many weeks and months to help a student learn to release their arm weight into the bow, but when they do, the professional-sounding tone is worth the wait. Here are some fun ways I help my students use their arm weight in producing a good tone:
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In any given year, I will have a few students in my studio who struggle to play with a big, rich, projecting tone. Sometimes this is due to shyness or insecurity, or perhaps the student lacks the technical skills to play with a big tone. Often it is a combination of both. If left unchecked, a weak tone come recital time can lead to confidence issues and difficulty being heard above the piano part. When the standard advice of “use more bow” and “stay in the highway” isn’t enough for some students, I pull out one of these tricks.
1. Use a visual. Every time I visit Home Depot or Lowes, I pick up a few of those paint chip sampler sheets in various colors (the ones with the different shades). I explain to my student that the lightest color is playing very soft and the darkest color is a strong, beautiful tone. When my student plays their piece, I will show them which color they played. I (or their parent) will also point to the different colors as they play or, even better, ask them to point to which color they think they played. This exercise helps them to become more sensitive to the levels of sound they can get out of their viola.
2. Focus on posture. Bad posture is the biggest tone-killer there is. In addition to checking that the viola is securely on the shoulder and being supported in a balanced way, Read More »