How to Play ‘In the String’ with Weight and without Tension
I am a subscriber to your violinloungetv program. As an adult beginner on the violin, with no previous musical experience, I have now been studying for about 10 years. For the past 3 years, I have been taking lessons from a wonderful violinist who is also a terrific teacher.
Nevertheless, I continue to struggle with the issue of weight vs pressure and I just can’t seem to get the hang of it. All too often during my lesson I hear these words: “That’s not a sound!” (I’m thinking of embroidering that quote on a pilow!) My teacher is always stressing: Maintain the weight of your arm on the bow; keep the connection with the string. Sometimes I get it, however, more often than not, as I’m focusing on playing a piece and reading the notes, I lose it.
The issue seems to be, in great part, one of tension in my right hand; if I consciously try to relax, I lose that connection. I read your lesson on the subject but it hasn’t helped. I’m writing to see if there’s anything you might say that will clarify what and exactly how I can achieve that relaxed state while still playing into the string.
Thanks in advance for your words of wisdom.
Let’s try to give some words of wisdom on the topic ‘How to play into the string with weight and relaxed’.
If you are wondering what ‘Weight vs Pressure’ is what Rae-Ann is talking about…
Let’s solve the tension issue first…
Find out when you are tensed and when not. That’s the first step to finding the cause of your tension. Rae-Ann writes that she gets tensed up when she focusses on playing a difficult piece and reads notes. Perhaps the cause of the tension is the difficulty of the piece, but it can also be something different.
If the cause is the difficulty of the piece, just take a step back and play some easier pieces in which you don’t tense up. If you have done this for a while, you automate playing relaxed and you can transport this to more difficult pieces. When you have practiced a difficult piece until you really know it, the tension will get less because you are not stressed out by not being able to play the piece.
Don’t overwhelm yourself when studying. Study the difficult pieces slowly and only focus on one thing at a time. Remember: you can only learn one thing at a time. It’s not possible to learn several things at the same time.
Practice in a way that relaxes you. Practice in a way that doesn’t cause tension.
What is bowing in the string exactly and how can you recognize it?
When you don’t bow into the string, you are wiping over the strings with your bow. This causes an empty and thin sound without core.
When you bow into the string, you use the spring system of your strings, bow and arm to get a fuller sound with a core.
You can hear when you play in the string and when not.
It can seem like playing into the string takes more effort than playing over the string as there needs be more weight in the bow. You can put more weight in the bow in two ways:
- Pushing the bow into the string (pressure)
- Transferring the weight of your relaxed arm into the bow feeling like you hang on the bow with your arm (weight)
Exercise for bowing in the string on the violin
Do this exercise to learn to play with weight:
Put the bow on the strings somewhere above the middle of the bow. Your arm must be relaxed. Check out the spring system of the strings, the bow and your hand and arm. Make your arm heavy and lean on the bow. Just focus on transferring the weight of your arm into the bow through your index finger. This is how bowing should feel. In this exercise you shouldn’t move the bow.
After this exercise try to maintain this weight transfer when playing a REALLY easy piece… some notes, open strings or a simple scale.
Try to keep the sense you learned in the first exercise. Build this up slowly to more difficult pieces until you reach the pieces you are practicing on now.
Have a low and relaxed bow hold. Don’t lift your shoulder, elbow, wrist or knuckles. A good bow hold is a condition for transferring the weight. Your bow hold shouldn’t be rigid.
Don’t go over these exercises too fast. Don’t skip to difficult pieces right away after you felt weight transfer for just a moment. Build this up steadily. The investment of time and effort will absolutely worth it. This will affect everything you play, the way you feel and the way you sound.
Is this useful to you? Please let me know in the comments below!
PS: Do you have questions or struggles on violin or viola playing? Post a comment below or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org and I might dedicate a Violin Lounge TV episode to answering your question!