[Video] How to Play Soft without Bow Shakes | Violin Lounge TV #252
How to play soft on the violin without tensing up and getting a shaky bow?
Thank you for all the videos on youtube – they have been very helpful. I have a question that I was hoping you could help me with.
I’ve recently been struggling with my bow hand in a very specific situation: when playing softly in a performance. For example, when I’m playing p / pp / ppp in orchestra, I get a lot of tension in my bow hand, to the point where I am afraid that I’ll drop my bow. The tension gets so bad that my bow sometimes starts bouncing on the string. However, once the piece goes to mf / f / ff, I finally feel that my bow hand can relax again, and I regain my bow control. Do you have any ideas what the root problem could be? I have a feeling it’s my thumb or maybe even upper arm tension, but I haven’t figured it out.
Thank you! ~Stephen
The root cause of the shaky bow problem can be a couple of different things.
Dropping the bow is a fear lots of violinists have. Here’s an exercise…
Fear of dropping the bow is a problem Kato Havas describes in her book Stage Fright. Sometimes it’s only between your ears and not between your hand and your bow, as the chance that you drop your bow isn’t that big.
An exercise to get rid of your fear of dropping your bow is to stand beside your bed, so the bow can have a soft land when it falls. You hold your bow like you are used to. Now release the tension in your bow hand bit by bit, so you release the bow very slowly. Relax your hand more and more until the bow falls on your bed.
If you’re afraid to use your bow for this exercise, do the same thing with a pencil or a stick.
Doing this exercise you’ll discover that the bow won’t just drop out of your hand. It takes quite a while to relax your hand to the point the bow falls. Certainly when your hand is tensed up, your bow doesn’t get the chance to suddenly fall out of your hand.
Don’t lock your thumb
The position of your thumb is important in avoiding a shaky bow. Your bow hand must be a spring system. This mean your fingers must be curved and flexible, so they can move along the movement of the bow. Your thumb must not be locked, must be slightly bent and flexible.
If you don’t relax your thumb, your bowing won’t be as smooth and you’ll get bow shakes quickly. Also the ball of your thumb tenses up when you lock your thumb, causing cramps while playing.
Relax your shoulder and upper arm
In a lot of cases bow shakes are caused by a tensed shoulder or upper arm. Do some exercises with long bow strokes, for example on open strings, and make sure that your shoulder is low all the time (also at the frog) and your upper arm is relaxed. Your arm must feel heavy, so you can transfer the weight of your arm into the bow, as I explain in my free workshop Weight vs Pressure.
Certainly under the pressure of a performance and while playing soft (so you can’t use a lot of weight in your bow), it can be hard to relax your body.
Don’t play too soft
Lots of people play way to soft when playing soft. If it was the meaning of the composer that you shouldn’t be heard, he would write down some rests and not some notes with a p below them.
When you’re playing too soft, the sound isn’t good and you can’t let your bow rest on the string. This is the recipe for bow shakes. Even when you play soft, always play with a beautiful tone with some core. A tone with core can still be soft. Don’t wipe your bow over the string.
In an orchestra you’ll hear your instrument, which is right under your ear, louder than other people hear your instrument. This is important to realize. Sometimes it can seem like your playing too loud, while other people can hardly hear you.
Now I’d like to hear from you! Which tip from the above was most useful to you? What was the cause of your bow shakes and how have you solved it thanks to this video? Leave a comment 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!