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Wrist movement for French bow

Discussion in 'Orchestral Technique [DB]' started by Andy Mopley, Dec 14, 2011.

  1. Andy Mopley

    Andy Mopley

    Sep 24, 2011
    Is there much movement of the wrist involved when bowing with a French bow? Some players seem to hardly move the wrist, others tend to make it oscillate, is there a You Tube example of what constitutes a good technique?

    Thanks for reading!
  2. mjt0229

    mjt0229 Supporting Member

    Aug 8, 2007
    Bellingham, WA
    As you have observed, there are a lot of different approaches, and a lot depends on the kind of articulation (and volume, and tone....) you're trying to achieve. Recently, I've been working to keep my wrists generally more stationary (but not tense or inflexible) and driving the bow with motions originating in my torso and continuing (unrolling, even) down my arm. But bow technique has never been my strong suit, and I'm no professional.

    Best advice, really, is to get a teacher. Also, you should think about making a video of your own playing and analyzing that - you may be surprised by what you find.
  3. If you simulate artistic bow movements, without the bow in your hand and with a relaxed wrist and fingers, there will be a flourish at each change of direction when the fingertips are the last to turn the corner. With the bow in your hand there would be a follow through at each end caused by its weight, so that the bow and fingers are the last to change direction. I personally don't need or use a lot of flourish with my wrist and fingers at each end of the bow stroke. I am guided by what each string and note needs.

    I generally think backwards in this order. Sound, string movement, fingers and thumb, wrist, elbow, shoulder.

    The sound you want has tone colour, length, dynamic and degree of attack (accent). This will guide you as to how much bow speed, bow weight and what sort of bow contact point you need. Also whereabouts along the hair length if only short notes.

    Think of the strings, bow stick and hair all being "springs" that your bow hold (fingers and thumb) must match and be sensitive to. The way you shape your fingers and thumb will affect their flexibility. I advocate a cupped hand, coming to the bow hold by opening a gentle fist and dropping my fingers and thumb into place, with the thumb opposing the second finger. The bow hold is rather relaxed, only tight enough to control its shape throughout the bow movement. The hand angles in on the stick a few degrees by rotating the elbow up and out slightly so that the elbow ( a "hinge" joint) will flex (pump) in the same direction as the bow travels. Any movement of the wrist and fingers at each end of the bow movement should also be in the same direction as the bow travels.

    Running your RH fingertips along a straight line (the edge of a desk, table or kitchen bench) as though you are bowing will demonstrate a natural blend of upper and lower arm movements required to avoid bowing in circles like a big pendulum. If your fingers are relaxed they will drag behind the arm movement and change direction last. You can also see and feel this if you draw the stick through your LH fingertips that can provide some light drag (resistance) to work against. Next place the bow on the string with the weight of your relaxed arm so that the hair bends over the string gently and grips it. Without allowing the string to be released pull the bow gently in each direction to test the flexibility and degree of movement of your fingers, thumb and wrist against the flexibility of the string. See how much movement there can be before the bow hold distorts too much and/ or the string is released and jumps into life.

    The follow through of the fingers and wrist at each end of bow strokes enables the upper and lower arm to change direction in the most logical sequence. The slowest longest bow strokes involve the whole arm. As notes become shorter and faster so will the arm movements shorten and contract towards the fastest muscles, the combination of biceps/triceps twitch of the elbow with assistance from movement in the wrist and fingers. The upper arm acts as a counter balance that moves but stays relaxed. Bowing "from the shoulder" is too slow, stiff and cumbersome.

    Overdoing the flourish at each change of bow direction will lose control of the string, also of timing and coordination with the other hand. It can cause unwanted extra sounds, and swells in sound during bow changes. Look down at the way the string moves during bow changes and let that guide your degree of wrist and finger movement.

    Lots of experimenting on your bass with your strings, rosin and bow!!


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