In previous posts about playing expressively on the violin, we have discussed how to listen to the masters to figure out the invisible nuance that makes the magic. I have asked you to sing to uncover natural expressive opportunity hints such as a vocal slide, a breath, and paying attention to how much air you are using. And I explained what that all meant on violin.

In this post I would like to briefly discuss the actual physical actions of the bow hand that enhance our expressive playing. Once you know WHAT to do, the only trick left is to know when to do it. I teach the when in my Suzuki Book 2 and Suzuki Book 3 online courses, which go into great detail about expressive playing.

Think of your bow hand as a multi-tool with six special widgets in it that each contribute to expressive playing. They are:

  • Speed of the bow
  • Weight of the bow
  • Sounding point
  • Pulling or emphasizing certain notes
  • Dynamic changes (louder/softer)
  • Articulation, special bowings

As you might know, there are three variables to violin tone: bow weight, bow speed, and bow placement. You might not know that these are also important components to expressive playing. Changing your sounding point can alter the voice of the violin from sweet to aggressive, from ethereal to penetrating. Changing your bow speed can evoke a noble sound, a frightened sound, or a frightening sound. Bow weight is inseparable from speed and placement, and I encourage my students to choose their bow weight to match what they are trying to achieve with speed and placement.

As you get better at defining your phrases (covered in Suzuki Book 3), you will be able to play favorites with certain notes, usually the highest note of a phrase or motif, or the lowest, or some other note that strikes you as “special” in some way. At that point, you will use loure’with colle’ bowing to lean into the note to give it a little “angst”.

Many of your expressive opportunities are written out in black and white for you. The dynamics give you huge hints about phrasing, and if you do nothing more than exaggerate the dynamics, your expressive playing will grow by leaps and bounds. But don’t stop there! Look at the bowings and articulation markings such as accents, tenuti, portati etc. Look at ritards, accelerandi, and other tempo changes!
It’s like this:
“Wow! This chocolate cake is the most AMAZING cake I have ever tasted! You are the best cook! What is your secret?”
“Oh, I followed the recipe exactly.”
And your guest will be all like, “Whaaat?!”

Just follow the instructions!

This series on expressive playing is a good foundation for your expressive playing journey. If you’ve found the series helpful and would like to continue the journey with me, Check out my online violin lessons featuring Suzuki Book 2 and Suzuki Book 3.
Book 2 is where we plant the seeds, and book 3 is where we harvest the fruit and take it to market!