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A commenter on my YouTube channel asked about bouncing bows. I thought it was such a great question that I wanted to address it here on the blog, as well.
Unwanted bouncing of the bow on the strings is a fairly common problem. In fact I struggled with it a few years back and no one knew how to fix it, so I had to figure it out on my own.
Since then, I found the most WONDERFUL discussion at Violinist.com (which includes a chat forum for all playing levels), and that enlightened me even further. Here is what I figured out on my own, combined with what I learned in that discussion.
If you want to go find that chat on Violinist.com, you can find it here.
In a nutshell: That unwanted shaking is caused by just three things when they are combined badly: Gravity, tension, and the “balance point” of your bow. The balance point is the point where your bow arm must switch gears from just moving the forearm to engaging the upper arm…..and this point is different for everyone, depending on arm length.
So, first, consider gravity: Are you lifting your shoulder or your elbow? (bow arm) If so, you may need to work on eliminating the “uplift” and letting gravity pull your arm weight down to its maximum.
Then, consider tension: If you have tension in your thumb, or are squeezing your bow somehow, that can cause the shaking to start from your wrist. If you have tension in your armpit area, or in your triceps, that can cause the shaking. (The exercise below will help.) Try to see if you have tension in your deltoid muscle. (I had tension there because I was trying to stabilize the shaking with that muscle and only made it worse.)
Finally, consider your balance point: Does the shaking start somewhere in the middle 12 inches of your bow on a down-bow? If so, you need to work on a smoother transition between your upper arm motion, and passing the motion on to your forearm. If you think about it, this is pretty complex….it’s like asking a triangle to roll smoothly across the floor.
The thing that helped me was I shifted the weight of my bow arm ever so slightly on DOWN BOWS. I PRONATED my bow hand, thus rolling my whole bow arm slightly away from my body (rolling my thumb lower and pinky higher). It was a very slight pronation, but it fixed the problem.
Now, looking back at the comments on Violinist.com, I’m sure I also was tensing up my armpit muscles, especially once I became aware of the problem…I started tensing up in ANTICIPATION of the shaking, and tensing up my deltoid (where the “Mom” tattoo goes on sailors) and tricep (opposite side of the biceps) muscles to try to stabilize the shaking, so the problem got worse and worse.
Once I pronated, the shaking started to subside, and so my ANTICIPATORY TENSION went away.
So, check your thumb, armpit, deltoids, triceps, shoulder, elbow.
A guy named Stephen Brivati suggested this exercise on Violinist.com, and although I didnt’ try it, others seemed to like it:
Basically, you’ve gotta figure out a way to play upside down. He says to put your violin in place, and then bend over so that your forehead is as close to your knees as you can get it. Then play.
I think the trick here is that it messes with gravity, and it also makes you use muscles to keep the bow ON THE STRING, which, when you stand upright again, those muscles remember what they did before, so you play with more relaxed weight, with gravity working WITH you, instead of against you.
So, give all this a try. I KNOW it will help you. All you need is to fix one thing, and it will cause a chain reaction of fixes.
Thanks for the reply Lora. When I was practicing some of the arm movements you show on the video, I noticed that it is just at one specific point that my arm shakes uncontrollably (as if at that point there was peak tension or something… don’t know what happens physically inside the arm).
I’ll check lowering the elbow and the rest of the exercises you mention.
You can’t imagine how happy I got reading this and seeing that’s a common issue and that it can be fixed. I studied violin a few years ago and quit after about 3 or 4 years due to frustration, caused mainly from bad playing from tension and the shaking issue you described above.
I’m starting to play viola now and the old problem is back but now that I read this, I know what I can try and do to fix it.
Up bows aren’t that bad.. it’s the down bows that shake like crazy around the middle.
I know the problem is mainly tension. When I’m done playing my neck is a rock and I can’t move my head sideways.
I’ll try those exercises and hope to get better.
Thanks a lot!
Yep, the downbow is always the worst, just when passing over that “danger zone”, like I described. Hey, I discovered the holy grail of how to eliminate that bounce….but I discovered it AFTER making my video and that article…..did I mention one of the cures is to LOWER your bow elbow slightly? If not, TRY THAT….you will be THRILLED at how it stabilizes your down bows!
My problem is that I shake so badly due to nervousness during a recital I can’t play.
Yesterday, I played Concertino in G Major. I worked very hard on the piece and, of course, when playing at home I felt decent about how it would sound.
But when I got up in front of everyone (only a handful of people mind you), the trembling started. By the time I was finished I was almost in tears. I had to stop several times and ‘compose’ myself to continue. I’d take a deep breath, tell myself to calm down and proceed. Oddly the faster termpo sections I played rather well
(for me), but when I had to slow down the shaking gotvery bad. So bad the audience could see it from across the room.
I was trying to visualize success, I was trying to tell myself that it wold be just fine. But nothing calmed me.
How can I get a grip on my nerves?
Please post a comment later on, and let us know what worked for you and what didn’t.
Your description of your problem sounds to me like a “balance point” issue….you need to take a look at your mechanics, and the transition from using your upper arm, into using your lower arm. This problem is much more common than I realized! I’ve had all kinds of people email me with questions about this problem.
If you haven’t already seen my video on “Bow Arm Mechanics”, check it out, because it demonstrates this “event” where our upper arm stops moving, and our lower arm takes over. Here’s the link:
Hhmm…I think I’ll try that upside down thing. I get an annoying little tremor about halfway down the bow….sometimes, not always…..but it gets worse when I’m nervous. It’s not as bad as it used to be and doesn’t show up nearly as often anymore, but it would be nice to be rid of it for good ! Thanks Lora