Let’s think about driving a car for just a second:
You have driven for so many years, you don’t think about all the complicated things that you do each time you drive. It’s just part of your “driving instinct”. Good drivers have amazing awareness. They can see when other drivers are about to cut them off. They are aware when they are boxed in that it’s not safe. They try to maintain a safe bubble around them. They signal to communicate with other drivers. They are aware of the dimensions of their vehicle, so they instinctively know how to stay in the middle of the lane, or how to park without hitting someone. They are multi-tasking like crazy, and it’s effortless.
A beginning driver has NONE of these instincts or skills. And you can talk until you are blue in the face……but on certain activities, people have to absorb and learn by DOING, not by explanations. Of course, explanations beforehand help, but ultimately, it must be learned by DOING. And doing A LOT.
Or how about learning to golf? Tiger Woods could explain his secrets to me for a year solid…but at the end of the year, I would not be a good golfer. I would have to take what he told me, and practice for several years before all that knowledge would do me any good.
Driving a car and golf is very similar to violin playing. We must learn it by DOING it….and doing it alot! Of course, we need a teacher to help us do it correctly A LOT…but some things truly become intuitive as we learn and progress.
Some of my best online students often ask me to dictate their bow speed, sounding point, and bow weight on every note for entire pieces. They are my best students because they CARE about phrasing, musical expression, tone color, tone quality….all those qualities that go beyond just playing the right notes and rhythm.
They are asking all the right questions, but they don’t realize a fundamental principle:
If bow placement, distribution, and weight were dictated to them for every note, it would hinder them with a zillion instructions, paralyzing them from the freedom they need to make music. They become a slave to “instructions”.
So, back to violin and bow distribution, we must not impede ourselves with instructions. Instead, we must learn to make make split-second decisions, and if you choose wrongly, then the art comes from recovering quickly and getting back on track.
Where can I start learning the skill of bow distribution? Rhythm holds the key.
Basic rhythm will tell you most of what you need to know for bow distribution. The art comes by making split-second decisions, and if you choose wrongly, then the art comes from recovering quickly and getting back on track.
Example: You have two half notes followed by a whole note. You want to use whole bows on every note, because it’s a slow song. You would use whole bows on the half notes, and when the whole note comes, your bow speed would have to be twice as slow as the half notes so you could get four beats to a bow instead of two. This example is for a slow piece that allows you to use full bows for every note. In faster songs, you might not be able to get the full length of a bow in time, so you must always adjust for tempo.
General rule of thumb: use lots of bow as long is it is natural and controllable.
When I was an intermediate player, no one told me it should be natural and controllable….so I was going crazy trying to use WHOLE BOWS on fast moving 8th notes. It was a disaster until someone told me I didn’t have to on fast moving notes.
But what if you have a whole note down bow followed by something crazy like an 8th note up bow, followed by another whole note down bow? Well, then we have to adapt to try to prevent ourselves from getting trapped or running out of bow. We would use really slow bow speed for the whole notes, and really fast bow speed (with very light bow weight) for the 8th note. Sometimes, we might change a bowing to avoid such crazy awkwardness, but we don’t have to. It can be managed just by adapting our bow weight, bow speed, and bow placement appropriately.
Once you start to develop “instinctive bow distribution”, THEN you are ready to start applying that instinct to help you shape your phrases. That is next in my “musical hierarchy” of learning to play musically and with expression.
The next article will help you with just that!