Tonus Questions

This Page contains some feedback from the pupil and some answers to those questions follow : The answers are marked in red ink.

From the Student "As for the lesson, you have answered many questions I have been thinking up regarding tone production in itself.  The physics of the matter seems so elementary upside the execution!  but since it is not only my intellect that is needed for good violin playing, but motor skills, and human perception, I can see why it will take some time to develop this detache. I do have many other questions.  And by the way, I have no problem with you posting this on your site "

Student : Now for my questions :

You talk of 'weight' and 'wrist-generated friction'.  Are these different ? Or are they not the same ?  I mean, minus the inherent weight of the bow, isn't it the wrist which imparts the weight to the bow ( the pressure ) ? You have made a very fine point here - YES they are different : 'weight' and 'wrist-generated friction' are totally different elements, even though they may appear the same at first. 'weight' = vertical force, whereas 'wrist-generated friction' = horizontal force. One wants to 'catch' the string with as little vertical pressure as possible, not to dampen and "suffocate" the vibrations. Of course, the wrist must allow some arm weight and its own sensation of vertical force down, in order to maintain the bow firmly on the string, ( and one cannot produce horizontal friction without this vertical force as the bow would whistle without sinking into the string - like a skier who has lost adherence and slips on ice ! ), but the sensation of 'catching' the string is essentially a feeling of pulling the string horizontally. These 2 sensations, though they work together, must be clearly distinguished in one's immagination. In short, remember to keep the vertical weight of the bow and arm as little as possible, and for the sole purpose of allowing a horizontal friction, displacing the string, to occur. This concept and practice can greatly help in improving tone.

To clarify my mental picture of the movememnts of the first 2 fingers and thumb, when I proceed to a down bow stroke - the bow stick, in effect, goes deeper into my knuckles, but gently so?  Yes ; not too hard not too soft ; like rubber, or plasticine - some flexiblity, yet some resistance - the correct amount will depend on the concentration of sound desired - and my wrist is bent, though not too harshly, as is necessary to allow a parallel-to-bridge bow stroke? The effect the wrist has in maintaining a parallel-to-bridge bow is very important. Heifetz's principle maintains that the best tone is produced with a perfectly perpendicular-to-string bow. The wrist action, in addition, and for the purpose of our tone generation is for another purpose however - to accumulate and gather, or catch the sound. It is good that the two results are desirable and beneficial ( and somewhat related ).

My excessive pressure can be diagnosed, I think to my thumb.  My thumb is naturally bent while holding the stick - because my hands are larger.  But I think perhaps my thumb has exerted too much force on the stick - causing a tight apparatus.  Keep your thumb mobile and busy ( adhering and shaping itself to have a good adherence to the bow - the thumb should straighten during a down bow, even though our theory of accumulating sound poses a resistance to this elongating by bending and curving ) at all times during the stroke - this will help it tremendously and it will help cure any stiffness problems - there is possibly a great deal more here to be explained about the thumb .- I am sure there are other minute flaws in my right hand, that is why I am trying to explore this concept and understand it fully so I can employ it - esp. since I have no guide in the flesh. Incidentally, I may purchase a camera just to send you pictures of my bowing..or perhaps scan photos.  Maybe that would help in diagnosis and correction of my faults. Any such equipment is a great help with email lessons, as long as one can afford it - not all digital cameras will focus on or expose ( the flash is harsh ) on a nearby object. Getting someone else to do the photos is the best choice - and never pose for them - just go through your pieces ignoring the camera - this takes a few sessions, before one may feel at ease, but it is important not to hold one's posture in a special way just for the camera !

When you speak of the reluctance or resistance throughout the movement, are you saying that it should be methodic ?  These movements should be united with the sound - initially one must be methodic to apply resistance, but the more one is familiar with one's muscles producing this resistance - the more one can control and limit it to the correct amount. Applying resistance unconsciously leads to trouble - the moment one thinks of pressing ones fingers against something, the healthier ( and lighter ) this pressure becomes - because we are aware of applying force and can apply it in a correct dosage for our capabilities - Détaché alla corda can tire and burden the hands , so it is best alternated with a light, legato bowing study - Almost like pushing a ball up hill? The movemements should be slow and hesitated?  This idea has me a little confused.  I thought that violin playing was usually very smooth and soft (although I am not always capable of implementing that idea in my own playing yet), and not one of resistance. The softness will come later - first one must gain familiarity with being alla corda ( fimly in contact with the string ). By all means play softly and lightly to provide contrast and rest the muscles, but true mastery of light soft and flowing bows ( like David Oistrakh's playing ) will only come when one has gained much experience with being ON the string. When playing lightly one then knows and has an masterful experience of catching the strings, and can actually lighten all the muscles involved thanks to all the previous study in which one has come to explore discover exactly how these muscles work. This is the same principle when learning spiccato : one must know how to play on the string in order to play off the string.

Very interesting question :  you relate bow/string friction to hand/arm friction.  They should be part of one and the same sensation, eventually. In this comparison, are you saying the muscles of the forearm exert the tension on the hand ?  And thereby, the hand is reluctant (somewhat taut, but not 'porcelein') thereby creating a sort of physiological friction, which directly translates into the friction on the string ?? The friction of the bow on the string in this way is felt all through ones body. As the arm and hand is so totally involved in creating the friction, the whole body seems to resonate and vibrate with the string. This feeling of the bow being none other than an extension of our arm is so precious and gratifying. The bow is not a separate object, and one must feel that the right hand is creating the sound directly. These are advanced and refined sensations that are certainly ready to be acquired with increasing experience.

And you mention 'finger flex' - at extended down bow (within the 50% of bow used) will the fingers be almost completely flexed. Not really - the eventual flexing is very slight - barely noticeable to the eye, but at the beginning one has to exaggerate the quantity of movement in order to learn it. And will they approach nearly straightness at the other extreme of the bow? They will do the opposite in an up bow of whatever they did on a down, and exactly in the same quantity. That is if you start at the heel, bow to the tip, and come back to the heel again, the wrist must return to exactly the same position as it was at the start. Even if one has an incorrect wrist position, this rule is still true.

And the wrist - on down bow, I feel it naturally going out and down - in 2 dimensions as it can.  But on the up bow, should it rotate in and up a little? Yes ! Or at least straight in line with the arm/hand ?  Not quite a straight line - it must always be changing slightly according to how much bow is used - Presently, on an up bow, I tend to arch my wrist a bit...( perhaps there should be less of an arch - keep the wrist flatter by using a horizontal bend - there are different opinions on this raised by different schools of playing - also, to be truthful, I can't tell just yet without seeing ) to accomodate for the arc I have to travel through ( with what ? upper arm ? ) to create a straight bow stroke. ( sorry - can't understand - what do you mean ? )

My main sin in this bow stroke is probably my wrist.  And I have been taught to exert pressure on the bow with the left-side forearm muscle of the right arm, via the forefinger. ( I agree these muscles "hold" the key to tone - I would call it firmness and contact holding the bow - not vertical pressure on the bow , at all - perhaps a pressure holding the stick ) This and the thumb are probably the origins of my excessive pressure.  My wrist, I believe, has always conformed to your slight bending principle - because I primarily do use my forearm in this mid-bow stroke. ( good ! ) The only time I engage my upper arm is
when very close to the heel ( excellent understanding ) , which does not concern us now. 

As for fatigue in my muscles - the only real muscles that get tired are the left hand muscles. I believe the right hand should be much more involved and could tire first - I believe the left hand should be light ( and rested straight away when it gets tired - never forced to finger drill for hours and hours of endurance ) and should always "fit into" the right hand. This is why I think your right-hand muscles must come into play more. Of course it is evident that I train those muscles much more than the right arm.

Student : Those are all the questions I have regarding this detache for now.  I spent several hours last night exploring your lesson and accumulating these questions.  I do tend to be extremely analytical and sometimes this is a vice.  But I feel like if I can understand it more, then I can perform it better, through practice and proper guidance. ( agreed ! )



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Last modified: February 07, 2000