The left hand of the violin is a lot like a car. When we start, we are always in the “Park” position. However, as the bow begins to move, the bow grip, arms and hands have to be in constant motion. The goal is to keep the bow moving with flat hair and parallel to the bridge, just as our goal with the car is to move it in the proper lane on the highway.
With that in mind, once a student has a solid foundation of bow hand shape, flexibility should be built in slowly.
Linda Fiore says there are four different kinds of hinges to work the bow. They should probably be taught in this order:
- Elbow (opening and closing)
- Wrist (bending up as you go to the tip)
- Ball joint of the shoulder floating in lower half of bow. (This should not be confused with a shrugging motion of the shoulders that must be avoided.)
- Finger joint motion.
I like to begin to develop bow hand flexibility early so students have the ability to keep the hand loose.
A few exercises I use:
- Ski Jump – Have students hold their bow arm with fingers to elbow flat on a table and palm down. Then have student bend the wrist so the hand comes up off of the table. This motion is used at the tip of the bow. Some students will have trouble drawing a straight bow if this joint does not bend naturally.
- Open and Close the Gate – Open and close the elbow joint (without the bow in hand) to get used to the motion of opening and closing the elbow.
- Pour Salt on the Ground – Get a salt shaker (that closes or is already empty) and pretend to pour salt on the ground in a straight line. The elbow and wrist have to move in a similar motion to that used on the violin. If you do it in rhythms it makes a nice shaker sound. (Make sure to have students hold the shaker like the bow.)
- Water Pump – Have student drop bow arm at their side with elbow bent (no bow in hand). The teacher can then lift the forearm (that should be heavy if the weight is released) in a pumping motion no more than shoulder height. If a shrug is not avoided, the teacher should place the other hand lightly on the shoulder to help the student feel the release of the muscle.
- Teeter Totter – Have student land with a good bow grip close to the frog on the G string. The pinky should be very bent, as should the bow thumb. Without moving the bow on the strings, the student will push across to the E with the pinky, and the thumb should slightly extend. The extended hand shape is for use at the tip. The bent thumb and pinky are for playing at the frog.
- Jellyfish Hand – Have students uses jellyfish fingers to plays small slow bows in the lower half.
- Open, Close, Float, Sink – Students will start on the A string with the bow in the middle. They will open and close the elbow which will put them at the tip. When they close the elbow, they will begin to move up bow. In the middle, the ball joint of the shoulder will float up slightly. It will sink as the bow changes to down bow.