Playing with precision

A fiddle player's bow hold, seen from underneath

Playing with precision

We spent more time tonight on thinking about playing with precision, and how to use control of the bow to achieve this. At the start of the evening, we briefly revisited the bow hold. It’s important that the bowing hand has a comfortable position, where it can be completely relaxed throughout the full length of the bow stroke. We tried giving our bowing arm a good shake out, and let it dangle by our side, being aware of how relaxed the hand is in this position. We’re aiming for that same relaxation when we pick the bow up. Once we have established a comfortable bow hold, the fingers need to be able to move with the bow, minutely adjusting throughout the full bow stroke, to keep the bow moving in a straight line.

A fiddle player's bow hold, seen from underneath
Photo ©Ros Gasson

We played some long open notes, paying attention to keeping the hand and all the fingers completely relaxed.

Vertical movement of the bow

We then worked on developing our control over the vertical movement of the bow during the bow stroke. Using the centre of the length of the bow, we worked on using the index finger to dig in at the start of the note . The stick of the bow pushes down towards the bow’s hairs at the start of the note when you have this right. At that same moment, the weight of the arm is transferred through the elbow and wrist into the bow, helping us to really ‘dig in’ to the note to give it a clear start point. We then immediately release the pressure with the first finger. If the hand and fingers are completely relaxed at this point, it allows the natural springiness of the stick of the bow to straighten the bow out again, lifting the bow slightly upwards from the strings. It’s possible to use fine control of the amount of pressure used on the bow to control whether the bow lifts right off the string or not at this point. Lifting it just clear of the string will create a tiny space in between individual notes, giving the music a sense of ‘bounce’, and also making each note sound crisp, with a very clear start and finish.

This video shows the action of the first finger on the bow quite clearly

We played through the waltz from last week, and spent some time working on using our bow control to ad expression. We focused on the longer notes, and used bow speed to add an emphasis towards the end of the note. Doing this created a bit of a ‘swing’ to the tune.

We then learnt a new tune – a short strathspey called ‘The Placebo’. (The written music is on the music page).

We tried out playing the strathspey using control of the bow to create some spaces in the tune.

We ended the evening by playing the waltz through a few times again. We played it standing in a circle, without looking at our own hands, and playing it for the person straight across the room. Then we tried playing it while focusing on listening to the 2 people on either side of us – this made a huge difference to how the group played – it was more in tune, and we were much more in time with one another. It felt much more cohesive. We tried out playing the tune again, and this time watching the person to our right. Several people noticed that when they did this ist was hard to focus on listening as well.