Today is Popcorn Day! Last week we focused on our long bows, but this week we can focus on our "short" bows.
A note has three parts to it: the beginning, the middle, and the end. By a short bow I am referring to a bow stroke that focuses on the crisp beginning and end of a note, especially the beginning. We have difficulty understanding someone who speaks and mumbles his or her words; we need to hear enunciated consonants in order to clearly understand verbal communication. As musicians and audience members, we need to hear the bow's articulation of the notes in order to hear crisp beginnings to the notes and to understand the rhythm and musical style of the musical presentation or performance. I ask my students to create and listen for the "pops" and "bites" at the beginning of the notes, hence my nickname "popcorn bows."
Sometimes the ending of the note is important too. If the bow keeps dribbling on the note and colors "outside the lines" into the next note, then the articulation suffers. Also, how we end a short note may influence the quality of our rhythmic presentation as well. If we end with a "snap" to the rhythm (not an accent), we may reinforce the rhythmic pulse we feel and play.
So how do we do a Popcorn Day practice? First, identify five to ten places in our repertoire or practice assignments where we have short bow opportunities. These could be songs or phrases that require staccato bows, such as Song of the Wind, Allegro, Variation B and C of Twinkle, Perpetual Motion, or Etude. For more advanced students, these places may require the more advanced martelé stroke, such as in the Vivaldi or Bach concertos.
Work through those places and listen for the quality of the initial articulation. Sometimes the up bows sound weaker than the down bows and need a little more "oomph" in the up bow to even up the volume and articulation. Is the bow placement correct? Is the bow straight and making a good contact point?
Next, work on how the endings of the notes sound. Are the notes bleeding into one another? Does the ending of the note clearly indicate or fit in with the overall rhythm of the song or phrase. When I practice on a Popcorn Day, I often stop after playing a staccato or martelé to give my body a moment to bleed out the energy and reset my bow for the next note. I practice in this careful way to reinforce the physical sensation of how the bow stroke is properly played in slow motion.
Finally, and maybe this would be an even better place to start on some Popcorn Days, consider how your posture habits may be adversely affecting your short bow execution. I use the Dr. Suzuki "panda thumb" as the starting point for my crisp staccato bow sound. (For more information about my "fish bowl staccato" technique, click here to read the post). I check whether there is unnecessary tension in my shoulder (for more about releasing shoulder tension, click here). Sometimes a back muscle is triggered too much on the right side below my shoulder, which could be causing me to "jump" ahead a bit in my bow's articulation.
Have fun with Popcorn Day, and be sure to break out the real popcorn afterwards!