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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Finger Motion

Did you ever look at the bow hair just below the frog area of your bow? Pretty gunky looking stuff, right? If you have a lot of gunky stuff, you might want to check how well your finger motion is working.

When I use the term "finger motion," I am referring to the active movement of the fingers of the right hand, alternating a relaxed slight curling of the fingers into the hand and palm of the hand with a relaxed lengthening of the fingers as they straighten somewhat. See the video for a demonstration of the basic finger motion.

What is the purpose of this motion? Basically, I think the purpose is to act as shock absorbers for the energy created by the shoulder, elbow, wrist, and hand when moving the bow. As students progress through the early Suzuki violin books, their bow holds become more relaxed and fluid. I have often thought that this was due to the lessening of the fear of dropping the bow.

Generally somewhere nearing the end of Suzuki violin book 2, when the student is using almost the entire bow, I will see the loosening of the "control" the student is trying to use with the bow, as the student becomes more and more relaxed. For some students, this relaxation happens much earlier, and for some students it does not happen unless I guide the student manually with a series of special exercises.

Usually by the time the student is in book 3 and using the whole bow, the finger motion is developed and showing up regularly. In fact, the students tend to be so relaxed at this point, that I have to spend a great deal of time monitoring the bow hold to make sure that it is not completely falling apart!

Things I watch for:

  • the bow hold remains in place and is not slipping into a series of new bad habits
  • the finger motion is being used to make changes from up bow to down bow at the frog and not somewhere else on the bow
  • the student is able to turn off the finger motion when necessary

Why do I make a point of making sure that finger motion is used at the frog and not somewhere else on the bow? I say that because once students develop this basic finger motion, I find that they often use it indiscriminately at any part of the bow. I have come across so many students at strings camps or in orchestral masterclasses who use finger motion all the time, even during a bow stroke where such motion is undesirable.

For example, a firm detaché bowing is generally played in the upper half of the bow with a strong right forearm movement. I advocate that students turn off any finger motion while playing this stroke (other than just allowing the fingers to be flexible and absorb the "shock" of the stroke). Note that I am not suggesting that students tighten up the bow hold or "stop" moving at all. I am asking only that the student let the active finger motion be at rest and focus instead on the detaché stroke and forearm movement.

Why is finger motion useful? Aside from using active finger motion to smooth out bow changes at the frog, finger motion is useful for the collé and controlled spiccato bow strokes.

Back to the gunky stuff on the bow hair at the frog. If you are using your finger motion correctly, you will keep the accumulation of gunk to a minimum. In addition, with your fine active finger motion capability, you will have better control of the slower spiccato and collé bow strokes.

Next post: how to guide a student to develop finger motion if they do not develop it naturally.

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