JAVS Fall 2023

… To understand the functioning of the bow, one has to realize from the very outset that the whole right arm technique is based on a system of springs. These react in much the same way as do mechanical springs. Violinistically, they are partly artificial (such as the resilience of the bow hair and the flexibility of the bow stick) and partly natural (such as the joints of the shoulder, elbow, wrist, fingers, and thumb). If a bow were to be made whose stick and hair were entirely rigid and unyielding, it is not difficult to imagine how bad the tone and how impossible the performance of most of the varieties of bowing would be. 2 The first guideline to remember is that bouncing stroke shapes are indicative of the right wrist’s motion. Now we can use this to visualize the shape in the wrist which affects the desired articulation. The bouncing bow stroke is the same shape as the right wrist’s first movement. Broad, open “U-shaped” strokes at the wrist are for brush strokes. Tight , vertical “V-shaped” strokes at the wrist are for spiccato. Small circular strokes at the wrist are for sautill é . The element that changes the shape of these strokes is how long the bow is in contact with the string. The brush or “paintbrush” stroke is the first off-the-string stroke string players learn. As a violist, I honed this stroke playing the second and third beats of waltzes better known as the “pah-pahs” of the traditional “Um-pah-pah” waltz rhythm. It is important to use the brush stroke in the waltz because it is a dance where the last two beats of each bar must be gentle and light as to not cause the music to drag for those dancing.

hand to hand, the wrist swings in a U-shape as the ball bounces from one hand to the other. This wrist motion is smooth when dribbling this way, also the ball (or the bow) touches the floor (the string) longer when bouncing hand to hand. This type of dribble mimics the wrist motion we should use when producing brush strokes. For drier, crisper spiccato strokes, I imagine bouncing a basketball with one hand only. This change alone allows the player to recognize the lack of horizontal motion in the wrist used to play spiccato because the contact point between the bow (ball) and the string (floor) is much smaller than that of the brush stroke. The wrist moves more vertically when switching from brush to spiccato stroke, narrowing the contact point at the bottom of the stroke to only a couple of millimeters. These changes in stroke come from the wrist creating a “V-shaped motion.” The use of vertical motion in the wrist while moving the bow closer to the string, allows the stroke to rebound faster (or bounce.) The clarity of the spiccato lies in the flexibility of the right wrist. If the wrist becomes rigid, the spiccato will become harsh and harder to control. The relationship is the same with dribbling a basketball. When a player needs to dribble faster and with greater precision, they will stop bouncing from hand to hand and dribble with their dominant hand, while keeping the wrist relaxed at the same height so the dribbles remain uniform while moving with the ball. A rigid wrist will cause the ball to bounce at different heights, resulting in unevenness and loss of control. The same is true with spiccato. The sautillé stroke works a bit differently; it is created when the tempo accelerates beyond one where spiccato can be used, yet a short articulation is still desired. This auditory illusion is created by placing the bow on the string, then using small and fast circular wrist motions make the stick bounce, instead of the bow’s hair, moving from smaller and smaller V-strokes to circular ones happens by keeping the right wrist relaxed while moving the bow gradually closer to the string until it lands. When the bow lands on the string, the player must switch to the small circular wrist motions to make the stick bounce, while the hair remains on the string. Returning to the basketball analogy, I liken this transition to dribbling the ball so low that the wrist becomes neutral with the palm flat to keep the ball (bow stick) under control. The wrist must become neutral (not flexing up and down) while the

When executing brush strokes, it is imperative that the right wrist make a U-shaped motion to come off and then land back on the string smoothly. Brush strokes are also called long spiccato because the contact point between the string and bow (at the balance point) lasts longer at the bottom of the stroke than it would if playing regular spiccato. Another way to visualize the bouncing stroke shapes is through a basketball analogy which I have found helpful as a player and teacher. I think about how the wrists behave when dribbling a basketball; when dribbling


Journal of the American Viola Society / Vol. 39, No. 2, Fall 2023

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