JAVS Fall 2023

With Viola In Hand

Dribble The Bow by Sheronda Shorter

As violists, we often come across passages that require us to execute bouncing bow strokes or create the illusion of a bouncing stroke. There are several factors at play here: speed of the notes in a passage decide which stroke we need to use and at what time; while the disjunct or conjunct configuration of the notes on the fingerboard determines where we execute these strokes in the bow. Additionally, different musical variables within a passage can cause a transition from a brush stroke (or long spiccato) to a dry spiccato, then perhaps sautillé. Using shape visualization and some ideas from basketball, we will discover how these different bow strokes are produced, how they are related to each other, and how they can be improved. Visualizing the shape of a bouncing bow stroke can help one remember how to do the stroke needed at the right time. Moreover, by considering tempi and textures that employ these types of strokes and by elevating one’s bow technique, many musical trainwrecks can be prevented. Once the production of these bow strokes is explained, we will analyze excerpts from the orchestral repertoire which employ bouncing strokes and their progressions, both accelerating and decelerating, to illustrate the application of them in context. Before we do any type of bouncing, we must first discuss the bow hold itself. Beginning violists are taught to hold their bows with a curved thumb underneath, middle fingers hugging the stick, index finger on top of the stick, and pinky curved on top of the adjusting screw at the frog. This bow hold gives the player stability without squeezing and will allow the student to bounce the bow eventually (Barbara Barber refers to this hold as “Octopus Fingers” when working with young string players). In a 2010 article called, “Barbara Barber: Good Spiccato Starts in the Bow Hand,” by Laurie Niles, she explains how Barber prepares beginners to have flexibility in their bow holds.

As early as Book 1[of the Suzuki Viola School], Barber is teaching a modified collé stroke, in which the student rests the bow on the A string and the teachers helps him/ her go “wiggle wiggle,” moving from just the wrist, cultivating flexible fingers and knuckles. This moves into something she calls “jellyfish detaché,” a very small stroke using just fingers and no arm, in the middle of the string. The next step is more of a real collé in the lower half, combined with a brush stroke. 1 To properly execute brush, spiccato, and sautillé, we must first study the mechanics of upper string bowing as it pertains to bouncing strokes. The strokes in question happen on a continuum dictated by the tempo, character, and volume needed to create the music at hand. Finding the correct musical conditions to apply the right stroke is a skill set acquired over time, but this discussion will offer guidelines to help upper string players recognize when to use them. After the bow hold is set up, the most important mechanism that allows the bow to “bounce” on the string is the right wrist. The wrist of the bow hand cannot be rigid, it must be flexible and fluid in motion to achieve a bouncing bow. If the wrist relaxes, the hand then relaxes which is imperative to getting the flexibility these strokes require because the bounce is initiated by the motion of the fingers and right wrist. Whereas the right-hand knuckle joints, fingers, and thumb movement are all reflexive, secondary motions that happen only after the wrist moves. Thus, the wrist must be relaxed for the first wrist movement, then the reflexive, secondary finger movement to occur in the bow hand. Ivan Galamian describes the movement of the right arm, particularly the wrist and hand, as a system of springs in the third chapter of his 1985 book, The Principles of Violin Playing and Teaching. He explains the relationship between the bow arm and bow in the following excerpt:

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


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