Teaching parallel bowstroke

Nora Friedman said: Nov 6, 2012
Nora Friedman
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki in the Schools
Brooklyn, NY
34 posts

Hi! I’m curious to know how you help children who struggle to keep their bowstroke parallel to the bridge. I have a few students who I’m are having this difficulty. I have found that the Ed Kreitman way of listening can really help, and also visually checking that the tip of the bow is out in front not by your ear can also be of service, but for these little guys those tricks haven’t yet been enough.
I’ve also found that you can be misled by looking at the contact point because there’s an allusion of perspective and what looks parallel is actually diagonal and vice versa. Any other tips?

Barb said: Nov 6, 2012
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

Hold the bow in place (by the tip at the contact point) and have them move their hand along the bow to feel the path.

Have them hold the bow while you move it along the correct path.

Bow through a cardboard tube held in place of the violin (cello in my case).

Do all the above for each string.

Remind them where the hand is going… in the case of the cello bow they have to push away for a straight bow on the A string, back for C string.

Lots of excitement and celebration when you see it going straight, even if it was just once! They know they can do it and are motivated to keep trying.

Barb
Music Teachers Helper—for individual teachers
Studio Helper—for entire music studios or schools

Laurie Maetche said: Nov 6, 2012
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Guitar, Piano, Cello, Viola
10 posts

I like all of the above suggestions and have used them all at some point.
But the one I use the most so that the student can still focus on their contact point is to use dirnking straws.
I let the student pick 2 colors of the bendable drinking straws, on one of them I crease the shorter end so that I can insert it into the other straws short end. I bend them and then place the straws in the f holes on either side of the fingerboard and then lean it toward the fingerboard.
I have the child play as normal watching their contact point, because the straws are not curved, perception is easier to see what is really going on.
With two different colors it is easy to tell the student whether they have forgotten to open their elbow, or whether they are pushing away with their hand.
I find that having this little reminder fixes it before I can even say anything because they generally don’t want to hit the straws.
What is nice is the straws go easily into their case and if they forget to take them out they just bend over and do no damage.

Alissa said: Nov 6, 2012
Alissa Rieb
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki in the Schools, Viola
61 posts

Great ideas so far!

Color in the good tone zone with Sharpie on the strings. It dries and doesn’t come off on bow hair. Oh and not that I ever did this ;-p but avoid stickers/tape on the violin. It hurts the varnish and I’ve found they tilt their head more for some reason when stuff is on the body of the instrument.

Have them do bow rocks noting the distance between the bridge and the hair. This helps with the point of view.

Pull or push the bow to a crooked position while they’re playing and while they’re still and have them correct it.

Lastly, check weight in the string. Are they tilting their head toward the right shoulder? Is the bow shoulder really relaxed especially when changing string levels? Are they opening and closing the elbow hinge? Sometimes with a super short bow stroke it’s hard to see.

And just to agree with Barb, recognize it when it’s correct and note the improvements!

Sue Hunt said: Nov 7, 2012
Sue Hunt
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
391 posts

One thing never to do is to place a tape on the violin belly, under the contact point. Apart form the damage to varnish, from the perspective of a player, the bow would need to be on the wrong side of the bridge to line up with the tape. If you still want to line the bow up with a tape it will need to be placed well under the fingerboard.

The quality of sound is all important. Get them to recognise the sound of crooked and straight bows. Let them imitate both.

Use the sense of touch as well. Practice away from the instrument helps to wake up the kinaesthetic sense without being distracted by sound and sight. Slide the hand up and down a broomstick or mop handle and feel what happens to the shoulder or elbow. If you can find a 6″ piece of plastic pipe that fits over the stick, children can make a proper bow hold and avoid wrist deviation while sliding it up and down.

These points are all illustrated in 40 Great Games to Teach Straight Bowing.

Barb said: Nov 7, 2012
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

More great ideas! Thanks ladies! I had never considered coloring on the strings.

And by the way—none of “my” ideas are original to me, but I can’t recall where they came from. Some of them probably from multiple sources.

I love the straws idea, and wish they made them big enough for cellos! I did talk with a parent once about attaching pipe cleaner to the fingerboard as a soft bumper to keep the bow lower, but we never did try it.

That is true about listening to the quality of the sound! One time I was playing a “match this note” game with a student, so our backs were to one another. He had been working on keeping the bow straight, and was sounding pretty good. On one note he wasn’t as careful and I said, “Oh, watch your bow!” He thought I had looked!

Barb
Music Teachers Helper—for individual teachers
Studio Helper—for entire music studios or schools

Nora Friedman said: Nov 8, 2012
Nora Friedman
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki in the Schools
Brooklyn, NY
34 posts

Thanks all! These ideas are revolutionary!!! Yay!

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