How to help a student bow with flat bow hair

Shannon Farley said: Nov 8, 2012
Shannon FarleyViola, Violin
Madison, WI
11 posts

Hi fellow Suzuki teachers! I have a student that has really been struggling with keeping a flat bow while she bows. She’s 8 years old and has only been studying the violin for 6 months, but I still want to set up good bow habits right from the start. I think the problem is coming from not supporting the bow enough with her pinkie. To show her the importance of the pinkie, I had her hold the bow parallel to the ground and take one finger off at a time, while still holding the bow with the other fingers. A light bulb went off when she saw the weight shift drastically as she lifted the pinkie off of the stick. After that, I had her move her bow hold up the stick (a little lower than the middle of the bow). She seemed to be able to control the bow better here but as soon as I moved her bow hold back to the frog, she went back to tilting the bow hairs. Does anyone have any other exercises I could do with her to help keep flat bow hair while bowing?

Paula Bird said: Nov 8, 2012
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Viola
Wimberley, TX
404 posts

How about a picture? We could probably get more information about how to help.

I have some students who show undue tension in some of their joints, and this seems to impact on the bow tilt. Although we eventually will teach them to tilt a little later, I also try and have them learn the flat bow hair scenario.

I have put a sticker on the bow which is seen only when the bow is tilted enough to show its “underwear” or the white part of the hair, as seen from the teacher’s or parent’s perspective. The sticker shows up only if the tile is there, so You would have to fix this so it can be seen when the bad stuff is happening.

You could also have the parent hit a bell or buzzer whenever the underwear starts showing. My girls tend to like the bell, my boys the buzzer. Maybe allow the child to earn the right to ring the bell or buzzer if the student can play the passage or song without someone else ringing the bell/buzzer.

Some students have too high a right elbow or tilt their hand too far over the stick. The bow hand knuckles might be collapsed too much, or the child leaning too much on the index finger. A pinky off the bow could indicate too much relaxation or too much weight on the “inside” muscles of the arm. The thumb might protrude too much forward, or the index finger too far over the stick. There are many possibilities. A picture might help us clear this up quicker.

Paula E. Bird
TX State University
Wildflower Suzuki Studio (blog) (podcast)

Nora Friedman said: Nov 9, 2012
Nora Friedman
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki in the Schools
Brooklyn, NY
38 posts

I have a student who is having the same difficulty. Yesterday I drew on his horsehair! Crazy idea, but it really helped him understand where to play. Pretty bold, I guess. This issue was really coming out in o come little children and may song when he switched strings. We did a toggle exercise playing on all the different sides of the bow hair. This really seemed to bring awareness to this whole aspect of playing.

Shannon Farley said: Nov 9, 2012
Shannon FarleyViola, Violin
Madison, WI
11 posts

Thanks for the tips everyone! :)

Sue Hunt said: Nov 10, 2012
Sue HuntViola, Violin
403 posts

What’s her bow hold like? When it is not securely functional, a child will try to compensate with tensions up and down the arm, which as Paula says, will have an adverse effect on bowing.

I agree, that pictures are very useful, for a visually orientated child and for a benchmark for the parent.

For the more aural learner, pay attention to the different sounds of using more or less hair.

This kinaesthetic idea came from Ed Kreitman:

-1 Make a bow hold on your students forearm or first finger.
-2 Get her to do the same on your first finger.

You will both immediately be able to feel what’s going on with the bow hold.

Doing bow hold games between other practice tasks, also helps to give students the ability to sustain a good bow hold while performing another skill. In this case, the brain isn’t distracted by the sound of the instrument.

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