Straight bowing- good teaching aid?

Pia said: Mar 25, 2011
34 posts

Does anyone has experience with good teaching-aids for straight bowing? I read a posting here in the forum about some new invention but I can’t find this posting anymore! Some invention that one were suppose to attach to the strings and bow with a special bow-stick..? I’ve also read about “bowzo”, has anyone tried? I bought the “bowtracker” and some similar aid wich to attach to the violin with cardboard-stripes but was not so satisfied.. I’ve also tried the “supersensitiv bowmaster” for bowhold, but again, did not do so much difference—next I’ve decided to try the bow-buddies, maybe they can be more of a help?! Would be grateful for all “field reports”..!

Jennifer Visick said: Mar 27, 2011
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
998 posts

You may be looking for this thread:

I’m always wary of things that “force” a certain motion or hand shape, when the point is to customize the experience for each individual student’s body type. How can a one-size-fits-all contraption (or even a multiple-standard-sizes thingamajig) ever take the place of custom refinements week by week?

However, I’m also fascinated by the gimmicks and contraptions because, hey, they promise an “easy” substitute for the teacher and parent guiding the bow arm, and a way to work on something else while “safely” allowing the student to ignore the contact point.

But don’t we all remember Suzuki’s anecdote and catchphrase “the bow flies away… the mother picks it up”? There’s an idea there about the relationship between the parent and the student that we have to be careful not to lose when we invent a new contraption to teach the muscles…

Having said that, I did buy a rather expensive straight-bow aid because I just couldn’t resist… it seemed so perfect…
The expensive straight-bow contraption, otherwise named “the practice bow” by its inventor:

I have two of these—a tiny one that I asked her to make especially to fit in a 1/16th sized case, and a full-sized one. It seems to work—but—you still have to teach the student to “listen” to what the thing “wants”—I find that I don’t use it as much as I thought I would.

On the homemade (and much less expensive) front, there’s the stick-your-bow-in-a-cardboard-tube idea. (Use the tube from the center of a paper towel or TP roll). Either the left hand holds the tube at the approximate angle where the strings ought to be, or someone holds the tube right on top of the string’s contact point, or you glue (or velcro?) the tube to the top of a cardboard or foam “pre” violin.

Also, I haven’t tried it yet but I did see the idea of using an egg carton as the body of a pre-instrument and allowing the pre-bow to run in a groove on the back of the carton, which seems like it would accomplish the same thing.

Or (for violin/viola) have the student practice running the right hand along the left arm from elbow to wrist.

Diane said: Mar 27, 2011
Diane AllenViolin
245 posts

Here’s some non-gadget ideas! The straight bow issue is addressed on the 2nd question.

Videos of student violin recitals and violin tutorials.

Pia said: Mar 27, 2011
34 posts

Many Thanks for the replies! It was actually “the practice bow” I’d been looking for! Of course I’m aware of the necessity of working “the good old way”, and maybe a paper roll also would work (as a kid, that was my straight-bowing aid- didn’t work very well though..) If some gadgets or inventions can be of some help for some kids, or even just one, I think it’s worth it! I do have a box with bow stoppers, mostly not used but, then and when, as a kid has a really hard time with this issue, I put it on for one week as a reminder. It would be fantastic if teaching aids could replace the teacher.. but until then, like E. Sprunger wrote; “practise is for making things easier” and, I believe, teachers should also be open for diferent tools that maybe could make learning a little bit easier for the students.
I’ll have a try on taping a lesson/ working on straight bow through videorecording—I didn’t try that one!

Ruth Brons said: Apr 25, 2011
Ruth Brons
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Livingston, NJ
148 posts

Two major pre-requisites to straight bowing are a stable violin hold and functional bow hold.
I tell my students that the violin strings have to be in thesame place each time so the bow can know where to find them!
And, of course, the bow fingers must be relaxed and in position.

I especially appreciate how myviolinrecital’s link, above, points out different approaches to this skill: Visual, Aural, etc.
I would like to add three exercises to her Visual category:

Making H’s:
Point out how the bow makes the horizontal part of the letter H,
with two strings making the vertical parts.
Kids know their letters so well that they “get” this,
even though the length of the bow and extra strings exceed a true letter H.
The “Clean, Clean, Dirty”Rosin Game:**
Clean any rosin off the violin and strings, and then apply a ton of rosin to the bow.
Then play a short excerpt or repeated notes,
trying to keep the bow “on the highway” -
taking care NOT to play neither too close the bridge nor over the fingerboard.
Then use a finger [either yours or the student’s] to wipe the string[s] in the area over the fingerboard.
If the finger winds up with no rosin, the student says”Clean!”
But if the finger has picked up rosin from the string[s] the student says “Dirty!”.
Repeat with the string[s] in the area next to the bridge. .
Then repeat with the string[s] in the “highway” area.
Students win the game when the order of their spoken words is “Clean, Clean, Dirty”.
Especially fun when using silly voices!

Whisper Bows on the Bridge:
This is especially helpful for full-bow players.
Have the student draw a bow as slowly and as lightly as humanly possible,
from one end to the other, with half of the bow hair on either side of the bridge.
Going slowly allows time for the player to observe/feel the minute adjustments the bow hand/bow arm have to do to stay on track.

Sue Hunt said: Jul 26, 2011
Sue Hunt
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
390 posts

I’m a great fan of games. Ever since my daughter struggled with straight bows as a 4 year old, I have been on the lookout for interesting games and strategies for teaching violin technique. I’ve put some into an ebook, 40 Great Games to Teach Straight Bowing.

There are all sorts of games and strategies to play with or without a helper, with and without the instrument, and games using the senses, visual, kinaesthetic and aural, with lots of photographic illustrations. There are also lucky dip cards for customising individual lessons and for reminders for forgetful teachers like me. Do have a look.

Elizabeth Friedman said: Jul 27, 2011
Elizabeth Friedman
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
49 posts

Hi! The hands-down best way I’ve found to teach a straight bow is the combination of these two things:

  1. The ’soapy arm’ exercise (best done as a pre-Twinkle exercise, but hey, later’s fine too)—have your student sit on the floor or in a chair and put their violin arm straight out with their hand on their knee. Have them rub their arm with their bow hand from elbow to wrist with their bow arm, ’soaping’ their arm in rhythm, like to Var. A, B, C, etc. This forces the bow arm to move from the elbow.

  2. Then, on the violin string(s), use a Sharpie to make a line where the bow’s supposed to go. Make the line about as wide as the bow. The Sharpie mark rubs off of the string within a week (if they’re practicing!), and forces them to instigate the straight bow, rather than acting as a defensive correction.

**Make sure to make the remark that you’re the only person allowed to use a Sharpie on their violin, and that they are in no way allowed to draw on their violin! It might also be good to reassure the parents and student that the marker will rub off of the string, that the strings are replaceable, etc.

Speaking as someone who remembers having a pencil strapped to her violin (which didn’t work, by the way), contraptions that keep the bow in line just act as a crutch. Since learning these two things, all my kids have straight bows! Never, in a million years, did I ever think I’d be able to say that!

Sue Hunt said: Jul 27, 2011
Sue Hunt
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
390 posts

I love the idea of drawing on the string. A word of warning about permanent markers. Keep them tucked out way of reach. My students sometimes draw on scrap paper while waiting for their lesson and one of them got hold of my Sharpie to draw something special for me. The ink went straight through the paper and I now have a permanent loving testament from her on my walnut floor.

Suzanne Dicker said: Jul 27, 2011
Suzanne Dicker
Suzuki Association Member
Princeton Junction, NJ
1 posts

For cello students, ask the student to play open strings patterns by holding the bow with two hands. They will not be able to use more than half the bow length and the left hand only has to touch or hold the bow stick very lightly somewhere in the upper half. You can give them patterns to repeat like AAAADDDD starting downbow so they don’t have to start upbow when approaching a lower string from a higher string, which would probably mess up the path at the start of their upbow. Do this for a week’s practice and you will be surprised that when they then are asked to try the patterns with only the right hand, how straight their bow paths are.

This approach uses “feeling awareness” (a fantastic book called, “The Simplicity of Playing the Violin” by Herbert Whone explains this) rather than relying only on visual aids. A big disadvantage to asking cellists to watch their bow is that their head will invariably go forward putting strain on the neck.

Emily said: Dec 1, 2013
 59 posts

I was going to mention the book that Sue Hunt wrote, but I see she already mentioned it. It might be better for the students if you incorporate games rather than gadgets.

Emily Christensen
Music Teacher & Writer

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