William Fitzpatrick - violin expert

Beginning Bowing Steps

Easy steps for a perfect bow-grip

In this video, Prof. Fitzpatrick talks about bow-grip and the best approach for violin beginners.

Released on August 7, 2019

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

So I lived as an expat in France for 15 years. During this time I taught at the Conservatoire de Levallois Perret, Maurice Ravel and the Conservatoire du Centre de Paris. It was in Levallois Perret that I was forced to confront something that I had never confronted before. You see, my director at the Conservatory in Levallois, Mr. Rothenbuhler and I had a meeting in which he said to me that of my students were graduating, leaving the conservatory. So my class of 33 students would be reduced. My class would then have to be replenished. Yeah, I had a very big class. He said to me, "Now I understand that in the U.S. there are specialists that begin with students, but here doesn't work like that. Doesn't work that way. Here you start them from the beginning, and take them through to the end of their time at the conservatory." Which at the time was the completion of two cycles.

Now what he was saying completely startled me as I had never taught a beginner before in my life. But I'm sure you can see that I had no choice. So Julliard student that I am, I did it. I started teaching beginners.

So for all of you that just might be curious as to what I did, here are some of the things that I learned to do during my journey with regard to teaching, or should I said, introducing repo to beginners.

For the record, they were around six years old. So first of all why don't we talk about the grip. How we hold the bow. I taught them like this. You see, if you hold out your hand, turn it over. I would tell them that's almost a perfect grip. Look at that! All you have to do is move your thumb over here and then I would turn the hand over and say, "Do you see that? That's a lovely, lovely grip. Just turn it over."

See what I would do, when their hand was turned this way, I would say, "Okay. Let's put the bow here." And I would be very careful to say, "Don't turn that thumb around, hurts." And then I would say, "Now turn it over!" Voila, a bow grip! You see?

So from here, here, to here, to there. The bow grip. Another thing I would do is lay the bow, imagine this is a table, I would put the bow on a table and say now, take your hand away and pick it up. And I would have them do this, over and over again. They would put it down, walk away, come back, fidget a little bit and then bring it back up.

So do you remember, analog clocks? Like that one? Well here's what I would have them do. I would say, "This, you see with the bow straight up, that's 12 o'clock. And now let's go to 3 o'clock." Oh yeah, you have to be careful because they are standing in front of you right. So their 12 o'clock we are even, we are okay with that, but when it gets to three, their 3 o'clock would be over here. Where as, our 3 o'clock would be over there. So here we go, it's 3 o'clock. How about 9 o'clock? Do you see what I'm doing? I'm getting them to turn this way and this way all while playing a game with an analogy clock. Little difficult now, because we only have digital clocks, I don't even know if the kids remember what an analogy clock looks like, but back in the day, this is maybe 35 years ago, analogy clocks ruled. Here we go.

Another thing that I would have them do is crawl up and down the bow. You know, like this, you see? I'm crawling? Do you see that? I'm crawling. Well going up was easy enough then I would have them come back down. Now that, oh they really had to work to get their grip and keep that bow from falling to the ground. Not only that, I would have them go up and then I would check their bow grip. Ah! There it is! It's fine and we would keep going. Generally they didn't get to the tip. That would be very hard and they would turn their bow this way. There's a problem because of the weight of the frog. It could accidentally snap the bow if you did it to quick.

Another one was allowing the fourth finger to release and pull it back up. Oh yeah, that fourth finger needed to be on this side of the stick, here let me show you. This side. Not on top. This side and what we would do is allow it to fall and then pick it back up. Again this is a skill that definitely will be used at a later time.

Oh now this one we have to really imagine because I used to ask them for their three favorite colors. Then I would say, "Okay, this is a balloon and it's tied to your wrist." And I would tie it around. "And the balloon is filled with hydrogen so it can hold your wrist." And the balloon has whatever three colors they chose. Those were the polka dots on the balloon. They would go, "Ooh". And then we would do the same thing over here. You see, now, you are not holding your arm, the balloons are holding your arm.

After about two or three minutes, I might talk with your parents, the parent, whoever was there. And they would look at me going, what are you doing. And I would say, "Okay. You see these, these are scissors." And I would say, "I'm going to cut the string." And they would stand there and I would go, "But I just cut the string? Your arm's supposed to fall." And we'd have to start all over again. And I would go around the room picking up balloons and bring it back and put their arm, and then start talking to who ever was there again. And this time I would say, "Remember?"

So what did I teach them? Well I remember seeing Marcel Marceau, wonderful mind, standing like this and talking to someone as they were walking by. His arm was supposedly on a fence. He really made it look like it was a fence. He was standing there and I thought, whoa that's a perfect bow arm. No stress.

So what are we teaching? We are giving them ways to hold and keep this position without the stress of trying to hold it up. So here is that bow grip, the one I was teaching those beginners. I also showed them something else. Which was how to hold the bow without my thumb. That really startled them. Yeah you see? My thumb, it's not there but I'm holding a bow.

And so all of this was like planting seeds, you know, these were the first steps towards understanding what to do on this side and they really did have a real impact on their future as violinists.
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