William Fitzpatrick - violin expert

Getting the Bow to the String

Learn the best way to get to the string with your bow

In this video, Prof. Fitzpatrick teaches you how to correctly get to the string with the bow. An easy and simple, yet effective, approach!

Released on March 1, 2017

  
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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

You see, this all began when I saw a performance of the Sibelius Concerto, last movement, performed by Shlomo Mintz. And just before he started, you know, the orchestra, "bum, bum, bum, bum, bum, bum," he took his bow from way over here, swung it, and played. I thought to myself, "Oh come on, Shlomo. Come on, come on, come on. What are we doing here?" But you know what? He kept doing it, and I just kept looking going, "Why? Why? Why are you doing this? I mean, I've known you for a while, and I know you're not that superficial. So what's with the swinging to the string?"

Then suddenly something caught my eye. When I started looking, the speed that he left the right side seemed to be the same speed that occurred when he got to the string. You know? This speed, that speed. This speed, that speed. Got me thinking, "Could this be the reason he was doing this? Could this be why his approach to the strings started from here and went to there, but it was at the same speed?" Well, I smiled to myself, as it certainly seemed to answer my query. His gesture had purpose, as it was preparing what was going to happen. I was so taken by this that I decided to try it at my next quartet rehearsal.

Now, we were rehearsing Ravel's String Quartet, and what I did, without telling them of course, was I didn't do my normal cue. What I did was sat there, looked at everyone, and went... I was, like, amazed, because everyone came in. All I did was...and they all came in, perfectly in time. Well, after a few hours of doing this I was ecstatic, obviously, and looked at them and said, "Did you see what I was doing?" And they looked surprised and sort of went, "What do you mean?" And I said, "I didn't give a cue! You know, the cue? I just went..." And they looked at me and they go, "But that's normal." I looked at them and I thought, "Oh come on, come on. I've been doing this all my life, and now you're telling me that simply going...is normal?" I thought it was sorta funny, you know, in a crazy kind of way. But, it was true. This gesture... Well, I don't know if it was true that it was normal, but this gesture conveyed all of the information that they needed to be able to start with me.

So, in an earlier video, which was called "Discovering Figure Eights for the Bow on the Violin," I explained how figure eights can help us to outline the space, the movement of the bow. So, why don't we be a little more specific and talk about how to get to the string with the bow? Say, from here. Now, you remember those figure eights? Here we go. I'm going to take the top of that figure eight or that sphere, and I'm going to go...and use it...use that trajectory as a way to get...to the string. Another way...well, this is going from the top, right? Another way would be to come from the bottom of the sphere. I would go up and come into the string in that way. So again, from above, or from below. That's that part or that part of the figure eight.

Now, again, in doing this, one should be aware of the fact that the speed that you use to go to the string should be the speed that you use when you get to the string. Say I want to do something fast. I went fast, my bow went fast. Say I want to do something slow. I mean, it could even work on an up bow. How am I going to go from here? I'm going to go down. Oh, that sphere again. And did you notice I always come back to the spot that I started? If I go down bow? I come back. If I go on the bottom part of the sphere, down bow? I come back up bow. Ooh, I cut a big sphere! And I come back. Do that one again. And I'm coming all the way back here. You see, I came back faster.

So now that we've explored this, let's take it a little bit further by talking about timing. Let's see. For example, suppose we were in two four, and I'm going to come in on the first beat. So, something is playing one, two, one. I just connected what was happening in the music before to what I was about to do. You see? One, two. Let's see. Maybe I can explain it better this way. You remember Lalo? Well, the orchestra's playing, "bum, bum, bum, bum, bum, bum, bum," right? And then the measure before, "dum, bum, bum, bum, bum, bum, bum, bum, bum." Oh, I used the timing of the orchestra, "bum, bum, bum" and...to get the energy that I needed for the stroke that I was about to do, in the space before I started to play. Again, "bum, bum, bum."

So, you see, we're not only talking about how to get to the sting, but we are creating a context, a musical context for this activity to occur. Let's say, for example, I wanted to do Mozart, the A major concerto, "bum, ba-da-dum." I used this gesture to help...and do notice I didn't have to go to the frog. I actually went to the middle of the bow. So, anyplace in the bow, we can decide to be the arrival point. Let's see. For example, Mendelssohn, the second movement "ta-ya, da-da-dum." I really, really, don't sing very much in tune. "Ta-ya-da-da-dum." Did you see? I took the speed, the tempo, one, two, three, to help me to prepare the music that I was about to make.

Now, the two ways that I mentioned, the only ways that you can do, you know, this way or that way? Course not. What has to occur, though, is that the timing and use of space... Well, this has to be apparent and consistent, if we're going to get the result that I've been trying to explain, that result being the use of space and timing to help us begin our performance or begin our phrase.

My name is William Fitzpatrick, and I am the Tamianka Professor of Violin at the Hall-Musco Conservatory of Music, which is located on the campus of Chapman University, and I am the Artistic Director of the MusiShare Young Artist Program.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Tosh * VSM MEMBER * on May 10, 2017 @11:13 am PST
What you say makes perfect sense. One example: I've noticed that if I just place my bow on a string and then move it from that static start, often an unwanted noise occurs as soon as the bow moves...whereas doing it your way pretty well guarantees that this won't happen and that the sound will begin smoothly. Of course, I'm not talking about martele or other accented bow strokes...but about legato bowing where the music requires a smooth beginning.
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William - host, on May 10, 2017 @12:26 pm PST
Thanks! I'm glad that it helps you!
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