William Fitzpatrick - violin expert

Discovering Figure Eights on the Violin

Learn how to approach the bow with this marvelous concept.

In this video, Prof. Fitzpatrick introduces the terrific concept of drawing imaginary "figure eights" with your bow, which will greatly improve your mastery.

Released on July 2, 2014

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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

Hi, and welcome to Virtualsheetmusic.com's Meet the Expert. My name is William Fitzpatrick, and I am the Henri Temianka professor of violin at the Hall-Musco Conservatory of Music at Chapman University. I am as well director of MusiShare in Irvine, California.

Well, today, I thought we could talk a bit about how the bow arm moves, about discovering figure eights. But before we get into figure eights, we need to understand that in the bow arm, as in the left arm, everything hinges on the elbow, not on the shoulder or the wrist.

Okay. Let's have a look at what goes on with this side and this side of my body when we're playing. Well, here's one. When I shift, my left hand looks like this. Right? My right elbow, when I'm moving my bow, it looks like this. Well, those movements are identical. Because I move my left elbow, my wrist and fingers are free. The identical observation occurs in the use of the bow arm, as the movement from my elbow unlocks my wrists and fingers in the same way.

So by using this, by understanding this, the rest and fingers in both hands are free, and the shoulder is nonactive. Kinesthetically speaking, both sides are in motion simultaneously, working together in the same way. So this brings us to the theme of this video, which is about figure eights in the bow arm.

When we study the movement of the bow arm, the first thing that we notice is that its movement is not in a straight line. This is where the figure eights become apparent, not in a straight line. It's not this way. It's this way. So what is a figure eight? Well, a figure eight is the path that the bow is taking when it's playing. [music].

I think of that as a figure eight, something that looks like this. You can see that figure eight. Let's have a look at a few possibilities. Here, the movement is going halfway around the top of the first ball. This shows the path of the bow going from a lower string to a higher string. Did you see that path? I'll even go from the bottom. You can really see the path at that point.

Here's a movement going halfway around the top of the first ball and the bottom of the second ball. So we're going to go like this. Here we go. This shows the motion for a string change and crescendo. Here is the movement going halfway around the bottom of the first ball and the top of the second ball. There are so many possibilities. I-O. But of course, this size of a ball we're not . . . we couldn't possibly use.

So we're going to take it, and we're going to bring it into a smaller, smaller gesture. It will look like this. It's not going to be very noticeable. It's almost going to be invisible, unless you know what you're looking for.

So let's take this a step further. Now, can you imagine that figure eight as two balls, two 3D balls that are stuck together? This increases the number of paths available. It could allow for what we call compensation bowings. Now, a compensation bowing is when we're going from this point of contact to this point of contact. How do I get there?

I'm going to start deliberately, push out, bring the bow over, and there we are. I went from here to there. I'll do it again. Now, what if I wanted to do the opposite? Here we go. I went from here to here. These are called compensation bowings.

Well, that's it for this video. If you have any questions, comments, or special requests, please feel free to post them. See you next time.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Jan on August 5, 2015 @4:03 pm PST
Speaking of bowing, my 8 year old daughter just began violin lessons last month. When I was learned to play years ago, ALL of my teachers said the pinky finger on the bow hand must be curved when bowing. I noticed my daughter's teacher holds his pinky ramrod straight and my daughter is doing the same. I asked her teacher about it today and he said the pinky just balances the weight of the bow, so he encourages students to do whatever is most comfortable. I've heard some violinists say a straight pinky leads to tension, so I'm curious to know your opinion on this. Does it matter if the pinky on the bow hand is curved or straight? Thanks!
Barbie * VSM MEMBER * on July 26, 2015 @3:33 pm PST
Thanks William! Can you post a video on vibrato in repertoire. I can do vibrato, but when I try to put it in repertoire, it seems more difficult.
Mandy on April 6, 2015 @8:14 pm PST
Do you keep the bow completely flat on the string (compensation bowing) when changing between contact points or do you turns the bow slightly so that only a small amount of hair is on the string???
William on April 7, 2015 @10:07 am PST
It all depends on the character of the phase. For certain things flat, generally speaking heavy strokes at the frog or off the string in the middle, for others turned softer as in texture, fuller sounds. Hope this helps!
Marie Pierre Carlier on September 17, 2014 @7:25 am PST
formidable ! mon cher William, c'est lumineux!!!
William on September 17, 2014 @9:33 am PST
Ron on July 30, 2014 @12:49 pm PST
Steps to develop a spiccatto bowing.
fabiano joão bosco * VSM MEMBER * on July 9, 2014 @2:23 pm PST

Though your pronunciation is excellent, for persons like me that almost never have the experience of hearing English, the idea of transcribing your lessons is very, very didactic.
Fabrizio Ferrari - moderator and CEO, on July 9, 2014 @3:17 pm PST
That's really nice to know, thank you for letting us know. We'll try to add video transcriptions to all of our videos. If you see any new video posted without video transcription yet, it will come as soon as possible.

victordovitalia * VSM MEMBER * on July 9, 2014 @12:05 pm PST
Kathleen Barry * VSM MEMBER * on July 9, 2014 @8:32 am PST
Wow. I love the figure 8 concept when changing strings and how all movement begins at the elbow with both arms, not the wrists or fingers, of course. But moving point of contact horizontally, I thought, was not good; it can change the sound. I try so hard to keep 'railroad tracks' bowing. And teach that, too. Am I wrong?
William on July 17, 2014 @3:41 am PST
Sorry to reply so let but am in France and wifi is sketchy! As for compensation bowings I left out an important element ... The release of weight or pressure during the crossing from one point to another! I do hope this is helpful in understanding the video!
Chaim on July 2, 2014 @6:06 am PST
Ths is wonderful concept and very well explained
William on July 2, 2014 @10:01 am PST
Thank you!
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