Making of an Artist: Rafi # 2

After some comfort level is reached playing Eggs and Sol Re Sol, it is a good idea to introduce the bow. I have put tapes on Rafi's bow (the wooden part) marking the halfway point as well as each quarter point. He also has a pinky house, the most fantastic teaching tool, at the bottom of the bow for his right pinky (you can see it prominently around 1:10 in the video above). In my previous blog post I mentioned the importance of training the left pinky for a great left hand technique- likewise, keeping the pinky on the bow hand flexible is equally valuable. Human beings are mainly creatures of habit after all, and if you can start your bowing experience with a supple pinky that can bend and not lock, well, you are light-years ahead in the mastery of violin. The pinky house does just that, putting you in a perfect bow-hand position!

In the video Rafi and I start off with some bow exercises apart from the violin. The exercises here (Stir the Soup, TV Antenna, Unicorn, Pinocchio, Butterfly, Wind-Shield Wipers) cover the big muscle movements required in bowing as well as some fine finger movements and are fun to do. We also "bow" some rhythm patterns using a tape roll. This is a brilliant way of practicing the arm movements in a bow stroke because the tape roll keeps the bow moving up and down in the same spot- this motion of keeping the bow in the same angle is crucial for a beautiful tone on the violin. You might also notice that throughout this video I am adjusting Rafi's fingers on the bow- I am checking that his fingers are naturally relaxed on the bow, especially the thumb. One way I can do that is by having him tap the fingers on the bow (shakes out any tension). It is human instinct to grip something (ever notice how babies have such a mighty grip?) so balancing the bow with the right amount of flexibility and strength is a learned behavior that requires constant reminding.

In the beginning it is best to learn to use the upper half of the bow, as it is much easier to manipulate than the lower half. Already there is a lot going on- balancing the violin on the collarbone, balancing the fingers on the bow, and then putting the two together! Rafi is doing silent string-crossings, where he rolls the bow from string to string using the arm like a lever. Then I help him play La La Sh Sh. By moving the bow for him, he gets to hear a nice violin tone and to get a kinesthetic feel of how the bow moves when the bow is making a clear tone. As I mentioned above, we are creatures of habit and by hearing a better sound with the help of a teacher or a parent moving the bow for the student, the student will be able to produce a beautiful tone much sooner (in my early violin study I just moved the bow however which way, completely oblivious to the tone quality- this took years to correct).

It is important to spend many weeks going over the bow exercises and to be able to play La La Sh Sh with fluency. It takes time for the body to get used to these movements, but it is one of those instances where 'you spend time to save time'. In the long term of violin playing you save a lot of time by learning to use the upper half of the bow really well now.