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So I just spent three days at a fiddle camp, which was amazing! Great to mingle with all these players and levels and see so many different styles and techniques, trade notes, talk shop and so on. And then having to learn things on the fly by ear is a very good thing to do -- exercises a different part of the brain. I am both exhausted and invigorated.

Anyway, one thing I wanted to pass on was this. One of the instructors, a young woman named Stacey, had this incredible bow hold. Maybe the best I've ever seen. I wish I'd run up and filmed it. Her wrist and fingers and thumb were supernaturally fluid, dancing and lilting and rippling up and down -- it was like calligraphy, or a flock of birds flying or something, sheer poetry. I was transfixed. Of course, her playing was superb. She had learned fiddling while young (it is a huge tradition in the Maritimes) but had later studied jazz violin at uni.

Anyway, so after that workshop I rushed up to her and said, Your wrist! Amazing!!! So she kind of laughed, like, Ha! Then she said she had always had what is called a "good wrist," but when she was at uni, she had to take this one classical course. And that teacher took one look at her and said, Okay, you're going to put your bow down for five weeks (!) and we are going to do this exercise. Stacey said she was outraged ("I'm paying all this money for this?!") but did as told. Five weeks, no bowing, just this exercise. And she told me: Best thing I ever did. The exercise in question was that bow hold "pencil exercise" that you can find online, the one where you hold a pencil like a bow and just raise and lower your fingers from the knuckle only (not sure if Beth discusses it but it's pretty well known -- here is one example at 4:54). Stacey said she did this basically non-stop, like all day long. (For weeks! I had done this exercise before, like maybe a grand 10 minutes in total, before going, Okay, I got this...) So a big lesson for me to take these kinds of exercises more seriously, since I tend to get discouraged/bored/annoyed and throw in the towel before they have a chance to actually take effect. Anyway, just passing it on in case anyone wants to try!
7 Responses
Posted: July 19, 2019
Last Comment: July 21, 2019

Posted: July 21, 2019
Beth, those are great exercises -- thank you!! I'm definitely going to incorporate them into my day.

Kate, I draw too! Good point about the pencil. Though mine of late has been an iPencil -- probably a bad bow substitute (slippery, expensive and highly droppable). I've been thinking of going back to using regular pencil and paper, maybe now is the time :)

Ted, yes, it is very much a brain/body connection... a move that (we hope) becomes so much a part of you, you never need to even think about it. Though it's not the "wrist" that's dropping, but rather the fingers from the base knuckle :)

Maria, I know what you mean -- too much technical instruction and my brain explodes. In this case, though, rather than micro focus on the movement, I'm trying not to get my brain involved and just do it more or less unconsciously, letting my fingers figure it out. And then over time we'll see if my bowing changes any of its own accord. :)

Urban, a progress bar would be awesome! Maybe when I get the Google chip implanted in my brain, I can request this feature, lol.

Tim, you surely would have liked that camp -- very chill, lots of activity, great instructors, nice people. Hope you one day get a chance to go to one somewhere! Interesting variety of bow holds and techniques... A lot of players hold their bows way above the frog. And there are as many who play without shoulder rests as who play with. Really, it seems anything goes so long as you sound good, play fast and don't get injured! I will say (and this relates to a recent post of yours) that the learning process is to go line by line, slowly, maybe about one-quarter of performance tempo. Then repeat and repeat and repeat each line, then move onto the next, then eventually put them all together and repeat and repeat and repeat the whole thing, same slow speed. Playing fast and ornamentation only come much later.

Posted: July 20, 2019
Sounds like you had an amazing time! I draw a lot so often have a pencil in my hand - think I'm going to start inserting those exercises at regular intervals. Hadn't thought about doing that before.

Beth Blackerby
Posted: July 19, 2019
Glad you were revved up by camp! Doing those kind of exercises are so important! I have them scattered throughout Violin Lab. Here's one to start doing daily https://violinlab.com/videoLibrary/lesson.php?id=491

Ted Adachi
Posted: July 19, 2019
Hi Lesley,
Good to hear that the fiddle camp was a success.

Fantastic tip. Thanks so much. I stopped with the pencil the moment I picked up the bow so coming back to it like this was a revelation. Not having to worry about hold or finger flexing I was able to really understand how the finger flexing and wrist movement work (and feel) together.

A bit like getting used to the 'feeling' of vibrato, it will be getting used to the 'feeling' of that dropping wrist. The pencil helps to focus.

Timothy Smith
Posted: July 19, 2019
Well first off I am jealous...I wish I could go to a fiddle workshop :) I'm glad you were able to do so.

I will look more into the pencil hold. Sure can't hurt. Thanks for sharing this!

Posted: July 19, 2019

Thank you for sharing Lesley...Great VT.

Ah, I wish it just so easy as we see it but unfortunately it's not, for me the effect is opposite if I super micro focus on only one thing, the more I get it wrong lol!...I just try to remember the basic, nothing extreme and that while bowing I get the sound that the piece should sound [hopefully :) Oh, my why is it too complicated ...Sigh.

Urban Kristan
Posted: July 19, 2019
"So a big lesson for me to take these kinds of exercises more seriously, since I tend to get discouraged/bored/annoyed and throw in the towel before they have a chance to actually take effect."

Yes! I sometimes wish violin practice came with a progress bar...