a little help on improving bowing

a little help on improving bowing

hello there πŸ™‚ i am wondering if any trad heads out there has some tips on bowing. now iam already a fairly accoplished fiddler (hope that doesnt sound to gallus) and have been playing for around 10 years, i gig regularly etc. but i learned in a big fiddle group in school and so when i learned there wasnt much concentration on other things except learning tunes, so i can play fiddle fine but i want to know how to improve my bowing, how can i be more agressive-like but delicate and more confident in playing (besides with just feeling the music) i watc martin hayes and duncan chisolm and all the rest and even others my own age and level, but they just seem so much ahead. hope someone can help. thanks. πŸ™‚

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Re: a little help on improving bowing

First: slow down. Way down. Seamus Creagh told me forty years ago that there was no such thing as playing too slowly when you practise.
Second, ignore what people tell you here. Few of us are sufficiently accomplished to be of much help in person, much less on an internet site. Scout around on youtube and you’ll find plenty of guidance. I thought this was interesting: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DHyLD_PoTuk

With that in mind (I am a beginner too), I offer this: Slur when you cross strings. Try not to change bow direction with every note that you play. Sing a tune (or whistle it) before you play it on the fiddle, and try to match the bowing changes to the phrasing in your head.
Finally: Slow Down. Get a metronome [http://www.metronomeonline.com/], set it to 60 bpm
(painfully slow), and you will learn a lot about your playing by playing at that tempo.

Re: a little help on improving bowing

Seamus Creagh told me forty years ago to "Feck off!". I think he was being affecktionate.

But yes, 100 times yes to David’s point: practise slowly. It’s the way to go. Someone else told me once that if you can recognise the tune you’re practising too fast.

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Re: a little help on improving bowing

Don’t listen to anyone here, to get to that level you will have to dip into classical pedagogy. Get a copy of Ivan Galaman’s ‘Principles of Violin Playing and Teaching’.

Scottish bowing in particular has its roots in classical technique and isn’t instinctive, you will never learn to bow like Duncan Chisholm just by practicing long hours, you need to be taught. Teaching yourself from books is the next best thing.

Re: a little help on improving bowing

I’d suggest getting a few Skype lessons from James Kelly.

Re: a little help on improving bowing

James is a tremendous teacher, and has also been kind enough to follow up lessons by sending sheet music with bowing marked out, along with recordings of himself playing several tunes slowly and then up to speed.

Patrick Ourceau is another excellent teacher who teaches by Skype and has also done the same kind of prep work, and has really thought a lot about that "Clare" sound and how to get it out of his bow.

Another outstanding player and teacher would be Brian Conway, in the New York area, though I’m not sure if he’s taking regular students or teaching by Skype. He’s a busy guy with a day job as an attorney, too. But there’s nobody better for insights on how to get that wonderful, loopy, lively New York/Sligo sound.

Re: a little help on improving bowing

A sneaky trick I use when teaching…

1) sellotape a blank piece of paper to a door/wall/other vertical surface.
2) make sure nobody is watching.
3) get a pencil.
4) put the pencil in your "bow-hold" and approach the paper… you should now look like a cross between Leonardo da Vinci and somebody trying to work out if the pen really IS mightier than the sword.
5) keeping your arm still (but relaxed) try to draw the following:
- clockwise circles,
- anti-clockwise circles,
- a lying-down figure of eight (infinity sign if you’re mathematically minded).

What you should find (if you’re right handed) is that anti-clockwise circles are easier to draw. Clockwise circles are more circular if you do them slowly, but they’re uncomfortable. The figure of eight should be somewhere in between.

To make the shapes smaller, move only your fingers. To make them bigger you’ll need to move your wrist "into" the shape, turning the same way as the shape you’re drawing.

So… the point? These are the basic shapes that you make when string crossing: (e.g. playing DADBDADB etc) Clockwise starts D on a downbow, A upbow and so on…
Anti-clockwise does the reverse (D up, A down)…
The figure eight is the beginning of a "weaving" bow, which emphasises the beat without sounding staccato.
Changing the size of the shapes when drawing them is equivalent to using more or less bow (and therefore more volume) . Best of all, though, is to forget all about this once you’ve tried it. Bowing should be as natural you’re able - and as comfortable, like breathing. If you’re too conscious of your bowing, you’re only going to get in the way of your own playing…

A little help on improving bowing from Frankie Gavin

There’s some interesting tips from a Frankie Gavin masterclass here:
http://youtu.be/zVVx8g28JN8


But I don’t like his style of playing which sounds very brash to me, and my ear tires quickly listening to it, so I find myself not agreeing with his pretty absolute view of technique. However, his encouragement of getting the wrist moving in bowing I agree with, and also the use of separate bows at the beginning.

I kind of agree with Mark about Scottish bowing, or rather that Scottish folk music appears more classically influenced compositionally, modally and technically, and there’s a lot of string crossing and demand for separate bowing which does necessitate good string crossing technique. I usually string cross slurred and cross bowed e.g.:

(D2A)(D B)(DAD)

But find some Scottish tunes just don’t yield well to this. E.g. the string crossing in the second figure of the contradiction, where the G#BEBG#BEB string crossing needs efficient separate bows.

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Re: a little help on improving bowing

I’m amused at the ‘don’t listen to anyone here’ comments - then posts are made anyway πŸ™‚

I agree with Mark about the Galamian book - excellent resource. I have a copy.

Reading the OP again, I’d ask Nicholas, what is it about your bowing that your not happy with? General sound, tone, rhythm, accents, dynamics etc?

Re: a little help on improving bowing

The Galamian book is still in copyright, I believe. Before Galamian though, was Leopold Auer, who taught Heifetz and just about everyone else in the early part of the 20th century, and his book is available in its entirety here:

http://books.google.com/books?id=HR46AAAAIAAJ&oe=UTF-8

There’s a whole chapter on tone production and another whole chapter called "hints on bowing." Certainly plenty to work on.

I suspect what the OP is looking for is specific insights on bowing as it relates to the ITM repertoire, and some specifics regarding a particular style or some ideas beyond the single bow stroke per note approach, such as when maybe to use slurs, or alternative approaches to different passages.

In that regard, here’s a video from Sheila Falls that illustrates some ideas it relates to a common tune folks actually play in sessions:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zxl3ZtpdBA0


Here’s another one from Mr. Bruce Molsky. Not Irish, but he certainly "gets it," when it comes to using bowing dynamics to make a tune come to life.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Kd0DIZ_IOU

Re: a little help on improving bowing

Hey guys thanks very much to you’s all! Very kind πŸ™‚ looks like I’ve got plenty to work on….. I guess my problem is that I feel I’m bowing too " one bow a note " not fluently enough yeno. I think of it like….. bowing and being able to hold the bow normally but play as if it’s being held only by my thumb and first finger. I know that’s hard to explain but hopefully someone understands and I definitely need to learn how to bow confidently !

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Re: a little help on improving bowing

But all the information here is very helpful thanks loads !!!! πŸ™‚

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Re: a little help on improving bowing

Here’s an idea that I’ve been exploring lately, because I’m going through a similar development: Adopting more legato ideas and getting further away from single bows per note. I’m not God’s gift to this stuff, by a long shot, and I struggle for every advance - especially on the fiddle. But here are two ideas that have enabled a good deal of progress for me, personally. (I leave it to others to decide if I’m nuts or not, but these concepts are paying dividends for me).

First, think in terms of *phrases* rather than notes, and bow accordingly… striving to play phrases with slurs, and (mostly) reserving an audible change of bow direction for the start of a new phrase or a new musical idea.

Now, taking things a step further:

"Lilt" the tune to yourself, in the Irish style. Actually do it vocally. After all, you’ve been playing your voice since you were born! So your vocalization should closely approximate the articulation you imagine for the tune.

Once you’ve gone through it lilting a few times, or even recorded it, think about precisely *how* you’re articulating.

Determine the following: Where are you pausing for breath?
Where are you using ‘hard’ stops? That is, syllables beginning with unvoiced consonants like "b", "t", "p" and smoother unvoiced sounds like "h?" These might be spots that deserve their own attack with the bow. That is, a change in bow direction.

Where are you using voiced consonant sounds like "l" and "d?" These might be clues that you don’t want an audible bow direction change. Perhaps you may articulate two identical notes that are adjacent to each other with a cut, or by giving the second note much more pressure and/or speed (as in polkas).

Where are you singing louder or softer? Can you bring that out with the bow, using more pressure and/or bow speed?

How long are your pauses for breath? As short as possible? Or are there longer pauses? Do you lengthen pauses, or lengthen notes, or "blue" them for dramatic or melodic effect? How can you do that on your fiddle? Are you adding vibrato? How much and when? Through the whole note? Do you start with a steady tone and then add vibrato later in the note? Do you glissando in or out of a note? If you glissando vocally, you would probably capture that with a single bow stroke both for your starting note and your destination (though there are a few ways to skin that cat, too!)

What are the ‘important’ notes in the melody? The ones that the rest of the melody hang on? Maybe these deserve their own bow stroke or attack.

The result maybe won’t be an exact match to your voice. I know it’s not to me. But it will probably result in you making some very conscious and deliberate decisions about how you approach your bowing - even on tunes you have not yet lilted.

Re: a little help on improving bowing

Yeah, that’s how I basically analyze it all as well. Funny though, I went in the opposite direction to Jason;- i’e, I started out by playing in a more Sligo style, with lots of slurring, and I focused on phrasing that incorporated lots of left hand ornamentation. Much of this I did, as Jason suggests, in my head and with lilting (that’s why I referred to it as analyzing). Then a few months ago, or maybe a year, I realized that my greatest weakness was in my bowing. While I was happy enough with the speed and dexterity of my left hand, my bow hand was far too lazy. What I did about that was to start playing things in single notes. I found this really unpleasant when playing a lot of Irish stuff I already played because of what seemed to be my natural style, and so I deliberately started learning some Scottish and even American fiddle tunes that focused on single note playing and with more emphasis on doing it with the bow rather than the left fingers. For example, Crossing the Minch;- it drives me potty but I play it at least once a day because it’s a brilliant exercise in bowed triplets (which I now have little trouble with). And then there’s Scot Skinner’s reel (aka The Baker). It’s a brilliant and difficult tune to play at speed with single notes, but that’s normally how it’s played (with no ornamentation whatsoever). It took me ages to get that down pat, but once I had my single note bowing off, I found that I could then make a great compromise and play it well in my preferred style. Scot Skinner would hate the Irish accent I give it but oh well.
Anyhow, I guess my point is that changing styles can open up new bowing techniques, and as Jason suggested, do a lot of it in your head and lilt and analyse what is needed and what is best, both from your bow and your left hand. I think your request is about as problematic to address as those recent threads on flute embouchure proved to be,

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Re: a little help on improving bowing

I hear the David Lyth books are helpful, but I haven’t acquired them myself yet:
http://comhaltas.ie/shop/detail/bowing_styles_v2/

Matt Cranitch’s book also has excellent bowing tips. I also second the skype lessons with James Kelly - I think Kevin Burke also gives skype lessons. Any teacher who can explain their bowing is worth their weight in leprechauns

Re: a little help on improving bowing

Ah thanks a lot guys I really hear Ye there. That is excellent advice Jason! And I’ll take a look at they tunes and Scott Skinner one maybe I should just do similar to what you did. Great ideas guys thanks. That’s me sorted I think I know how to sort out my problem now. Excellent ! πŸ™‚

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Re: a little help on improving bowing

I second the David Lyth’s book suggestion. They are very insightful.

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Re: a little help on improving bowing

I must find someone who has one to lend me sometime.

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Re: a little help on improving bowing

Lots of great advice here and innovative strategies to master the bow.

A good rule of thumb is to think of 3 to 4 notes per bow direction. And when you combine that with learning by ear you can really get a good fluid bow-stroke going. Lots of practice of course. Once you get goo command of your bow, then you will feel more comfortable and veer away from the bow-per-note.

Great work and good luck!
Γ‰ilΓ­s Crean

Re: a little help on improving bowing

Thanks very much that sounds helpful I look forward to trying all this out ! πŸ™‚

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Re: a little help on improving bowing

I meant to post this while the thread was still active - just some more bowings to consider.

I find it quite interesting the way different players use the bow. Not just the actual bowing patterns, which are quite diverse from player to player, but the effect on the sound that they produce.

Back to basics for just a moment, the cycle of a bowed note is attack, decay, sustain, and release.

The ‘attack’ is probably more commonly know as the ‘bite’ at the start of each note, and immediately after the bite comes the decay. The rest of the note is the sustain, which ends in release (usually just before a change in bow direction).

Now (my thoughts on the sound of) some players, solely produced by their bowing actions.

Frankie Gavin - full of ‘bite’, very short and aggressive, making every note clear and crisp. Volume is pretty much constant all the way, but it’s the persistent ‘bite’ that stands out (also having the fiddle tuned up a semitone affects the sound too).

Kevin Burke - yes, the ‘bite’ is still there, but not quite so prominent. He often has the ‘bite’ further into the note, and uses a bit more bow pressure to ‘swell’ the note out during the ‘sustain’. A totally different sound there.

Macdara Γ“ Raghallaigh - his ‘bite’ is pretty normal, and not particularly noticeable. However, his sometimes unusual groupings of slurred notes plus his unusual accenting on a bow direction change gives him a very distinctive sound.

That’s just three, by way of contrast. I’m sure people have their own views on many more fiddlers and their bowings.

Re: a little help on improving bowing

…and of course the ‘ghost bowing’ too - where you keep a constant pattern of D-U-D-U, but release the bow pressure completely on certain notes (so they are ‘silent’). It’s got a lot of uses, one of which is keeping the rhythm constant while playing both long and short notes.