If you’re new to playing the violin, you probably hear it over and over, “bow straight.” When your bow stroke travels across the strings in a way that it swerves back and forth in relation to the bridge, it produces uneven sounds. Moreover, without bowing straight, it is incredibly difficult to enlarge your repertoire of bow strokes.
But cultivating the straight bow technique can be hard for beginners. The ball-and-socket joint of the shoulder naturally moves in a circular motion, not a straight one. But, these exercises for straight bow practice can help you master this crucial aspect of violin play.
To achieve a straight bow, you must hold your body in the correct position and concentrate your efforts on executing a long bow stroke that remains at the same sounding point for the duration. This means that your bow doesn’t deviate in distance from the bridge of the violin during the entire stroke.
Because it’s almost completely impossible to hold your violin and “see” whether or not you have a straight bow, it’s a good idea to perform these exercises for straight bow in front of a mirror, or with the help of a friend.
A good mental image is to imagine that the bridge of the violin is a line that extends in both directions, and that your bow forms another, second line—these lines must be parallel. True parallel lines will never intersect… ever… for eternity. So if your bow angles even a teensy-tiny bit towards or away from the bridge line, it’s not straight.
These 3 exercises for straight bow practice can help your bow arm learn how perform correctly:
It's a good idea to try to envision an "H" when your practicing your straight bow technique. The bow is the horizontal line of the letter "H," and any two strings form the vertical lines.
You can also practice the "smallest sound" technique. Starting with the bow positioned exactly in the middle of the bridge (half the bow hairs on one side with an equal amount on the other), draw the bow in one long stroke as slowly and as silently as possible. By slowing down the bow stoke and concentrating, you can feel the slight changes your arm wants to make when bowing.
While this technique must be done with extreme caution, it's a great way to visually see the straight bow when practicing. Very carefully, older students or parents can make a horizontal mark, about as wide as the bow on the strings using a Sharpie. Do not use a Sharpie on your violin in any other place! This mark will easily wear off as you practice, but it offers a great visible guide for keeping your bow straight as you play.
Another good technique involves daily straight bow practice with open strings.
Sitting in front of a mirror (with proper posture and with the strings of the violin aligned parallel to the mirror), slowly bow each string while you watch to ensure that your bow doesn’t swerve. When you’ve completed at least 10 or 20 bows on the G string, move to the D, A, and E. Each time you must ensure that your bow stays straight.
The key to practicing these exercises for straight bow technique is to reinforce muscle memory so that before long, you’ll be playing your violin with a straight bow without even thinking about it.
You can imagine it like this: Very few great athletes are born knowing exactly how to execute a perfect lay-up, throw, or kick. It requires repeated practice of fundamental motions for their bodies to be able to perform the actions without defaulting to an easier way. Playing with a straight bow is exactly the same. If you’ll consciously apply these exercises for straight bow play, your efforts now will pay off in a big ways later.