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John » Blog Archive » Bowing: Volume and Tone Pointers

Bowing: Volume and Tone Pointers

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In this episode in the Bowing Technique series, we will discuss:

  • How to make more volume
  • How to use dynamics
  • How to produce better tone
  • How to make your bowing smooth and clean

*First off I will note that each of these tips uses the bow grip shown in my article The 3-Point Perfect Bow Grip.

When playing the fiddle, the sound is of course made by the rosin on the bow-hair catching the string as it travels across it. So the less rosin you have on there, the less sound you’re going to get. So be sure to have some on there, but don’t over do it; getting too much on there will affect your tone.

The volume of the sound you produce is a combination of two factors: the amount of downward force that is being applied to the bow, and the speed at which the bow is traveling. An increase in either one or both of these factors will undoubtedly result in an increase in volume.

  1. Force: When I use the word force, I don’t mean how much muscle you have in your arm that you are pressing down on the strings with. In fact, that is exactly what we don’t want because it creates tension. Instead, the downward force is simply the weight of your arm, nothing more. If you completely relax your arm, gravity will have enough effect on it to bring plenty of force. You don’t have to press down on the bow at all; gravity does all the work for you. To get less volume, you simply lift your arm up a little bit.
  2. Bowspeed: This one is pretty hard to mess up. The faster you move the bow, the more volume you get out of the instrument. The reason is because of the rosin particles. Each particle of rosin “grabs” the string as the bow goes across it. When you move the bow faster, you are basically going through more particles of rosin in the same amount of time. Therefore the string is being caught by more particles, so the string vibrates more and more sound is produced. To get less volume, move the bow slower.

When you put these two factors together, you can have more control over how your music sounds. You can even change the volume of a note in mid-bowstroke. By using this, you can create crescendos and diminuendos (gradual increases and decreases in the volume.) This is called using “dynamics”. Especially in waltzes, these techniques are priceless. Being able to convey emotion through your sound is what makes the difference between just notes, and real music.

The tone of the sound refers to how rich it is and how clean it is. Richness is achieved by force, which again is gravity pulling on your arm. The clean aspect of the sound is achieved by altering bow speed. However, you have to work together on these two. If you move the bow too slowly while using lots of force, then your sound will be rich, but very scratchy and unclean. If you move the bow faster, but don’t use much force, then the bow will just skate across the string without grabbing it much and your tone will be airy and not rich. As a general rule, the more force you use, the faster the bow will need to travel. Likewise, the faster you are moving the bow, the more force will be required for the bow to “dig in”.

That’s all I have for this one. As always, if you have any difficulty or questions with this or anything else, feel free to email me.

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