Today at a lesson, I asked a very new student to “balance” her bow for me, which is my language for “show me your bow hold”. The student, unaccustomed to my diction, dutifully extended her arm in front of herself and demonstrated a very tense, unbalanced bow hand. Clearly, she has been asked many times before to “show” her bow hand, and I believe this teaching technique is in part responsible for her tight, inflexible, disaster of a right hand.What starts off as an innocent attempt to evaluate a student’s bow hand turns into a counterproductive and negative exercise for students of any level; the student is forced to fight tension that doesn’t exist when the bow is in the proper playing position.When I check for bow hand setup points, it is absolutely paramount that the student’s bow is supported; whether it be with my hand, their left hand, or ideally, the student’s shoulder. When this care isn’t taken, and the bow is held out, the pinkie is left supporting the entire weight of the bow, which creates a chain of tension extending from the pinkie into the hand, wrist, and entire arm. The student is then at risk for learning this tension as a kinesthetic cue for a successful bow hold. In the worst case, if the teacher encourages a bow hold created with the proper finger placement, but held away from the body, they are also encouraging this tension as a habit.
As a final point, teachers also need to be careful to position themselves in the room so that the student is able to demonstrate their bow hold to the teacher in a natural and relaxed position. If the teacher is across the room, or in a position that the student has to contort to face them, this too can create a situation in which the student has to adapt to the environment in a way detrimental to achieving a relaxed, tension-free alignment. Every measure should be taken so that the student’s bow arm and hand are in a completely relaxed, aligned, comfortable position.
In the quest for a balanced bow hand and a heavy bow arm that uses weight instead of force and pressure to produce sound, we owe it to our students to create environments for them to thrive. This starts with how we ask them to “present” the balance of their bows.