Do you ever have days when your body needs a longer time than usual to warm up when you start practicing? Perhaps there are moments when one hand is ready much sooner than the other. I know that on certain days my bow arm needs a LOT of extra time to “wake up” at the start of my first practice session. On other occasions, I feel like I’m accomplishing very little during my 20-min-long scale routine. Whenever I sense that it will be one of “those” days, I like to change up the entire fundamental routine. If you tend to experience something similar, are short on time, and/or just want to have a productive “bow day,” kick off your session with the following 5 bow exercises.
This is a summary of the 5 bow warm ups that continue to be reliable and useful to me time and time again. For all these exercises it’s important to maintain a good posture and breathe. If you’d rather have a visual to follow along, scroll down to the video below for a demonstration and more in-depth explanation.
Set your metronome to 60.
Start with 4 clicks per bow and gradually increase the amount of beats you fit in a bow, until you reach 20 (4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 16, and 20 beats per bow).
Focus on creating a pure, even tone and plan out the bow division. Within a single bow keep the sound point and pressure the same. As the bow gets slower, so adjust the sound point and pressure accordingly to keep the tone consistent.
If you wish, you can challenge yourself and keep going beyond 20 beats and aim for that minute bow. However, I find that just getting up to 20 beats is usually enough to get the ear, mind, and bow arm “in tune” with each other.
Set your metronome to 60.
Play 4 beats per bow, but alternate the bow pressure amount for each beat: (high pressure → low pressure, and repeat…) Do not change the bow speed for this exercise. Keep the bow moving at all times and use use just the weight of the index finger to add or remove pressure. Keep the shoulder relaxed. Then, repeat the process, but alternate the pressure on each 8th note; then triplet, 16th note, etc (accelerating).
Another version of this exercise is to alternate speed while keeping the bow pressure the same. (fast bow → slow bow, and repeat…)
Practice changing the sound point intentionally during a single long bow by changing the angle of the bow. Keeping the bow parallel to the bridge will keep the sound point the same.
Start at the bridge, go to the fingerboard, and return back to the bridge on a single bowstroke. The angle change will be different for an upbow vs a downbow to make this happen. Then, do the reverse: fingerboard → bridge → fingerboard. You can find other variations of this exercise in p. 15 of Simon Fischer’s book Warming Up.
Practice the collé bowstroke in different parts of the bow, in both bow directions, and on different strings. You can use a scale, arpeggio, or etude to practice this on different notes.
Alternating spiccato & detache
Pick a small group of notes from a scale, arpeggio, or etude. The first page from Schradeick is great for this.
Play detache first, paying attention to smooth bow changes and even sound. This must be done in the same part of the bow that you’ll do the spiccato (ie – it can’t be in the upper half).
Then, repeat the section with spiccato. Go back and forth between detache and spiccato a few times.
To switch back to detache cleanly, remember to place the bow back on the string first. It’s very important to keep all 5 fingers on the bow curved and relaxed. If you’re new for spiccato or want to review the fundamentals, click here for a step-by-step guide.
I chose these 5 exercises for the bow because they cover a broad range of skills: consistency in tone, changing bow speed, pressure, and sound point, articulation, bow hand flexibility, and switching between bow strokes. As these exercises get easier over time you can level them up by introducing new elements, such as string crossings or double stops. There are infinite ways to customize these.
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