Based on some of my work in clinics, sectionals, private violin and viola teaching, and work with injured musicians on multiple instruments, I have decided to begin writing down and publishing a series of Feldenkrais-inspired movement lessons to address aspects of string technique and musicianship and enliven our overall awareness to start to sense injuries in the making before they fully manifest. I’m hoping you might discover some tidbits for your students and new ways to add variation and maybe a little fun to your own practice. I’m starting with the bow, but I have a list of about 50 different movement lessons that I’ve tried with various ages and levels, so let me know if you have a particular interest. I welcome any comments or future topics to explore. In Feldenkrais style, go easily and remaining in a comfortable range, and don’t do anything that doesn’t feel good or causes strain or any kind of disturbing reaction! Here’s the first of, hopefully, many:
Balancing the Bow Hold #1
Find a comfortable place to move, seated in a chair or standing.
Begin by holding a pencil vertically between your index finger and your thumb of your right hand somewhere around the middle of the pencil. Feel the weight of the pencil and notice how much pressure you apply between your finger and your thumb to keep the pencil from dropping. Through much trial and error many years ago, you discovered how much was enough, and you eventually let excess effort subside; see if you can rediscover this relationship. Roll the pencil back and forth a few times to feel it’s shape, texture, and dimensions. Turn the pencil sideways, still holding between your index finger and your thumb. Hang your arm down by your side. Feel how the weight of the pencil hangs in your fingers, and feel for the minimum pressure you can use to keep the pencil from falling. When you reduce the effort to hold the pencil, does it begin to tilt? If it does, use your other hand to adjust where you are holding the pencil to have it balance parallel to the floor with no effort from your fingers. Now bring your arm straight out in front of you. Does the feeling of weight redistribute in your hand? Bring your arm up straight above your head. Does the pencil’s weight change? What do your other fingers do? Do they want to activate, or can remain soft? How can the shape of these fingers contribute to the ease of the holding fingers? Can they coordinate with the middle of your hand to help the balance?
Let go and rest your hand and arm for a moment.
Repeat the previous steps with your middle finger and thumb, adjusting in the horizontal to make the pencil balance without effort.
Pause for a rest.
Repeat with first the ring finger, then the pinky finger, resting between. Notice how the relationship between the thumb and each finger changes the shape in the middle of your hand. Notice how the balance point for the pencil in horizontal must change to accommodate this relationship. It is not necessary to keep the pencil horizontally oriented toward your face. Just see if you can find how to balance the pencil with minimal effort between the thumb and each finger.
Rest your hand, arm, and pencil.
Now hold the pencil vertically between each of your fingertips and thumb, finding the most comfortable, restful position. This does NOT have to look like a bow hold, but make sure all four fingers remain in contact with the pencil. Maintaining this contact, roll the pencil between all fingers and the thumb, feeling the texture and weight as though examining a foreign object for the first time. Where does your thumb hold in relation to your fingers? Move your thumb slightly higher and lower on the pencil and experiment with rolling. Notice if some placements inhibit some of the rolling or if some of your fingers want to leave the pencil. Find a range where it feels smooth and easy to both hold and roll the pencil.
Hang your arm by your side and feel the weight of the pencil resting against your fingers. Roll the pencil in this position. Rotate your arm so that the palm of your hand faces forward, but still hanging by your side. Roll the pencil in this position. Keep contact with all four fingers and your thumb. Rotate your arm so that your palm faces behind you, and roll the pencil here.
Extend your arm in front of you, palm facing down, and hold the pencil between your thumb and all of your fingers. Find a place to hold where the pencil easily remains parallel to the floor. Roll the pencil and notice if you can keep it parallel to the floor with little effort. Turn the pencil so that the palm of your hand faces the ceiling, and rotate the pencil. Begin to slowly rotate your arm so that the pencil moves from palm up position to palm down position and returning continuously. Can you continue to roll the pencil in your thumb and fingers, keeping contact, as you rotate? Do you find that you want to stop the rotation at various points along your pencil’s arc? Do this movement until you can find a smooth, continuous rotation, while also continuously rolling the pencil.
Rest your arm and notice the sensation in your right hand and arm. How does your right hand feel in relation to your left?
Return to your practice and try out some slow, legato bow strokes in different parts of the bow. How does it feel to change bows at the frog? At the tip? In the midde? Notice your connection to the string through your arm playing whole bows. Are you able to sense the transfer of weight/force/power through your body into the instrument more clearly? Notice how the balance in your hand affects the smoothness of your bow changes and overall vibrancy of sound.