Finger Motion: Flex Fingers to Ensure Smooth Bow Change and Continuous Sound
It’s very important that the fingers pivot and flex along with the wrist to create a “wave” in the arm when the bow moves up and down. This ensures smooth bow change and is required to play more advanced bow stroke such as Colle.
Note that the amount of finger motion is slightly exaggerated in the videos to exercise the flexibility of the fingers.
Exercise 1. On any string, place the bow at the middle, keep the wrist flat, and hold the bow with three fingers only: thumb, index, and middle. Starting with three fingers only is simpler because they flex more easily and there’re less fingers to keep track off. Drop and lift (straighten and curl) the three fingers up and down and slightly left and right to move the bow. As the bow moves in either direction, restrict the movement of the forearm, but allow wrist movement. Keep track of the knuckle and thumb movement to see if the fingers are flexing enough. Then gradually add the ring finger and pinkie onto the bow and flex in the same manner. If the flexing motion becomes stiff after adding ring finger and pinkie, simply take them off, start with the previous three fingers again, and study the way they flex. Apply this exercise to a three octave scales and feel the weight difference of the bow on each string due to different angles. Play each note 4 or 8 times.
Side view of Exercise 1:
- This exercise will not work at the frog or lower half. It’ll only work at the middle to upper half.
- In this exercise the bow movement is initiated by the fingers. As the fingers straighten, the bow moves down/right. As the fingers curl, the bow moves up/left.
- This exercise’s main purpose is to increase finger flexibility. When applying it to bow strokes that require finger motions such as Colle, the fingers require more strength to keep the bow off the string.
- When combining this exercise with forearm motion to play practical Detache stroke, the fingers behave differently, as explained in the next exercise.
Exercise 2. This is basically a Detache exercise. Based on exercise 1, add forearm motion and initiate the bow movement by the forearm at the wrist. Like “waving” a rope to create a continuous motion, we want to coordinate the timing and direction between the fingers, wrist, and the forearm. When the forearm begins to move to the right, the wrist drops, the fingers curl, the bow then follows and moves to the right (down bow). When the forearm changes direction to the left, the wrist is elevated, fingers straighten, the bow then follows and moves to the left (up bow). Apply the exercise to a three octave scale to feel the weight difference. Stay in the middle to upper half. Play each note 4 or 8 times.
- Avoid tension in the fingers. In practical playing the fingers never straighten and curl all the way. Too much curling/straightening motion could make the bow out of control.
- Be sure to check elbow height and upper arm angle. The bow and upper arm need to be parallel to each other.
- Because of this continuous “wave” created by the joints moving at different direction and time, there’s a slight delay between the forearm and the bow because the forearm is ahead of the bow.
- Unlike exercise 1, in this exercise the bow movement is initiated by the forearm, hence the fingers follow and curling/straightening motion finishes the very last part of each bow stroke. Carefully observe the fingers and you’ll notice that they curl in a down bow stroke and at the end of an up bow stroke (so that it prepares the next down bow stroke). Vice versa when fingers straighten.
Exercise 3. Flex fingers in the lower half and during bow change at the frog. Similar to exercise 1 and 2, except this time the pinkie and ring finger must stay on the bow stick the entire time to balance the bow. Avoid overly elevate the wrist and straightening the pinkie. Apply this exercise to any three octave scales, repeat each note 4 or 8 times. Or apply this exercise to any Detache etudes like Wohlfahrt no.1, Kaiser no.1, or Kreutzer no.2.
- It’ll be the hardest of all three exercises because playing at the lower half feels heavy and the pinkie is usually weak and stiff. Pinkie must stay on bow stick and be relatively curled. Avoid placing the pinkie far away from the ring finger because it’ll lock the right hand even if it’s curled.
- Besides “waving” the joints continuously to ensure smooth bow change, maintaining the same bow speed before and after bow change is equally important. Hence the finger motion cannot begin too early or take too much time, otherwise it’d effect the natural momentum of the bow or even stopping the bow, creating a “kink” noise. That noise is caused by the lack of speed while the bow is heavy.
- The curling motion of the fingers at the end of the up bow stroke picks up the bow slightly so that it reduces the bow weight. Since the frog feels heavier, reducing bow weight is essential for smooth bow change.
- In short, because the tip of the bow is light, and frog is heavy, changing bow at the frog is more difficult. Finger motion at the frog helps mimicking the bow change at the tip.
If the fingers are flexible enough, you should be able to feel the momentum of the bow more easily between bow change when increasing the Detache stroke to a medium speed. This feel of momentum is very important when playing Sautille. Use mid-bow when increasing speed.
The amount of finger flexing will change as you play at different part of the bow. For example, when playing in the lower half, the fingers are more curled normally, so they don’t straighten as much when flexing. When playing in the upper half, the fingers are relatively straight, so they don’t curl much when flexing.
Remember to Flex the Thumb!
The key to successful finger motion is to have enough flexibility in the thumb and pinkie. Stiff thumb and pinkie can lock the entire right hand. The following video shows thumb’s flexing motion, viewed from the player’s angle.
Strengthen The Pinkie So That It Can Flex and Balance the Bow Without Tension
Pinkie Strengthening Exercise:
Place the middle of the bow on the A or D string. Use the pinkie only to push the frog side of the bow stick downward so that the tip side of the bow stick is lifted. The bow should rotate like a seesaw and the thumb is the axis of rotation. Allow ring finger movement. No wrist or arm movement should be involved in this exercise:
Pinkie Balance Exercises for Spiccato:
In this exercise, hold the bow very loosely and play medium speed spiccato on all four open strings at mid-bow. Start on the E-string because the bow will feel lightest at this angle and the pinkie barely needs to balance the bow. As the bow crosses strings and changes angle, you’ll feel the weight change, and the pinkie needs to adjust the amount of balance accordingly.
While using the pinkie to balance the bow, it’s very important that the pinkie should not be straight since it would stiffen the joints and prevents the bow from naturally swinging whiling bouncing off the string. Lowering the wrist and keeping the back of the hand relatively flat will help curling the pinkie. Keep the wrist relaxed but not completely loose when playing medium speed spiccato. Certain amount of forearm control is also required at this speed. Adjust the elbow height to match the bow angle when crossing string.