Felix' Notes on String Playing
Felix began what he hoped to be a concise description of the essentials of string playing, gleaned from his experiences with his teachers, Carl Fruh,
Jacqueline Du'Pre and the teachers at Cornwall, Sandor Vegh, (among others) and thereafter in his professional life. He would be pleased if what we can
publish here may be of assistance to others, though he was unable to finish.
There are many detailed points to consider when playing a stringed instrument and many "how to" books given to explaining
what is involved. But in my experience, there are only five truly important aspects, that, if carefully considered, make it easy
and fun to play well. Conversely, when any of these five aspects of playing are rendered incorrectly, the results are diminished.
These five important aspects of playing are:
1. Tone Production
3. String Crossing
4. Bow Distribution
The first four of the five categories deal with the right hand and the last, with the left hand, indicating that bow use is really more
complex than left hand work. This runs counter to popular belief that shifting is the most difficult part of string playing.
1. Tone Production
The most important aspect of music making is good tone. In the case of string playing, this is achieved by correct use of the
bow, with a number of factors that come into play when using the bow.
1. weight of the bow on the string,
2. bow speed,
3. angle of the hair,
4. amount of the hair touching the string,
5. proximity to the bridge.
While these factors vary from moment to moment, there is an "ideal" combination, which can be used as a starting point.
1. Weight: a heavy arm applied to the string is best without squeezing with the hand.
2. Speed: move the bow as slowly as possible without stopping and starting.
3. Angle: keep the hair perpendicular to the string being played, which requires adjustments to the arm as you move from one
end of the bow to the other.
4. Amount of hair contacting the string: use all the hair at all times, which requires adjustments to the bow hand as you
move the bow from one end of the bow to the other.
5. Proximity to the string: as close as possible to the bridge. Place the bow on the string at the frog, making sure all the hair
is fully contacting the string. Relax the arm and hand, bringing the "natural" weight to the bow. Check the bow angle for a 90
degree angle on the chosen string and for the proximity to the bridge. Begin to move the bow slowly from frog to tip and
back. The sound should be full with overtones.
Starting and stopping the bow: There are two types of bow, up bow and down bow and the technique should be uniform for
both. Many people like to begin a down bow "from the air", but in general, this is a bad idea because it has no corresponding
up bow. Therefore, I recommend starting all bows "from the string". This will give the player the flexibility, in terms of choosing
bowing for a particular passage that doesn't rely on starting from one direction or the other. In fact, a good exercise is to
practice passages starting with and up or down bow. If this can be achieved with uniform results, it is an indication of good
bowing technique. Latly, use the whole arm to start and stop the bow, not the hand. Keep it simple.
3. String Crossing
Having become comfortable with producing good tone, as well and starting and stopping the bow, it's time to change string
efficiently. This involves minimizing the distance between the strings in terms of arm movement. Start with two strings and
play a double stop: two strings played simultaneously. Then, alternate between the two strings by removing the hair as
minimally as possible from one to the other. Very little lift is necessary.
Sadly, Felix became too ill to finish his thoughts on the last two categories he defined on bow distribution and shifting, but
hopefully this portion of his thoughts may be of use and we hope so.