I recommend starting the beginning string student with short bow strokes on a steady rhythm in the middle of the bow. The student can focus on the distance of the bow from the bridge, and can apply a steady pressure and speed. It is also easy to keep the bow moving parallel to the bridge when the bow stroke is short and in the middle of the bow. As the student progresses, the bow stroke can gradually be extended.
The Suzuki method introduces the so-called “ta-ka-ta-ka stop stop” or “Mississippi Hot Dog” rhythm because this rhythm includes the two fundamental on-the-string bow strokes – detaché and martelé. Detaché is a connected bow stroke and martelé is a crisp staccato bow stroke. This rhythm comes from the Bach Concerto for Two Violins in D minor.
Squaring Up is a term to help remind students about correct bow placement and instrument position. If the bow is placed in the middle in Bowing lane no. 3 (midway between bridge and fingerboard, and the instrument is held correctly, the elbow is at a 90 degree angle and a square is formed with the four sides being the forearm, upper arm, body, and bow.
The area between the bridge and the fingerboard is the bowing “highway” and this highway can be divided into five bowing lanes. Lane 1 is closest to the fingerboard and Lane 5 is closest to the bridge. For the beginning bow strokes, bowing lane no. 3 (midway between bridge and fingerboard) is the ideal placement (also called “sounding point”) for the bow.
The Helicopter is a game to help students learn correct placement of the bow. Take off and land, trying to land in the different bowing lanes. I also like to have students land in the “swamp” over the fingerboard, and the “weeds” behind the bridge. In the beginning, always land the bow in the middle, but as students get more experienced, you can ask them to try landing in the upper or lower half, or at the frog, or tip.
This is a great game to prepare students for string crossings and positioning the arm correctly for different bowing angles. Place the bow on the string in the middle “squared up.” Roll the bow across the strings. As the bow rolls across strings, the elbow moves up and down. Roll the bow, adjusting the level of the elbow, then lift the bow into the air, and place back on the string. Do small lifts. Tap pinkie and other fingers if tension appears in the hand.
HELICOPTER WITH RESISTANCE
This can be a fun partner game for students. Partner 1 does a helicopter lift, while partner 2 places his index fingers on the bow at the tip and the screw and applies a small amount of downward pressure on the bow. If one end of the bow is lighter than the other, Partner 2 can tap or wiggle that part of the bow until Partner 1 adjusts the balance in the bow hold.
The movie above contains demonstrations of beginning bow strokes.
BEGINNING BOW STROKES FOR VIOLIN AND VIOLA