Bow Arm Exercises

These exercises are designed to help the student gain a better understanding of how each of the joints in their right arm, from the shoulder down, is used with the bow. When doing these exercises, the student should keep in mind that all of the joints work together. The famous violin pedagogue, Ivan Gallamian, likens these joints to “a system of springs.” The analogy of a spring is perfect for the joint because, while each joint provides an amount of resistance, each is also very flexible. This balance of resistance and flexibility enables the arm to pull the bow in a variety of ways while keeping it straight. 

The Elephant Trunk: The student should stay seated on a stool or stand while smoothly swinging his/her arm back and forth from the shoulder like an elephant swings its trunk. As the student is swinging his/her arm, be sure that all of the other joints, from the elbow down, remain flexible and fluid. This will help the student see how the shoulder is utilized when bowing, especially for longer bow strokes. Also, the student should observe how the other joints naturally move and follow through each pendulum-like motion.

The Baby Elephant Trunk: For this exercise the student should stand leaning against a wall with his right arm, thus prohibiting the shoulder from moving. Now have the student swing his arm smoothly and gently from the elbow down like a baby elephant. This is a very critical exercise because most young bassists want to lock up their elbows while playing. The student should observe how the wrist and fingers naturally move with each swing.

Windshield Wipers: For this exercise the student should hold the bow out in front, pointing it to the left with the hair facing to the floor. Now have the student swing the bow from left to right like a windshield wiper, using only the forearm and wrist. Make sure the student maintains a proper bow hold while keeping the fingers as flexible as possible, so they can follow through with each swing. 

Waving Goodbye: Once again, the student should hold the bow out in front while pointing it to the left with the hair facing to the floor. For German bow students, the bow should point to the floor. Now have the student wave goodbye using only the wrist. Make sure a proper bow hold is maintained with flexibility in the fingers. This will help the student see how flexible the wrist can be for every bow stroke.

Tips Up: For this exercise have the student point the bow to the ceiling. While maintaining a proper bow grip, have the student inch the bow up toward the ceiling and back down again using only the thumb and fingers. This is usually a challenging exercise, especially for French bow players. However, it is a great way to teach a student how the fingers should be involved in every bow stroke.  

Air Bow: Have the student pretend to bow on the strings away from the bass. This is an excellent exercise to do after doing each of the preceding ones. The student should try to keep the bow parallel to the floor while keeping each joint flexible and involved.