Elbow First

Elbow First

Please look over these points about violin playing by Dr. Suzuki:

Important Points on Violin Playing ~

(1) Practice the correct half-circle motion with the right elbow (upper arm).

(2) In order to make nice tone while playing down-bow, you must use the elbow.

(3) To make a ringing sound, use the half-circle motion of the elbow (upper arm) and the panda strength in the thumb.

(4) From the start of the tone, the elbow should carry the bow. It is very important to teach the correct posture of the up bow (it is a mistake if the wrist carries the bow
(5) To make nice tone, the strength of panda and the half-circle elbow motion should always work together.

(From an abstract of Dr Suzuki’s Teaching Points for the National Teacher’s Conference in Hamamastu, Japan 1987)

Obviously elbow motion is very important to Dr. Suzuki!!!

Consider this example:
“I am baseball champion” says Dr. Suzuki as he winds up to do a pretend pitch.
“Pitcher’ he says. He particularly enjoys this word. With a Japanese accent, it sounds a bit like “peecha”. I’ve seen grown women flinch when his supposed “ball” is launched into an audience. People really duck! Then he imitates a “miserable pitcher”. He flings the “ballwith only his forearm, wrist and hand. This makes no one flinch. The imaginary ball simply flops to the floor. It looks very hilarious and quite weak by comparison. “This is a mistake”, he says while everyone laughs. Yet, so many people
who are laughing play and live this way every day of their lives– rarely making a bold action in the world! We are all laughing at ourselves.

From my notes while in Japan:

Details and consistent action make quality.

Details come from Panda. Panda makes tone color, delicacy and nuance.

Action comes from the elbow or the upper arm. Upper arm action and the direction of this action determines the tone volume. The direction of the motion is toward the string, or more specifically, towards yourself. Suzuki Sensei often says to move your bow “To me” meaning towards yourself. Your arm moves toward your heart. This is making a daring and precious gesture which is in harmony with nature. It is opening your spirit to the world and becoming clear. People who hear the tone produced this way feel it in their hearts more than their ears. This is what is meant by “depth of tone’.

Consistency comes from balancing an economical use of this action. It is controlling and directing your life energy in a appropriate way. Not using a constant blur of energy in every situation, but creating equilibrium of ebb and flow. Dr. Suzuki can disappear very quickly when the moment is not right. Then reappear when it is necessary. Sometimes a little more ebb and a little less flow. Always have a bit of it in reserve. Then, sometimes more flow and less ebb. It seems silly, but Suzuki Sensei said to play music like you eat cookies–one at a time. Enjoy each one. Not a constant hand over fist flurry of cookies into your mouth! (His demonstration of this is particularly funny) Oh, and by the way, when you move your hand to take a cookie, notice that you reach by moving your upper arm first! Then your fingers delicately pick up the cookie. Cookie research…

Another example you might remember:

“It is like walking. What moves first? Not the foot — the hip! The hip initiates motion. The foot receives motion. And what is the most important point when walking? Balance! Balance first; Panda first (balance the bow) then, motion from upper arm. Then, beautiful tone.

From my diary while studying in Japan

Dated 2-27-86

I understood I like the best

what is good

the middle

quality- this is good~

and this is what I should always give

to others first

not surface fake stuff

but from the very center

Dont just give it all away too soon! Not all at once

This is a waste!

Don’t take it all for myself! Ths is foolish.

Of course, save some for later.

for others,

and for yourself!

Give the energy you have saved in the 1/l ,000,000,000,000th moment of time when it is just right. Give intensely and thoroughly. No regrets or it isn’t a real gift! And give to the best possible place. Which is the best moment? When? Where? Musical sensitivity! Service research! This means truly noticing exactly what people need and when they need it. Do they want what you have to give? Are they ready for what you have to give? If not, then giving has no meaning. This takes investigation and noticing what others are doing. What is important to them? When you can feel the needs of those around you, then you will eventually be able to understand the feelings of Bach and Mozart as well. You can sense the musical phrasing and the places which need a richer or brighter sound and the places which should be smaller and quiet.

Your heart is written all over each action you make. Are your motions giving, taking or inert? Saving energy or neither taking nor giving for the moment means you can become more consistent and balanced. This is the advantage of “latent power”– available energy to give when it is needed. This is like the position of your elbow when you place the bow at the frog. The elbow is raised to accommodate the position at the frog. It is poised in a position of possibilities. The amount of energy you want to put into your sound is determined by how much you allow your elbow to respond to gravity. When the elbow responds only slightly and remains poised in an upper position the result is a smaller, less energetic sound. This means you have saved the latent, potential energy for later. This can be very exciting, say in the case of creating a crescendo. Then you can give in a bigger and better way when it is just right! But the elbow must always return to the upper, poised position at the frog in order to make the latent energy available once again.

Dr. Suzuki has spent a lot of time compelling people to lower their elbows. He has tried pulling down elbows with his hand, putting rubber bands on the elbow and hooking it to the left loot, and many other methods. Did he want us to simply “fix” the elbow in that lowered position? NO! As soon as we began to get stuck in that position, he would jump up and start pushing elbows UP!! It wasn’t about the position of the elbow, it was about the motion of the elbow. He was getting us to be aware of the elbow motion and what it can do for our sound, rather than only using other techniques (bow speed, contact point vibrato or force) to intensify the sound. No matter what, the elbow had to “wake up” and pull the bow!! “Elbow motion… always moving” were the words he used to describe the way to use your elbow as an active participant in tone production.

Physics wise– imagine the old fashioned ice-skaters game called “the whip”. You remember this from the Peanuts Christmas Special”, right? The people in the middle are moving very slowly and as more people join on either side, holding hands, each one has to skate faster and faster to catch up and join the game. Once they are all holding hands at the edge of the circle, they are pulled along very quickly. Yet, the middle people are barely moving in order to propel the very fast moving outer circle.

The center of this ‘whip” is like the upper arm– the elbow. When the impetus to move the bow begins with the upper arm, the hand moves quickly with little effort and quite naturally as well. The hand receives motion from upper arm. Tone comes from the center. This is why elbow or upper arm motion first makes more sense than hand motion. What would happen to the people on the outer edges of the whip if the center people stopped moving? They would gradually stop. No tone.

Elbow motion creates tone.

Dr. Suzuki’s true genius lies in this; ceaseless kindliness, observance and fast action in a precise way directed from his heart. As my friend Ken Selden said, “Man, this guy is QUICK!

“Perhaps it is music that will save the world” ~Pablo Casals.

This is the Suzuki Movement….


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