Circles to help with violin, viola, cello, or bass!

Today I am thinking about circles and ease and joy in playing string instruments. Folks who use circular motions and shapes in their approach to playing their instruments (violin, viola, cello, or bass) have a much better time on their journey with playing string instruments.

Why circular shapes? The body is designed to find curved shapes and to move in circular motions. Let’s run a few short experiments to verify this.

#1 Let your arm hang down at your side, with nothing in your hand. Relax the arm and hand. If you are like every person I have ever seen try this, you will notice that your fingers on the hanging arm are all curved in a bit towards the palm. Those curved fingers are in the most relaxed position for your hand. Now, try straightening the fingers, moving them away from the palm. With straight fingers can you feel how much less comfortable your hand is? The implications from this little experiment for our playing are epic. If our default finger shape (on both sides of the body) is curved fingers, they will tend to be looser and more comfortable, and, hence, more agile, dexterous, and resilient.

#2 Now we try an experiment to see circular shapes inherent in the most efficient and comfortable motions in our bodies. With your arm dropping down, or with the arm bent at the elbow, swing the arm from the shoulder. Observe that, if you don’t break any bones, your elbow will move in an arc motion that would be comprised of a larger circle. If I swing the arm up to the point that my elbow is at the height of my shoulder, then down to my elbow falling to my torso, I can perceive basically a ¼ of a circle in my elbow motion. Aha! If I consciously allow this circular motion into my bow arm, I play with greater ease and fluency.

#3 On the cello (my instrument) it is also fun to do this experiment with the left elbow. Putting the fingers on any string in a low position, try tossing your elbow in a clockwise motion. With a big enough circle starting from the elbow around about 6:00 on a clock dial you can visualize looking to your left, your elbow toss will take the arm and elbow to a higher position (arriving around 4:00 on a clock dial.) Effortless shifting, eh? Now, try moving your arm without any hint of a circular, tossing motion in the left elbow. Much tighter and much less accurate, right? This awareness informs every shift I execute on the cello. Fluent, easy, accurate shifts are the result of this motion.

I hope you will choose to run these experiments yourself and see how circular shapes and circular motion in the body will help you in your quest with violin, viola, cello, or bass.

Happy practicing!

Wesley Baldwin, Co-Director and Cello Faculty member, KSA

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