Exploring Bowed-String Sound

Exploring Bowed-String Sound

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3359-8.ch002
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Bowed-string instruments contain a wealth of exploratory opportunities and illustrate the framework to apply flow theory to strings teaching and learning. In this chapter, the author analyzes how strings students, including very young children, experience flow by listening and exploring the sound of strings. The author also investigates the origin of bowed-strings instrument historically and illustrates violin pedagogy in a historical context. The chapter discusses Leopold Mozart, Auer, Flesh, Ivan Galamian, and Ruggero Ricci with a special emphasis on their sound production.
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The sound characteristics of the violin are not predetermined. Violin sounds result from a combination of bow speed, pressure, and the point of contact of the bow on the strings (Starr, 2000).

Very few studies have investigated children’s learning on the bowed string instruments that emphasizes their learning process. Those who have explored this area include Holt (1983). He illustrated young children’s first encounter with the cello during his school visitations. After Holt performed an excerpt of Bach’s Cello Suite to children, he asked them if they wanted a turn. All of the children started tried.

On days when I have a lesson, I bring my cello to school, take it to a classroom, and give the children a turn at playing it. Except for the timid ones, who make a few halfhearted passes with the bow and then quit, almost all little children attack the cello in the same way. They are really doing three things at once. They are making the machine go. They are enjoying the luxury of making sounds. And they are making scientific experiments. They start off by working the bow vigorously back and forth across one of the strings. They keep this up for a long time. Just the feel and sound of it are exciting. Then they begin to vary their bowing a bit, trying different rhythms. After a while, they begin to move the bow so that it touches more than one string. But it is important to note that the first few times they do this, they do not seem to be doing it in the sprit of an experiment, to find out what will happen. They do it for the sake of doing it. They have been bowing one way, making one kind of noise; now they want to bow another way, and make another kind of noise. Only after some time does it seem to occur to them that there was a relation between the way they bowed and the kind of noise they got. Then there is quite a change in their way of doing things. This time they move more deliberately, watchfully, thoughtfully, from one string to another. You can almost hear them thinking. “Ah, this string makes this kind of noise, and that string makes that kind of noise.” But they have to do a good deal of what seems like random bowing, actively for its own sake, before they begin to think about what they are doing. They have to pile up quite a mass of raw sensory data before they begin trying to sort it out and make sense of it. (Holt, 1983, pp.71-72)

These observations by Holt exactly indicate the nature of young children’s encounter with a bowed string instrument. At the same time, the description reveals the essential element of sound making on the bowed string instrument. Indeed, the bowed string instrument contained the exploratory nature in its sound making.

In strings teaching and learning, rather than teaching where to place the bow in a rigid manner, the author suggests teachers let students explore the sound in their process of learning. Practically, in professional orchestral playing, players are required to adjust the placement of the bow to create a nuance or subtle expression to match the section and in response to the intentions of the conductor. Seeking the flexibility in sound making is a lot more important than mastering the perfect placement of the bow. Experiencing flow and seeking the most satisfying sound should be the way to teach tone production in strings teaching and learning.

Similar to Holt’s observation, Akutsu (2018) investigated how young children experience flow when they encounter the violin, and in their sound exploration and learning the violin in a social context. The violin contains such a wide range of challenges, variety, and possibilities in sound making that encourage children’s flow experiences.

Figure 1.

Children in elementary school exploring the cello

Figure 2.

Children in elementary school exploring the cello


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