This past year Theresa Villani, a wonderful cellist and cello teacher, wrote and asked if I had any exercises for bowing on open strings for one of her students. I had a few pages of an incomplete book, which I was happy to share. She wrote right back and said "Please make a book out of these!" (Incidentally, that's how a lot of books get started; share your ideas on this page.) Then, another teacher wrote and asked for a book of open string studies for violin and viola and here we are!
A few thoughts on how to use both these exercises and the studies in Open String Bow Workouts for the Viola, Book One:
1. Playing open strings really well is hard! They look easy (at least at the beginning of the book) but this is deceptive. Because the sound is so exposed, I found myself getting super picky with the sound I was producing.
When you play these exercises, work on fluidity in bow changes, relaxed wrist and fingers, and getting the string vibrating with the least possible motion from my hand.
2. Playing open string bow studies is a great way to isolate the bow, especially when you are struggling with note-reading. Myanna has been using Open-String Bow Workouts with some students who have trouble reading notes. Since there are just four notes in the entire book, the students could work on bowing without worrying about reading notes (and as an added bonus, their reading improved!)
3. Playing open string bow studies can help violists at every level. We've used this book with students who had just started playing a few months earlier and also with intermediate and very advanced students. It helped them all, in different ways.
The beginning students used the book to discover what the bow can do. Pure bow technique, such as string crossing, rhythm, and slurs can be taught using this book.
The intermediate students used the book to listen more and improve their tone. At an intermediate level, it's easy to focus on the left hand and forget about the bow. Playing an Open String Bow Workout at the beginning of every lesson has helped our intermediate students build better bow control and tone.
And the advanced students played the slow exercises at an Adagio tempo and the fast exercises as fast as possible to expand the range of their bow technique.
4. Playing open string studies can really help your tone improve! When I started playing open string studies myself, I was skeptical; how much could it help? But the difference I heard in my playing and felt in my bow hand convinced me that open strings can be one of the most effective ways to practice bowing. And adding just one page a day to your studies can make a difference over time.
To celebrate the release of the new book of Open String Bow Workouts, we are offering the above mini set of (all-new) viola open string studies for free!
When you play these, focus on correct form and how you're holding the bow.
Keep the bow arm shoulder, wrist, and fingers as loose and relaxed as possible. The thumb should be gently balanced on the bow; never squeezing.
Listen for the smoothest, most even sound during each note and keep the bow moving at the same speed while you change bows so there is no variation in sound.
For more viola studies that help you play with better tone, check out this book:
Cassia Harvey can't ever find or play enough exercises. She searches for rare and out-of-print studies and etudes in her free time. If you know of any, please let her know. Seriously; it's an obsession.