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Violin Pro-Tip: Rules of the Square

In this post, I will cover one very important part of right hand technique when playing in the middle of the bow. It is a vital aspect of right hand posture as it can solve many problems and help avoid bad habits quite easily.

The term "square position" has been critical for my approach to teaching bow arm technique because of how easy it is to understand. I borrow it from a renowned Russian-American violin teacher Ivan Galamian. As he explains in his book, square position is a position of the right hand in which the bow contacts the string near the middle.*

*As the length of everyone’s arm is different, the bow may not necessarily contact the string exactly in the middle.

In this position:

  1. The angle of your upper and lower arm,

  2. The angle between lower arm and the bow,

  3. The angle between the bow and the string, are approximately 90 degrees (pic.1)

This is a perfect default position from which all right arm movement is derived. The reason for this is that a clear understanding of the rules of square position allow you to avoid many bad habits that plague violinists. Now let's examine what these rules are:

Rule number one: The square is flat! Imagine that the square as a flat, two-dimensional shape. Avoid deforming the surface of this shape as you hold the bow. This means to keep your elbow level and avoid bending the wrist (Pic. 2)

Rule number two: Keep the bow perpendicular to the string. The bow must meet the string at 90 degree angle at all times for best quality of sound.

Rule number three: Maintain the shape of the square while changing strings. When the bow has to go from one string to another, many students develop the bad habit of moving the arm one part at a time. This leads to bad sound at the point of the change as too much movement is involved. Simply reminding yourself about the square is enough to avoid many errors while changing strings.

Rule number four: DO NOT RAISE THE SHOULDER. This rule definitely deserves capital letter treatment because of how common this problem is. The shoulder must be kept in a relaxed, low position at all times, no exception!

Rule number five: Keep the weight on the bow. This is absolutely critical for sound production! When students want to play louder, they instinctively press down on the bow. This is wrong. Good contact with the string comes from the weight of the bow arm (aka gravity), not by pressing down on the string.

Because many aspects of violin technique can get very complex, these rules are a godsent for both teachers and students alike. If you as a young violinist have not heard of them previously, I would strongly encourage you to practice playing on open strings in the middle bow while paying careful attention to the rules of the mighty square position.

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