The Expressive Bow: Tone Production Exercises for School Orchestra

Bow arm technique is an important skill to develop in intermediate string players. These exercises, excerpted from Expressive Techniques for Orchestra, will have your orchestra sounding their best. 

Tone Production Near the Bridge


This exercise develops a rich, intense, mature sound that is really pulled and projected from the instrument. It also develops the sound in the often neglected area near the bridge, which is so necessary for playing with a full, clear tone quality while in the upper left-hand positions.


Place the bow as close to the bridge as possible. On the open A string, pull the bow stroke as slowly as possible. The sound will be ugly and tend to “crack” until students begin to feel the relationship between the bow speed, bow weight and bow placement. Play four strokes on each string (Violin/Bass: A D G E;
Viola/Cello: A D G C). As students master the tone production at this bow placement on each string, the bow speed should become slower and slower. Add scale fingerings on each string for further development. Eventually, work scale fingerings in the upper positions with the bow as close to the bridge as possible.

Pronation and Supination


This exercise develops an even sound throughout the bow stroke through the use of pronation of the down bow and supination of the up bow. It allows for a greater range of expression in all parts of the bow.


Begin with down bows only. On the open D string, begin at the frog and pull a slow bow stroke to the tip. As the bow progresses past the midpoint, slightly rotate the right hand, so the arm weight is continuously and evenly applied to the outside edge of the forefinger. The right elbow should rise slightly. The wrist becomes quite deep as the bow nears the tip. Strive to keep an even volume of sound.

Once the down bow tone is evenly developed, connect with the up bow. On the upward stroke, retain the volume level in the upper part of the bow. As the bow progresses past the mid-point, allow the elbow to rotate downward with the wrist returning to a flat position. Strive to keep an even volume of sound.

Extend this technique to develop effective down bow crescendo and up-bow decrescendo. A faster bow speed will be needed past the mid-point on the down bow coupled with the pronation. A slower bow speed will be needed as the bow approaches the frog coupled with the supination.


New Music Friday: The Picnic: Watch Out for the B’s

This piece tells the story of a picnic being interrupted by pesky bees. As time goes on, more and more bees can be heard, and every section gets a turn. Listen for the sounds of the bees as they travel around the orchestra. Most of the “buzzes” include the musical note B in the dissonant cluster of notes. This piece gives your students a chance to tell a story with their music. Invite the students to engage in the drama, looking nervously around or occasionally swatting an imaginary bee in front of their faces. The orchestra creates the narrative of happy picnic-goers having their beautiful day interrupted by pesky bees.

Read More »
New Music Friday

New Music Friday: Renegade Showdown

In Renegade Showdown, the violins battle the low strings in an epic clash. Hear the twists and turns each side takes as they vie for the win. This piece was composed to teach students to understand regular vs. low first finger. Bass students will benefit from identifying sections that will work well in half position.

Read More »
New Music Friday

New Music Friday: Aurora’s March

Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s three masterpiece ballet scores, including Sleeping Beauty, are known for their timeless music. Only three years before the composer’s death, the ballet was first performed in 1890. The storyline for the Sleeping Beauty ballet was inspired by the Brothers Grimm adaptation of the folk tale first published in 1330. This arrangement for string orchestra captures the enduring melodies and great depth of Tchaikovsky’s geniu. Because much of Tchaikovsky’s style is not written with articulations, students will need assistance with the bow stroke in order to perform this incredible piece. This march, which follows the overture in the ballet, was renamed Aurora’s March for this arrangement.

Read More »

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Join our mailing list

Be the first to know about new music, exciting news, deals and more!