Orchestra: Journey to Bows

Elementary Orchestra Bows
Posted on 11/08/2021
Lindsay Modin, Orchestra Director at Central High and Lakewood Middle schools, explained how her students learn to use the bow. She explained: 
Orchestra students earn ribbons on their scrolls for each playing test they pass throughout the year. The first couple of songs are tested playing pizzicato (plucking the strings). Once they pass these first two tests, they are ready to start learning about the bow.
We start this process by learning the parts of the bow, proper care of the bow, how to tighten and loosen the bow, how to rosin the bow, proper bow hold and some fun exercises, and finally how to play with the bow!
It takes weeks and even months and years to perfect a proper bow hold, but they have a very good start. We start by going all the way back to our first page in the book that we initially played pizzicato, and playing it arco (with the bow). The students are always excited to get to this point in the year when they can finally get out their bow!
Alyssa Lane, Orchestra Director at South High and South Middle schools, shared the process that allows new orchestra students to learn to use the bow correctly. She explained:

When orchestra students start playing they begin with pizzicato (plucking the string) but they are always anticipating getting to play with the bow! There are a lot of things that go into playing with the bow so we start with plucking while they are learning note names, posture, etc. Then about mid to late October we start testing out the bows. 

The bow hold is really important to get right, because you don’t want to build bad habits. We start on straws and pencils then move to the bows. We only do “air bowing and rosin raps” (not playing on the instrument) so we can focus on the bow hold and making sure students are learning the bow directions down and up. Then we start them playing on open A & D strings (not putting any fingers down).

During the bow hold and “air bow/rosin rap” phase is when they get their “learners permit.” They get this sheet with all the information they need to know about the bow on one side and on the other side is their permit with pictures and instructions for the bow hold. It is very detailed to help parents/older siblings know what to look for when they  are signing off on their bow hold at home. Students have to get eight signatures at home and four in class. Once they have done this they can take the bow license test. If they pass the test they get their bow license and can play with their bows in class and at home. An added  benefit is that the license identifies them as “experts” so they can help others with their bow holds!