How to Develop an Efficient Crossover Arm to Play the Fiddle

By Michael John Sanchez

One of the most important things associated with crossing strings on the fiddle is being relaxed with your arm as you move up and down (you know, like a chicken!). Having a tense and improper movement of the arm can really cause bad sounds and can really restrict your ability to play fiddle.

You’ll come across lots of fiddle songs that require speedy crossovers, and without doing this technique properly, you’ll be left in the dust. To help with keeping a relaxed and efficient crossover arm, here is a drill that has worked for many other players: the rocking bow drill.

  1. Set your bow at the contact point of the strings.

  2. Form a proper bow hold.

    Don’t skip over this step, as the bow hold is very important in this drill.

  3. Without ever bending your wrist, move your arm as a system from the G string elbow position down to the E string elbow position.

    Try not to make any sound as the bow “rocks” in place from string to string. Take no more than one second to get your elbow from the G to the E string. Don’t cheat by going only part of the way!

  4. Pick up your bow and move it to the middle, between the contact point and the tip.

    Do the same rocking bow motion up and down and try not to make a sound.

  5. Now try doing the same rocking motion at the tip of the bow.

    You’ll find this is the hardest place to keep the bow relaxed and avoid any sort of noise.

The rocking bow drill is great because it helps you manage bow tension. Managing bow tension is what’s important to get a good crossover sound. Eventually, you should feel comfortable moving your entire arm up and down and not get much, if any, surface noise when crossing.

Also, how you use your index finger during the rocking bow drill is very important. You need to find the right balance of pressure not just during this drill but similarly when you’re crossing strings playing the fiddle. If you press too hard, you’ll find it more difficult to get the clean crossover sound. If you don’t press enough, you’ll glide across the strings and not be able to stay in the same fixed position.

Practice using your index finger and experimenting with various pressures as you go up and down in the drill. Doing so goes a long way in how you transition and cross strings while playing.

The reason why the rocking bow drill is so hard to do at the tip of the bow is because your hand is the farthest away from your body. With this in mind, really try hard to work on staying relaxed at the tip of the bow because this is the point where you’ll have the most trouble with avoiding bow tension.

It’s very easy to cheat in this drill by using your wrist to help rock the bow across the strings. Crossing strings at the beginner level has nothing to do with moving the wrist at all but instead is a complete system movement of the arm, forearm, wrist, and hand.

Think of it like this: If your entire arm was frozen except for your shoulder, you wouldn’t be able to extend your forearm or move your wrist. As you go up and down in the drill, act like everything but your shoulder is frozen to help you move everything together as a system.

Another way to cheat is by not moving your arm system all the way down to the E string elbow position. Your elbow position should be right at your side, so if you’re going down and there’s a space between your side and your elbow, you’re not doing the drill properly. If you find trouble doing that, most likely you have some tension somewhere — potentially in your upper arm, forearm, or fingers.

So what are some things that may be causing you to make a sound while doing the rocking bow drill? Check out some of the possibilities:

  • Your upper arm is flexed at some point in the rocking motion. Think of raising your hand up and down. Do you need to have your muscle flexed to do this?

  • You’re changing pressure in your bow hold. It’s very easy to use the thumb and/or pinkie to help in crossing the bow.

  • You’re moving so slow that tension is very hard to manage. Try not taking more than a second to get all the way from the G string elbow position to the E string elbow position in the drill. You should literally look like a bird trying to fly!