I've just started playing the violin, and have come to dynamics (forte, piano, etc.). To play forte, I push the bow hard, and for piano, I push the bow lightly. Is this the right method? Are there any better methods?
The concept I was taught for violin dynamics is that you draw the bow faster across the strings to play more loudly, and slower to play quietly. You do have to apply more down pressure on the bow to keep it from skipping when you bow faster, and less down pressure when bowing slower, but I was told those are secondary concerns that arise from the speed of the bowing.
Considering how down pressure has to be continuously varied on the bow even when playing at a fixed speed, I find the mental attitude that bow speed is related to loudness is the sensible way to look at it.
In terms of the physics, it's at least a combination of bowing speed and pressure that changes the dynamics. From a playing perspective, I prefer to think of it as primarily bow speed with pressure being something I have to manage based on many other factors.
The main thing for a beginner is to play forte with longer bow strokes which is faster bow speed and piano with smaller bow strokes which means slower bow speed.
If the bow glides down towards the fingerboard especially on longer bow strokes it can be because your bow strokes are not straight. You need to practice straight bowing and be flexible in your right wrist. Also make sure that you hold the violin up. If the violin is "hanging" the bow can glide towards the fingerboard and you will often automaticcally try to prevent it with a harder grip on the bow which can make the tone quality less desirable. Straight bowing and a good violin hold supports a good violin tone.
There is lot more to bow technique, you will gradually learn more and more along your journey into the great realm of violin playing.
In general there are three things which control the quality and loudness of your sound on the violin and they have to be balanced at all times. These are:
- Bow speed - how fast or slowly the bow is moving
- Bow pressure - how much downward pressure it exerts on the string. This depends not only on how much you press down with the bow but also whereabouts on the bow it contacts the string. Unless you actively do something to counteract this there will be much more pressure at the frog than the tip
- Sound point - whereabouts on the string the bow is in contact, closer to the bridge or closer to the fingerboard.
There are two ways to generate more sound, additional bow speed and additional bow pressure, but they work differently on different sound points. Close to the fingerboard additional bow speed works but additional bow pressure will just generate a horrible scratching sound. Conversely close to the bridge additional pressure (provided the string is not very short i.e. in higher positions) works but additional speed produces a bad sound.
Generally speaking a sound point about half way between bridge and fingerboard allows you to make the most sound by combining optimal bow speed and pressure but this varies between the strings and according to string length (how far up the string you press down with a finger).
A very good exercise to try to develop a feeling for sound and a good sound in general is for each of four or five equally spaced points along the contact area to just play an open string varying the bow speed and pressure to find out what works to produce a good loud sound and a good quiet sound.