Skill acquisition in violin bowing


Violin bowing is a typical example of highly skilled and over-learned motor behaviour. Via the bow, the player exerts continuous control of the vibration of the strings in order to produce the desired sound. This requires a high degree of control and coordination of the main bowing parameters bow velocity and acceleration, bow force (“pressure” exerted on the string) and bow-bridge distance (contact point). In addition, the player must master a number of complex bowing techniques, such as spiccato, ricochet and martelé, which require dynamic control of the movement of bow. These factors impose high demands on the motor system, and it is therefore no surprise that the learning of bowing skills involves a significant amount of practice.

The main objective of this project is to gain a better understanding of skill development in violin bowing. This will be achieved by an interdisciplinary approach integrating music acoustics and movement sciences. An important secondary objective is to make scientific results obtained in this project accessible to music teachers and students, allowing for development of more efficient teaching- and practicing strategies. In the long term this might help to prevent medical problems as a result of overuse and/or bad habits.


  • To identify and explain control strategies in bowed-string instrument performance related to sound production
  • To gain new insights in skill acquisition and development of expertise in string instrument playing in terms of motor control


Currently, a cross-sectional study is being conducted comparing specific bowing skills in violin players from intermediate to expert level. The participants will be assigned to three groups:

  • Young violinists, advanced amateurs and students with violin as minor subject
  • Music students with violin as major subject
  • Established professionals, soloists and chamber musicians

The main focus of the experiment will be on the (inaudible) bow change and movement coordination in complex repetitive bowing patterns.

The movements of the violin and the bow, as well as the body movements are recorded using a 3D motion capture system. The measurements allow for accurate characterization of bowing movements, as can be seen in this animation (Bach, Preludium).


Previous publications, related to this project:

  • Schoonderwaldt, E. (2009). Mechanics and acoustics of violin bowing: Freedom constraints and control in performance. PhD thesis, KTH – School of Computer Science and Communication, Stockholm, Sweden. [more info and download]
  • Schoonderwaldt, E. and Demoucron, M. (2009). Extraction of bowing parameters from violin performance combining motion capture and sensors. J. Acoust. Soc. Am., 126 (5), 2695-2708. [pdf]
  • Schoonderwaldt, E. (2009). The player and the bowed string: Coordination and control of bowing in violin and viola performance. J. Acoust. Soc. Am., 126 (5), 2709-2720. [pdf]
  • Schoonderwaldt, E. (2010). On the use of skewness in violin bowing: Should the bow be straight or not? Acta Acustica united with Acustica, 96 (4), 593-602. [pdf]
  • Schoonderwaldt, E. & Wanderley, M. M. (2007). Visualization of bowing gestures for feedback: The Hodgson plot. Proceedings of AXMEDIS07, Vol II, 65-70. [pdf]

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    Last modified: 2015-12-09

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