This violin bow hand strategy can be used whether or not your student is already note reading. I like to teach the symbols and definition of up and down bows from pretty early on. When there is a movement or action tied to a name and a picture, kids catch on surprisingly fast. I used chipboard in the pictures shown to write the symbols for the up and down bow. Just use anything that has a little more weight to it so it will stand up. Up bow is symbolized with a V and down bow looks like a square without the bottom. Click here for a video that teaches up and down bow in greater detail.
Next take a short pipe cleaner and twist it on at the tip of the bow to form an up bow symbol. When the student plays an up bow they know to begin at the pipe cleaner (which happily and obviously looks like an up bow symbol).
I usually arrange the up/down cards myself the first couple of times in some basic patterns and then let the student arrange them in tricky sequences. The student can pick any 'one' string to play on, we do this exercise with no fingers down on the fingerboard. When the student is arranging them in tricky orders we end up with a lot of double/triple down bows or four up bows in a row. That is totally acceptable and awesome! As they do multiple ups or downs in a row, have them stop their bow in between each and continue on in the same direction. Sometimes I will have my kids say the words up and down as they do it for added reinforcement.
Beginner violinist are learning excellent bow control as they do this exercise AND they are learning the names and direction of up and down bows. Plus, did I mention that they have fun doing this bow hand strategy? Bonus! Also part of the reason I love this activity so much is that 'up' bows don't really look 'up' on the D and G strings. This reinforces the direction of movement of an up bow regardless of the direction it is pointed, which can sometimes be a tough concept for beginning violinist of any age.
I grabbed the camera to record my munchkin practicing her up/down bows the other morning. As you can tell from the background piano music this video was not staged, it is noisy and chaotic just like every morning at our house. Everyone picks a corner and starts practicing all at the same time. I wonder why my baby can't seem to sleep in past 7:00 am? Please feel free to leave a comment below. Let me know if you find this learning activity helpful or if you have your own violin bow hand strategy to share.