Movement, Gesture, and Expression

This post explores the application of Laban Movement Analysis (a method for describing, visualizing, interpreting, and documenting all types of human movement) to the technique of bowing in music, discussing its potential benefits for performance, interpretation, and emotional expression.

With David Allen Moore · Los Angeles, CA

One result of the past year is that we have all become experts at making proverbial lemonade out of proverbial lemons (although at times it feels like the saying is “When life gives you sht, make a sht sandwich,” where neither option is particularly desirable). Another facet of our new reality is that many Artists are making educational materials and performances available for free online. One of these resources is Dennis Whittaker’s “Incredibly Useful Exercises” video series on YouTube. This week’s video is a concise description of Laban Movement Analysis and its application to the bow arm.

Briefly defined, it is “a method for describing, visualizing, interpreting, and documenting all types of human movement”.  This was my first exposure to these concepts in this context, and it immediately led me down a rabbit hole of exploration.

Bowing Basics

Some background is necessary before we can get the most out of LMA. The basic parameters of bowing are commonly described as the 3 interrelated factors of Speed, Weight, and Location (point of contact). If you want to get fancy with your positional and momentum lingo we could also use 5 additional factors (this is a subject for another day and only presented here for context).

Tilt – the motion of the stick around the hair relative to the string.

Inclination – the proximity (or change thereof) of the bow to either (where applicable) adjacent string.

Skewness – any deviation from the imaginary perpendicular line of the path of the bow.

Rotation – any motion during the bow stroke that results in movement of the screw in a clockwise or counterclockwise direction.

Lift/Drop – the resulting movement of the screw while rotating that can be perceived as moving toward the player and/or the floor (drop) or moving away from the player and/or the floor (lift).

All of these distinctions are invaluable, but they only describe a series of “whats”. The inevitable “hows” of the technique of these movements also falls short in that it is ultimately a list of “physical whats” that still leave out extensive amounts of information about the type and QUALITY of the movements described.

Laban Movement Analysis (LMA)

Rudolf Laban was a movement therapist, a dancer, and a choreographer. Laban categorized human movement into 4 component parts, each with 2 elements, that make up the foundation of LMA (or as I like to call it Laban Movement, Forms, Analysis, and Organization. If I have to explain why, you won’t). I have substituted a few synonyms for terms to avoid confusion with the 3 fundamental bowing parameters. Laban uses “weight” for mass and “speed” for time.

Space/Focus- Direct or Indirect movement. Think of this as movement straight from point A to B, or movement that takes a more meandering path.

Mass- Heavy or Light. This is describing the QUALITY of the movement and not the physical weight.

Time- Quick or Sustained. Does the movement have a strong initial impulse, or is the movement more continuously propelled?

Flow- Bound or Free. This is the sensation of internal resistance within a movement. Not necessarily physical tension

These parts are further combined to create what he refers to as “8 Efforts”

Wring – I H S B (Indirect, Heavy, Sustained, Bound)

Press – D H S B (Direct, Heavy, Sustained, Bound)

Flick – I L Q F (Indirect, Light, Quick, Free)

Dab – D L Q B (Direct, Light, Quick, Bound)

Glide – D L S F (Direct, Light, Sustained, Free)

Float – I L S F (Indirect, Light, Sustained, Free)

Punch – D H Q B (Direct, Heavy, Quick, Bound)

Slash – I H Q F (Indirect, Heavy Quick, Free)

The most obvious and direct application of all of this analysis pertains directly to movement, but Actors have harnessed its power in ways that go far beyond external expression:

Observational Work – The physical movements of a character

Text Work – speech patterns in dialogue (e.g. pacing, articulation, etc.)

Emotional Work – Effort as it pertains to personality. This is the most abstract and potentially the most rewarding. What qualities would you ascribe to someone whose personality could be described as a “punch”?

Costuming – influence of required or period clothing on Effort.

Musicians have the opportunity to expand even further on this expression as our very medium is “sound in time”. It allows for expressions of movement, articulation, rhythm, and timbre that span the gamut of human experience both internal and external.

Check out more Fractal Friday writings here.

About the Author

David Allen Moore, 4th Chair Bass of the Los Angeles Philharmonic since 2000, was previously a member of the Houston Symphony. He is an internationally sought-after Guest Principal and has performed with the Helsinki and Israel Philharmonic.

Moore is the author of Fractal Fingering, a required text at notable universities. He joined the USC Thornton School of Music’s full-time faculty in 2010 while maintaining his position in the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He also teaches at Domaine Forget in Canada and His students hold positions in orchestras globally.

Keep Exploring

orin obrien double bass thumbnail

Behind the Scenes with Orin O’Brien: Her Experiences with the New York Philharmonic and Beyond

Topics in Jazz double bass

Topics in Jazz Bass – a new book from Danny Ziemann


Understanding and Overcoming Our Evolutionary Limitations as Bassists

Share This Post


Get connected to double bassists, events, and communities all over the world.


Listen to the Podcast

Contrabass conversations

Share your ideas with the double bass community.