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Building Bowing Skills for Violin

The Sounding Point

Located between the bridge and the fingerboard, the "sounding point" is the location at which the string is contacted by the bow. The bowing interval of the strings can be sub-divided into four regions, each one having a different tone when played. A good comparison would be to envision the sounding point like a highway with four lanes:

  1. The first lane, nearest the bridge, is the "truck" lane, which carries the heaviest, slowest traffic.
  2. The second lane is the one reserved for normal traffic—here, speed and weight are average.
  3. The third lane is where you'll find sports cars; it's lighter and faster.
  4. Finally, the fourth lane is the passing lane. Furthest from the bridge and edging over the fingerboard, this is the lightest and fastest lane.

When playing the violin, the first "lane" is used only sparingly. Most of the time, you will be in the second. The third adds a lighter color when you need it, and the fourth is an impressionist stage—the Ravel and Debussy Sonatas are examples of works that use this sounding point. For virtually any work that you play, you will likely change from one sounding point to another on occasion in order to color the sound optimally for the part.

The Détaché

  1. The Simple Détaché: Pressure is consistent and does not vary. Some examples include: Fiocco – Allegro; Paganini – Caprice No. 16; Bach – Partita in E, Praeludium; Viotti – Concerto No. 22, 1st movement (16th note passages specifically).
  2. The Accented Grand Détaché: With longer, grander but quicker strokes, you impart great energy and spirit to the sound. Some examples include: Kreisler-Tartini – Praeludium and Allegro, Theme, 1st 23 measures; Beethoven – Concerto, measures 124-142.
  3. The (Sieb) Finger Détaché: Beginning with a flexible, relaxed wrist, this technique comes solely from the hand and fingers. Ideal for high-speed, light Sautillé and détaché passages, this is a very efficient stroke. Some examples include: Paganini – Moto Perpetuo, Saint-Saëns – Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, Allegro, last page, Kreutzer No. 2.
  4. The Louré: This détaché stroke is used for one or several tied notes, with each starting softly, building and waning in gentle waves. The technique is produced primarily with the right-hand index finger, by alternating pressures. An example is: Bach – 2nd Partita, Allemanda.
  5. Practicing this Stroke

    • Pick up a slender object like a pen or pencil in your right hand and lift it to your shoulder in a dart-throwing position. For darts, one would typically use the first two fingers and the thumb. For this exercise, add your ring finger as well.
    • Next, try the same position but add your little finger also. Go through the "winding up" and throwing motions a few times—this will simulate the movement of a finger détaché.
    • Take your bow and rest it with the hair side up, stick down, over your right shoulder, using the same technique you just practiced to hold it. Repeat the motion from the previous step, and you will have the finger détaché movement.
    • Finally, form your left thumb and index finger into a circle to bring your fingernails together into a "bridge" for the bow stick. Use this technique, with your fingers between the wood and the hair, to support the bow at the position where it would rest on the strings if you were holding your violin. This will allow you to easily practice the finger movement described above in a realistic posture.

    The Détaché (Continued)

  6. Sautillé: In essence, this is a (Sieb) Finger détaché using barely any pressure at all. This gives the bow stick freedom to vibrate and hop in a minor spiccato fashion. For this movement, your arm is at rest and you are using the fingers and hand exclusively. Some examples include: Saint-Saëns – Rondo Capriccioso, last allegro; Paganini – Moto Perpetuo; Dont – Opus 35, No. 2.
  7. The Accented Détaché: An accented stroke, but otherwise identical to the Simple détaché. Some examples without bite include: Mozart – D Major Concerto, measures 11, 12, 13 of the first solo; Kreisler – Praeludium and Allegro. Some examples with bite include: Saint-Saëns Concerto #3, 1st movement; Franck – Sonata, 4th movement.
  8. The Détaché Porté: Also the same basic stroke as the Simple détaché, this variation features a subtle, weighty swelling through the marked notes. Some examples include: Brahms – Sonata Opus 100, 1st movement; Prokofiev – Concerto No. 2, 1st movement (measures 138-139).
  9. The Détaché Lancé: This stroke is much like the Louré, but exchanges that technique's heavy swelling for a quicker approach, similar to a martelé. Some examples include: Bach – Partita No. 1 in B minor, third double of Corrente (in combination with the Accented détaché and détaché Porté); Bach – Partita No. 2, Chaconne (measure 169); Bach – Sonata No. 1 in G minor, Fugue (10 measures from 44); Beethoven – Concerto, 1st movement, opening solo (2 measures).
  10. The Slap Stroke: This can be a down or up-bow motion from the frog or occasionally the tip, characterized by a brief vertical slap from the bow. It is essential to perform the slap stroke at either the frog or the very end of the bow, since any other location will allow the bow to bounce unfavorably. Some examples include: Saint-Saëns, Concerto No. 3 in B minor, 3rd movement (with bite and slap); Lalo – Symphonie Espagnol, 1st movement (opening); Brahms – Concerto, 1st movement (opening solo, 12th and 13th notes); Wieniawski – Concerto in D minor, 1st movement (high B flat).
  11. The Whipped Stroke (Fouetté): Typically played with an up-bow, this stroke is lifted a bit and adds a short movement near the point for a brief accent. Some examples include: Mendelssohn – Concerto, 1st movement; Beethoven – Concerto in D, finale (measures 68-69) (with bite and slap); Wieniawski – Concerto in D minor, 3rd movement (measures 272-273).
  12. The Accented Grand Détaché: Played with or without bite (as in martelé and collé), this is always a fast stroke. Some examples without bite include: Pugnani-Kreisler – Prelude and Allegro; Mozart – Concert in D, 1st solo. Some examples with bite include: Brahms – Concert in D, 1st solo; Tartini – Devil's Trill Sonata, 2nd movement (measures 21-23 after double bar, accented trills).
  13. The Portato or Louré: As with the slap stroke, this requires using the frog or tip so as to prevent the bow ricocheting. Using a finger motion, in many instances just the forefinger, the stroke produces a subtle articulation of multiple notes within the same bow. The result is the introduction of subtle waves in the sound of the note upon which it is executed. Some examples include: Bach – Partita in D minor, 1st movement, Allemanda; Beethoven – Sonata No. 5, 1st and 4th movements.

Louré

  • Normal Playing Position
    Louré Normal Playing Position
  • Inversed Playing Position
    Louré Inversed Playing Position

Contrary to the normal position, in which the hair is tilted closer to the violinist, the inverse position angles the bow toward the player, bringing the wood closer. While unusual for violin and viola, this is actually the typical position for cellists and does offer a violinist some advantages in certain situations.

In the inversed position, your hand will naturally be more relaxed. This can lead to a fuller, more rounded sound. Even more noteworthy is if you carry out this technique not at the frog but 5 to 6 inches further up the bow instead, with the bow positioned over the fingerboard. Here, the curve of the strings is not so dramatic and there is less tension. In this arrangement, it is possible to play (at the same time) three and four-note chords in Bach solo Sonatas, bypassing the need to divide them two notes by two.

Attempting to accomplish the same results with a typical bow angle requires too much pressure from the forefinger, leading to unpleasant scratchy sounds. When properly executed, however, this technique makes many viola parts noticeably easier and can be applied to pieces like the Bach G Minor Fugue, Chaconne 1st variation.

The Martelé

  1. The Simple Martelé: This rapid, evenly-pressured stroke has a fast beginning but a sudden silent finish. This produces a balanced note without a clear end. Some examples include: Bach – Partita in E major, 1st two measures of the Praeludium; Brahms – Concerto, 1st movement; Beethoven Kreutzer Sonata, 3rd movement; Viotti – Concerto No. 22, 1st movement (the Viotti Stroke).
  2. The Pinched (or Accented) Martelé: For the most part, this is similar to the Viotti Stroke, however a "bite" is added to the beginning. Called a "collé," the brief bite comes from a short stroke of 1 to 2 centimeters with increased pressure against the strings. Most often carried out at the frog, this accent used nearly no bow and can therefore be used at various parts of the stroke for a possible "bow pizzicato" effect. Some examples include: Brahms – Concerto, 1st movement (measure 3 of 1st solo); Kreutzer – Etude #7; Rode – Caprice #11 (measure 5); Vieuxtemps – Concerto in a Minute, 1st movement.
  3. The Sustained Martelé: This term refers simply to a sustained note which begins with a martelé lead. An example is: Brahms – Concerto, 3rd movement at letter B (measures 57-65).
  4. The Staccato: A consecutive series of two or more "biting" strokes within the same bow motion, this is performed with constant pressure from one note to the next—no halting or releasing. It differs from other violin techniques by being one of very few insensitive, non-expressive and non-musical strokes in the repertoire. A good deal of force and tension from the bow hand is necessary for this virtuoso show trick, as well as a flat bow angle in order to ensure greatest contact between the hair and the string. Some examples include: Kreutzer Etude No. 4; Paganini – Caprice No. 10; Sibelius – Concerto, 3rd movement.
  5. The Jeté Lent: German pedagogue Carl Flesch was the first to outline the two Jeté strokes. Beginning near the frog and performed similarly to the finger détaché by making a swift up-bow movement with the fingers and arm, this variant originates at the string and concludes in the air. It is important to note that this does not "bounce" like a spiccato. An example is: Mozart – Concert in D major, 3rd movement, opening and theme.
  6. The Jeté Vite: Essentially the same as the Jeté Lent, the difference between the two is that this stroke launches from the air. It is not uncommon to hear this done with multiple-note sequences. An example is: Saint-Saëns, Rondo Capriccioso, Allegro.
  7. The Flying Staccato: Typically, this technique consists of at least six up or down staccato strokes in one bow. Tension in the arm creates a piercing, swift succession of strokes that generally employ continued pressure on the bow. In this staccato, neither hair nor wood will part from the string. Some examples include: Wieniawski – Concerto in D minor, 1st movement; Polonaise in A major; Sibelius – Concert, 3rd movement; Dinicu, Hora Staccato.

The Spiccato

  1. The Simple Brushed Spiccato: Located near the frog and, at the most basic, using no finger or hand motion, these strokes are weighty, bold and slow. Adding movement of the hand and fingers allows more nuanced effects to be worked into the stroke. An example is: Prokofiev – Concerto No. 2, 3rd movement, No. 44.
  2. Tapping Stroke: As its name implies, this is a brisk tapping motion. Some rotation along the longitudinal axis of the arm is also involved, back and forth through each downward and upward bow stroke. An example is: Debussy – Sonata 2nd movement, 6 measures before #1.
  3. The Flying Spiccato: The foundation for this stroke is the Jeté Vite, with the Flying Spiccato essentially comprising a chain of that technique multiple times in the same bow to play many notes. Some examples include: Saint-Saëns – Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso; Mendelssohn – Concerto, 3rd movement, theme measures 23, 24.
  4. The Standing Spiccato: A variation on the Flying Spiccato, this technique is accomplished by performing the same concept while the hand moves in small clockwise circles such that the bow "stands" in one position as it plays. The result is that the same area of the bow repeatedly contacts the strings. An example is: Mendelssohn – Concerto, 3rd movement, measures 137-144.
  5. The Bouncing Ball: This technique's name comes from the hand and arm motion, which is like tapping a ball. Together with a wrist action comparable to the Slap Stroke, this creates an aggressive, forceful spiccato. Some examples include: Paganini – Caprice #5 in A minor; Saint-Saëns – Havanaise, Allegro; Tchaikovsky Valse – Scherzo, measures 44-48.
    • The Bouncing Ball On the String
      On the String
    • The Bouncing Ball Off the String
      Off the String
    • The Bouncing Ball On the String
      On the String
    • The Bouncing Ball Off the String
      Off the String
  6. The Sautillé: Previously mentioned under the Détaché category, this technique is essentially made up of a finger détaché wherein the bow is not obligated to remain on the string. The tempo for this stroke is normally quick to very fast, with the hair barely lifting from the string while the wood hops along. The stroke is fairly light and sensitive, employing a small amount of bounce. Some examples include: Mozart – Haffner Serenade, Rondo; Saint-Saëns – Rondo Capriccioso, Piu Allegro.
  7. The Ricochet: This stroke is based on the pressure placed against the bow by the index finger. Depending on that, a single bow tap can yield as few as 2 or as many as 20 bounces of varying speed. This technique is applicable to any number of strings. For example, on one string: Bazzini – Ronde des Lutins; Tchaikovsky Valse – Scherzo. On four strings: Paganini – Caprice #1; Mendelssohn – Concerto, 1st movement, measures 34-50.

The Pizzicato

The Pizzicato is typically the work of your bow hand's forefinger. By altering the angle of the pulling motion and the quickness of the stroke, you will achieve different results. This technique can be accomplished in two different ways:

  • Right angle between finger and string: you will create a precise and firm sound through the use of the upper part of the finger.
  • 45-degree angle between finger and string: by taking advantage of the softer, fleshier portion of the finger, you will find that the sound becomes smoother and softer. This is well-suited to chords.
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