Zlata Brouwer on 24 Violin Bowing Techniques

24 Violin Bowing Techniques

by Zlata Ihou-Brouwer, the founder of Violinlounge, Classical violinist, teacher and bowing technique expert

"With the violin bow, you’re an artist painting with sound colors"

 

In this article I explain 24 different bowing techniques for you to play with:

When you would compare violin playing with singing, the violin is the lungs of the singer and the bow is the breath and voice

Learning about the bowing technique gives you a voice: a tool of expression

Before we dive in, I would like to emphasize that these bowing techniques are merely a ‘toolbox’ and this article is very theoretical. Always remember music is an art form and in practice, you color your sound with combinations of these techniques: you look for the sound that matches the piece you play and what you want to express. Don’t see these techniques as black and white, but know that you can use them as bottles of paint that you can combine to create your own color.

The meaning of this article is to give you ideas and inspiration, not dogma. I mention this because a lot of people (especially adults) treat the violin from a very technical point of view. This can benefit you greatly, but sometimes it can hold you back in playing expressively and experimenting to reach your results faster without fully understanding. The technique is always a means to an end. In this article, I give you the ingredients, but you are the one who determines the recipe and the dish you want to make.

3 Main categories of bowing technique

To make a good overview I’ve divided the 24 bowing techniques into three categories and a fourth ‘others’. In all bowing techniques without detaché, the violin remains on the string and you play the notes in their full length. In spiccato, you play a shorter length of the note and the bow leaves the string. In martelé, the notes are shorter just as in spiccato and there is ‘air’ between the notes, but the bow usually doesn’t leave the string. The other bowing techniques are more special effects or things I couldn’t place in the other categories.

Detaché

Detaché is ‘normal bowing’, down and up, with a healthy tone, a seamless bow change and perhaps a small accent at the beginning of every bow stroke.

Types of detaché

In detaché collé you perfect a ‘slow motion’ or ‘put down’ spiccato: you lift the bow at the bow changes. In detaché porté, you emphasize the beginning of each bow stroke using a higher bow speed (no pressure accent).

Son filé

Son filé is a bowing technique in which you make a deep and full sound. An example is the beginning of the Bruch violin concerto.

Legato

In legato, you play multiple notes on one bow stroke. This gives a fluent sound. In sheet music, you see a slur above the notes.

Portato

‘Opjes met stopjes’ I call this in Dutch when teaching my young private students: up bows with stops. It is a little similar to legato as you play multiple notes on one bow stroke, but you stop your bow between the notes without accents. It sounds a bit similar to detaché.

Chords

Sometimes you see in the sheet music you have to play three or four notes at the same time. In this case, you play a broken chord: you play the lower notes first (shortly) and then the higher notes. There are exceptions in which you have to play the three notes at the same time, for example in Dont’s etude nr 1. This is called a triple

Martelé

Martelé is French for hammered. This is often the second bowing technique you learn on the violin. In martelé, you don’t make a silent or seamless bow change, but their remains ‘air’ between the notes. Also, every note begins with an accent. The sound is more ‘taaa’ than ‘laaa’. Every bow stroke starts with a ‘click’. You put the weight of your arm through your index finger into the bow and release it when the bow stroke starts. Timing is very important in this bowing technique. When you release the weight too early, you don’t get a ‘click’. When you release the weight too late, you get a scratch. Martelé can be found in the Praeludium and Allegro in the style of Pugnani by Fritz Kreisler. You can recognize it by the accent at the beginning of a note.

Types of martelé

In martelé collé, you lift the bow at the bow change. This looks a bit like slow motion spiccato or detaché collé. Martelé lancé means a longer bow stroke with higher bow speed at the beginning of the note. This looks a lot like detaché porté, but with firm accents.

(Solid) Staccato

There are several definitions of staccato and sometimes staccato and martelé are mixed up. Often staccato is used to describe multiple martelé notes on one bow stroke.

Flying staccato

Here the bow leaves the string between multiple martelé notes on one bow stroke. Your bow bounces, but you control the movement.

Fouetté

This bowing technique is the middle between spiccato on the string and a detaché with accents. Most of the time it’s played on the upper half of the bow.

Spiccato

Spiccato uses the natural jumping off your violin bow. This works best about one centimetre above the balance point of your bow, but differs per bow and depends on the speed. Different bows have different ‘spiccato spots’. Can you find yours? The bow leaves the string at the bow changes and the bow strokes are short. It’s important in spiccato that your wrist and fingers make smooth movements and you’re not doing the spiccato with your entire arm.

Spiccato

Spiccato uses the natural jumping off your violin bow. This works best about one centimetre above the balance point of your bow, but differs per bow and depends on the speed. Different bows have different ‘spiccato spots’. Can you find yours? The bow leaves the string at the bow changes and the bow strokes are short. It’s important in spiccato that your wrist and fingers make smooth movements and you’re not doing the spiccato with your entire arm.

How to learn spiccato on the violin?

To learn spiccato it’s important that you master a basic bowing technique with the right movements and control in your wrist and fingers. Do you notice your spicatto is uncontrolled, the bounce is too high or your bow just jumps all over the place? Check if you’re not using your arm too much. In sheet music spiccato is indicated by dots above or below the notes. Depending on the composer, period and character of the piece dots can also indicate other bowing techniques. Explaining how you can determine what bowing technique to do when exactly, is beyond the scope of this article.

Sautillé

In a high tempo, you do sautillé instead of spiccato. Sautillé is played higher on the bow than spiccato. You’ll already notice that the higher the speed, the higher the ideal ‘jump spot’ of your bow. In spiccato your hand and the natural bounce of your bow work together. In sautillé you do less (you just keep it going) and your bow bounces more naturally. A prerequisite to learning sautillé is a good basic bowing technique, relaxed and controlled bow hold and some skill in spiccato.

Flying spiccato

Here you play several spiccato notes on one bow stroke and you bow almost on the same spot of the bow. There is an almost vertical jump.

Ricochet

In ricochet, you use the natural jumping quality of your violin bow and you play several notes on one bow stroke. It’s like a pebble bouncing over the water surface. You can find ricochet in the original bowing of Paganini’s 5th caprice.

Jumping arpeggio

Here you apply ricochet in broken chords. A famous example is the cadenza in the first movement of the Mendelssohn concerto.

Other bowing techniques on the violin

There are many more sounds you can make with your violin bow! In tremolo you make short bow strokes at the tip: you see this a lot in orchestras. In col legno you turn the bow upside down and you play with the wood on the string. When I have to do this, I’m always happy to have a carbon bow that won’t get damaged, haha! Sul punticello is bowing near the bridge causing a classy sound. Sul tast is bowing near or above the fingerboard with the soft sound. Flautato is bowing with a high bow speed and little pressure creating a whistling transparent sound.

Do you desire to master all bowing techniques on the violin?

 

Hi! I'm Zlata

Classical violinist, teacher and bowing technique nerd helping you play the music you love passionately!

As a violin teacher specialized in bowing technique and tone creation I teach violin players worldwide how to express themselves in music to touch people’s hearts with their melodic beautiful violin playing. I think the violin is built to be the voice of your Soul.

Then join me at iClassical Academy's musiMentor program and get your violin course "Upgrade your Bow technique" for a special launch offer! (Valid till July 4th, 2019)

Sources of this article:

  • ‘Art of Violin Playing’ – Carl Flesch
  • ‘De kunst van het vioolonderwijs’ (Dutch) – Louis Metz
  • ‘Principles of violin playing and teaching’ – Ivan Galamian
  • ‘The art of bowing practice’ – Robert Gerle
  • Bow like a Pro – research for my online masterclass program

©Zlata Ihou-Brouwer Violinlounge.com

Zlata Brouwer on 24 Violin Bowing Techniques ultima modifica: da iClassical Foundation