Most people wonder at how the simple act of moving the bow back and forth perpendicularly on the strings can produce such incredible sounds. It might look easy for some, but it is really far more complicated than one could imagine. Playing the violin is all about how you control the violin bow as it touches and moves across the sensitive strings. It is the vibrations of the strings that produce that amazing sound, whether it is done by plucking known as pizzicato or gliding the bow along the strings known as arco, so the pressure that you put on them and the positioning of the bow would have different effects.
It is important to have a good grip on the bow; it must not be too tight or too loose, but just enough to give power and sensitivity when needed. The fingers must be flexible for the efficient handling of the bow. The thumb supports the bow and serves as the fulcrum for all hand movements with the middle finger securing the hold on the bow. The index finger is used to apply pressure on the string, which the thumb should counter.
In controlling the sounding point or the place where the bow meets the strings, the index finger can pull the bow in the direction of the bridge while the ring finger can pull the bow closer to the fingerboard. As the little finger presses down on top of the stick, the bow is lifted, and the pressure is released as well.
The right hand that handles the bow can alter the dynamics, rhythm, articulation, and tone quality while the left hand controls the pitch. In changing the timbre, the closer the contact between the bow and the string to the bridge (sul ponticello), the more intense or fiercer the sound becomes to emphasize higher harmonics. When the contact is closer to the end of the fingerboard (sul tasto), the sound becomes more delicate, softer, or lighter to emphasize the lowest frequency. The more pressure you put on the strings, the louder the sound is produced. Increasing the bowing speed can also increase the volume, although you can increase the speed and still able to play softly if you want. With regards to the speed of the bow, you can put more pressure only with fast bowing because slow bowing will require less pressure; otherwise, it would scratch.
Different Violin Bowing Techniques
Here are the different techniques or manner of attacks done with the bow that you can apply when playing the violin to produce the sound that you want:
It means separated. This is the basic bowing technique that involves playing each note of equal value in a broad but separate stroke as it alternates between up-bowing and down‑bowing, and done in rapid succession. The effect on the string can be elastic for off-the-string strokes or dragged for smooth bowing changes. Take note that the bowing is done smoothly and without gaps or breaks that would emphasize the separation. It can be done anywhere on the bow or the whole bow but usually done a little above the middle part of the bow.
The speed and amount of pressure should both be constant, which means that the pressure is not lifted at all when changing bows, but a “click” will be heard when the bow changes its direction. However, this click would not be noticeable in a large venue, thus resulting in a clean articulation. It is about finding a balance between fluid and brisk sound.
It means tied together. With this bowing technique, more notes are played in one bow stroke in one continuous motion. It is about maintaining the bow on the strings. The notes are slurred or essentially played without pausing. The transition between the notes must be done smoothly without silence, accent, sound, or anything to make it distinct. The note is played to its maximum duration, then blending it to the next note to make it seem connected.
It would also involve finger dropping, shifting, and bow changes as the left hand would be in control of most of the articulations and rhythms. The bow must move gradually to the new string for string crossings with the finger in place on the new string to achieve continuity of sound.
3) Martelé (French; Italian martellato)
It means hammered. Each note is accented to emphasize the distinction. In this technique, the bow puts pressure on the string in the intended stroke direction then most of the pressure is instantly released with the longer stroke done at high bow speed. As the bow comes to a sudden stop, all pressure must be lifted. There is silence or rest in between bow strokes. This is commonly used for doing staccato notes. With a martelé, the hammering is light or delicate. A strong hammering, on the other hand, is called Martellato.
It is the past participle of the Italian word, spicarre, which means “to separate.” It involves having a little pause between the notes with the bow appearing to bounce softly on the string. This is considered the slowest bouncing stroke. It is done with a thoroughly relaxed grip on the bow, and as you let it drop down onto the string, it bounces back due to the bow’s elasticity and lightweight. The position of the bow influences the speed of the bounce as it falls to the string. For a slow spiccato, go as low as the balance point and for a fast spiccato, go above the middle. The height of the bounce can also affect the speed. The higher it jumps back up, the slower it bounces because it would take more time to fall down.
The character of the sound with this bouncing stroke is determined by tilting the bow to vary the amount of hair used. When full hair of the bow is used, it will result in very short strokes, bouncing a lot. When less hair is used as it is tilted away from you, the bounce becomes lower in height and with longer strokes resulting in a more mellow sound.
It means glued or stuck. The bow is pressed onto the strings then it is lifted quickly for very short strokes. This bowing technique is generally used before an attack for any stroke that requires the bow to be placed on the strings.
This is usually done low on the bow or near the frog with the fingers doing all the work in moving the bow. The fingers need to be more flexible for this as the bowing is performed in both directions and initiated by flexing the fingers. On the down bow, the fingers are flexed or bent then it straightens. On the up bow, the fingers are straightened, then it would flex and bend. Collé is essential for accurate and crisp strokes. This method is great for starting the martelé stroke.
It means bounce. This involves the bouncing of the stick rather than the hairs on the string, although the hair slightly retains contact with the string, creating an off-the-string effect. It is generally used for fast strokes; it is faster than spiccato. In this bouncing stroke, the work is done by the wrist. It is best done when the contact is made in the middle part of the bow for easier and better control of the bow.
When practicing, you can start with tremolo in the bow’s upper half then moving towards the middle as the wrist motion becomes fast enough until the bow naturally lifts itself or bounce by itself. It would bounce higher as you press the index finger higher. As you go lower near the balance point, the bounce will slow down, and if you reach the middle or go beyond that, it will go faster. Tilting the bow will change the character of the sound. This bowing technique is mostly used in orchestral music.
It means trembling. This involves playing a note very rapidly in small unmeasured strokes amplifying its sound. Then, when you briefly stop bowing, the volume decreases; as you go back and forth, the volume goes up and down as well, creating the tremolo effect. This is done with the tip or upper part of the bow and with the wrist doing the work. Tremolo is mainly used in orchestral playing.
8) Col legno
It means “with the wood.” This entails bouncing or hitting the strings with the stick or wood of the bow instead of the hairs on the bow; this is more specifically known as col legno battuto. The percussive sound is somewhat muffled or muted in this case, with the pitch determined by the distance from the bridge where the wood hits the strings.
With this in mind, the sound of one playing the col legno will be quite different when more people are applying this technique as they would not be hitting the exact same place. When the wood of the bow is drawn across the strings instead of striking them, it is called col legno tratto. The effect would naturally be different with the sound more quiet with white noise overlay.
It means thrown, and it is also known as ricochet. This is somewhat the extreme version of spiccato in which the bow is thrown to the string to bounce for several notes in the same bowing direction. It is done on the bow’s upper third part for down bowing. The bouncing speed and height are controlled by the pressure applied by the index finger as well as the point of contact between the bow and string when it is initially positioned or thrown. A slow bounce would require getting thrown near the balance point and a faster one at the middle or upper half of the bow. The speed is slow, with a higher bounce. Keep in mind that some violinists use jeté and ricochet interchangeably, but some refer to the jeté as a more controlled bounce.
It is also known as portato, which is the past participle of portare meaning “to carry or to bring.” This can be considered as legato’s version of slurring staccato or many détaché strokes having the same bowing direction. In this form of attack, each slurred note is gently given emphasis or articulated by the bow slowing but not stopping.
It is sometimes called chunking. With this technique, the bow lands quickly on the string creating a short gritty or scratchy sound or sometimes a muted sound with percussive chopping. This is done by striking the strings fast with the bow’s hair close to the frog.
Also called arpeggiando, arpeggiato – It is basically a broken chord. This is done by playing the first, third, and fifth notes of the scale in succession with the bouncing stroke. Each note will be played on a separate string.
It is a pattern of accents and slurs that are done in a repeated manner. Accents are done by adding speed, pressure, and duration to the point of contact between the bow and string. With slurring, the notes are played with the bowing hand, not changing direction in one bow stroke. Shuffling is done with alternate bowing. This is most commonly used in fiddling styles. The shuffle pattern will be “up-down-up” if it’s started with the up bow. And it will be “down-up-down“, if it’s started with the down bow.
The different violin bowing techniques allow the violinist to add more texture to their music. It effectively articulates the music and draws emotions from the listeners. Practice the correct way of doing all these so that you can achieve the desired results.