With so many different types of bowing out there, one can be easily confused by the variety- and the disagreement upon terms and definitions. In an attempt to provide accurate information for my students, I have compiled an expository list of bowing styles and examples, aggregated from several sources and professionals.
Some of these definitions may seem as though they’re impossibly close- and you would be correct in your confusion, because they are less mutually exclusive than I would like. They are helpful, however, because in each explanation and video demonstration, the heart of the bowing technique is shown. Even if the examples differ slightly from what I have shown in class, my students benefit from the context of a rich variety of experience, and I love being able to provide this wealth of knowledge to my students.
There are a few different basic categories for bowing, and they involve the length of the bow on the string, the separation of notes through use of the bow, and whether the approach and finishing of the note by the bow is on or off the string.
I. On-the-String Bow Strokes
The first category of bowing styles, which are the first strokes we teach beginning students, are referred to as detaché, legato, or staccato.
detaché– separate, broad bow strokes, but not staccato (or short)
finger detaché– a detaché resulting from only using the fingers of the right hand
accented grande detaché– a fast-moving bow, accented detaché, and can be done in one of two methods: without any “bite” (biting or gruff beginning of the note), or with a bite sound at the beginning of the note.
legato– smooth stroke without any spacing between changes of bow
marcato– sharp stroke… literally, well-marked
martele– detached and strongly accented bow stroke: “hammered”; see also martellato
martellato– hammer-style bowing, detached stroke, usually upper half of bow
staccato– a short note, which can be produced with several kinds of bow strokes, but indicates a note with required space between its ending and the beginning of the next note
tremolo– moving the bow with great rapidity, repeating the same note with rapid up and down bows stemming from the wrist
The first category also includes the basic introduction of playing multiple notes under one bow stroke, the slur.
slur– two or more different notes played under a single bow stroke, either up or down, with no articulation in between notes apart from the left hand changing pitch and/or the bow moving to a different string.
hooked bow– two or more notes under a slur, with each note’s beginning resulting from a stopped bow stroke. The bow continues in the same direction, but the notes are not part of the same impulse of bow movement. The sounding of the string may or may not be completely stopped by this pause of the bow.
louré (portato)– separating and swelling at the beginning of each note in a series of notes taken in a slur; this differs from up-bow and down-bow staccato in that each note’s re-articulation is gently emphasized while continuing the bow in the same direction. This also differs from hooked bow, as the bow stroke does not completely stop, nor does the sounding of the string become stifled from the bow motion interruption.
detaché porté– like a louré with heavy swelling on marked notes, but without the continuation of bow in the same direction (Brahms Sonata Opus 100) (see louré, just below)
detaché lancé– like a louré with no slurs, and the increased speed of a martelé (Bach Partita No. 2 Chaconne (measure 169))
piqué– a collé bowing starting from the string (see collé bowing, under “off-the-string bow strokes”), with fingers providing all of the movement. This results in a very terse note, with a sharp beginning and ending. Usually this is utilized when performing “backwards” articulation, starting with an upbow, in an uneven rhythm
II. Off-the-string bow strokes:
All of these bow strokes involve a form of staccato, as they place different amounts of space between notes and articulate them differently than when the bow is made to move in a strictly horizontal plane. The
A. one note per bow stroke
spiccato– controlled bouncing or springing bow
simple brushed spiccato– rather large, heavy, and slow strokes near the frog with no hand or finger movement
tapping stroke– light tapping motion, rotating back and forth along the horizontal axis of the right arm on each down and up bow stroke, using primarily the elbow and shoulder
bouncing ball– like slap stroke, but a more forceful, aggressive spiccato with the bounce of ricochet, the motion of the hand and arm the same as bouncing a ball.
sautillé– very fast spiccato, done usually with the hand, like a finger detache, with the hair hardly leaving the string while the wood bounces. It’s a relatively light and sensitive, slightly bouncing stroke (Saint-Saens, Rondo Capriccioso, last allegro; Dont- Opus 35; No. 2) (on YouTube, Professor V presents 2 alternative methods for sautille: Method 2, Method 3)
slap stroke– down or up bow, with a start from extreme off the string to on the string action, without a resulting bounce. This must be done either at the frog or the tip, and not anywhere in between.
saltato (saltando)– thrown staccato in the upper half of the bow, thrown down onto the string
collé– “pinched” bowing at the frog done with fingers only, starting from above the string, touching, and then lifting; often assigned by teachers to help students cultivate finger flexibility while still balancing the weight of the bow (here’s a great exercise to practice!)
B. Multiple notes per bow stroke
(or bow strokes repeatedly moving in the same direction while off the string)
upbow stacatto– stick down, third finger moving the bow at the first finger pivot point, resulting in a clockwise motion of the hand
flying spicatto– like regular spiccato in that the bow bounces, but the bow is drawn along the strings as it’s bounced in the same direction while playing many fast notes for a virtuostic effect. Neither the hair nor the stick actually leave the string, but are held for a series of hard, fast strokes while pressure is maintained to produce a staccato sound. (also called jeté lént)
standing spiccato– same as flying spiccato, except the bow repeatedly hits the string in the same place of the bow. This is done by the hand and fingers making little clockwise circles
jeté: a bouncing bow stroke involving two to six ricochets in a row, where the bow is thrown and allowed to bounce at a naturally decaying frequency
ricochet (saltato/ saltando)– a bouncing bow stroke in which the bow is dropped or thrown on the string and allowed to rebound and bounce again, several times, either in the same direction or toward a different bow direction. This bow stroke is sometimes considered less controlled than jeté.
– starts on the frog from an up bow, moving with the fingers and arm, finishing in the air- but on a sustained pitch, without bounce
jeté vité– same as the jete lent in that there is no real bouncing, but starts from the air and finishes in the air
son file- sustained tone
III. Multiple-String and Special Effect Bowings
whipped stroke (fouette)– an up bow, forcibly thrown onto the string as a special effect (Mendelssohn Concerto, Mvt 1 & 3)
saccadé– the sudden and forceful pressing down onto one string so hard the bow comes into contact with two strings at once
bariolage– the quick alternation between a static note and changing notes forming a melody above or below the static note, with repeated string crossing
sul ponticello– bowing near the bridge, resulting in a glassy or nasal tone
sul G– playing solely on the G string, with left hand adjusting position to produce all notes
chanterelle– notes or passage exclusively on the E string
sul tasto (flautando)– playing lightly over the fingerboard, resulting in a soft, whispery, hazy sound
flageolets– harmonics, produced with a light, quick stroke of the left hand while bowing. This bowing must have good contact with the string in order to produce the correct tone.
col legno– bow stick used to hit the strings
inversed position– instead of the bow hairs played closest to the bridge, the stick is rotated to be closest to the bridge. This technique eases the playing of several-note chords, and can give a fuller sound while relaxing the right hand
pizzicato– it wouldn’t be a proper discourse on the performance of the violin without this being mentioned, so I mention it to draw attention to the several ways in which it can be performed: with the finger at a 90-degree angle from the string, resulting in a marked pluck, with a 90-degree angle plucked more forcibly as to make the string slap onto the fingerboard, and with the finger at a 45-degree angle from the string, allowing the flesh of the finger to principally contact the string, making the note much more nuanced. Another consideration is whether or not to anchor the thumb underneath the fingerboard, or whether to pluck with the index finger with the bow still held by the right hand, or to put the bow on the stand. These issues can only be resolved by a thorough study of the printed music!
left- hand pizzicato– the action of plucking a string with one of the fingers of the left hand, usually either the index or 4th finger.
If you have a bowing technique to add, please contact me- I would enjoy hearing from you! I understand your definition of a particular technique may vary from what’s listed here, and while I will accept amendments to what is posted, I believe this list to be a solid and accurate starting point for a violinist or violist looking for good definition and example of a specific technique. Please be respectful and constructive in your comments, as this blog is maintained as a positive, safe place to help other string players.