Calvin Sieb


The Development of a Violinist

©Photo by Lois Siegel
 Bow Techniques

The forerunner of the present day violin was the 15th century Viol, an instrument shaped and held between the legs like today's cello, but smaller.  The sound was produced by the friction created when rough hair (from a horse's tail) strung on a curved stick, similar to a bow for shooting arrows, was drawn across the string.  Normally a small, delicate sound was emitted, but if too much pressure was applied, instead of increasing the volume, the hair would touch two and three strings at the same time.

In order to have more strength applied to one of the strings alone, to afford more dynamic contrasts, from piano to forte, the original arc of the wood gradually became more straight.

In a search for strength and also sensitivity, some bows began to appear in 1750 with a slight negative camber, opposite to the arc. In 1760 Francois Tourte, a Frenchman, developed a bow with the very pronounced camber (curve) as we know it today.  The present violin bow has basically not changed since the Tourte bow.


The Sounding Point refers to the point on the string between the bridge and the fingerboard where the bow contacts the string. (Galamian)   If we divide that space between the bridge and the fingerboard into four parts, we can imagine that space to be a 4-lane highway.

1st lane:  closest to the bridge  - is the truck lane - the slowest and heaviest
2nd lane: the 2nd closest to the bridge - is for passenger cars - normal speed and weight
3rd lane:  the 3rd closest to the bridge is for sports cars - faster and lighter
4th lane:  the furthest from the bridge (over the fingerboard) is for racing cars - the fastest and lightest

The 1st lane is seldom used.
The 2nd lane is most often used.
The 3rd lane is for a lighter color.
The 4th lane can be used for some impressionist colors in works such as the Ravel and Debussy Sonatas.
Most artists are continuously moving from one sounding point to another as they produce different colors.

The idea of a 4-lane highway is useful in explaining the basic colors and sounding points to young students.


1. THE SIMPLE DÉTACHÉ: There is no variation in pressure. Examples: Fiocco -  Allegro; Paganini Caprice No. 16; Bach - Partita in E, Praeludium; Viotti - Concerto No. 22, 1st movement
(the 16th note passages).

Basic Détaché Video

2. THE ACCENTED GRAND DÉTACHÉ: Large, long, fast strokes give much energy and sound. Example: Kreisler-Tartini, Praeludium and Allegro, Theme, 1st 23 measures; Beethoven concerto, measures 124-142.

Accented Grand Détaché

3. THE (Sieb) FINGER DÉTACHÉ: This technique is produced solely with the fingers and the hand, working from a relaxed and flexible wrist.  It provides a very efficient, small détaché for extremely fast and light détaché and Sautillé  passages.  Examples: Paganini, Moto Perpetuo, Saint-Saëns Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso - Allegro, last page, Kreutzer No. 2.

Finger Détaché

4. THE LOURÉ: A détaché stroke applied to one or a group of tied notes, where each note starts softly, grows and diminishes in soft waves. It is produced by alternating right hand pressures, mainly by the right hand index finger.  Example: Bach - 2nd Partita, Allemanda.


To Practice This Stroke

- Take a pen or pencil and position your right hand up to your shoulder as if throwing a dart.  Usually one throws with the first two fingers and the thumb.
- Try the same thing adding the ring finger.

- Now try the same thing adding also the little finger. The motion of "winding up" and simulating the throwing action a few times will give you the same movement as my finger

- Now place the bow, stick down, hair side up, on your right shoulder, holding the bow exactly as you held the pen. Making the same motion as in No. 3 above will give you the finger motion of the finger détaché.

- If you can make a circle with the left thumb and left index finger, the two fingernails now form a "bridge" where you can place the bow stick. This "bridge" will be placed between the wood and the hair. While holding this "bridge" at the approximate height and place where the bow usually plays on the strings, practice the same finger movement as above.

- You can learn the violin stroke by taking lessons or you can try this home technique.

5. SAUTILLÉ: This stroke is basically a (Sieb) Finger détaché with almost no pressure. This allows the bow stick to vibrate and to jump in the manner of a very small spiccato. Use only the fingers and hand, no arm. Examples:  Saint-Saëns  - Rondo Capriccioso, last allegro; Paganini - Moto Perpetuo, Dont - Opus 35, No. 2.


6. THE ACCENTED DÉTACHÉ: This is the same as #1, but with an accent. Examples include the following: (no bite) Mozart - D Major Concerto, measures 11, 12, 13 of the first solo; Kreisler - Praeludium and Allegro

Accented Détaché (No Bite)

(with bite) Saint-Saëns Concerto # 3, 1st Movement; Franck - Sonata, 4th Movement.  

Accented Détaché (With Bite)

7. THE DÉTACHÉ PORTÉ:  The same as #1, but with slight, heavy swelling on the marked notes. Examples:  Brahms - Sonata Opus 100, 1st movement; Prokofiev - Concerto No. 2, 1st movement (measures 138-139).

Détaché Porté

8.  THE DÉTACHÉ LANCÉ: This is similar to #4 but uses speed almost like a martelé instead of the heavy swelling. Examples: Bach Partita No. 1 in b minor, third double of Corrente. This is a combination of # 6, The Accented Détaché, and #7, the Détaché Porte; Bach - Partita No. 2, Chaconne (measure 169); Bach - Sonata No. 1 in g Minor, Fugue (measure 47) is a combination of #4 porté and #6 lancé. Bach - Sonata No. 1 in g minor, 10 measures Fugue from measures 44;  Beethoven Concerto, 1st movement, opening  solo ( 2 measures).  

Détaché Lancé

9. THE SLAP STROKE:  This is a down or up bow at the frog, or sometimes at the tip, with a marked, quick vertical slap with the bow. Examples: Saint-Saëns, Concerto, No. 3, b minor, 3rd movement with bite and slap;  Lalo - Symphonie Espagnol, opening 1st movement; Brahms - Concerto, 1st movement (opening solo, 12th and 13th notes and the opening solo (measures 74 and 1st solo);  Wieniawski - Concerto in d minor, 1st movement (high B flat). The Slap Stroke must be done either at the frog or the extreme tip.  Anywhere else will result in rapid bouncing as in a ricochet.

Slap Stroke

10. THE WHIPPED STROKE or FOUETTÉ: This is usually an up bow, lifted slightly and with a quick movement near the point, giving a quick accent. Examples:  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).

11. THE ACCENTED GRANDE DÉTACHÉ  a) this stroke is fast with no bite or b) fast with bite (see collé and martelé). Examples: a) Pugnani - Kreisler - Prelude and Allegro; Mozart - Concert in D, 1st solo; b) Brahms- Concert in D. 1st solo; Tartini - Devil's Trill Sonata, 2nd movement (measures 21-23 after double bar, accented trills).    

Accented Grande Detache

12.  THE PORTATO or LOURÉ: This  stroke must be done either at the frog or the extreme tip.  Anywhere else will result in rapid bouncing as in a ricochet. This is a very slight articulation of two or more notes in the same bow. It is made with the movement of the fingers, often only the index finger of the bow arm. Executed on one note, it produces very subtle waves in the sound.   Examples:  Bach - Partita in d minor, 1st movement Allemanda; Beethoven - Sonata No. 5, 1st and 4th movements.               




The Inversed Position is a turning of the bow so that instead of the hair being closer to the player, the wood is closer - because the bow is tilted towards the player's face. 

Inversed Position

This position, unusual for violinists and violists, but the normal position for cellists, lets the relaxed right wrist drop to its limit. What are the advantages?

The right hand is more relaxed. The result is a larger, fuller and more beautiful sound.  Later I found that with this technique, executed not at the frog but perhaps 5 or 6 inches farther towards the middle of the bow and over the fingerboard where the curve of the strings is less pronounced and the string tension is less, I could play simultaneously 3 and even 4 note chords in Bach solo Sonatas without the usual technique of breaking them 2 notes by 2.

The same attempt with a normal bow angle and a strong index finger , pressing to squeeze the 4 strings, or even 3 strings simultaneously, simply produces scratches.

For example, this method applies to playing the Bach G Minor Fugue, Chaconne 1st variation. Note, much of the viola repertoire is much easier with this technique.

Inversed Position



                     THE MARTELÉ                            

1. THE SIMPLE MARTELÉ: This is a fast stroke of even pressure that starts fast and ends abruptly and silently, producing an even note with no perceptible ending. Examples:  Bach - Partita in E Major, 1st two measures of the Praeludium; Brahms - Concerto, 1st movement; Beethoven Kreutzer Sonata, 3rd movement; The  Viotti Stroke: Viotti - Concerto No. 22, 1st Movement.

Simple Martelé

2. THE PINCHED or ACCENTED MARTELÉ: This is the same as The Viotti Stroke, but with a “bite” (collé) at beginning of stroke. THE COLLÉ (Galamian) is a very short "biting" (pinching the string with little bow and much pressure, perhaps not more than 1 or 2 centimeters in length. The right hand makes an accent with almost no bow It is usually done at the frog, but it can be employed at different places of the bow movement, almost creating a "bow pizzicato." It is usually done at the frog, but it can be employed at different places on the bow. Examples:  Brahms - Concerto, 1st movement (measure 3 of 1st solo); Kreutzer - Etude #7; Rode - Caprice #11 (measure 5); Vieuxtemps - Concerto in a Minute, 1st movement.

Pinched or Accented Martelé

3. THE SUSTAINED MARTELÉ: This is simply a sustained note that has a martelé start. Examples: Brahms - Concerto, 3rd movement at letter B (measures 57-65).  

Sustained Martelé

4. THE STACCATO: This is a succession of 2 or more very biting strokes in the same bow, done without stopping or releasing the pressure between each note. It is essentially one of the only non-musical, non-expressive insensitive strokes in  violin bow technique, used as a virtuoso show trick. It is accomplished with much pressure and tension in the right hand and with the hair in a flat position to get the maximum contact on the string.  Examples:  Kreutzer Etude No 4.; Paganini - Caprice No. 10.; Sibelius, Concerto, 3rd movement.


5. THE JETÉ LENT: This movement starts near the frog and is done by moving the fingers (as in the finger détaché) and the arm rapidly in an up bow direction, starting from the string and finishing in the air. It is not a spiccato (bouncing stroke).  Example:  Mozart - Concert in D Major, 3rd movement, opening and theme.

Jété Lent

6. THE JETÉ VITE: This is the same as the JETÉ LENT, except this stroke starts from the air. Often it is done in sequences of two or more notes. Examples: Saint-Saëns, Rondo Capriccioso, Allegro. These two JETÉ strokes were first described by the noted German pedagogue Carl Flesch.

Jété Vite

7. THE FLYING STACCATO: This bowing is usually 6 or more up or down, staccato strokes in the same bow. The right arm is tensed so as to produce a fast, hard series of strokes, maintaining, in most cases, the pressure on the bow. Neither hair nor wood leave the string. Examples: Wieniawski - Concerto in d minor, 1st movement; Polonaise in A Major; Sibelius - Concert 3rd Movement; Dinicu, Hora Staccato.

Flying Staccato


1.THE SIMPLE BRUSHED SPICCATO: These are rather large, heavy and slow strokes near the frog with no hand or finger  movement. This can also be done adding hand and finger motion for another effect. Examples:  Prokofiev - Concerto No. 2, 3rd movement, No. 44.

Simple Brushed Spiccato

2. TAPPING STROKE: Light tapping  motion, rotating back and forth along the longitudinal axis of the right arm on each down and up bow stroke of the bow. Example: Debussy - Sonata 2nd movement, 6 measures before #1.                 

Tapping Stroke

This technique is simply many notes, based on the
JETÉ VITE strokes in the same bow. Examples: Saint-Saëns - Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso; Mendelssohn - Concerto, 3rd Movement, theme measures 23, 24.

Flying Spiccato

4. STANDING SPICCATO: This is also the same as No. 3 above, except that the bow repeatedly hits the string in the same place of the bow. This is done by the hand and fingers of the right arm making little clockwise circles, thereby requiring the bow to "stand" in the same place.  Example: Mendelssohn Concerto, 3rd movement, measures 137-144.

Standing Spiccato

5. THE BOUNCING BALL: The motion  of the hand and arm are the same as bouncing, tapping a ball, and the wrist action is similar to the Slap Stroke, resulting in a more forceful and aggressive spiccato.  Example: Paganini - Caprice #5 in a minor; Saint-Saëns - Havanaise, Allegro; Tchaikovsky Valse - Scherzo, measures 44 - 48.

Bouncing Ball

On the String

Off the String

On the String

Off the String

THE SAUTILLÉ: ( See Sautillé under Détaché). This is basically a finger détaché that is not forcibly kept on the string. It is usually done in a quick to very fast tempo. The hair hardly leaves the string while the wood bounces. It is a relatively light and sensitive, slightly bouncing stroke. Examples: Mozart Haffner Serenade, Rondo; Saint-Saëns - Rondo Capriccioso, Piu Allegro.


7. THE RICOCHET: With one tap of the bow on the string (as in # 2), the bow can bounce from 2 to perhaps as many as 20 times, slowly or quickly, depending on how much pressure is exerted by the right index finger. It can be executed on one or more strings. Examples:  1 string: Bazzini Ronde des Lutins; Tchaikovsky Valse Scherzo; 4 strings; Paganini - Caprice #1; Mendelssohn - Concerto, 1st movement, measures 34-50.



8. THE PIZZICATO is done normally with the right index finger. Different effects can be made depending on the angle of the pulling motion and the speed of the movement.  There are two basic ways of making a pizzicato. 

Right angle between finger and string: using the top part of the finger provides a precise and hard sound.

45-degree angle between the finger and the string: using the fleshy part of the finger provides a softer and smoother sounds - more appropriate for chords.

The Pizzicato

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