Cello bowing

September 13, 2016 at 05:25 PM · I was given the task to decide on bowings for a piece our amateur orchestra is going to perform in December. There is a rhythmic pattern that all the instruments play together, which I proposed to bow with a repeated retake of the bow to make it easier to stay in sync and to emphasize the rhythm:

Note, this is quite fast, the score says 160 beats per minute, although, amateurs that we are, we will probably take it a bit slower.

Now our cellist leader tells me that these retakes are really awkward for cello bowing?! She much prefers to bow it as it comes.

Any people with experience on such issues? I know there are a few (professional, amateur, or student) concertmasters on this forum. It is true that as violinists we sometimes decide on bowings for cello and perhaps we are not sufficiently aware that cello bowing is significantly different? Or...would you say our cellist (who is the most graceful person by the way) is exaggerating a bit here and would you think this should be quite playable for cello?

I probably should post this on a cello forum instead of here, but, as I said, we violinists sometimes are confronted with such issues, so I think it is relevant also on this forum.

Replies (9)

September 13, 2016 at 10:44 PM · It is not always advisable for 'cellists and viiolinists to have the same bowings in similar passages. Violas are sometimes well advised to align their bowings with the 'cellos.

September 13, 2016 at 11:03 PM · Those re-takes are awkward at that tempo. I'd do it if you were at 80 bpm or so but certainly not going faster. How about Down Up-Down Up Up? Personally, I'd play it as it comes, and shape it sound-wise.

Violin and Viola bowings are often times impractical on cello (and absolutely useless on double bass). I think that in nearly all cases, the need for the correct sound and articulation take priority over actual bow direction.

September 14, 2016 at 02:16 AM · Or down-up-up-down-up. Taking it as it comes might be tough on the nervous system if it covers too many measures.

I've not found a cello bow more unwieldy than a violin of viola bow, nor any problem moving one as fast. But I agree 100% with Gene's 2nd paragraph.

September 15, 2016 at 10:32 AM · One can certainly try violinist's bowings on the 'cello or viola, but the heavier, longer strings often take a fraction longer to sound.

September 15, 2016 at 12:11 PM · I agree with Gene. That bowing will be awkward at 160, and I would also do the double ups. Let the cellists do their own thing-- it's better to sound good than to match.

September 15, 2016 at 12:29 PM · What piece is this, anyway? And what is its character? If somewhat light. what I might do at that tempo is up, down down - jete (ricochet) for the 2 sixteenths, up up up etc. - Or hook the first eighth after the 2 sixteenths also down bow. It also depends on the actual notes for the left hand, what string crossings are involved and where.

I take it that you are concertmaster. Ultimately what you say goes, subject to the conductors approval. But if the principal cellist tells you it's not working, do listen to that - and it's OK to delegate responsibility.

September 15, 2016 at 12:55 PM · Many thanks for the helpful replies and advice! I'll revise those retakes, it is true that they are awkward at 160 bpm (although, as I said, I don't expect we will actually get at that speed). The piece is "Suite Andalouse for Oud and Orchestra" by Marcel Khalife.

September 15, 2016 at 02:07 PM · This won't help you with the Khalife, but for standard rep, check out the New York Philharmonic bowings available at


Very helpful and interesting.

If you haven't already, you can also check out performances on Youtube to see what other orchestras have done. Caveat emptor and all that.


If I found the right spot, it appears that the violinists are doing ricochet as Raphael suggested.

September 15, 2016 at 06:44 PM · The problem can be summarised in that everything on the cello is bigger, heavier and has more inertia than the violin. In my former life as an orchestral cellist the cello section generally had no hesitation in not trying to slavishly copy the violin bowings if it didn't work out, and one occasion a conductor, not a string player and evidently more concerned with how things appeared to the audience, had to be re-educated in the matter. Another point is that cello fingering is not the same as that on the violin, and in some circumstances this can have a knock-on effect on the bowing.

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