Developing Spiccato

November 18, 2017, 2:49 PM · How do I improve my spiccato? My teacher said I have to let the bow do the work, and not control it so much. I can do it in class averagely ok, but then at home, when I practice, my bow just feels heavy in my hand. How do I practice my spiccato?

Replies (21)

November 18, 2017, 3:35 PM · Could you maybe post a video of yourself doing some spiccato, so we forum members can better give you suggestions? Make sure your thumb muscle is relaxed, or your spiccato can become crunchy. You can also search the site for some possible tips.
November 19, 2017, 12:13 AM · Are you talking about spiccato, where you both drop and lift the bow actively to create the articulation?

Or are you talking about sautille, where the inherent resilience of the bow stick is used to generate the articulation (i.e., the stick "bounces" but the bow hair does not)?

I'd recommend doing a search on previous forum posts on this subject. While those two strokes can be identified very clearly by their sound, there is a whole range in between them that is difficult to classify.

November 19, 2017, 8:04 AM · It's impossible to give you specific suggestions without seeing you actually do the stroke, but off the top of my head here are the most frequent things I find myself saying to students struggling with spiccato:

Start *from* the string, not from the air.
Use less bow (horizontal motion)
Don't try to bounce so high--it isn't necessary to see daylight between your bow and the strings
Adjust placement of the bow--too low or too high in the bow will ruin your spiccato

Hope you find one or more of those tips helpful.

November 19, 2017, 9:30 AM · "My teacher said I have to let the bow do the work, and not control it so much"

I'm tempted to say "get a new teacher." But in fairness, I haven't seen you teacher in teaching action. He or she may be giving you perfectly good technique.

On the other hand, I've seen teachers who, year upon year, produce students who cannot bounce the bow. And that says something.

Sorry Mary Ellen, I will disagree with a couple of things:
1. A bouncing bow is not unlike a basketball: you have to learn how to get it actually bouncing by using its own elasticity and inertia. So I have students start with a very high bounce high in the bow and smack the string. Don't be nice and don't worry about the sound. ("start from the string" is something mediocre conductors learn to say and just say it all the time regardless of the passage). Learn to feel the bow actually bouncing itself. You can't bounce a basketball by starting and/or keeping it low (well, you can but it's more difficult...).

Why can't people bounce the bow well? In my experience, it starts with the grip, and especially the pinkie and thumb. If they are locked and straight, forget it. You'll never develop a fast bounce or sautille. You might as well try skiing with your legs locked straight. The stroke actually starts from a good legato motion. But you can't lose control of the stroke and have one of those floppy wrists either. That's why the pinkie does have to stay on the bow.

A teacher should have a methodology of teaching spicatto. I had one teacher who said "just play faster--it'll come off the string." I've always had a good spicatto (maybe the only thing I do well...). I still don't know how I acquired it. But I learned to have method only later, after learning to practice in groups and rhythms, and then teaching it.

To that end, I have students first start in Sevcik op. 2 book II (book I is not so helpful). I have them learn the notes of each etude really well in detache so the notes are not the issue--you don't want to be working on the stroke and learning notes at the same time. Then we work on the bounce in the succession of groupings so that the string crossings are ironed out. There are no shifts in this book.
You make 2 good bounces at a time. Then 3, then 4, then 6, and using a variety of dotted rhythms.
Then out comes the metronome. There are pages of variations given for each etude, but frankly I see them as mostly busywork and not relevant to spicatto.

After Sevcik, I use a variety of works that contain long passages of spicatto, including those by Novacek, Kriesler, Paganini (moto perpetuo is excellent), and even up to some orchestral works, such as the Mendelssohn Scherzo and Schumann 2nd.

So to sum up:
-good grip taken from legato
-exaggerated, high bouncing at the beginning, then gradually refined to a lower bounce.
-use of a method that includes spicatto-specific repertoire and groups and rhythms.
-Use of the metronome

November 19, 2017, 12:07 PM · Seems like Mary Ellen is describing a faster spiccato and Scott is talking about developing a slower spiccato.

From the teacher's comment I would assume a faster stroke is being discussed. But even in the case of a controlled bounce you have to allow the bow to bounce, allow "the bow to do the work", before suspending it in between bounces. Timing must be ingrained in slower bounces.

All bouncing can be started from the string or dropped from the air, but it's conventional to learn faster strokes from the string. The bouncing point of the bow depends on tempo, especially for faster strokes.

Here's a pretty in depth discussion from a while back:

November 19, 2017, 12:43 PM · For sautille, I've always had success telling students to use their right elbow to "throw" or "toss" their loose wrist/hand back and forth, while just barely holding onto the bow. It should start as a very unrefined movement, and the bow will bounce. If the throwing movement doesn't get the stick to bounce, then chances are that you're playing too close to the tip. If it bounces in a sporadic, heavy, uncontrolled manner, then you're playing too close to the frog.

For regular spicatto, I'd have to know the speed of notes that you're aiming for. Slow spicatto tends to be done differently than fast spicatto.

Edited: November 19, 2017, 12:46 PM · This is the way I teach spiccato.(as differentiated from sautille.

Down Bow Position: (suppination) fingers curved, balancing the weight of the tip of the bow with the little finger.

1. Performed in the middle to lower part of the bow.
2. The hand is in down bow position.
3. On the down bow the bow is dropped onto the string, on the up bow the bow is lifted.
4. Initially the student should swing his arm in a big, arc-like motion, rather like a pendulum. Start with big arcs and gradually make the arc smaller and smaller, which will increase the speed of the spicatto.
5. The action of the fingers is neither passive, nor too active. To demonstrate that the fingers merely respond to the bow’s encounter with the string: 1. Tell the student to hold the bow vertically in the air. Then tell him to gently bump the center bout of the violin against the bow. If the fingers are flexible and passive, the bow will rebound and fall back to the violin, and the fingers will remain passive.
2. Then instruct the student to bump the e string against the bow, recreating the same feeling.

6. To demonstrate the active finger motion (Dounis exercise):
1. Hold a pencil in your hand in bowing position
2. Push the pencil down with the first, then the 4th finger. Do not move the forearm.
3. Do the same with the bow in the hand (holding it at the balance point if you wish).
4. Then drop the bow on the G string, down bow. On the rebound lift the bow upward: the tip of the bow drops. On the up bow, peck the bow on the E string . On the rebound lift the bow upward: the tip of the bow goes up. Use large figure eight motions to begin with, gradually decrease the motion.
5. Do the same as #4, but stay on the G string.

7. To demonstrate the amount of finger activity and to achieve a feeling of control, tell the student to practice spicatto on the side of the violin (on the center bout).
8. If the student's wrist is too rigid, or to achieve the feeling of a "weightless" bow, tell the student to "cradle" the bow at the balance point, without the thumb. Then add the thumb and attempt the spicatto. The student should then move back to the normal playing position, recreating the same feeling in his hand. The bow exerts more weight against the little finger when held at the frog.

November 19, 2017, 12:51 PM · This is the way I teach sautille.
I use these 2 terms:

Down Bow Position: (suppination) fingers curved, balancing the weight of the tip of the bow with the little finger.

Up Bow Position: (pronation)The position the fingers take if you move the bow hold to the very tip of the bow: much weight on the first and second finger, fingers almost straight.

Sautille´ (very fast spiccato)

1. Performed a few inches above the balance point of the bow.

2. The fingers are in down bow position. The hands is at right angles to the bow. 3. Use an up and down wrist motion. The motion is the same as tapping, or knocking on a door. There should be no arm movement, except for changing string levels.

4. The student should practice the tapping motion with his hands on a table, without the bow, and then with the bow.

5. Hold the bow firmly.

6. The bow remains on the string, but the stick bounces. If the bow stroke is done correctly the tip of the bow will move up and down.

7. Beware of lifting the elbow, this will put you into up bow position.

8. The principle of this bowing may initially be taught with the hand in up bow position. If done properly, the tip of the bow will not go up and down, but will remain on one plane. This bowing is called the eraser stroke.

If this doesn't work then I give them my "magic sautille bow" to try which is purported to always work to achieve the bow stroke. :

November 19, 2017, 5:56 PM · A lot of otherwise good players don't have the orchestra style fast, light spicatto (or sautille, if you prefer french). I'm glad that someone else is using the basketball dribble analogy; gravity and the tension of the ball do most of the work for you. I have had some success using the Sevcik Op. 3 variations. 3 approaches may work; 1) start with the high , slow bounce using mostly arm motion, gradually get closer, faster, lighter, and let the wrist, then fingers take over. 2) start with a very fast tremelo, gradually take off the leverage from the 1st finger, and it might start bouncing, if it's the right spot on a good bow. 3) Use a piece with lots of string changes, like vars. 13, 27. The extra motion can be just the right amount of force to start the bow bouncing.
November 19, 2017, 7:19 PM · I found that Eddy Chen’s video helped me.
Edited: November 19, 2017, 8:50 PM · About starting on the string vs. off. I'm working on the Mozart Haffner Rondo (it's in the red Kreisler book). I want to play the opening passage sautille. I have tried very very hard to start on the string and I just cannot get it going quickly enough. Effectively what has to happen is a very quick downbow lift. I guess that's something I should be able to do, but it's not in my skill set ... yet? Maybe just hard because it's marked "p".

About just "letting the bow do it." I know what teachers are talking about. There are some students who just "discover" sautille by working on "Elves Dance" or the Bohm Perpetual Motion. They saw away with their bows and eventually it just lifts off an they've got it. Rather a lot of students get it this way. I did. The problem is some of those students become teachers and then they don't know how to help a student when it doesn't happen automatically.

Edited: November 19, 2017, 9:33 PM · It's hard to describe in words Paul, but you don't want to actively lift the bow in from-the-string sautille. What you want is to start with the hair glued to the string (colle) so that there is some or complete compression of the stick onto the hair, which will apply enough pressure to bend the string sideways. When you suddenly release the compression the loaded spring will kick the bow up (which is why it's so important to learn how to release pressure as you move the bow,) at which point you can maintain enough compression to keep the hairs from kicking up off the string, or you can allow the hand to coordinate with the released spring and let the hair bounce off the string. If you hold with a more square hold, the vertical motion of the wrist will rock the bow, see-saw fashion, to keep kicking the bow back onto the string. If you hold with more of a lean, so the fingers are at an oblique angle, the angle of the 'hinge' of the wrist will cause the fingers to act on the stick at an oblique angle, which will keep kicking the bow onto the string (if you read that thread I linked to above, the former rocking sautille is what Finckel demonstrates, the oblique motion (with a dropped wrist) is what Nate demonstrates.)

Another way to think of it is that on-the-string detache is an active compression of the stick, in that we don't allow the stick to spring back up with every bow change. If you match the bounce point of the stick to the tempo (stick frequency = stroke frequency) the stick will want to kick up. You have to have enough flexibility in the fingers, and a short enough stroke, to feel that kick. If you allow slight interruption in the sound at each bow change you start getting an on-the-string sautille (detach perle, in Baillot's terminology.) The greater the gap in sound you allow, the more it will sound bounced.

November 20, 2017, 12:12 PM · I'm working on this right now. I'm trying to work my spiccato/sautille up to a faster speed for the 3rd movt of the Wieniawski 2, and I'm isolating some of the issues. Bear with me for thinking out loud, but working starting on the open e string, sometimes I work from higher and sometimes I work from the string, to get to that in-between spot.

(I seem to be working at what Jeewon is describing) When working from the string, I start out with a detache and work my detache up to a quicker tempo, from as relaxed and naturally weighted an arm as possible and really only moving my fingers and hand. Working in this way in the mirror I can establish a really short stroke that I know is going straight, and then I alternate 4 beats in 16th notes between a solid detache and a slightly more released sautille/spiccato. It seems that one of my issues is the bow flying around, and on the other hand the other issue is one of not having enough articulation/bounce from the string, but alternating rapidly between the two strokes can keep the bow going straight and really allow me to work on the contrast between the sounds and the feelings of the two.

But then moving onto the G and D is pretty inconsistent, and seems to put a bit of a strain on my shoulder, so I still have quite a bit of work to do.

I'm curious about approaches to speed and position on the bow. It seems like the speed dictates what part of the bow I'm playing at, but Nate Cole has a video where he seems to be varying the height of the drop above the string at the same point on the bow (about as high up as I think you could go for the stroke), which I only get to when I'm using a very fast stroke.

November 20, 2017, 8:01 PM · Jeewon yes I agree that approach works, I have experimented with that. It's hard to do, though, without putting a significant accent on the first note of the passage, which I really don't want on the first note of the Haffner Rondo. I guess like anything it just takes more practice and experimentation.
Edited: November 21, 2017, 9:20 AM · N.B. the bow is designed to bounce on short, even, back and forth strokes. In the old days, all short strokes were assumed to sound slightly detached, hence detache. There was no distinction between on the string v. off the string playing. Then, after Viotti, we started to get a distinction based on how much detachment--separation--there was in the sound between strokes. It may be very late into the 19th century before a seamless detache was used, an "attache" so to speak. Now, we learn to counter that bouncy design feature of the bow to create on-the-string sounds, we learn "attache" first. So when we speak of letting the bow bounce we're talking about undoing that on-the-string action.

Paul, you might try experimenting with the original pinch for your colle, less pinch for less of a hop in the stick (still the same quick release) and also more tilt (less hairs on the string.) But I suspect the accent may be coming from your first elbow/wrist motion. More below...

Christian, I think it's more important to ingrain a very, very small detache motion at the elbow, than anything else. The trick is, unless your elbow is square at the bouncepoint you want to use, the upper arm must coordinate with the lower, which means the shoulder must respond to the minute swing at the elbow. It's more important to get a very even detache swing than learn how to use the wrist/hand/fingers, because it's possible to get a working, steady bounce with no movement at the wrist, but freezing at the elbow can kill a bounce generated with the hand. A good way to practice is to use a deep cello hold (or even hold the bow in a fist) to focus on the elbow swing. Obviously, bows will differ in their bounciness, but they all have some sort of rebound, even if it's not the exact sound you may want. But, first step, get a reliable rebound in the stick generated from a very short, onish detache at various tempi/various bounce points (the sound is unimportant at first, only the action and resulting rebound of the stick,) then if you need it for the given passage, add more compression, and also wrist motion or height to give more kick to the stroke.

In general, we want more kick at various times in the Wieniawski than the Mozart. For the latter, it's perfectly acceptable (even preferable) to use an "onish" sautille, or detache perle.

A couple of other pointers. We need very abrupt, discrete string crossings when playing spiccato/sautille, precisely to the plane of each string, crossing from the upper arm (going to the tangent perpendicular to the "radius" of the curve of the bridge helps with releasing the shoulder socket, so you're rotating the whole arm complex onto each string, using the same action and coordination within the arm.)

But, because thicker strings need more hair it's okay to 'flip' the forearm/hand a bit onto the G-string to get flat hair. It's also possible to roll the stick to achieve the same, especially on the thinner strings to get the sound you want (flatter for louder/more aggressive/bigger bounce/crisper sound, tilted for softer/less bounce/longer sound.) You don't, however, want to roll and use the wrist at the same time--we need a very stable, consistent tilt (contact with thumb and fingers) for the given character of the stroke, changing tilt only to change the sound, or adapt to string played.

All things being equal, in general you want to use a lower bounce point for thicker strings, higher bounce point for thinner strings. But when you cross from E to G, you lose about 1 1/4" of bow, so when it's possible it's good to compensate by moving the bow in the air toward the frog when crossing to lower strings.

Since thicker strings require more pressure to move, you need a bit more compression from the fingers. A good preliminary exercise to do, even prior to very short, scrubby detache, is to 'rock the fiddle.' Keeping the chin off the chinrest, plant the bow and move it with enough compression that you rock the fiddle back and forth rather than draw the bow. Then stabilize with your chin, at which point your bowing will bend the string only. Then remove some compression so you get a scrubby sound, almost no pitch. Even at this stage, make sure its even, up=down, and steady. Also make sure you have smooth alternation in the closing and opening of the elbow. Keep adjusting compression until you feel the stick rebound. Keep one variable constant at a time, i.e. keep tempo steady and vary the bounce point to find it, or keep the same bounce point and vary the tempo to find the frequency. Repeat on all strings. Switch between adjacent strings. Switch between alternate strings. Cross from E to G. Add position exercises. Work on shift patterns along each string. Etc..

"It seems that one of my issues is the bow flying around..." Might be because of too much thumb flexion. It's good to have flexibility in the thumb joints which respond to the fingers, but thumb motion mustn't roll the stick for every down/up motion. Also, there may be too much motion in the wrist/fingers for the bounce point/sound point/tempo/dynamic/character.

"... and on the other hand the other issue is one of not having enough articulation/bounce from the string..." Don't worry about articulation until you have a reliable detache perle (onish sautille, or even just very short on-the-string detache where only the stick rebounds. You must establish a steady frequency in the stick rebound before anything else.)

"But then moving onto the G and D is pretty inconsistent, and seems to put a bit of a strain on my shoulder..." Sounds like you may be holding or even seizing the shoulder (retracting or 'packing' the shoulder.) Stand against a wall so the elbow is barely brushing against it. Then protract so the elbow pushes into the wall. Feel the release in the shoulder as you protract. Step away. Protract before playing. If you feel you tend to shrug the shoulder to cross to the lower strings (which even some top violinists seem to do) your fiddle may be too high for your bow arm.

November 21, 2017, 10:19 AM · Paul,

while you'r e on the subject of the Mozart/Kriesler Rondo:
The editions I've seen have an up-up bowing marked at the end of the phrase before the rest.
Take out those hooks. They are totally unnecessary. Students always try to do them because they're there, but few can actually do them at tempo.

November 21, 2017, 11:14 AM · Thanks Jeewon. That's great. I had my lesson and my teacher had been out of town for long enough for me to start getting some weird ideas, but it seems like I was trying to split the difference between spiccato and sautille, and she teaches them as different strokes, so she set me straight a bit. I'll have to stay away from sautille speeds for the moment. I think that what you said about too much finger motion has been throwing the plane of my bowing off, and that I actually need to maintain a little bit more firm of a grip than I had for the spiccato.

Anyway, I'll play with all the ideas you presented. I don't think I was thinking about the difference in string thickness, so I'll have to slow down and be more thoughtful about my contact point and bow tilt after each string crossing.

November 21, 2017, 12:37 PM · $100 says that the OP hasn't even read these excellent, detailed responses.

Seems like the people asking for input on a forum, rather than from their teacher, are simply flaky in general. Especially the ones that ask amazingly general questions like "how do I get better?"

Edited: November 21, 2017, 1:18 PM · You're welcome. Eventually, you'll be able to split the difference, or use lots of hand motion, use more height, i.e. add variety to a passage, even mixing in on-the-string playing (often done on the lower strings.) But it just takes time to train the different timing and coordination, so best keep things separate for now.

I wouldn't shy away from speed work. Just do it in detache. Or chunk work in sautille. The reason most people say sautille is slightly above middle is because of the tempos of most sautille passages and the bounce points of most bows at those speeds. So it's useful to find the ideal bounce point for the performance tempo of the passage and just stick to it, even if you mostly practice it in detache (as you build your sautille prowess,) as that will train the coordination needed for the arm. Getting to know different bounce points, especially for different strings (e.g. lower in the bow on the G-string,) but also for different dynamics and attacks (more accented, vigorous and louder sautille, requires lower bounce points, all else being equal) will enable you to extend the amount of bounced notes you actually play in a passage (whereas those unaware may just revert to detache when they move out of their limited bouncy zone.)

Because it's important to use snappy string crosses, it's useful to be hyperaware of how many notes are on each string in a passage, more than in legato. To help in that regard, you can double up or triple or quadruple each note (i.e. where a passage is written D-E-G-A, for instance, play DD-EE-GG-AA, or DDD-EEE-GGG-AAA, or quads and reduce back down to one stroke per note. Practice everything, even single note passages, starting up bow as well as down, to ensure you have even strokes.)

Mixing on and off string playing is pretty tricky. So kudos if you're already doing that well. Depending on your bow hold, especially if you vary it for different strokes, it's useful to learn to play detache with the same hand posture as you use for sautille. This will simplify switching back and forth, but also, it'll make you aware of the different timing required for the fingers (i.e. if you like to use a lot of finger motion, in detache the finger motion is slightly delayed behind the forearm, "brush stroke," in sautille the finger motion is more in step with the forearm motion, or even ahead of it, "colle motion"--that is to say, only finger/hand, even though the arm must still react to such motion,) in case you want to keep using finger motion.

For all up bow which are accented or need to be articulate, it helps to keep the forefinger quite firm.

One more thought about "too much finger motion." Make sure you're not supinating/pronating with each stroke. Keep the amount of rotation the same, whatever you decide to do with bow hold (more square vs. more oblique hold,) i.e. don't rock the hand back and forth with forearm rotation. Later, you can switch between holds for different contexts if you like.

November 21, 2017, 1:13 PM · I do like the multiple strokes per note - tripling allows me to keep the same bow direction, although the feeling of string changes seems to be a little different still when you go back to single notes. It's an interesting problem to go from putting a pause before each string crossing and really starting on the new string from the optimal place to closer to tempo, where you don't want a big gap between the sound of the old and the new string.

I am trying to work on some mixed bowings, because the Wieniawski has some places where you are switching between spiccato and detache in the same passage, and sometimes that happens in the middle of a string changes. I thought I would have worked some of this out on Kreisler P&A, but I guess it just needs some more thought.

Edited: November 22, 2017, 7:32 AM · For mixed bowing and passages with lots of crossings it's useful to ingrain open string patterns and feel them as 'units of meaning' for the right arm, much like finger/interval patterns for the left hand. First learn in detache, then sautille. Use added accents on the first note of each group to really feel the group as a single gesture. Repeat one pattern, then combine different patterns, then practice actual patterns for the passage you're working on, finally adding the notes.

In the Wieniawski:
E-slur-A-EE (starting both down and up)
are common 'cells' which occur frequently.

In the Allegro moderato, second line, starting last measure you have the following open string pattern:

E-slur-AAE EEEE E-slur-A-EE EEEE (practice each group separately, then together; repeat)

3rd line m2:

3rd line m3:

Also overlap second half of m2 and first half of m3:

Second half of m3 and first half of m4:


You should be able to play a whole passage in this manner, gradually adding bow distribution and dynamics, articulation, imagining the corresponding finger patterns. When you finally add the fingers back, you'll have to adjust sound point but the bow arm will know what it's doing. (Of course you can also do all the usual rhythmic and slurred patterns to train fluidity and evenness.) As with the left hand, you don't want to "bow every note." You want to feel single impulses for groups of note, feeling larger beats, eventually feeling the larger phrase (by varying, prioritizing and shaping the larger beats, that is, unless the score calls for something otherwise.)

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