I’m sure you’ve had quite a number of those ‘Aha!’ moments over the course of your life. They the times when an activity you were in the throes of mastering suddenly clicked. And what had required enormous physical and mental effort, as if magic, became ‘as easy as pie,’ as the saying goes.
Well, spiccato can sure be like one of those. For some, though, the throes of mastery go on much, much longer than is necessary.
And the questions I’ll answer today are, why this is so; and how does one get back on the right track.
You see some folks are defeated before they even begin; they haven’t learned to walk before trying to run.
The foundation of an excellent, dependable spiccato is an excellent, pure detache. That is number one.
It’s interesting and even instructive to note, by the way, that in the old German school, spiccato was almost anathema. They just didn’t think it a legitimate stroke worthy of study.
After all, tone is produced when the bow is ON the string, not off. And the great German romantic era was indeed all about tone and its ability to transmit FEELING.
Yet today, in this country, it is almost the opposite. Many players seem to wear their spiccato as if it were some kind of medal to be displayed at any and every opportunity, even when it is stylistically inappropriate.
I guess this tells you something of where my own sympathies lie.
Yet the point of my telling you these things is to get you to relax and stop trying to force it to happen, if this is the predicament you’re facing at the moment.
An effective, pliant spiccato is cultivated over time, and finessed into action. It does not arise from ‘man handling’ the bow, as some would believe.
Ok, so now let’s assume you’ve got the makings of a fine detache in place, and you do want to begin making the bow ‘jump.’
The first thing to bear in mind is that the bow jumps, or bounces, as a result of the surface tension formed and broken at bow changes.
It is not something produced by making vertical motions with your hand or arm.
Yes, there is something called a ‘brush’ stroke, in which you do drop and lift the bow purposefully. Yet that kind of CONTROLLED movement is a distant relative to the stick-generated stroke I’m talking about here.
What you want to do to get surface tension working for you, is, without altering your detache form in the least, to narrow the travel of the bow down to the smallest amount possible on each note. In other words, to concentrate the detache much like they do the orange juice sitting in supermarket freezers.
Now remember, this is happening right around the middle of the bow; a little below, in slower tempi; a little above in very fast ones.
And ‘edge’ the bow as I mentioned the other day, this will dampen away the excessive chatter you might otherwise produce in doing this.
One further thing, at the beginning I recommend you even focus on PREVENTING the bow from jumping. Doing so will get your bow RIGHT IN THE STRING and keep you focused on horizontal movements of the stick.
At a certain point in the process, as you narrow the range of motion and increase the amount of weight on the string, the bow will begin to ‘jump’ in spite of your best intentions for it not to.
And THIS is the beginning of a truly excellent spiccato. From here it is a matter of experimentation with pressures, speeds, and bow placement to get the ‘feel’ of a range of conditions. Yet each MUST evolve naturally from the interaction between bow hair and string.
You know, I was asked once whether I thought the spiccato stroke can actually be taught. And indeed it is rather like riding a bicycle. How do you really ‘teach’ that? You can point folks in the right direction, yet it is something to be experienced before it can be truly understood.
All the best,
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