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Clayton Haslop

How to Get a Spic-tacular Spiccato

March 22, 2009 at 4:10 AM

Just got home from a 3-day spell in Tinseltown, where my colleagues and I put the finishing touches on Michael Giacchino’s wonderful new score for the movie ‘Up’. The score truly is delightful, a throwback to the era of Paul Whiteman and the tuneful music of the ‘30s.  Violin solos sprinkled throughout.

Pixar's 'Up' will be coming to theaters near you on May 29.

Speaking of Paul Whiteman.  His orchestra gave the world premiere of ‘Rhapsody in Blue’, back in 1924.  Fifty years later I was privileged to play a recreation of that premier at the Ambassador Auditorium in Pasadena, CA.  Would you believe, the concertmaster, Curt Diterle, fulfilled the same roll at both performances.

Anyway, let’s talk about spiccato.  The secret of this bow stroke lies with timing and form.  All too often folks try to force the bow to jump from the string before the real basics are in place. 

As you might imagine, the results are less than spictacular.

The ‘jump’ of a spiccato must happen as a natural result of 2 elements – amount of bow and amount of pressure.  When the amount of these reach the right proportion, bingo, the bow jumps as if by magic. 

If you’re having trouble producing a spiccato you can do nothing better than practice on the string – right around the middle of the bow where you expect it will ultimately bounce the best – with a very concentrated, purely horizontal, detache stroke.  The bow should travel the minimum possible distance in each direction to get a clear tone.

Do this practice until the strokes are absolutely even and dependable.  Once you are there you may begin to experiment with the amount of arm weight you are providing, the amount of bow used, and the location of the stroke within the bow.

Once you find the happy intersect of these three elements, the bow will do the rest for you.

Now, it’s one thing to get the bow bouncing on one note.  It’s another to do it while moving around the violin.  Yet the underlying mechanics are the same; bow speed, pressure, even-ness.

An excellent and challenging etude for this is Kreutzer #2.  Just remember, you must begin with a spot-on, dead-accurate, detache. 

And one further thing.  Once you’ve gotten the feel for spiccato you’ll find you can get it going either from the string or by dropping the bow down to the string.  In either case the jump will be maintained by doing what I’ve outlined above.

All the best,

Clayton Haslop


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