V.com weekend vote: Do you have a natural up-bow staccato?

April 24, 2022, 4:04 PM · Up-bow (and down-bow) staccato is one of those tricky bow strokes that seems to come naturally to some, and is nearly impossible for others.

It's when you have a string of staccato notes all going the same direction, most commonly up-bow, but also down-bow on occasion. It seems to work best in the upper half of the bow, and it requires a delicate balance of bow pressure and motion in the hand, wrist and arm.

You can find up-bow staccato pretty early in violin studies, for example in the "Gavotte" by Becker in Suzuki Book 3. There are also many etudes that address up-bow staccato, such as Kreutzer No. 4:

up bow staccato Kreutzer 4

And then there is the kind of staccato that appears in very advanced studies and virtuoso works: Paganini Caprice No. 15; Wieniawski's Concerto No. 2, to name just a few.

How do you do this stroke? Well, in just a little more than one minute, Ray Chen teaches us how to do up-bow staccato, starting with a tremolo:

So easy, right? Well...

There are actually a number of different pedagogical approaches to up-bow staccato. For example, there is the (apocryphal?) method that Eugene Ysaye used on his student Josef Gingold: just him place the bow at the tip and then scare the bejeezus out of him!

There is also the camp that advises tensing the bow arm and just kind of going for it, another that advises using the wrist, twitching the fingers, etc.

What is your experience with up-bow (and down-bow) staccato? Do you find it to be relatively natural stroke for you? If you'd had to do some experimenting, what methods have you tried, to achieve it? What works best? Are there certain passages you dread/avoid/do differently, because of this stroke? Are there methods that you feel don't really work well? Please participate in the vote, then share your thoughts.

Replies

April 25, 2022 at 02:59 AM · I learned upbow staccato after watching my childhood teacher demonstrate this technique. I wasn't ready for any repertoire that would need it, but I thought it was cool. He demonstrated it very slowly and deliberately, allowing me to watch how his hand and wrist moved from various angles. After this I was able to reproduce the effect on my violin within a short time.

Since returning to the violin later in life, upbow staccato is still not really a problem, but it's not as easy as I remember it being. One thing I have noticed is that when it's not going well, it usually comes down to tension. So my first suggestion to anyone who is struggling to learn this technique is to calm down and let it happen as much as you're making it happen. A lot of things on the violin are like that.

I thought about it a little more and I think I am mainly generating the impulse with my index finger on my bow.

April 25, 2022 at 07:46 AM · Greetings,

to tell the truth i think things could get a little confused here.For me, there is a kind of classical up/down staccato and there is a stiff arm staccato. The former is simply a sequence of martele strokes linked together. its moderately difficult to develop but anyone can do it with patience and a decent teacher, this stroke is exemplified in the kreutzer and every violinist should master it. The stiff arm variety, the one associated with tension and supposedly taught by scaring the heck out of someone is one of those techniques that to a large extent one has or has not. The spped which one can do it also varies from player to player. this stroke is the one commonly found in the works of wieniawski. Heifetz was a master of this stroke and fodor went one better! i do not believe it is necessary for everyone to develop the stiff arm version. Franscecatti is an example of someone who didn’t have it and he used a brilliant off the string flying spicatto instead.

cheers,

Buri

April 25, 2022 at 09:55 AM · My father taught me the stiff arm variety, and I think I used it when Winifred Copperwheat was teaching me the Intro & Rondo Capriccioso. These days I find myself doing a sort of combination of wrist tremulo with arm up bow movement.

Buri, Heifetz was a master of both up bow and down bow staccato - If he hadn't been, I don't think he would have touched the Hora.

April 25, 2022 at 11:48 AM · These days it depends what I am playing. Personally I'll go through exercises and etudes that develops what I need to do for a particular piece (if any of this makes any since.) I'm trying to think of a few examples. If I do think of any, and the post is still taking comments, I will.

April 25, 2022 at 11:53 AM · John,

i would wager tha i have spent more hours listening to Heifetz and reading anything about him than just about anyone on the planet. i even used to listen to him in the Dinercu .

cheers

buri

April 25, 2022 at 02:37 PM · I got assigned the very etude Kreutzer no.4 shown in Laurie's post at a rather young age, my teacher never told me it is difficult, I had no clue, he demonstrated it as if it was a normal thing, I practiced it like any other etude, so, for me it's nothing special (let's say, it is for me equally hard as all the other things on the violin :-)

April 25, 2022 at 03:36 PM · The only way I can do the up-bow staccato is to take both the 3rd and 4th fingers of the right hand off of the stick. The only way I do the down-bow staccato is to hold the bow upside-down.

April 25, 2022 at 04:27 PM · I was taught up bow staccato as a derivative of martelé and found it fairly easy. In fact I can still do it provided the tempo is not too speedy and the chain not too long (I tend to use too much bow on staccato). Once in a while I like to do Mazas 47 which requires both of these strokes; it is such a nice piece.

However, up bow (not to mention down bow) staccato is a trick not required for 99.9% of orchestral or chamber repertoire. I am not sure how much sweat should be invested into learning it.

Joel, bow upside down is not staccato, it is col legno.

April 25, 2022 at 08:06 PM · I try a smoother pronated forearm motion with a wrist vibrato, and just enough bite on the string. Upbow and downbow. Not terribly fast, though..

I certainly don't go in for stiffness.

April 25, 2022 at 11:44 PM · --by upside-down I meant holding it by the tip, frog in the air. Of course it's just a stunt. Unfortunately the Dinicu Hora Staccato does not have any rests available to switch bow holds.

April 26, 2022 at 04:08 PM · I know all of the above exercises and understand the underlying theories- yet , I never managed a good firm staccato. I know many players who are less advanced but way better at staccato than I am, so as a professional, I cannot afford wrecking a piece, hence, I don’t perform it.

Ray Chen is playing superb, but in this video, the result is not satisfying. I am sure he does it differently, when he plays, and just wanted to come up with some exercise.

The problem with tremolo is: First, I could never play a tremolo that is twice as fast as a fast staccato should be. And if so, it wouldn’t have the necessary grip to each of the little strokes.

At age 45, while really feeling sorry for myself, I must say, I haven’t really needed that stroke, and won’t ever do, and still am a decent professional.

I once performed the Ysaÿe duo sonata with a colleague and there is one staccato passage that we had to adjust to play it up and down, due to my disability. But in that particular case, it didn’t affect our interpretation, at all.

I cannot even play Kreutzer #4 in a fast tempo.

April 27, 2022 at 02:35 PM · Up-bow staccato as I learned it from Professor Igor Ozim is very simple. You place the bow on the string in the upper-half of the bow just above the middle. Lean a bit of weight of your arm on the bow so it is sitting a little firm on the string. Now imagine someone is bumping the bow at the frog end in very small (1mm) sudden movements. The key is to start with a long time between the very quick but short imaginary bumps...maybe 2-5 seconds at first. leave the bow on the string the whole time, do not lift it off or release the weight between the imaginary bumps, leave the weight leaning on the bow on the string.Now practice in groups of 4 bumps. Bump...wait...bump..wait...bump...wait..bump. You can shorten the time between the bumps gradually over your practice session. Once you get down to 1 second between bumps, it should feel pretty steady. Now again pick the tempo up by even less time between bumps. Eventually you will get it to around 4 bumps per second. This is the beginning of up-bow staccato. They key is all that preparatory practice with the long wait between bumps. Practice the same, down-bow now, starting just below the middle of the bow. Start slow like you did with up-bow, a long time between bumps. Remember, they key is to not lift the bow off, not to release the weight between bumps. Once you get it down, sure you can use a much lighter touch to bring more elegance to it, but the dead weight on the bow and not trying to lift between bumps still applies. Try practising 4 down, 4 up. Then 6 down, 6 up. Then 8 down, 8 up, etc. Try it on scales and studies. Have fun, and be patient!

April 27, 2022 at 04:09 PM · What do you mean by “bump”?

The approach with a very slow start and a good grip of the bow is familiar to me. I have patiently spent very much time on that. It was basically the idea that a staccato is a row of martele strokes.

At least, I developed a good martele. When my teacher found it perfect, I was just told to gradually increase the tempo and try different rhythms and groups of notes etc. And this is where I fail. Above some tempo threshold, there is a limit for me.

Maybe, I will get back to that when I have the motivation to spend some 15-20 daily minutes on it, over the course of a couple of months. But I don’t see that, soon. Simply no need to.

May 1, 2022 at 07:30 PM · I find it fairly easy, although it can take me a little work if I haven't practiced it lately. I recall coming across this technique first in Franz Wohlfahrt's Op. 45, No. 24, which came my way about halfway into my first year of violin lessons. Later, with the Kreutzer study, the basic motions came back to me pretty fast. Ray Chen’s method for developing it is interesting, indeed - never came across this explanation before.

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