Fouette: An On-the-String Sautille

April 20, 2016, 3:01 PM · The fast spiccato stroke known as "sautille" can be very effective, and its sparkling bounce is a marvel to behold. There is another bowing called "fouette" that partners well with sautille.

Safe and Sound

Sometimes it’s impractical to bounce each stroke, like in a passage in Mozart when there are lots of string crossings, and when there are musical lines that need to be brought out. More important than the bounce is the quality, bite and percussiveness of each note. They can all be achieved without leaving the string.

The word for this bowing, fouette, is probably more familiar to dancers than violin students; in ballet it's a quick pivot move, standing on one leg and using the other to whip around the body. Inspired by "fouet," the French word for whip, flog, and lash against, it is often called the whip stroke by violinists. The renowned violin teacher Ivan Galamian taught it as a technique for playing multiple, strong staccato notes. Essentially the fouette is an accented detache. Galamian said that the bow should be quickly lifted, but only barely, just before the stroke. He also said it was most commonly used on an up bow stroke, in the upper half of the bow.


More Than One Type of Fouette

There is a slight difference between the fouette used as a sautille-like bowing that doesn’t’ leave the string, and the one described by Galamian. For the bowing to sound off the string, there should not be lifting. Instead, the player uses very little bow in a quick detache, just below the middle of the bow. There is no time to lift the bow between strokes, nor is it necessary. The effect of hearing the "bounce" is an illusion created by the sharpness of the staccato attack, the quickness of the successive notes, and the full tonal quality of each note.

The discovery of the "fouette detache" as a valid substitute for sautille was a godsend for violinists, because some fast, loud, and percussive bouncing strokes shouldn’t leave the string. For example, a fast, explosive passage in a Strauss tone poem will need a range of dynamics, and the crispness is more important than the bounce. This is a stroke that takes a lot of determination. Not only is it not a weak alternative to sautille, but also it delivers a musical punch and strengthens the versatility of the bow arm.

After I discuss how the idea of fouette evolved, I’ll discuss the technical aspects.

Not Your Grandmother’s Fouette

Where does the idea of achieving a bounce without bouncing come from? I had two "aha" moments, and they didn’t hit me over the head until many years later. The first was when my college professor Broadus Erle taught me to play sautille, not off the string, but on. He didn’t call it sautille or fouette. It was just something he was telling me to do. I felt a sense of accomplishment, but I didn’t know what it was. I needed to understand that I hadn’t learned a sautille, but that kind of subtle knowledge doesn’t present itself when you’re 25 years old.

Mr. Erle imparted to me something that he did as a consummate musician, a technique that works and one that is absolutely required to bring out the ebbs, flows, highs and lows that come with great music making. He taught from his gut. Music places demands on us that require herculean efforts to cut through the timidness that we often bring to music. Another one of his comments in the same vein was "know how hard the great violinists are working." Like great comments that come to us when we’re too young, that one probably went right over my head, but fortunately it’s been on my mind ever since.

Discovering Fouette Where and When You’d Least Expect It

I was fortunate to run across an excellent book by Frank Spinosa and Harold W. Rusch called Bowing Development Studies. They describe the fouette detache in this way: Play in the middle third of the bow; play with a strong hand, firmly into the string; it should be a whipping type of motion, with strength and snap; play with very short strokes and keep the bow from jumping off the string.

This is the bowing Mr. Erle was describing. It now had a name. It takes a leap of imagination to realize that this fast, hard, and short bowing sounds just like a sautille.

When a young student sees sixteenth notes with dots over them, his or her first inclination is to bounce anything, haphazardly of course, and usually the casualties are the collapse of the bow, the coordination and timing. However, telling him or her about a bowing that is simply a super-strong detache will him develop a good fouette, and eventually a pure, bouncing sautille.

The Technique

Finally, there is the added bonus of a fouette: while the bow is moving quickly in a detache on the string, the string is bouncing anyway…underneath the string. That just enhances the popping sound.


April 21, 2016 at 05:23 PM · It would be great if you could post a video showing these various bowing tecniques.

April 22, 2016 at 07:18 PM · I always thought I just couldn't play fast Mozart passages very well. Of course, I was trying to play them off the string, which proved far too challenging for me. I am eager to try fouette. Thanks for another informative article.

April 22, 2016 at 08:37 PM · This is a fascinating insight. Thank you. I second the motion for an illustrative video.

April 24, 2016 at 07:35 PM · Yes please to a video. I teach the sautille often to pupils and always frame it as a detache which goes very fast and barely leaves the string. Be interesting to see how the fouette differs.

April 24, 2016 at 08:48 PM · Certainly a fouetté can be easily interchangeable with a sautille. One of the reasons I wrote the article is to point out that bowing techniques share many things in common. A well executed detache can evolve naturally into a sautille. There needs to be an understanding of the inter- connectedness of bouncing and detache techniques, since sautille will easily falter if it's not connected to good rhythm and a strong, secure detache. The chaotic bounces comes from thinking that sautille can happen by a simple act like waving your wrist.

April 24, 2016 at 11:33 PM · Another good opportunity to use fouetté is when slurs are combined with separate notes. Slurs make a sautille more difficult because the playing point (the part of the bow that's touching the string;the distance from the hand is constantly changing) is changing often. A sautille is relatively easier when the conditions remain the same.

Fouetté works well under any conditions.

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