Col legno with a good bow?

January 11, 2008 at 10:25 PM · I'm in the process of buying a new bow and I'm trying out several. Many of the pieces in orchestras require col legno. How do you all handle col legno when you don't want to ruin your bow?

Replies (41)

January 11, 2008 at 10:30 PM · Althought Pernambuco is quite hard, I think the strings eventually will leave an imprint in the bow. Octogonal sticks with crisp edges will suffer much more, I think.

Having a spare, cheaper bow for col legno "fortissimo" pieces is not a bad idea, I think.

January 11, 2008 at 11:35 PM · My composition teacher said never write col legno, because they'll be using their worst bows for the whole piece:)

January 11, 2008 at 11:58 PM · A good idea when doing Col Legno, is to angle the bow in such a was that it is landing on the wood and the hair at the same time. This will mean the wood won't get damaged as much, but also it will be easier to control the bounce of the bow. You might have known all this alread. In any case, as Jim suggested, use your cheaper bow to do Col Legno, or just pretend you're doing it, in an orchestral situation.

January 11, 2008 at 11:56 PM · Carbon fibre. We play Stravinsky, and the black bows come out!

January 12, 2008 at 03:23 AM · Yes, do not use a Tourte! This is what Coda bows are for :)

January 12, 2008 at 03:14 PM · I would not use the bow tip! Ivory tips crack relatively easily, and they are very expensive to replace. I also wonder about players who seem to hit their bows rather enthusiastically on their stands, even if contacting the music, by way of applause. I watched the Berlin Mahler concert on TV, and many were really going at it. I'm happy they were appreciative of their conductor, but, oh my! I've taught my students to lay their bows on the stand and clap one hand on their thighs. I've seen people teach toe-tapping, but kids tend to take that to extremes. Sue

January 12, 2008 at 03:23 PM · "I also wonder about players who seem to hit their bows rather enthusiastically on their stands, even if contacting the music, by way of applause."


A lot of orchestra players actually fake hitting their bows agaist the stand: They move it about in the air and create the impression of making a noise by hitting the stand. That certainly makes sense as with all the applause from the audience this can not be heard anyway.

I would also suggest not using the tip of the bow for col legno as you can easily can get caught in between the strings and ruin the whole tip and break the strings.

Using a cheaper bow for col legno pieces seems reasonable.

Regards, Hans

January 13, 2008 at 10:10 AM · I had one composer demand that I whack the screw of the bow on the belly of my violin in a section of his piece for a percussive effect.

Honestly, I can understand the need to explore the possibilities in sound production, but it just isn't intelligent to use tens of thousands of dollars of fragile instrument to accomplish the same thing in the kitchen with a wooden bowl and a metal spoon. :P

January 13, 2008 at 05:14 PM · My quartet played (and recorded) a piece that called for hitting the bow against the neck of the instrument or on the fingerboard for really extended passages. We refused to do this, both because we couldn't do it consistently and because we didn't want to damage anything. We actually had little plywood boxes built that more or less matched the sound of our fingerboards (pitch-wise) and hit them with drum sticks! It worked pretty well in performance but when it came to recording the piece we discovered just how terrible we were at hitting things in time...

January 13, 2008 at 09:13 PM · This post gave me a great idea. Everyone that ever tried to make a bow, even the greats, have lots of sticks that never made it for one reason or another. Considering the pernambuco situation why don't you players request an unfinished stick from your friendly bowmaker. I don't consider myself one after only two finished bows but I've got more screw ups than I care to admit.

January 14, 2008 at 05:32 PM · Col legno does not damage bows.

January 14, 2008 at 10:52 PM · Greetings,

the above statement is incorrect. Extebded Col Legno pasages such as that in Symphony Fantastique scratch the varnish of many bows. I will not do this with a tenthousand dollar bow -period. I just use the bow tiled over and hit with the hair. Perhaps in a professional orchestra (such as Seattle?) I would get fired. Who cares?



January 15, 2008 at 01:53 PM · I ran into this problem last night at orchestra rehearsal. There were a couple col legno passages and I was using a loaned bow. I did the passages with the hair, as Buri described. ;-) Not taking any chances.

January 15, 2008 at 06:16 PM · If you have time to switch, bouncing a pencil on the strings works as well. (esp. if you have long col legno passages)

January 16, 2008 at 09:47 PM · When i played the Planets (Mars) there is massive col legno in that. I used my bad bow for it.

January 17, 2008 at 02:30 PM · I guess using a bad bow is the only way. Sorry, I can't imagine the NY Phil pulling out a bunch of pencils to play col legno, it would cause more laughs than the music intends, especially in Holst's Mars HAHA

January 17, 2008 at 04:06 PM · I have never seen any evidence of damage on any bow from col legno. When my bow (which is in the price range you mentioned, Buri) was new to me, I asked a number of top-notch professionals who make a living playing avant-garde music with a lot of extended technique their advice on col legno. I was performing Black Angels at the time and was uncomfortable "abusing" my most treasured possession. They reassured me, and showed me that their bows were fine. I have since played Black Angels and worse with my bow, and a quick wipe with a rag removes all evidence (rosin) of col legno.

So, I have little patience for people complaining about damaging their bows... That said, if Jeffery Holmes or someone else from the industry contradicts me, preferably with pictures of col legno-crippled bows, I'd be grateful to know if I am indeed endangering my bow, and I'd stop using it for col legno immediately.

Until that day, I'm going to keep believing that col legno damage is one of those violin old wives' tales. We need a Mythbusters: violin edition!

January 17, 2008 at 07:07 PM · I like the idea of a violin related Mythbusters episode.

Honestly, if we're talking about little dents in the stick, there are many things can cause these... My experience would indicate that bows banging on music stands, poorly designed cases and bows being attacked by pets are more common sources of this sort of damage... but I can't rule out col legno completely.

Time to set up a test!

Now where did I put that Peccatte.... :-)

January 17, 2008 at 06:23 PM · If you drop a cotton ball on a slab of steel, it will dent the steel (microscopically). It's just a matter of what you can live with :)

January 30, 2008 at 09:36 PM · I happened to read this discussion right before hearing Joshua Bell play the Corigliano Chaconne (which has brief col legno moments), so I asked him during the CD signing whether he used his Tourte bow for it and whether he was worried about damage. He said no and looked at me strangely as if I were nuts for even suggesting it.

January 30, 2008 at 09:45 PM · Amen. Go Joshua! I hear, in the recording, the hiss of hair along with the stick, so I guess he's hitting it with both.

January 30, 2008 at 10:05 PM · Karin - JB said "no" he didn't use his Tourte, or "no" he didn't worry about damage?

Anyway, I wouldn't use an expensive bow for col legno.

January 30, 2008 at 10:28 PM · I fake those passages ;)

Just kidding. My coda bow is there for a reason as well.

January 30, 2008 at 10:41 PM · Oh, sorry, Raphael, I wasn't clear. He said he DID use his Tourte bow, and no, he wasn't worried about damaging it. I'm not totally sure about how he was doing it because my seats weren't that close, but it didn't sound extremely percussive so he probably was using both wood and hair.

January 31, 2008 at 01:27 AM · He might be worried less about depreciation than most people. ;)

January 31, 2008 at 01:36 AM · I was thinking exactly the same thing. In fact "See those marks? They were made by Joshua Bell" doubles its value.

January 31, 2008 at 02:37 AM · Kind of like notches on a gun barrel - only for successful concerts!

January 31, 2008 at 03:20 AM · Son, this shootin' iron was "trashed", as you put it, by Billy the Kid himself.

January 31, 2008 at 04:08 AM · Ha ha, I didn't think about it in those terms. You guys crack me up. :)

January 31, 2008 at 07:11 AM · One more for the "causes no damage" camp's side!

Recently, I played a chamber work by Schoenberg (I can't remember the opus, but it was made up of three very short pieces, the last of which is incomplete) and was conducted and coached by Henk Guittart of the Schoenberg Quartet. There was some fortissimo ricochet col legno, and some col legno tremelo.

When the other violinist and I went at with a bit of a light hand, he told us there was no reason to worry about damaging our bows--as he uses his Pecatte for col legno passages all the time, and has never caused it any damage. And with the amount of that kind of music that they would play on a fairly regular basis, I would figure that he would have noticed by now if his bow was getting scratched!

As for using the ivory of the tip, that might be something to be extremely careful doing...

February 1, 2008 at 02:56 AM · I don't mind using MY bow, but since I'm in the process of buying a bow and testing them I don't want to hurt them. Hey if it's good enough for Joshua Bell then it's good enough for me.

February 1, 2008 at 02:13 PM · I just asked a friend in the Berlin Phil what he does with his Tourte bow and he replied that he NEEEEEVER does col legno. Instead he does gettato which looks like col legno but it's actually with the hair. Well now I'm more confused than ever.

February 5, 2008 at 11:28 PM ·

February 7, 2008 at 01:04 AM · yes. The Berlin Phil has a `Gettouto` clause in its contract. What a Karajan!

February 7, 2008 at 04:41 AM · As the Romans used to say "Karajan Emptor!" ;-)

February 7, 2008 at 06:30 AM · I thought that was what the critics said.

February 7, 2008 at 01:00 PM · I think what the critics said towards the end was "Karajan Empty". But I'm not sure. I just got up, and I can believe six impossible things before breakfast.

February 7, 2008 at 01:53 PM · A clause???? What does it say? That they don't have to do col legno?

February 7, 2008 at 10:51 PM · Greetings,

anyone notice dcol legno is almost an anagram of lego colon?



February 8, 2008 at 01:16 AM · .....and what was the point of that?

February 8, 2008 at 01:25 AM · to weed out people with no sense of humor

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