How many notes per bow?

August 7, 2010 at 01:40 PM ·

 I can play 4 notes with one bow, and proud of my-self.   I can play those 4 notes using either an down or up bow. I am working on a selection that requires me to play 7 notes with only one bow.  

How many notes is a player expected to play using one down or up bow.? Is there a limit to the number of notes?




Replies (23)

August 7, 2010 at 02:57 PM ·

Brace yourself, Robert!  A few days ago I read something that referred to playing sixteen notes on a single bow!  Since I'm only up to three myself, I can barely comprehend being able to play so many notes without running out of bow!!

August 7, 2010 at 03:42 PM ·

I'm told that a 3 octave scale is a good candidate for one bow up, one bow on the way down. That, of course, implies some sort of mastery!

August 7, 2010 at 04:45 PM ·

Rob- are you talking about articulated or slurred notes?  The first is a right hand issue, the second, of course, left hand.

August 7, 2010 at 05:00 PM ·

I think the most I have seen to date are 64 compliments of our friend Vieuxtemps (slurred staccato)! Regular slurred with fast fingers I've seen 249.  Jon

August 7, 2010 at 05:35 PM ·


August 7, 2010 at 06:12 PM ·

Well, it really depends on what you are playing. There's a huge variety of combinations. Some of the left-hand Sevick exercises are marked for 12 notes per bow. Long, slow bows with one or two notes (eg "Thais" Meditation), are common, and "The Bee" by Schubert varies from 3 notes per bow (triplets) to 24 notes per bow (also in triplets).  Plus the figures that Jonathan mentioned, and all the bits in between!

It's a good feeling when your get to your desired point, whether it be 2, 4, 16 or whatever number :) Roughly speaking, I'd guess beginners / improvers would be comfortable with between 4 and 8 per bow, whereas intermediate / advanced players could easily be 2 or 4 times that amount. Also, whether it's all on one string or having to cross strings - that adds a little bit more technical requirement, and I'm only talking about straight notes in a normal bow with even pressure (not using staccato, hammered or thrown bowings).

In the music I normally play, I don't often play large amounts of slurred notes, but after reading this thread I tried it out. I comfortably managed 30 groups of 4 notes (D, E, F# G) repeated, so that would make it 120 notes per bow, the only condition being that each note must sound fully and cleanly with good co-ordination. Of course, that is just note playing, not playing music. Playing specific non-repeating patterns of musical phrases, over multiple strings in a single bow, would be much harder.

There's a school of thought which advocates grouping notes for each bow, dividing the number of notes evenly along the bow. In other words, for 8 notes per bow, the first 4 notes would use half the bow length, and the remaining 4 would use the remiaing half. This may or may not be the case in real life, depending on what you are actually playing.


August 7, 2010 at 08:31 PM ·

  I am in shock, after holding my head up high accomplishing 4 notes per bow. Lisa, I am talking about slurred notes.  I am sure articulated notes is going to be another big surprise.  I really don't  know what articulated noted are. Could you give me a small example? I was going to shock the violin community by playing an 8 note same string scale with one bow.  I guess the only one in shock is me.

In the selection I am working on, I can play 4 notes per bow standing on my head. I am now working on 5 and then 6 notes per bow. My goal is 7 notes to satisfy the sheet music demands. I guess you learn how to bow, then learn how to finger the finger board and all the rest is multiple notes per bow. 

And thank you Marsha for telling me to brace my-self. I read your reply about 16 notes per bow, and my jaw dropped.  I think I am going to have to get a longer bow.

Thanks all for your replies.


August 8, 2010 at 06:08 AM ·


I fell off my chair, landed on my violin and cracked my head and the violin. How is one expected to manage playing that?

August 8, 2010 at 06:32 AM ·

It should be possible to create a bow where the hairs are in a circle, and continuous and move as on a band sander.  In which case you could play an entire concerto with one bow action :D

Thinks marketing opportunity...  All I need to do is to find a horse with a circular tail...

August 8, 2010 at 07:48 AM ·

Isn't that the way a hurdy-gurdy works?

August 8, 2010 at 09:35 AM ·

 A 3 octave's-worth is a pretty decent amount.  I studied an etude recently where my teacher required me to play up to 32 notes per bow (Gavinies no. 3).  If you build it up in scales bit by bit (with a metronome so there's no cheating) it's not so bad.  Just add one note per day and soon you'll be playing long strings of notes all tied together.

August 8, 2010 at 01:05 PM ·

August 8, 2010 at 03:15 PM ·

 Dion, if you want to ask another question, you should start another thread. 

Trying to make 2 bows sound like one bow is a topic that we would all like to discuss, but you should not ask  a question from a question.   It only confuses the issues.


August 8, 2010 at 10:08 PM ·

 Playing lots of notes in the same bow is all about coordination, it doesn't have to be that tricky necessarily. 

As an example, what is the longest note that you can play with the bow (on one string)? Then how quickly can you alternate two or more left hand notes (such as a trill for example)? Put the two together and maybe you can slur about 100 notes in the same bow. 

It becomes more tricky when you change strings and shift (as someone has pointed out), but it's just a question of timing and coordination. 

August 9, 2010 at 09:17 AM ·

 Maybe we can do a competition.   Here's my attempt ... I think a played 24 notes going from the A string, to the E string, back, and then all the way to the G string.  But the ending sounds horrible and I'm sure it was completely out of tune.

I'll note that when you get finger prints on your bow, it bends down the little "hooks" on the hairs and you get a "quiet part", making it impossible to play slowly like that on oldish bow hairs...  

August 9, 2010 at 10:07 AM ·

I just experimented, and comfortably played 200 notes slurred in one bow. Obviously I'd expect to play more notes in one bow than someone just starting out, but it's really not as difficult as a "beginner" might expect. You just need nimble fingers, and a slow bow near the bridge. 

Kreutzer No. 23 is a good study for practising slow bows slurring many notes, although not for someone just starting out. At one point you have to play a semibreve (whole note) with a pause, marked forte, following by 40 notes (this time marked piano thankfully), all slurred onto one bow.

August 9, 2010 at 10:43 AM ·

 The real surprise is that you managed to count them. :D

August 9, 2010 at 12:23 PM ·

I didn't count each individual note. I just repeated a 5 note sequence (on the E-string, 1st position B,A,G,F,E), and treated a "four times" repeated sequence as one unit, and then simply counted the number of units in one bow. Therefore, 5 (notes) * 4 * 20 = 200 notes in total. Any experienced violinist here could play 200 or more notes in the same bow, it's the string crossing and shifting that makes matters difficult.

One thing that would reduce the number of notes playable in one bow is if you are slurring to a higher string on an up bow, or vice versa, slurring to a lower string on a down bow. These string crossings cause a loss in the length of the bow. Therefore, if you were going for a world record attempt you'd probably want to start down bow on the G string and finish on the E string!

August 9, 2010 at 12:53 PM ·

As Jim said, Sevcik teaches you to do long stretches of notes in a bow.  My instructor started me on Sevcik once I got out of my beginners book.   It is a great aid in helping with tongue-twister note phrases as well as prolonged bowing.

---Ann Marie


August 9, 2010 at 04:42 PM ·


If playing 4 notes per bow feels like an accomplishment, perhaps your bow lacks sufficient rosin.

step 2: practice scales with one bow, 8 notes per octave.

step 3: slow down the bow speed and speed up the finger (note) speed.

step 4: work on much sower bow strokes, with more pressure, near the bridge.


August 9, 2010 at 04:57 PM ·

The important issue is not about many notes you can do on one bow is how they sound, playing in a cantilena way,or playing in fast motion with elegance.

August 9, 2010 at 05:46 PM ·

 Thanks Andy for the steps, and everybody that replied. I am now working on 6 notes per bow.  These are not just any 6 notes.  They are 6 notes in a musical phrase. 

From a technical stand point, and if I just played any notes, I can manage 16 or 17 notes per bow without much effort.

Thanks again


August 10, 2010 at 08:24 PM ·

What I'm surprised nobody mentioned yet, which may help you, is that how many notes you can play in one bow directly relates to how much bow you use for each note.  Try playing each note with less bow and you'll realize you can get way more notes into your bow.  Sorry  if that sounds really obvious, but if you've never quite thought of it that way, the world  of slurs really opens up with that understanding! 

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