spiccato help needed

September 13, 2010 at 05:14 AM ·

I'm new to learning spiccato (a couple of months) and  still have trouble getting good tone on fingered notes (especially on the A string).  I always hear a 'chirp' instead of a solid note.  

Open strings ring nicely but no matter how much I try to adjust (sounding point, bow contact point, bow height from string, amount of movement in bow arm, finger flexibility), I just can't get rid of the chirp and it's driving me nuts.

Any suggestions???

Replies (24)

September 13, 2010 at 08:52 AM ·

It sounds like you might be diving into the string from the air.  This is a very common problem.  The advice I'm giving is from the Russian style of bowing technique, which is what I am familiar with so take that into account and if what I say conflicts with your teacher then disregard my advice at your discretion.  I do acknowledge that there are different schools of thought.  So anyway as I know it, even off-string strokes start on the string, and not just on, but into the core of the string with the first finger of your bow hand.  You have to find the consonant "K" sound in the string and then allow the bow to bounce off (and not too high).  Practice getting into the grit of the string and then releasing it to bounce off.  Doing this every time will really slow down your stroke and it might not seem practical (in truth, it is a bit of an exaggeration of what you actually play in performance, which will be more bouncy) but then when you play more up to speed your regular bounces will have a lot more body, tone and control.  The reason is because it trains you to let the natural springiness of the bow do most of the work and it gives the first finger of your bow hand the chance to influence the physics of your bow at the correct time.  Most spiccato strokes aren't about enforcing every single facet of what's going on, it's about guiding the bow, giving first-finger pressure at the right time and making inertia and gravity work for you so that physics can follow through and yield predictable results.

Also, for spiccato passages with rapid notes you have to practice slowly and set your fingers down on each note BEFORE you play the note.  Think to yourself "left hand, then right hand".  Your left hand should always be thinking ahead like this, otherwise the bowing will sound disorderly.

September 13, 2010 at 09:46 AM ·

I'd have to see what you're doing.

September 13, 2010 at 10:50 AM ·

A list of common problems;

 Don't over tilt  the bow .Learn to play with the hairs flat on the bow, it gives you a better sense for the bounce,then learn to play spiccato with a slight tilt ,if you want.

learn to bounce the bow off the strings first ,then practice eight bounces then eight spiccatos ,keep alternating .This will teach you the feel for it.

Don't think "C" or "U" for the image .Think smile (:  , you want to think of  a nice gentle curve.A  C or U image  may have you lifting the bow to high of the string.

Watch your elbow ,it's good to have it leveled with the hand.


September 13, 2010 at 12:28 PM ·

If open strings sound good but fingered notes don't, the explanation may be incoordination between the hands. Practice the timing of the dropping and raising of the fingers while playing with the bow on the string-- Simon Fischer's Basics has great exercises for this.

The other thing is that as you put fingers down, it's important to accommodate the shortening string by moving towards the bridge, and by adjusting the strength of the left fingers on the string (i.e. how far the string is depressed). Often, spiccato problems are indicative of those proportions not quite being in order.

September 13, 2010 at 01:55 PM ·

jack, i am not a violin teacher or player really but have worked with my kid on that i think about 1-2 years ago.  like jude said, the main issue, if i have to guess, is coordination, meaning, by the time your bow hits the string, your left finger is not ready ready yet.  in other words, the left finger arrives a little late, causing that buzz sound, which will go away if pressed down more firmly (or earlier).  the reason this buzz sound become prominent is that you don't have the luxury of doing a long bow to overshadow it later.  you only have a slit second, now or never type of thing.

so my suggestion is to pay some attention to the left hand being "on time" when the bow hits the string.  slow practice is always the best route, or your entire body will tighten up. really, haste makes waste.

also, i think this fingering tech ties in on some level with something that buri and other gurus here talk about, that is, repetitive hits.  check it out what repetitive hits means.

here are 2 videos of my kids learning to do it.  i am sure there are tech issues with her playing, but they may give you some ideas. 

slower:   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e0ShiEIWC90

faster:   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WM9miO8pfQw&feature=related

September 13, 2010 at 02:59 PM ·

Al  that's sautille ,a faster form of spiccato ,good job though.

I think that Jack is talking about this type of spiccato


I find this girls elbow is dropped too low.This causes problems with keeping the bow parallel with the bridge. You can also check to see where your pinky is on the bow.If your pinky is on the inner shelf ,you are naturally going to over tilt the bow.

September 13, 2010 at 08:19 PM ·

 Haha, expertvillage is just another word for failure.  Massive failure.

September 13, 2010 at 11:11 PM ·

I don't know when violin terminology started to take on fixed meanings in English, but it's not as clear as some would like to have it. Sautille is just French for spiccato. I guess if you look at literal meanings, there is a slight difference in that spiccato only means detached, much like staccato, and sautille means jumped or bounced; but neither term implies how fast each stroke is played in original usage.

Rather than split hairs over terminology, I think it's more practical to consider the actions involved and the experience of those actions. 

There are two types of bouncing bow strokes which alternate down and up bows: suspended and 'dribbled.' (Suspended strokes are what I think most people would consider a spiccato, and dribbled strokes, a sautille.) 

Suspended strokes are necessary when the speed of the stroke is too slow for the natural spring of the bow. After the bow rebounds from the string, it is suspended in the air for the appropriate time (according to the rhythm) with the pinky and/or arm, depending on context. Since each stroke is suspended before being dropped again, any mixed rhythm may also be played 'spiccato' and can be played at any part of the bow. Slower spiccato is started by dropping the bow onto the string, otherwise the first note would sound on the string.

Fast spiccato, or, as some would specify, 'sautille' depends on the natural spring of the bow; the frequency of the stroke must match the frequency of the part of the bow at which the stroke is being played (more or less depending on how much vertical force is applied with the hand/arm). Fast spiccato is applied to fast passages of regular rhythm, e.g. a passage of sixteenth notes in a fast 4/4 time. Fast spiccato can be started either on or off the string, although it's often started from on the string in orchestral playing for control and togetherness. Having made the distinction, it should be noted that 'sautille' can also be controlled for volume and character by applying vertical force or suspending the weight of the bow and adjusting to the appropriate bow point. But the suspension is generally applied over the passage, adjusting only for resistance of the string, sound point, etc., not between each stroke.

In the end, mastering bouncing bow strokes involves being able to seemlessly transition from slow to fast, and also on to off, etc. in endless combination; and obviously, there is an overlap between suspended and 'dribbled' over a range of tempi.  Sevcik Op. 3 is an effective etude book to train on and off the string playing, and their various combinations.



Without having seen you play, I wonder if you're not compensating enough for the string cross by moving the bow, i.e. adjusting the bow point. Try crossing strings without moving the bow across the strings and you'll notice that when crossing from lower to higher strings your bow point moves closer to the frog, i.e. you move to a heavier bow point. So to maintain bow point while crossing from a lower to higher string, you need to also add a slight down bow, the length of which is equivalent to the distance between strings being crossed. Of course, nothing is this measured, but you get the gist of it. Also keep in mind that the A string is thinner and weaker than the D and G strings. Combined with the shortening of the strings when placing fingers, you may just be using too much weight for the fingered A string, relative to other strings. So you might try adjusting: bow point, weight of bow (i.e. suspension of bow with fingers/hand), vertical force of stroke in addition to sound point, etc.

Hope that helps,



(Al, I still can't get over that devil-may-care look your daughter flashes at the end of the first video - it's simply amazing!  What character!)

September 14, 2010 at 03:31 AM ·


Spiccato and sautillé are not etymologically related at all. The former means "marked," while the latter means "jumped." While I realize that this difference of meaning does not inherently justify terminological hairsplitting, I think it's well worth while to distinguish between strokes that leave the string and strokes that do not, which the sautillé vs. spiccato distinction accomplishes. Furthermore, there is an Italian translation of "sautillé:" saltando, which means the same thing and is and has long been distinct in Italian string playing from spiccato.

September 14, 2010 at 04:42 AM ·

Hi Jude,

I'm no expert in the etymology of violin bow stroke terminology. I'm aware that saltato is etymologically closer to sautille than spiccato, but somehow that hasn't translated into how the strokes are executed. Saltato is in the class of thrown strokes (someone correct me if I'm wrong, but saltando refers to many notes thrown in one bow, typically in a fast scalar passage) and usually refers to several notes bounced in one bow, whether on the same string or across strings. I could double check my sources, but I'm pretty sure this is so. The original bowing for Paganini's Caprice 5 is a saltato, as is the Mendelssohn cadenza. I think back in the day such a stroke would have been called sautille in French. Today, the saltato is called a jete or a ricochet; I don't know when these terms came into use. Neither am I aware of when English translators started using the Italian and French terms to mean what we're accustomed to, but somewhere along the way, sautille came to mean a separate bow stroke, one note per bow. But I don't believe there ever was much of a consensus. According to one tradition, all strokes were classified under the 'firm staccato' and the 'bounced staccato'.

I would argue that for separate bow strokes that sound bounced (spiccato vs sautille,) the distinguishing factor between strokes that leave the string and strokes that remain on the string is speed of execution. Obviously a slower stroke must leave the string to sound bounced. On the contrary, a fast sautille can be made to stay on the string (so that only the wood bounces) or made to bounce wildly off the string by controlling the throwing motion in hand and fingers. In other words, sautille can be thought of as a released detache or a subdued spiccato, approaching the same end from opposite means. Whether sautille leaves the string or stays on is important only to the extent that one approach may come more naturally to a particular student than another.

The bigger distinction as far as classification of bow strokes is concerned is between thrown strokes and bounced strokes; saltato and saltando belong to the former, spiccato and sautille belong to the latter. But I could be wrong... and so I would suggest what's more important is the description of the action and how one experiences the execution of the action, particularly for students trying to figure out their difficulties. Terminology serves to amuse and sometimes confuse. If anyone has more accurate info please share, although such a discussion probably belongs in a new thread.






September 14, 2010 at 02:47 PM ·

@ Jack You may want to check this out. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L9v-UpM9flY

September 14, 2010 at 04:59 PM ·

Let me suggest a few things:

1. Make sure your bow is correct for playing spiccato; get an experienced player to try it and your violin. I have seen bows, even with a good name, that had problems - incorrect balance, for example (that can be corrected). A bow that is too heavy at the frog will be almost impossible to use for a good spiccato - and a fine bow can be wound with too much silver wire (I had such a bow and it was decades before I figured out how to get it corrected). That bow tech must have had his 007 license!

2. Initially try your "bounce" closer to the fingerboard (i.e., away from the bridge) where the strings have more flexibility. This should give you a rounder sound.

3. Try different parts of the bow.

4. The suggestion to use the "flat of the hair" is probably a pretty good one, because in addition to whatever different it makes to the hair/string contact, it also puts the stick's flexure right above the hair. You can even tilt the bow stick a little toward the bridge.

5. "Educate" your bow hold!

6. Practice! Find a piece of music and work on it with the stroke(s) you want to improve.



September 14, 2010 at 05:20 PM ·


@ Al Ku-  As I watched both videos of your daughter (she is incredible, I can tell that she puts in her dues!) it looked to me as if her bow hair was a tad more taught than usual? Or no?


September 14, 2010 at 06:34 PM ·

very interesting and educational discussions on the terminology (jeewon and jude).  with my chinese farmer background when i read passages with enough french words, it only makes sense during the read but not after:)   i remain confused but  i can tell you this: if my kid plays funny, i can tell!     

royce, i cannot remember how many times i have turned the nut on the bow that morning:)  could be 2. or 3.   (you know, sometimes humidity plays a factor, too, meaning during play the room humidity changes the tautness of the hair.  i noticed that more often in the winter months.  i am curious whether the hair or the stick get affected more)

ps. i like victor's mention of the balance point of the bow and wish to read more about it.  i think beginners can use that info.   less of a fight:)

oh yeah,,,what the name of this type of jumping bow:  lets forgive her for the mistakes and iffy playing, little girl just want to have fun here :


September 14, 2010 at 08:21 PM ·

I'm confused too Al, but that's just par for the course...

Brava to Anina! And congrats for her summer triumphs! She's just amazing... how do you contain yourself?

The jumping bow stroke I think you're referring to is called an up-bow staccato. That's just the generic unambiguous term.

In general musical terminology staccato refers to short, separated notes as you probably already know. That meaning is generally applied to the violin as well, but for whatever reason, it specifically refers to two or more short, separated notes played in one bow.

I think a lot of confusion arises from the equivocal use of certain terms which on the one hand describe the sound produced, and on the other, the manner of producing that sound.

So somewhere in history, violinst-composers (perhaps it began with Viotti and his two note staccato stroke which bears his name) started producing the short, detached sound of several notes in one bow by causing inflections with the forearm, hand (wrist) and fingers and called this upbow or downbow staccato. All the greats, Kreutzer, Rode, Spohr, Joachim, Vieuxtemps used this staccato and presumably the inflected hand motion to produce it. The story goes that Wieniawski had trouble producing the staccato in this manner and couldn't really play the stroke until he came up with his own solution of employing a stiff-arm. He tensed his hand/wrist/elbow and pushed the bow from his upper arm and reportedly produced a very fast staccato, the results of which we see in his works. Sarasate in his characteristic suave, graceful manner apparently used an equally fast, but lighter staccato, in which the bow jumped and left the string, the flying staccato, or staccato volant. I'm not sure who first rejigged the terms but somebody started calling Wieniawski's fast, firm staccato the 'flying staccato' and started calling the Sarasate jumping staccato by the new term 'flying spiccato', which I guess has its logic. 

So long story short, if Anina wanted to speed up her already accomplished staccato to emulate Wieniawski, she could try the stiff-arm staccato (or in some rejiggers' terms, staccato volant.) I think the trick to achieving that 'stiffness' lies in the fingers themselves. Staccato is typically taught as a dipping motion, which only works for slow staccato. For a faster motion, the pressure is kept constant and the staccato stroke is generated as the pressure is released slightly and quickly, so you get a slight hop in the stick. To get even faster, it helps to think only horizontally with the arm, but feel a counter-rotation in the fingers about the pivot (counter to normal application of pressure into the stick.) On an up bow the thumb and middle finger apply a clockwise rotation (from the player's perspective, like turning a door knob with only fingers and thumb) and the third and fourth fingers also apply pressure into the the stick, almost as if you're about to flip the bow but without actually flipping it. The resulting internal tension of the hand/wrist/forearm causes fast tremors which generate the necessary hops in the bow. Of course the bow can be quite crooked because it's being pushed from the upper arm, but that's half the fun. A down bow can be done with a counter-clockwise rotation or with the same clockwise tension. Some people apply a severe tilt to the bow and hold the bow all funny. Anyways, I look forward to the next bravura performance!


P.S. It definitely helps to have good equipment. Like a well-balanced golf club, the balance of a bow will make everything easier. Sometimes a heavy bow (over 62g) can feel quite light with good balance and a light bow (less than 58g) can feel quite cumbersome if its balance is off. Maybe a better way to describe it is that with a well balanced bow, you have no awareness of its weight -- it just feels right in the hand. Some bows have a bigger sweet spot (like a good tennis racket), so that you can do more tricks at more parts of the bow. Also some sticks are faster; they rebound quicker (making both fast spiccato and staccato that much easier to play) while still being flexible, yet they're stable when you need them to be, and have a great tone, sometimes with exquisite colors to boot. If you find such a bow with all those qualities it will most likely be a Tourte, Peccatte, Simon, Eury or some other very French maker, or possibly the honorary Frenchman, Russian Nikolaus Kittel, though I've never had the fortune of trying one of his very rare bows.

September 14, 2010 at 09:30 PM ·

I find that using a little elliptical motion on the down-up bowing helps to balance the sound out, and seems to leave space between the notes, giving a more punchy sound.

September 14, 2010 at 10:14 PM ·

JK, you are such a great writer.  Not only a player but also a scholar.  thanks for all the info,,and your synthesis.

so you are saying 200 dollar chinese bow won't do then? :)

September 14, 2010 at 10:36 PM ·

Ah, but in Anina's great hands, even the $200 Chinese bow can work like a charm :) And after she wins her first open championship, she can have her pick of French sticks and Italian fiddles.



I stand corrected, sort of... I felt a bit unsettled about my previous post re. saltando, because it did ring a bell somewhere in the deep recesses, so I dug around and found the marking in an International (Galamian) edition of Wieniawski D minor, 3rd movement. Oddly, the main theme is marked spiccato, but in the extended spiccato passage in G, it's marked saltando, and again near the end. Did he imply a character change rather than a bow stroke? I don't know. But I also had a gut feeling that my previous inclination came from somewhere so I dug a bit further and found a reference in Flesch's Art of Violin Playing, p. 57, where he refers to long saltandi belonging to the same family as a "thrown staccato bowing."  Later, in reference to Bazzini's Round of the Goblins, p. 61, he uses saltato and saltando interchangeably. Lastly, in Sheppard and Axelrod's, Paganini, they state, "The term saltato is the Italian equivalent of the French sautille," in reference to the marking in the 5th caprice. So something must have changed between the mid-19th century and the early 20th; perhaps it's our proclivity for categorizing and defining, which is just a natural consequence of standardization and globalization.



September 15, 2010 at 04:30 AM ·

Thanks for the suggestions and clarifications, everyone.  The videos are interesting (I've seen most before).  The biggest difference I see is that my teacher has instructed me to use my right hand fingers in this stroke (relaxing/extending the fingers as the bow is falling towards the string, the reverse as the bow bounces off the string) and I never see/hear anyone else mention this (maybe it's too subtle to see in the videos?).  My teacher is a professional and comes from an impressive lineage (she is from Poland), so I can only guess that it's a slightly different style that she is teaching me, or maybe just the 'training wheels' which will disappears later.  (I know it's not incorrect information is what I'm saying.)  

Anyway, sometimes it takes a few different perspectives on something to "get it" since everyone has their own way of understanding these concepts.  Thank you!

September 15, 2010 at 05:36 AM ·

Hi Jack,

It's not that subtle if you know what to look for.

Here's an example of what you're working towards:


and this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=77DgEqwRnrA&feature=related 

as opposed to this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xXi5D366n7o

or this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0loGTQD7Lag

What you're learning is a hand generated bow-stroke; and I guess you've heard more people talk about arm strokes, whether in slower spiccato, where the whole arm is moved in a vertical arc and the hand and fingers remain passive, or in faster spiccato, where the motion evolves from a forearm detache.

As you say, in a hand stroke, the bow moves down as the hand flexes at the wrist; the fingers extend and the baseknuckles flex as the wrist flexes. The bow moves up as the hand extends; the fingers flex and the baseknuckles extend as the wrist extends. This is true whether you're playing on or off the string.

The hand stroke can be used as a finishing motion in an arm stroke, especially for smooth detache or hooked dotted rhythms. For spiccato, the finishing hand motion will yield a more brushy, less percussive sound, because the 'brushy' motion timed at the end of the arm motion absorbs the 'shock' of the bow change. To get that percussive sound from an arm generated detache, the hand needs to become more firm and the best bow point must be chosen for the speed of the stroke. You can see here that the first student has more of a detache motion in the forearm and the student with the glasses has more of a hand motion (notice the difference in the vertical counter-motion of the upper arm -- more visible because of her smaller arms -- Oistrakh and Perlman have arms with enough mass to have quite the damping effect:) even though what's being taught is a 'movement from the wrist.' To a degree, the stick can be made more percussive by adding pressure from the first finger against the stick -- but this strategy is a step closer to using a hand stroke to add to the striking force of the bow. Saussmanhaus states that sautille is always started from on the string, but that ain't necessarily so. It's interesting that he teaches spiccato from a detache stroke; a spiccato generated from a colle motion which involves the hand as well as the fingers, a.k.a. the hand stroke, would be more congruous with the wrist generated sautille.

A few tips:

Make sure your fingers are completely vertical when they extend to meet the strings; you want to optimize the direction (perpendicular to the plane of each string) to transfer the full force of the hand, so you want the center of mass of the hand to be raised directly over each string. You can do this exercise without the bow, on a table (or on the fingerboard in playing position). Throw the fingertips toward the table and check that they land vertically (i.e. the tip and second joint), not at an angle. You should be able to generate a lot of force and 'peck' the table repeatedly with a loud tap. Try again with the bow -- throw the bow onto the strings with as much force as you can generate with vertical fingertips and feel the strength of the hand. The bow should make a loud, percussive "tchkkk" sound when it lands. Start at the frog, then try at different bow points. After you get the hang of throwing the bow, you can add more horizontal motion, whether from the hand or the arm, and vary the force according to the sound you want. Go back to the wrist tremolo if you want to work on a fast spiccato, or work on combining the colle motion of the hand stroke with the vertical arm motion to work on a slow spiccato.

Check to make sure your arm responds to the motion of the hand; make sure it doesn't seize up when your bow makes contact with the string. Your forearm responds by rising as the wrist flexes; your elbow either flexes slightly (if your forearm is pronated) or opens slightly as your forearm supinates; if it's a loud, heavy, slower spiccato, your upper arm should float on impact of the hand; let it rise slightly -- if you tighten through the arm pit upon impact of the hand, you'll likely crash.

Keep in mind that the faster you go, the closer the bow remains to the strings (it is possible to leave the bow hair on the string and only let the stick rebound,) the less work you have to do to raise the bow back to where you started. The rebounding action of the bow will be enough, and if you throw the bow at the strings with enough force, you'll have to control the rebounding as well.

Let me know if this makes sense. Over time, you'll come to use your own blend of arm and hand strokes depending on your proportions and inclinations, and the requirements of the piece and your interpretation. 


P.S. It looks to me like Anina does drop the bow onto the strings with her fingers in the faster version of the Kayser etude that Al posted above. Is that what you're after? The bow is generally held above the strings and she drops the bow onto the string for each note with a fluid extending of the hand and fingers. 

September 16, 2010 at 03:41 AM ·

Jeewon - I'm still sifting through your detailed explanation.  I'm glad to hear your description of the use of the right hand and fingers.  I've been experimenting quite a bit now with this stroke and hear some improvements.  

Speed does play a huge roll and my bow hand does different things now depending on the speed of the passage I am trying to play.  

I appreciate seeing the videos of different playing styles (use of hand vs. not).  Very informative! The use of the hand and fingers looks and sounds a bit smoother to me.  I guess it's all about what sound you're trying to achieve.  

You've opened me up to many details on this topic.  I will be back to review this thread as I grow. Thank you.

September 16, 2010 at 05:29 PM ·

FWIW, (I'm no expert)

Sautille1, Sautille2, Ricochet, Calvin Seib, Explanation, KurtS Spiccato

September 18, 2010 at 02:05 AM ·

You're welcome Jack. Keep us posted on how it goes. 


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