staccato and martele bowing

January 11, 2011 at 08:43 PM · I'm very confused on the differences between martele and staccato bowing. I was taught that they both have a bite at the beginning and the ringing at the end is stopped so in a sense two pinches, one at the beginning and one at the end. Is staccato just a shorter (less bow) version of martele or are they really different animals?

Replies (9)

January 11, 2011 at 09:26 PM ·

Martelé -- martellato in Italian -- means "hammered."  The way I was taught it, it's on the string -- a longer stroke than the staccato, typically between mid-bow and point.  The right index finger pressure begins just before the stroke with the bow already on the string.

The staccato is definitely shorter; the bow may be on or off the string between strokes.  My copy of Paganini's Moto Perpetuo has "staccato" printed in the opening line of the solo part.  My teacher demonstrated it as a springy staccato movement -- where you're not making any conscious effort to have the bow leave the string; you just find the right point on the bow so that you can let it happen.

I'm not a teacher, but undoubtedly the teachers among us can describe these points better than I can.  I know how to get the effect I want; I just don't have any better words for it at the moment.

January 12, 2011 at 02:32 AM ·

I used to have the same question not too long ago.  The problem with the term "staccato", as well as the marking you see in music, is that it can mean a variety of things.  When you see a dot over or under a note in a piece of music, you know it is to played short, but the context needs to be taken into consideration to decide exactly how you want to play this short note. 

Staccato notes may have a variety of attacks.  If it is to be played by bouncing the bow off the string, it is called spiccato.  When played by leaving the bow on the string, staccato notes can take on a variety of sounds.  They can be round and elongated with emphasis in the middle of the sound (wha, wha...) or they may have a little bite at the beginning of the stroke, giving it a more consonant sound (kah, kah, or tah tah...).  If you picture the sounds you make with your bow as letters of the alphabet, you will begin to understand that there are many possibilities to interpreting staccato.  Regardless, you want a clean sounding beginning and end, with silence in between--no stuttering or grunting.

(Staccato notes all played quickly on one bow are a different species altogether.)

Martele is a specific kind of spiccato and, as the previous poster explained, literally means "hammered."  You will want a strong bite at the beginning of the note, a sharp consonant sound with an accent.  It may be played at all parts of the bow.  Set your bow on the string and feed the weight of your arm into the index finger.  You can actually wiggle the string with the tension of the bow hair without making a sound.  This grip of the hair on the string is what will give you a clean beginning to your sound.  Then, you release this weight at the same time that you draw the bow quickly across the string (hopefully using a straight bow stroke so that you don't lose your contact point).  If you do it right, you will get a perfectly clean, accented, consonant sound at the beginning of your note, followed by a resonant tone (kah, kah...).  The end of the note should be clean, but not accented.  During the space between each martele stroke, you prepare the next stroke by weighting the string once more with the bow hair.  When done properly, there is absolute silence (or perhaps the last pitch is still ringing) between each note, and each note has its own clean attack with the bow.  Martele strokes use fast bow strokes, and may be short with lots of space or long and sustained.  The main thing is the attack followed by a resonant bow stroke.  

When you first practice martele, it is best to go slowly and listen carfully, and give your body a chance to figure out what it needs to do to execute the next stroke.  As your muscle coordination and reflexes improve, you can gradually pick up speed. 

In short, to answer your question, staccato is a general description for a short note, and martele is a specific kind of short note, with a strong, "hammered" accent at the beginning.  Staccato notes may or may not have a bite at the beginning, and the amount of bite varies from next to nothing all the way up to the accented martele stroke.

January 12, 2011 at 04:51 AM ·

Good description!

Staccato is a sound and Martele is a bowing.

What we differ is that I believe that all bowings should start with a consonant sound.

January 12, 2011 at 06:17 AM ·


I would go along with most of Emily`s excellent post.  One minor quibble I have though.  In my opinion there are actually two forms of `martele,`   the quick and the slow.  Both utilize the attack in the weigh Emily describes but after thta initila attack the bow speed may actually be slow IE there is such a thing as a `slow martele` and it is importnat to be able to do this as well as the more commonly thought of `fast stroke` martele.



January 12, 2011 at 06:28 AM ·

Ah yes, you're right.   I guess in the part about the long, sustained martele, I'd omitted the idea from my head that the bow went slower there.

January 12, 2011 at 02:20 PM ·

To me, staccato is just a short duration of a sound you play, regardless of the attack. There're on the string staccato, off-string which we call spiccato, sautille where you have fast 16th notes in staccato. As long as it sound short, there isn't much of a specific rules on how to play them.

Martele, on the other hand, is the attack of the sound. I was taught to have the "bite" at the very beginning of the sound, regardless of the duration. You can have sustain note but with martele attack, which I would call the "explosion" sound.

January 14, 2011 at 07:05 PM ·

As  mentioned above  staccato has many significance especially in italian  where it  is  synonymous with  "détaché" but I think the most  general admitted  significance of staccato is a succession of martelé in a same bow stroke as  in  "schon rosmarin"

January 16, 2011 at 11:55 AM ·

 Yeah, I agree...


martele is a bowing, staccato is a sound / articulation.

so, there are a few different bowings you can use to create the staccato articulation:

Spiccato, sautille, martele, Jete / ricochet, up-bow / down-bow staccato. probably missed a few.


January 18, 2011 at 07:39 PM ·

 Is it fair to say one deals with the attack and the other deals with the release?

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