Colle bowing questions

March 4, 2013 at 08:08 PM · Hello all, ive got a few questions about what i believe is referred to as 'colle' bowing.

Ive gotten the motions down and everything, and my fingers are quite flexible from playing piano before ever touching the violin so it came fairly easy to me, but i'm just curious as to why in most of the videos ive seen of soloists preforming i cant notice it very often.

I guess i just want to know when this bowing should be used aside from the obvious answer of 'when you want your bow changes to sound smooth', or 'when it sounds good' considering i see it used so rarely. I also am open to the possibility that its hard to notice small movements of the fingers in youtube videos and the professionals may use it lightly but often, however i figure its better to ask just in case there is something I should be aware of :)

Replies (9)

March 4, 2013 at 09:01 PM · Hi Aaron,

Here is my video on the Mazas Etude #3 which focuses on the colle bowing. Please let me know if this answers your questions.

March 5, 2013 at 05:52 PM · Practicing colle' bowing does at least 4 things to develop your overall playing abilities. The obvious first thing, is you can then play sections marked colle'. Second, as you practice it at different places on the bow, and different tempos, you develop bow control. Third, the colle' stroke lays a foundation for the various staccato, spicato,etc. strokes, i.e., the muscles and co-ordination are similar. Fourth, a lot of strokes can be broken down into a crisp start followed by some other "smoother" continuation. If you can do colle' "automatically" without thinking about the effort and muscle co-ordination to do it, you can do many other strokes well.

Its a bit like basketball players practicing for hours to dribble between their legs - or behind their back. You don't see it often in a game performance, but it builds skills that are valuable in other actions. And the top players (whether violin or basketball) do it well.

March 5, 2013 at 07:41 PM · Hi Aaron, Mike gave a great summary [edit: and I just saw Roy's great video, as I had to click on 'view previous'], but when you mention smooth bow changes, are you asking about the passive 'paint brush' motion of the fingers? Not all string players use that motion for bow changes. But for those who do, it can be particularly useful for a bow change in which you want to keep the momentum going, where you want to 'swing' the momentum through the bow change for a very connected sound.

Here's an example of the same piece with no paint brush motion in the fingers:

Collé is "glue" in French, and the stroke is meant to produce a sound which starts with density and produced with a clean edge to the beginning of the sound, with an ictus, or clean articulation. It would be the opposite of a brushed sound, or a gradual sound. It's usually taught as an active motion from the fingers, or fingers + hand in combination. You can think of it as a 'pinch' of the string, followed by a released 'ride' on the bow, for longer bows. You can also use it to 'catch' the string on a short note before a long bow. Listen to the variety you can create by varying how the stroke starts:

You can also use it to start an off-the-string passage with clean articulation by pinching and throwing the hand:

Practicing colle can also help with the 'paint brush' motion by training the fingers/wrist motion which later becomes passive in combination with an active arm motion.

March 5, 2013 at 08:36 PM · Right, there isn't a lot of colle as such in the repertoire, at least not long passages where you play "up-down-up-down" using mostly finger motions. But as Jeewon mentions, the most common use of colle is to start a note from the string with great articulation. The note may then be long or short, but you've started it really cleanly in a controlled way. Those who haven't practiced colle are unable to start notes consistently in this way. They either find themselves scratching when they try to articulate, or they resort to starting notes from off the string, generally a recipe for inconsistency.

March 6, 2013 at 02:02 PM · A perfect set of responses. Thank you so much all of you for putting time into explaining that for me, and for the pointers to the videos. Not only have you answered my questions and worries about this but you have provided some awesome points to start off using what i know as a basis for continued practice into the unknown :)

March 7, 2013 at 04:46 PM · Colle is the one bowing that continues to confuse me. Likewise here. Roy in his very nice video clearly considers it as an off-the-string bowing. But then Nathan advertises it as a better (more precise) alternative to off-the-string bowing, i.e., he considers it as an on-the-string bowing.

March 7, 2013 at 08:00 PM · I agree it is confusing. It is often defined (by Galamian for example) as a "plucked" or pizzicato bow stroke. So the form of colle most similar to a pizzicato would be a very short stroke formed by finger movements only, starting on the string, with the bow immediately releasing from the string. In fact this is a very useful thing to practice because it forms the foundation for great articulation.

Practically though, this kind of "pizzicato" stroke doesn't show up much in repertoire, at least not in that pure a form. So it's useful to expand the definition of colle to include strokes that derive from that. For example: strokes that start from the string and release immediately, but with more bow than you can generate with finger motion alone; short strokes that start from the string but stay on the string; long strokes that start from the string and stay on.

In all of these, the key is the start, which is generated by the bow hair "catching" the string then releasing pressure. If it releases all pressure, the bow comes off. If it releases only some, the bow remains on for a longer stroke.

March 7, 2013 at 08:10 PM · Hi Jean, I've glanced through my library and curiously the term is used only by Galamian in Principles of Violin Playing and Teaching, Robert Gerle in The Art of Bowing Practice, and Frank Spinosa (with Rusch) in Bowing Development Studies. I expected to find the term in Capet's (Galamian's teacher) Superior Bowing Technique, but there is no mention of it. Flesch also does not use the term. I think Gerle and Spinosa are roughly a generation younger than Galamian, so it is possible that Galamian coined the term himself.

Gerle calls the colle an off-string variant of detache, used in the lower half. Spinosa emphasizes the pinching and releasing of the string, practiced in the lower third and upper two-thirds, and makes no mention of lifting the bow off the string. But in application he suggests using it in the lower third for off-the-string passages. Galamian says:

In the colle, the bow is placed on the strings from the air and at the moment of contact the string is lightly but sharply pinched. Simultaneously with the pinch, the note is attacked, and after the instantaneous sounding of the note the bow is immediately slightly lifted off the string in preparation for the next stroke. The pinch is very similar to the martele attack except for the fact that the time of preparation is reduced to a minimum. It is in action, though not in sound, not unlike the plucking of the string, making, as it were, a pizzicato with the bow.

...A good method for initial practice is to start with a very light and a very short martele stroke about three to four inches from the frog, lifting the bow immediately after each stroke and placing it back toward the frog a little to prepare for the next martele attack. The time for preparation is gradually shortened until there is scarcely any preparation on the string, and the setting, pinching, and sounding practically coincide.

The colle is a very important practice bowing, invaluable for acquiring control of the bow in all of its parts. Added to this, it is musically very useful as a stroke that combines the lightness and grace of the spiccato with the incisiveness of the martele. Played at the frog, it gives the same sound-effect as a light martele played at the point and, in general, can replace the martele when the tempo is too fast for the latter. The colle can give more emphasis to certain notes in a spiccato passage and can be used as an aid to slowing down the spiccato bowing when necessary. (See pp. 73-74 in Principles)

The salient skill is in the development of the timing between setting the bow on the string and pinching, and pulling the string and releasing. So for on-the-string-strokes, the fingers need to feel the level of the string and 'grab' it, applying the precise pressure for the desired result, and learn to release the pressure immediately upon moving the bow. For off-the-string playing, the hand must set, pinch, and sound ('pluck') the string in one action. And by their inclusion, the motion of the fingers can also weigh down the spiccato, a stroke which otherwise relies mostly on the bounce of the bow, and a suspended swing from the arm. Though it's taught as an active motion of the fingers through it's component motions, once learned it becomes integrated and largely unconscious.

So in application, colle is really just an incisive spiccato as demonstrated by Roy, a bouncing stroke in which an active throwing motion of the fingers sharply accentuates the sound. But it's greater application is in training the hand to articulate cleanly at all parts of the bow. Maybe we need to distinguish 'colle motion' from the colle stroke.

P.S. The edge to Oistrakh's articulation is hair-raising to some of us violin nerds. I don't think you can get a stroke that clean without the colle, without training attack from the fingers. Oh to have witnessed the King in all his glorious presence! Likewise, to all of us who have suffered learning the Schumann Scherzo, Nathan's sparkling performance is nothing short of astonishing!

P.P.S. N.B. the 'cleanness' of articulation depends as much on sudden release of pressure as it does on the attack. Most sufficiently trained violinists can attack the stroke, sometimes with great distortion, but that clean 'pop', the 'pluck' of the string followed by a full, round tone which Oistrakh achieves so effortlessly eludes even some of the greats. You can clearly see the colle motion of the fingers from all sorts of angles each time he lets one 'pop.'

Edit: Nathan beat me to the punch in characteristically clear and concise fashion!

March 8, 2013 at 01:04 PM · many thanks!

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