Is bowing strictly a rule or can it be changed?

January 24, 2015 at 03:20 AM · Is bowing different for all violinists?

I have only played for couple of months

I have been watching some players play Tchaikovsky

It seems bowing is sometimes slightly different to very different bowing

Is bowing to our discretion or is there a rule?

ex. using upper bow instead of lower bow

Replies (20)

January 24, 2015 at 04:01 AM · Huge question! Some bowing markings are there as interpretive guides, and most violinists follow those. Others are editorial. Some are completely up to the individual player--as long as what results interprets the music well.

Ask your teacher!

January 24, 2015 at 07:14 AM · Greetings,

I was present at a De Lay masterclass where atop class violinist changed bow on a note in the slow movement of the Sibelius concerto. DeLay pounced on him and gave him a brief but quite sharp admonition for changing the composers marking. Was that because it went against the wishes of the composer (who could play ) or because it damaged the flow in her mind? I think the more the composer is a violinst the more strict we need to be in following the bowing directions. but we need to check an urtext if we can. Pagininis music suffers quite a lot.....

There are certain conventions of bowing which oriniate in the difference in attack/weight of the down bow versus the up bow. This was once refered to by Lully? as'the tyranny of the down bow.' We have to try to match the logic of the music with the innate structure of the bow a lot of the time. There may be technical or musical reasons for ending a phrase that tails off on a down bow with an up bow, but in general why do something that looks and feels uneasy?

However some players will play the first double stops of the Bruch up bow to follow the rule whereas others will do it down bow to get the extra ce eight even though it is an up beat.

However, in the practice room we can bring our playing to a whole new level by reversing Bowings and certainly practicing technical bowing exercises in reverse.

An extend example of selecting Bowings often occurs in bach. for example, pre authentic players would use discrete spicatto to create variety in fast movements. that is considered out of order these days. Pooooooooo..........

Then at the highest level it becomes a question of taste and interptretation. Older players often playEd the fifth bar entry of Mozart four at the point and then played the fifth bar short notes on one long up bow. modern players like Hahn and Fischer play very compact repeat up bows below the middle.

One great female violinist , maybe Neveu, started the Brahms concerto up bow. Do that in your next violin lesson and don't wait around for a big pat on the back.....

Or just ask your teacher,



January 24, 2015 at 07:31 AM · Sibelius was a violinist; so were Paganini, (!), Mozart, and a host of others.

The problem is that we use the same written slurs for bowings, ties and musical phrasing. The composer's markings are often phrasings: the violinist must create bowings that sound as the composer seems to have wanted.

Very few composers give many indications of up & down bows, which have a considerable effect on the result.

Playing in a larger hall may require modified bowings.

A teacher can insist on a given bowing to devlop the student's technique.

January 24, 2015 at 08:58 AM · >> Is bowing to our discretion or is there a rule?

The answer is...both.

For Baroque repertoire and by extension, Classical and beyond, you can learn a lot by reading treatises by people like George Muffat who talked about the bowing systems he observed while he was in France in the late 17th century. Basically because old baroque bows were much heavier at the frog and tapered towards the tip, down bows are stronger than up bows, and naturally when you want beat hierarchy, you play down bows on strong beats and lighter beats with up bows.

Lully's band was famous with one reason being it had matching bowings among the players, something quite astonishing to witness in an orchestra in this period...and particularly with a lot of French dance music, it's easy to figure out a system for bowings. The Italians in general detested this rigidity particularly in sonatas and concertos...But in general there is a common understanding among performers, so let's say if there's a minuet, absolutely 100% of string players I'm sure would had started down bow because it begins with a strong beat and the alternative up bow would have been bizarre.

Later around the late 18th century/early 19th century bows became longer and the curavature changed to give it more sustaining power, and you can play near the tip quite well. Music itself changed, the modern aesthetic gradually shifted from the spoken quality of rhetoric to long, sustaining lines, and you see people later on discussing technique like seamless/hidden bow changes. For the modern Tourte bow we play on, the down bow is still more powerful, the same logic of using it for stronger beats and emphasis remains, although often times an opposite bowing can give you a different feeling, color, and direction in phrasing.

I would also add a lot of slurs we see are phrasings and I see them as shapes rather than bowings. Usually the great performers can tell you exactly why they chose all of their bowings...this is something probably one can write a dissertation on. And probably has been done I bet.

January 24, 2015 at 12:25 PM · In this topic I must think of an Interview of Nathan Milstein. I think it was with Zukerman. They talk about the bowing of the beginning of the Mendelssohn Concerto. There is an indication from Mendelssohn, that is in the Original manuscript about bowing wich Milstein plays different. Zukerman states, that Mendelssohn was a good violinist himself so why would you change the bowing of the composer who understands about the violin. Milsteins answer was like this: "I know more about bowing than Mendelssohn". True story. Thats one point, the other is, that with bowing you can shape your musical articulation. For soloists bow devision is also important since big halls may require different bowings than small venues or overly acoustical churches.

Still there are some rules to bowing like keeping the downbeat on a downbow can be a nice thing to do. Butthe more advanced you become the more flexible should your bow arm get. I once heard Hilary Hahn with the Bach Sarabanda d-minor and she played the repetition with reverse bowings and it sounded quite the same. This may be a geeky circus trick though, since I dont see any musical reason in it, but it shows, that on that level it doesn't Matter too much, if you play up or down, it can sound the same if you want it to.

January 24, 2015 at 02:45 PM · Buri, Sandor Vegh's masterclass at Prussia Cove was different. He didn't bat an eyelid when Roland Greutter changed bow in the middle of the longer notes of the double-stopped section of the Sibelius slow movement (He didn't do it in the opening section, though).

If the composer was a violinist, it doesn't follow that he was one that could change bow seamlessly, or even one that believed that anyone else could change bow seamlessly. I would think that any one that can change bow seamlessly is entitled to ignore the composer's bow markings.

That is, if you're the soloist However, in orchestra these days, uniformity in bowing within a section or subsection is the rule.

January 24, 2015 at 04:01 PM · Stokowski was famous for the lush, rich sound of the strings. He was a fierce advocate of free bowing, not caring about up or down bow, nor where or how many bow changes you used. That being said, he was most particular about where in the bow you played. Woe be unto anyone he saw using more than the very last two inches of the bow for the opening phrase of the overture to Cosi; or played pianissimo anywhere other than the last 6 inches. In the Barber adagio, he loved to see bow changes at different times making a full seamless legato. He was an exception not the rule. One wag who spent a few years in Cleveland, once told me that 95% of all pianists preferred George Szell's bowings.

January 24, 2015 at 04:40 PM · One aspect no one has mentioned: who put in the bowings in the first place? If you're a baby-boomer, you probably grew up on Francescatti editions for concertos and showpieces, and Galamian for Bach. But times have changed--I haven't ever had a student get the Galamian Bach edition. Now I have them get editions such as Barenreiter for Bach, and Henley for Beethoven. Much or the repertoire over the decades, such as those mentioned, as well as Mozart and Handel, have been butchered. Suzuki, or whoever has done his "editing" has totally massacred bowings and must be changed. This is one of the main problems with Suzuki: for generations teachers have been forced to memorize stupid bowings and fingerings, and their students in turn. No one should be studying Mozart concerti from Suzuki books at this point in time.

So when you ask if it's ok to change bowings, I ask "whose bowings" (or rather, which miscreant's crimes of editing)?

January 24, 2015 at 06:29 PM · I think Suzuki's dreadful Mozart editions are based on Joachim's, though I haven't the patience to check..

That said, it's a pity, since Suzuki's technical prepration for both concertos, taking up over half of each volume, is very clever. One can still copy his logic into other editions, though.

His Bach A minor concerto is pretty bad, and the Händel sonatas are based on Chrysander's edition, with very heavy pîano parts.

January 24, 2015 at 08:06 PM · Milstein knew more about 20th performance practice than Mendelssohn.

January 24, 2015 at 08:07 PM · Milstein knew more about 20th century performance practice than Mendelssohn.

January 24, 2015 at 09:29 PM · He also new more about how to cook spaghetti than mendelssohn.



January 25, 2015 at 03:19 AM · Watch this YouTube of Hilary Hahn performing the Mozart 3, she starts upbow on the first chord. I wonder if it is marked that way in any printed edition.

January 25, 2015 at 03:24 AM · Greetings,

that's because the original publisher was drunk and misaligned his bars by three mm. The whole work makes sense once you move all the bar lines to the right.

Starting this concerto up bow is actually quite common. It makes musical sense. Now people just have to get the f sharp in tune........



January 25, 2015 at 01:59 PM · When I worked on the Bach A minor (which my teacher had been taught many years ago by Suzuki himself!) we quickly agreed to use an Urtext edition, so taking a much more satisfying Baroque approach - for example, playing most of the first movement's exposition in the first position with open strings.

However, to be fair to Suzuki, his interpretation background was that of the late 19th century, using well-known pieces in order to introduce students to a good repertoire, some bowings and fingerings of which he would edit for specific pedagogical reasons. My take on this is that he probably knew full well that in the real performance world violinists would naturally use more appropriate bowings and fingerings.

January 25, 2015 at 06:01 PM · One can forgive Suzuki's editing choices....80 years ago. I can't criticize a person who was a product of his times. The really odd thing to me is that "Suzuki Inc." has remained so hidebound, so incapable of changing in the 21st century. Perhaps it was utterly personality-dependent and now no one can step in and lead it to change. Maybe all those teachers who worked so hard to memorize a bunch of tunes and markings would rebel if they now had to go back and memorize a new bunch of tunes and markings. Or, god forbid, figure out things themselves and then have the added burden of teaching their students how to make artistic choices themselves. Oops, but then you'd have no "method" for which people would have to pay to get a certificate...

In a way, it reminds me of Kodak circa 1997: "What? Change?

Why? Everyone's still buying film!"

January 25, 2015 at 08:43 PM · The Suzuki community has difficulty making changes. First, there is a cult-like aspect. Then there is the wish for world wide uniformity to permit instant exchanges between classes, and group work where everything is memorised. And then deciding who will suggest or decide on improvements, or new recommendations of editions.

January 27, 2015 at 05:00 PM · Buri - we always eat our spaggetti raw...

Funny to think HH starting Mozart 3 on an up bow! I thought I was the only one to do that. Makes sense.

Albert Sammons apparently once gave a Wigmore Hall recital in London back in the early 20C in which he played the Beethoven Kreutzer Sonata. In the front row he noticed a student in the variations movement who was writing down his bowings in his part.

So when he did the repeats he reversed all the bowings. Supposed to be a true story!

January 27, 2015 at 06:09 PM · I totally agree HH's upbow at the start of Mozart 3 makes sense, I wasn't criticizing that. I was wondering if that bowing appears in any of the major printed editions. Both of the editions I have seen (Peters and Schirmer) start with two down bows (which I find very awkward actually).

Another fun example, since someone mentioned Bach A Minor, is this (Isaac Stern):

Pay attention to the long sequence starting at 3:35, each group of 16th notes starts upbow. Again I think it makes total sense, but I have two editions (International and Suzuki) and I suspect most others will bow them all down.

This is the great thing about youtube. It's easy to say, oh, I should have thought of trying this or that bowing, but nobody thinks of everything, and seeing a master playing something is so valuable especially when one maybe cannot go and see recitals every weekend. Heaven forbid anyone *learns* something from a Youtube that he might be able to try himself.

January 28, 2015 at 12:00 AM · I've seen the Hahn video a few times and noticed the up-bow. However, I think it really doesn't matter. What matters, especially in Mozart, is the articulation. The opening can be done up or down, as long as the gesture is as intended. That's quite a different matter than adding or subtracting slurs.

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