Need some guideance with martele bowing

March 20, 2016 at 03:46 PM · Hello everyone! Nice to meet you. My name is Kirk and I am 28. I know I am a bit late to the show but I have always had a fascination with the violin so I bought one and started playing last week. I had my first music lesson this morning. My instructor assigned martele bowing. I am having a extremely difficult time with this assignment. I would greatly appreciate any advice! My biggest obstacle is doing this stroke with the full bow draw it isn't so bad with short strokes but long strokes I can't seem to control the tip on the up stroke past 50% travel. I have found many videos online but none of them do full strokes only partials. Thanks in advance for the help!

Replies (36)

March 20, 2016 at 04:32 PM · It's very strange to me that martele is being taught as the first bow stroke, since as the OP said, it's hard to control (and it requires many sub-motions to be controlled). A basic detache is the norm.

Perhaps some of the teachers here can weigh in on the logic of doing this, because I can't think of a rationale.

March 20, 2016 at 04:42 PM · The other possibility (equally puzzling) would be that your teacher has confused the terms detache and martele. Commonly beginners are assigned to use only the middle third of their bow to start out. Sometimes even the bow is marked with tape or such to indicate the recommended portion.

March 20, 2016 at 05:43 PM · I have no idea why either. To be honest it killed my confidence. I was excited because I have learned 4 songs this week before my lesson (twinkle twinkle little star, amazing grace, silent night, and happy new year) mind you they are not perfect by any means but I am working hard to correct my intonation. She said I need to learn more bowing techniques because I will learn faster. I can do martele better on the down stroke but the up stroke is so unpredictable. I can't seem to figure out how to get it under control. Are there any tips or tricks to help maintain the bow on the up stroke? I can't figure out if I'm using too much pressure and when I release it causes the tip to go wherever or if I'm not using enough pressure to keep it in check. I really haven't been playing long enough to figure out what I'm doing wrong.

March 20, 2016 at 06:55 PM · Teaching this technique to beginners is extremely counterproductive: you end up having a strong accent on every down stoke on every piece you learn. It is much better that you first learn to add weight into the stick, through the index finger, while keeping the bow at the same speed(learn to walk before you run idea).

March 20, 2016 at 07:36 PM · Martele on the first week? .......alright, well, assuming you've been taught the proper technique, practice and repetition and more repetition is the key. It will sound like crap at first, don't be discouraged by that, everybody sounded bad at first. ;)

Do open strings when practicing your bowing, so you can concentrate on the bowing alone and not worry about intonation and notes and all that.

March 20, 2016 at 09:43 PM · Also had a look at your videos. Goog work for a week of playing :)

I agree with Jenny 100% about your bow hand. your fingers are too extended, they should be more curved, particularly the little finger. Martele won't work without fixing that, as it's only possible because of a pressure-release action from the fingers.

And while I'm cautious about saying any teacher is clearly doing it wrong..... I'm quite close in this situation.

March 20, 2016 at 10:07 PM · Greetings,

A famous teacher called Samuel Applebaum described wb martele as the most difficult bow stroke which is alifetimes work for all artists. I suppose if it is a lifetime then start early, or not.....



March 20, 2016 at 10:12 PM · .... did he list some other bow strokes that *aren't* a lifetime's work? :D

March 20, 2016 at 11:04 PM · I usually associate the teaching of a proper martele stroke to be done at the time of teaching Kreisler's Praeludium and Allegro, since the full-bow martele is used for the big theme of the Praeludium. This is well into the intermediate/advanced student's journey.

The down-bow martele is much, much easier than the up-bow martele.

March 20, 2016 at 11:08 PM · Who would ever want to do a whole bow martele bowstroke? I doubt that it would take a lifetime to learn it even if you wanted to do such a thing. Bruce

March 20, 2016 at 11:29 PM · If you cut your martele stroke down to, say, two or three inches of bow, taken roughly in the middle of the bow, then what happens? Do you get a reasonable staccato, such as you might want for the first twinkle variation in Suzuki Book 1?

March 21, 2016 at 12:08 AM · Dear Dr Berg,

at odd moments during Japanese calligraphy practice I do indeed find myslef wanting to do WB martele strokes. Alas, I am unable to explain this phenomenon. Do you not have inexplicable urges to do said bow stroke at weird moments?

Returning to the subject of martele, or not. Let us consider the fundamental bow stroke: detache. In my opinion, the most common, annoying and difficult to solve bowing flaw that stalks even very advanced players is the abilit to draw a comstant bow speed. A stroke of any length in any part of the bow that retains a constant speed. The difficluty of doing this is a by product of the mechanics of bowing which involves coordinating levers of different lengths in various combinations depending on where one is plaing in the bow. So, for beginners, most teachers aim for a basic stroke that keeps this difficulty to a minimu. IE one plays from the pont where only the forearm has to move so that the student can get a grasp of consistent bow speed and weight, that is produce a solid sound. From this point the student begins to explore utilzing the parts of the bow that are more mechanically complex. The degree to which one explains these mechanisms or works from the other direction on the result itslef varies somewhat depending on the teacher and the kind of student. Adults for example, may enjoy more explanation about how the bow arm functions. Unfortunately these explanations also have to be correct, which is wher some teacher sseem to fall down,.....An example of a helpful explanation, in my opinion , is that when the bow is approaching the heel it is being pushed by a point just above the elbow near the base of the triceps, and on the down bow it is being pulled by this point.

However, as is my wont , I digress. The abilty to produce a sonorous tone in all parts of the bow in basic detache requires a greta deal of work. There is a wonderful elanation of what one has to do by JEE WON in one of his recent exemplary responses . I hope someone smarter than me can remeber where it is and point it out.

Having spent a year or two, or three... on developing detache then martele is not a problem because the player has the resources to understand a) the difference between the two species of martele and b) how martele relates to the fundamental stroke of detache.

As far asoint 'a' is concerned, martele can be either a picnhed attack at the beginning of te note followed by an almost complete release of weight and fast bow stroke or pinch and release followed by a solid bow stroke.

I suppose it is possoble the teacher in question feels that one can develop a feeling for good contact between the string and bow hair by working on martel in the early stages, but in my opinon, if this were the case, it is rather a dubious premise. As an alterntive you could try the following exercise. Put the bow on in the middle. Keeping ypur right hand and thumb cirved and relaxed feel the weight of your right arm sinking into the string so that you are applying too much weight for the string. Then do what one might call tiny up amd down bow strokes without changing the shape of the hand arm. The bow DOES not move along the string. It remains on one spot and pulls the string from side to side without releasing it because of the weight ypu have applied. Dont do this for long. Just so you have created awarness of 'catching', the string. Stop for a secomd and then do a small solid bow stroke of between five and ten cms. Listen carefully and try to ensure the note you play is not crunched and has a clear beginning and ending. PQause. Repeat the string catching rubbing stroke where the bow does not traverse the string. Play another pure solid note. Rrpeat this until ypu get to the point. Practice it going up bow as well. Ypu can experiment with this technique strating in any part of the bow as you get comfortable with it. Not more than a miute or two everyday.

I have a sudden uncontrollable urge for wb martele, although I might be onfusing it with coffee and cheesecake so I will sign off here,


March 21, 2016 at 01:33 AM · Thanks for all the advice. As for my bow hold we are still trying to figure out what will work best as I am a disabled veteran and was injured in Iraq so my bow hold is going to be very unorthodox. I can not bend any finger other than my pinky, thumb, and index due to severe nerve damage and burn scaring. I do not have feeling in most of my arm below my elbow. I will try the small strokes and try to extend from there. I did not realize it is something so intricate. Thank you all very much! It is greatly appreciated!

March 21, 2016 at 01:46 AM · Greetings,

sorry to hear about your injuries. Looking on the bright side, those are probabpy the three most useful digits to have movement in .

Best of luck in your endeavours,


March 21, 2016 at 02:54 AM ·

I find it very helpful for good intonation in to teach my beginning students to play the notes at note value, but have a rest (1/8 or 1/16) between the notes. This very important exercise improves intonation quickly.

See for yourself, record yourself with connected bow strokes, and then record yourself playing with short breaks between notes.

March 21, 2016 at 03:15 AM · That is also something She has me working on is fast bow strokes from the frog to the tip with a pause between each stroke. Slow stokes are pretty easy, fast ones I have issues. I have the same problem with the up stoke on the martele controlling the tip if it is a rapid stoke. Long slow strokes are pretty easy. I start having control problems once I am trying to play 100 bpm or above. I am probably over thinking things. I usually just don't have this much trouble learning something. To be honest that is one of my driving factors! The fact I have not been able to play a single song other than twinkle twinkle without flaws drives me crazy which makes me practice even more. I was originally practicing 1 1/2 hrs a day the first week. I have since bumped it up to 3 hours a day because 1 1/2 hrs was not cutting it. I am still working on designing a practice regime but I have not found any strengths yet to isolate my weaknesses because I am struggling with everything so far. I was not aware that martele wasn't a beginner technique. I was having doubts about my ability to play violin because of this martele stroke. In my head I was telling myself, "How are you going to play anything other than 16 bar phrases if I can't even do the things intended for children." Thanks for helping me regain some of my confidence! You have all be a great help! I will take this challenge in strides! I know I won't be proficient by my next lesson but I will have improved! Greatly in part you everyone's input.

March 21, 2016 at 03:52 AM ·

Hey Johnny, now that you can almost do the Tic Tac, lets go to the 4'stairs with handrails and I will teach you how to smith grind them, but if you don't get the grinds in a week,then you should give it up.

I only allow my beginner(ones playing less then a month or two) students to practice 1/2 - to an hour a week. The more they practice on their own the more wrongs they end up teaching themselves.

March 21, 2016 at 04:03 AM · Greetings

`I only allow my beginner(ones playing less then a month or two) students to practice 1/2 - to an hour a week. The more they practice on their own the more wrongs they end up teaching themselves.`

Amen to that!



March 21, 2016 at 04:13 AM · Wow. That is shocking!! I wouldn't learn anything in 30 minutes a week. If I don't practice something for at least an hour everyday I won't see any progress. I am a very very slow learner so I have to make up for it in hard work.

March 21, 2016 at 05:09 AM · Greetings,

that is probably more to do with mental conditioning than your actual abilities.

It is worth paying very close attention to what Charles said (not saying you didn`t;)) The violin is so complex that practicing in bad habits along with progress if you do the hour type practcing in the beginning is,s in my experience, one hundred percent true. Of course you will apparently make more initial progress practicing like crazy in the beginning. Sadly it is this progress which masks the deep rooted problems one is creating and these are -very- hard to undo. It really is an issue of short term gratification versus genuine progress. Incidentally, the gratification people get from this practice has little to do with music or the violin. We humans have an odd sense that we have done something good if we persevere at it to the point of pain. At the same time we completely ignore the fact

that most of what we are doing was a waste of time and usually counterproductive. True talent tends to know this by instinct.

One reason beginners (intermediate and advnced) violinists waste so much time on useless practice is PPPPP. Poor planning, p' poor performance. In other words, because they are mindlessly thinking about doing an hours practice (that is focusing on the time spent rather than what they are doing) the actual planning and evaluation is taking place haphazardly during that hour although in most cases it isn`t happening at all anyway. If you plan, vizualize, focus on and review during a ten minute session then put the instrument away you can learn a huge amount. If you don`t learn anything that simply means you don`t know how to plan and you have no concentration skills. Translating those lacks into an hour is simply heartbreaking. I don`t believe either is true of you. But it actually doesn`t matter either way. Learning the violin can, in this respect become a tool for developing life skills.

Best wishes,


March 21, 2016 at 11:39 AM · I'm not disagreeing that I will teach myself bad habits but that is why I am taking lessons for her to point them out so I can address them. I have noticed that with almost everything. It really comes down to if the person listens and put in the effort to correct these habits. I understand the reasoning but at the end of the day it is my decision. If I don't listen to advice and correct the bad habits that is pointed out that is my failure as a student. I have lessons 3 times a week if she doesn't notice me picking up bad habits. I would probably still develop them but at a much slower rate. When I practice I don't just mindlessly practice. I set a goals. I videotape my entire practice and then review it afterwards. I noticed from day one I have a bend hand or pizza wrist so I have been addressing that. I also noticed I let the scroll droop which I am also working on. There is definitely a technique to learning. Mindlessly practicing anything will yield poor results and is basically a waste of effort. There is a method to my madness. Bad habits have to be fought back if you practice 30 minutes or 8hrs. It comes down to how diligent one fights them back.

March 21, 2016 at 12:58 PM · Kirk wrote, "Slow stokes are pretty easy, fast ones I have issues." You can do a slow bow stroke, but extending it to the whole bow might well be challenging even at a slow speed. So, you start with a small range, make sure you get that right, and then widen it a couple of inches at a time. With a faster bow stroke, like the typical "Suzuki staccato" stroke that is commonly taught to youngsters, you start really really small. Kids are taught to think about using one centimeter of bow. All these transitions are taken gradually. If you watch someone doing rapid, sequential upbow staccato, for example, this is a bow stroke that everyone is taught somewhere along the line. But it doesn't come out of the blue, you only learn it once you've got the foundations built up from your other bow strokes.

I love the violin and I can't imagine switching to the cello, but with your injuries, that's something you might well consider. The cello is a magnificent instrument too, and many adult beginners, especially those with the typical aches and pains of age, find it more comfortable to play than the violin. Search for some posts by Andrew Victor, one of our most erudite and articulate contributors, on this point.

March 21, 2016 at 01:00 PM · Kirk, just wanted to express my respect for you and it is great that you have found the violin! You can improve your whole life and it is such a joy to practice, improve, and being able to play music.

March 21, 2016 at 01:41 PM · I completely agree. I have always been involved with music one way or another. I mainly used the digital domain to produce music with midi instruments such as the akai ewi and drum pads making tracks and samples for local musicians and dj's. This is my first real instrument. I am excited for when I can play well enough to compose my own music or at least play what I have already written. It is very hard not to just randomly pick it up and play. I have been looking into the cello as well. I want to have a firm grasp of the violins basics before adding another instrument. Thanks again everyone! I will be back again for more advice.

March 21, 2016 at 02:40 PM · Kirk, it's too bad you don't live next door to me. I'd gladly trade you help with the violin for your help with digital music. I've got a digital piano and an Alesis drum machine and a computer, and I'm looking into getting a synth, probably the Yamaha MX49, but I don't know how to put it all together.

March 21, 2016 at 03:10 PM · You will need an external audio interface. I would suggest a focusrite 4I4. It is decently cheap and has some cool features normally only found on more advanced hardware and it comes with production software. All of your instruments will connect right into the box and record into whatever audio program you wish. My email is feel free to use it. The setup can be quite troublesome at first especially routing the audio channels to the right places

March 21, 2016 at 07:09 PM · Right now my plan is to connect the MX49 directly to my computer by USB (the MX comes with a DAW called Cubase) and then use the Yamaha P-155 digital piano as a MIDI keyboard for voices that require a pianistic touch. But if I start to mix in other stuff -- like my violin pickup -- then I agree the Focusrite looks like a good choice. Let's continue this discussion by email, however, to avoid ruining your thread on bowing techniques.

March 21, 2016 at 08:59 PM · Kirk - I too am surprised by your assigned martele bowing. It is difficult to learn how to draw a "straight" bow perpendicular to the strings. The arms natural motion is circular. So the shoulder, elbow and wrist joints have to be taught to compensate. Also, each player has to hold the violin so the violin scroll points at some angle to the left and the longer your arms, the further to the left you need to go to be able to bow properly without cramping the motion. Try long slow bows while watching yourself in the mirror. It will also be helpful if you can ignore the temptation to watch your left hand (as so many beginners do). It's just a bad habit, and a hard one to break. You learn to place the left fingers by feel and ear.

Since you have already bought and started violin lessons, I'd say give it a shot. But since my name has already been vainly taken here wrt cello, I'd also say that with the right-hand disability you described, holding a cello bow would be far more natural. In fact, everything about playing cello is more natural to the conformation of the human body.

The result of this is seen in the longevity of cellists. They commonly can play virtually into their 90s (should they live so long), although with some with some decrease in virtuosity (having to read and think in what are effectively 4 clefs can slow them down too). Violinists (even though they only have to read one clef) can start losing ability as early as their 50s (I have read) but it is rare to find th virtuosity plateau continuing past the 60s. My own experience after 77 years of violin and 67 years on cello confirms this for me. True, however, a cased cello does become noticeably harder to carry when you are old, but it's worth it - and case weights have really decreased over the past 15 years - and some cases have wheels now.

If you get a chance to try a cello - do it - perhaps at the same store where you bought your violin!


March 21, 2016 at 10:53 PM · I will most definitely give the cello a shot later on. I am not quite ready to give up on learning the violin just yet. I am trying to incorporate the short stroke tactic. I am not sure if this is quite what you guys meant by short stokes. If it is not do I need to make them even smaller?

March 22, 2016 at 11:31 AM · I'm not trying to play any genre in particular. I just want to be able to freely play whatever I would like. I want to be able to improvise or adapt whatever I want to be played on violin. I don't want to limit myself to playing one thing or previously written things. I am learning to be able to make and play my own music rather than play others.

March 22, 2016 at 08:11 PM · Kirk, in the link you posted yesterday (3 posts up) I did not see anything I would call a "short stroke." I think of a "short" stroke as being (perhaps) one inch (or less) long - something that would let one play at least a 2 octave articulated scale in one bow (perhaps even 3 octave scale). Long strokes are one thing, and difficult to control - good to practice them slowly at first - they are mostly about what you (and the bow you are doing it with) are doing all along that distance. Short strokes are mostly about starting and stopping and making the starts and stops sound the way you want. Of course, you also have to start and stop the long bows and there are different ways to do that.

I am puzzled why you are doing different lengths of stroke for up and down bow and why on different strings. I see it as catering to some weakness and it may create some habits that get in your way when you try to do it all on one string. Other than that, you looked OK to me, but you may be holding the bow a bit too tightly and rigidly and pressing too hard into the string (or that could be my headphones and my own hearing problem).

I don't know if you've seen this ( ) but his (pencil) secret is one that I used on beginning students for many years. Most of the bow holding is done by the string - we usually don't want to fight that, we want to take advantage of it!


March 22, 2016 at 10:40 PM · Unfortunately I cannot hold a bow normally due to my hand disability. I am still trying to figure out what will work best. I think I might have found what works best. It is placed my thumb under the frog and it allows for me to bend my first finger. Depending on my hand position I can only bend certain fingers. I understand what is meant by small now. I think it is going to help a lot! Thanks!

March 22, 2016 at 11:25 PM · Huge Thanks everyone! I realized something while doing the micro strokes! I needed to relax my right arm. When I am doing the micro strokes I notice this once I was about 3/5ths of the up stroke the pressure was alternating from my pinky to the first finger and the bowing angle changed buy about a 1/4 inch! I noticed once I switched to long strokes, I was fighting the bow and trying to force it to go diagonally across the string when the pressure moved from my pinky to my first finger it is what was causing the bow to rapidly change directions thus causing me to loose control of the tip!

March 25, 2016 at 01:10 PM · Update: I had my lesson last night and my instructor was very pleased with both my martele and detache strokes. Now my assignment is staccato and colle. I doubt I will need assistance with these two as they are not very challenging. I am using words as a way to maintain rhythm. Things like, I, wish, I, had, a, motor, cycle, for an 8 stroke or ice, cream/cone for a 3 stroke with a dely between the first stroke and the last two. I am definitely learning and creating some neat tricks. I have spent some time "rapping" so using words in my head help me control my bowing and keep my rhythm while not overly focus on my fingering or bow strokes. I really appreciate all the advice you have given me! Using micro strokes and the weird practice I created helped greatly.

March 25, 2016 at 07:35 PM · Dear Mr. Brivati,

Ever since your post of March 21 at 12:08 AM, I've had this urge to play a whole bow marteleĀ“. This has never happened to me before. How do I resist the temptation? Please help. Bruce

March 27, 2016 at 07:29 PM · Bruce, I wish I could help but I am still too green. I believe my instructor had me do this to make the other bowing techniques easier. Bowing in general seems more simple after trying to do this for a week. Everything seems a bit smoother. I am now struggling not to hit other strings but I was told that a good chunk of it is because my bridge isn't cut correctly. My G, D, and A string are almost even after about a half inch to an inch away from the bridge. I can't expect too much from a violin I bought off of amazon for $130 USD that came with 2 bows, a case, rosin, and extra strings.

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