My primary musical education began on the piano, where I was first told that if I ever saw a dot over/under a note, it was called a staccato, and the note was to be played short. That was that. Years of simple, crisp, punctuated staccato notes ensued. When I began playing the violin, I simply took as much piano knowledge that was transferrable and applied it to my new instrument. Dots were simply short notes, and I played them whichever way was most comfortable, which was mostly off the string. Later, someone informed me that this was not staccato, but Spiccato, with a P. I continued playing spiccato all the way to college, with a thought in the back of my mind that perhaps there was more to this marking than what I knew. Sure enough, my college instructor told me that I was doing it all wrong. He was shocked that no one had ever taught me how to keep the bow on the string to play. No one taught me how to take it off, either, so I wasn't exactly doing that correctly, either. He stuck me on martele excercises, so from that point on, I felt obliged to apply martele wherever the dot presented itself. I still snuck in some spiccato, rather guiltily, when no one was looking.
I finally left my major as a musician, partly due to dot incompetence. Ever since then, I've been haunted by the mysterious dot and what it means. I've studied quite a bit and found that dots with slurs are called staccato (like the old days on the piano!). Other than that, I find a lot of confusion about when I'm to play on or off the string for the short notes.
Tell me, how do I play the dots in the first measure of Bach's Preludio, Partita #3? How about the dots in the bowing variations for Kreutzer #2? The dots in Danse Macabre? Viotti #23? I've kinda been going by some kind of gut instinct, but I wonder if there's a manual or rulebook that explains how one knows to interpret dots. I see dots in the Suzuki Book 1 pieces and I start to get flustered and stumble around as I try to show my beginner students what to do. On or off the string? Is it as simple as just starting and stopping the bow at this level, or do they need to know the mechanics of proper martele, spiccato, sautille, ricochet, colle, and up-bow staccato?
Of course, I keep it as simple as possible for my beginners; I want to shelter them from the madness of bowing complications for just a while and let them focus on making it back and forth the right direction at the right time, with good bow hands, all the while keeping the bow straight. But eventually, they will have to know about martele. When's a good time to break them into the many faces of staccato?
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