Baroque violin

September 26, 2006 at 02:34 PM · I just joined the baroque orchestra here at school and it's very interesting... and hard! Wow, I never really understood how difficult it can be! I recieved some basic instruction, including how to hold the instrument and bow, and the basics of the technique. I have absolute pitch so it's very difficult to read music!! If any of you have a baroque orchestra you can join, I would highly recommend it, I think it really helps free up your body and lets you concentrate on making expression with your right hand instead of your left. Does anyone have any suggestions on technique or any tips in general? Thanks.

Replies (26)

September 26, 2006 at 02:54 PM · First, find a way to destroy the absolute pitch.

Play whole tone scales for an hour a day, each time having detuned your instrument to a different place in pitch.

After a week you should be cured :-)

September 26, 2006 at 03:52 PM · Oxford University Press has a reprint of the 1751 English edition of Geminiani's "The Art of Playing on the Violin". You should get it, read it, and play the exercices & scales.

It has very helpful infomation about tuning at that time (major & minor half steps) and good information on articulations and ornaments.

If you're playing on a real baroque fiddle (senza chin rest & shoulder pad) you'll need to modify your shifting technique and start doing some daily shifting exercices. Some of the "tricks" that baroque violinist use to shift down also have some useful carry-over into modern playing.

September 26, 2006 at 04:09 PM · Doing long open bows on basic scales helps both baroque and modern violinists.

September 26, 2006 at 07:35 PM · Absolute pitch, eh? Thanks to Mr. Kodaly? :)

My suggestion is just make sure not to sound "dry"--I've heard a lot of "period performance" recordings that just bored the heck out of me because they sounded so stiff and lifeless, not to mention such an unpleasant, thin, screechy sound. Do whatever you have to to avoid that at all costs. :)

September 27, 2006 at 12:04 AM · Peter, I think you're thinking of the Leopold Mozart "Treatise on the Fundamental Principles of Violin Playing"? It's at least as valuable, I don't see the Geminiani in the OUP catalogue--one can get a facsimile of the latter through King's Music. (edit: Looks like there's also an edition from Broude Bros.)

Oh and David, to make Maura happy sink into the strings and practice lots of mesa di voce. :-)

September 27, 2006 at 03:46 AM · No, Andres, Peter's right.

September 27, 2006 at 04:37 AM · Someone have a link? That would be great if it's been reprinted!

September 27, 2006 at 05:51 PM · I just checked the Oxford Univ press and didn't find the Geminiani. Maybe it's out of print? That would be a shame!

It would be interesting to compare the Geminiani and the Leopold Mozart. It's interesting that Mozart--associated with early classical style argues against too much vibrato, while Geminiani who was more in the Baroque style suggests that vibrato be used as often as possible.

Both treatises were written within a few years of each other.

September 28, 2006 at 03:53 AM · Whoops-- I was looking at an old printing. Sorry!

October 1, 2006 at 05:02 PM · A good compilation of sources on period performance is David Boyden, History of Violin playing...

Practice without your chin on the violin. This will help you learn how to shift downward. The technique of shifting down is different than on modern violin. In Baroque technique the hand moves first, then the thumb follows. In the beginning, practice with no vibrato, then later add that ornament to the notes that really need it. Minimize the width.

Use less bow than in modern playing. avoid playing in the upper part of the bow, except for long, sustained notes and try to stay in the middle of the bow. You will get the best articulation in fast passagework. You will find that a low right elbow works well with a Baroque bow. Hold the bow a couple of inches higher. Not right at the frog as we do in modern playing.

October 1, 2006 at 05:22 PM · Personally, I prefer the Renaissance bow over the Baroque bow for period playing.

I don't really have any bias against the Baroque bow, but I love the Renaissance bow. It's easy to play and can actually do just about all the same things a modern bow can do. One can even play Hora Staccato and do ricochet with a Renaissance bow.

I remember talking to a fine modern maker of Renaissance bows. I asked him "Why'd they change to the modern bow" and he threw his hands up in a frustrated "I don't know".

October 1, 2006 at 05:43 PM · "Baroque String Playing for Ingenious Learners" by Judy Tarling.....a really nice collection of practical advice and excerpts from composers and treatises on violin playing.It also includes a CD with examples. You can get it from Corda publications in the UK or from Honeysuckle Music (


October 1, 2006 at 08:22 PM · I'll second the recommendation of the Tarling book. It's a very comprehensive collection of information and beautifully put together. (Although I feel I have to quibble that L. Mozart does in fact mention bow speed in connection to mesa di voce...) I'm looking forward to getting her book on the 'rhetorical' nature of baroque expression as well.

While we're on the topic, it's worth noting that understanding of baroque technique and equipment continues to move forward, so one has to take everything one reads with a grain of salt.

For instance Boyden's dating of bows and bow features may have been mistaken. Discussion is moving back and forth in various journals and sadly there is no single source which encompasses it all to perfection.

October 2, 2006 at 01:12 AM · Undoboutedly some of Boyden's conclusions are outdated at this point and Steve Marvin's articles in Strad Magazine are excellent. By the way, he made an excellent copy of a frog for an original English transitional bow that I have that was deteriorating. Concerning rhetorical style and violin playing in solo Bach see Joel Lester's Bach's Works for Solo Violin: Style, Structure, Performance. He talks extensively about this. This is an excellent book.

October 2, 2006 at 03:38 AM · After 20 years of practice and experimentation I have discovered that I play better by holding the violin directly on top, no furniture between my jaw and the instrument. (no **** **** needed. I'm not going to mention the word here).

One or two well-meaning souls on, whom I respect, made the comment, on another thread, that I was making things harder for myself. Yet this is not so. On the contrary, I find all manner of things easier when I play this way.

So I find myself in the situation of being in the 'original instrument' camp rather than with the moderns. The only problem is that I like music from the baroque through to the late romantic.

Do other baroque players have this problem? If you don't want to have two violins with totally different set ups, how do you get around the problem?

October 2, 2006 at 04:54 AM · Dear Jon,

I have found myself in a similar problem. I was Juilliard trained and a pretty good modern violinist. Subsuquently I learned about period instrument performance and got heavily involved in NYC. After that I got a real job as 1st violin with the Ciompi qt. at Duke univ. on modern violin but still kept up Baroque violin. After that I am now Prof. of violin at Baylor University and currently only doing modern violin. However, at this point I am strongly considering going back to rediscover Baroque and Classical violin after a hiatus of some 12 years. I think that it is important for a musician to think and rethink what they are doing in music in order to feel alive about interpretation and musical possibilities.

In answer to your question, I would suggest that if you have different instruments in different setups and treat them as being totally different. I also play viola, and some viola d'amore and of course approach them totally different from violin. I recognize the fact that when I play viola my vibrato has to change and I have to use a different type of bow technique. Similarly, when I play baroque violin everything changes. Bruce

October 2, 2006 at 03:04 PM · I've picked up a lot of techniques by watching the best nonclassical fiddlers perform, so I don't do a classic Auer or modern violinist method. For example, I learned from the fiddlers to put my thumb on the thumb leather. That works really well for me, especially since I have short arms. Also, I like the tone that comes from the upper half of the bow where the tension is greatest.

Because the nonclassical fiddle world is far closer to period performance than modern classical violin is, I have not had any trouble whatsoever going back and forth between baroque and modern setups. I'll freely admit that often I feel more comfortable on the baroque setup than the modern setup, as the baroque was what the violin was originally intended for.

October 2, 2006 at 02:38 PM · Thank you Bruce for your very considerate words and advice.

Having thought about what you wrote, I realise I'm probably more inclined toward a modern approach than anything else (using the same type of instrument for all eras, and perhaps less marked stylistic differences than a period instrument musician would use).

I guess I've just got to get used to a bit of expectation from some quarters that I must be a bad player due to my unorthodox approach to some aspects of modern violin playing.

All the best with your plans for getting back into baroque and classical style. You sound like an artist: a rare and wonderful thing in the modern world.

October 3, 2006 at 01:40 AM · Hey Kevin, thanks for your message. Much appreciated also. You and I were back to back there for a bit on the last thread. Keep going with your great contributions.

September 7, 2007 at 08:25 PM · For those interested in period violin technique two essential resources are now available free online:


Francesco Geminiani's THE ART OF PLAYING ON THE VIOLIN is here:

September 25, 2013 at 11:06 AM · trolling in the archives again:

i am very interested to know what renaissance bowing instruction would entail. words of one syllable, please, but any help would be very much and sincerely appreciated.

September 25, 2013 at 09:49 PM · Stanley Ritchie's "Before the Chinrest - A Violinist's Guide to the Mysteries of Pre-Chinrest Technique and Style".

Available from Amazon in hardback and as a Kindle download.

September 25, 2013 at 10:29 PM · no chin rest - no shoulder rest - no-no - just pure, unadulterated fiddle.

the shorter bow makes me think early bowing was faster, choppier and more rhythmic - and i don't imagine many renaissance or early baroque players ventured much beyond the 1st position.

October 5, 2013 at 02:22 PM · An article by Elizabeth Wallfisch >THE ART OF PLAYING CHIN OFF FOR THE BRAVE AND THE CURIOUS, VERSION 3 on learning to shift chin off.

October 5, 2013 at 04:31 PM · thank you dale.

October 5, 2013 at 07:42 PM · Thank you, Dale, also.

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