“Go to” pieces for bow testing

Edited: March 22, 2018, 4:31 AM · I’d be interested to hear which pieces people regularly use when testing out a new bow. What do you find really puts the bow through it’s paces, and quickly gives you a feel of what the bow can and can’t do?

Replies (13)

March 22, 2018, 4:00 AM · It's better not to go to pieces when trying out bows.

If a bow makes you feel distraught or gives you panic attacks, try another one.

March 22, 2018, 4:31 AM ·
March 22, 2018, 4:31 AM · Funny man...!!!
March 22, 2018, 5:22 AM · When I tested bows I used a "routine" comprised of snippets of various things to cover the various bow strokes and the full range of the instrument. I used the same routine on all the bows; it was quite brief.

If the combination of the bow and instrument led me to additional improvisation - such a bow would go into the "test this one more" pile.

March 22, 2018, 8:56 AM · "It's better not to go to pieces when trying out bows."

I can't imagine why you shouldn't. You need a way to compare bows, and if you know what you have to accomplish on the repertoire, you should play the repertoire. You need to ask "what do I want this bow to be able to do?"


-various shades of spicatto/sautille, such as Moto Perpetuo or Kreisler/Mozart Rondo, Paganini 5, Schumann 2nd
-delicate spiccato such as scherzo from Midsummer Night's Dream
-Loud off-ish such as the triplet double stops in the Tchaikovsky concerto.
-broad off-string such as the beginning of Mozart 4.
-Ricochet
-some up-bow stacatto
-Something with quick retakes at the frog such as the 2nd page of the Brahms concerto or last movt. of Sibelius.
-some very broad/fast frog-to-tip bows.

Yes, I place a heavy emphasis on getting all the shades of bouncing. Many bows are too light at the tip and thus the balance point is too low, which makes the fastest spicatto/sautille all but impossible. And bows that are very light at the tip often don't articulate very well, which means you have to work harder to articulate in the upper half.

Do the best-bouncing bows that do everything physically always have the best sound? Unfortunately, rarely.

March 22, 2018, 8:59 AM · Raphael Klayman has a whole routine that he shared earlier. https://rkviolin.com/bow_comparison.rtf
March 22, 2018, 9:11 AM · My routine is a lot like Scott's.

Spiccato/sautille: Schumann 2nd scherzo, Midsummer Night's Dream scherzo, Kreisler/Mozart Rondo

Ricochet: William Tell, 4-string ricochet passage from Mendelssohn cadenza

Down/up-bow staccato: Wieniawski A-major Polonaise Brillante

Quick retakes at the frog: Lalo Symphonie Espagnol 5th movement

Fast full bow martele: Kreisler Praeludium (P&A), exaggerated somewhat

Rapid switches between different types of bow-strokes and articulations: The march-ish passage in the first movement of Prokofiev No. 1

And a passage in as smooth a legato as possible, which is whimsy-of-the-day.

March 24, 2018, 10:37 AM · For slow legato sections, I use the Swan by Saint-Saens.
And for sautille and spiccato, Intro and Tarantelle by Pablo Sarasate is hard to beat.
March 24, 2018, 12:07 PM · In addition to Scott's and Lydia's lists; check that the tip plate is exactly parallel to the frog, the stick should be straight both loose and tight, and no wobble, perfect fit of the frog. Sevcik Op. 3, 40 variations has a condensed variety of bounced techniques.
March 24, 2018, 1:52 PM · Nice one, Madeye!!

I just play through "The Last Rose of Summer" a few times. Sometimes I throw in a little Piazzolla just to make sure the bow gives me good tone on the other side of the bridge.

March 24, 2018, 2:16 PM · Don't forget something very soft, to see if you get the proper focus of tone. The end of the first movement of the Beethoven is helpful for comparisons, especially if you can get someone to listen to it a few rooms away.

Otherwise, first movement of Mozart 4th covers a lot of necessary ground.

March 24, 2018, 3:50 PM · Too often I hear clients start off with sautillé and off string acrobatics. I think its the wrong approach to getting a first test, as the musician is getting used to it and may dismiss something they aren't used to. I've seen it happen where I told a client to try one again after it was dismissed and it was the one they ended up acquiring out of several dozen bows.

Also I believe that bows have different needs for different clients. Sometimes the very sensitive and highly reactive bow made by a good maker will be beyond a beginner and intermediate player's skill level. Some master level bows can also have a smooth and well tempered character as well.

I recommend testing bows to satisfy a list of demands,such as:

What kind of tone does it make? Can it modulate well according to my current playing style and skill?

Where is the balance point? Can I get used to it?

Does the tone sustain well from frog to tip?

Am I using this bow primarily for orchestra, chamber, or solo work? If so, what kind of weight and feel can you enjoy sustaining for a set amount of time?

As for tests for instruments as well as bows, depending on time, a separate and slow or faster slurred octave scale up each string is a good way to check how the bow vibrates with the instrument in different registers.

Excerpts from pieces for down bow chords at the frog, riccochet, marcato, sautillé, up-bow staccato, and legato sustaining pieces are good tests. Its important that you know the excerpts from pieces you're playing well enough so that you can really monitor and focus on hearing and feeling the performance of the bow. If you're playing dosen't accommodate all of those things, choose things you do best, then seek your teacher for an opinion.

For myself, I choose differing pieces for legato, using meditation, bruch 1st mvmt

Downbow chords: Sibelius concerto 3rd mvmt, Brahms Concerto 1st mid exposition, Dancla Air Varie on theme of Weigl, Bach Chaconne

Riccochet: De Falla Dance Espangol,Mendelssohn concerto after cadenza, Scheherezade solo, Sibelius concerto 1st coda

Marcato: Tzigane, Romanian Folk Dances

Sautillé: Any Moto perpetuo, elves dance,
Mendelssohn & Schumann scherzos, Ravel Sonata last movement

Good overall tests: Mozart Concerti, Major Concerto expositions like Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Korngold, Sibelius, Bartok, or a piece you last played

March 26, 2018, 7:41 AM · Thomas, you're right in that one must get used to a different bow. Bows can initially feel "unplayable" compared to what we are currently playing on, and thus we make the mistake of buying the same bow over and over. We probably do it with violins as well--constantly reverting to what we are comfortable with.

That's why I would advocate for a least a week, or even two, of bow trial. Just like a violin. A bow may feel too flexible at first, but after a week you may come to find it's a better bow.

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