Détaché : square position vs point-of-balance

Edited: June 30, 2018, 11:42 AM · Hi all,

I've received different instructions from two expert players/teachers on the default location of contact point on the bow, and their choice seems to me to have significant conséquences in terms of their sound and subsequent technique.

One chooses to have the default around the middle of the bow, even closer to the balance point. This is teacher A.

The other chooses the point where the bow is in a 'square' position, ie the forearm/bow/violin/upper arm form a square (or rectangular) configuration. this is teacher B

With A, the position implies that the hand is closer and above the string, there is less pressure from the index finger since at this position there is more bow weight on the string, the production of sound relies more on making the string resonate. There is more movement of a looser (as in relaxed) wrist and fingers. Interestingly, for player A -with reference to classical pédagogues and great players- affirms that the sautillé is a very fast détaché. This suggest even more the prominent role of a a relaxed wrist and fingers, and it starts being prominent at an earlier stage. Sound Wise, he has a nice warm sound but not huge.

Player B, by contrast, relies more on a forearm movement for shorter détaché strokes at the square-position. One of the reasons, or rather the main reason he gives is that at around this point, with short détaché strokes, the bow does not deviate, the arm does not need to do any adjustments as it does with long détachés. He emphasizes more index finger pressure, there is more pronation, movement does not happen from the wrist at this speed (he is explicit about this point), the bow digs in more liberally. i believe the expenditure of energy is increased (but then again, it dépends on what one is used to) to move the forearm. the sound he digs out is larger i think, and the quality of sound is different, there is more of a growl there. this is not to say that he cant sound as light as he wants to when playing Mozart say. but one definitely can tell that the sound of player A and B are very different.

I personally keep an open mind about this and prefer to see this as an opportunity to learn about different ways of sound production. i do some reading and i can see that there is no single opinion on the issue. for instance, i think paul rolland started his pupils around the balance point, galamian at the square position. fischer in his violin lesson states that the balance-point-position is a comfortable one to start a down-bow with while he affirms teacher B's proposition that the square-position is the best place to pay short fast détachés without incurring upper arm movement (and hence adjustments to render the bow straight). anyway, i would very much like to hear from the players and teachers here on this subject, thank you

Ps: I changed title for clarity purposes

Replies (11)

June 30, 2018, 10:17 AM · "One chooses to have the default around the middle of the bow, even closer to the balance point. This is teacher A."

I found the post a little confusing. When we say "contact point" we generally mean the location on the string relative to the bridge. Not the point on the bow.

It sounds like what you mean is the starting point for detache?

Edited: June 30, 2018, 10:22 AM · Scott, yes I mean the starting point for detaché and the default core point for short detaché strokes. As in the contact point of the string on the bow, not the contact point of the bow on the strings.
June 30, 2018, 10:31 AM · Two conflicting factors:
- with a "square" arm, the contact point along the bow depends on arm length and violin placement;
- the best contact for certain strokes depends on the balance of th bow.

Plenty of opportunity for discussion!

Edited: June 30, 2018, 1:08 PM · The factors, as I see them, are:
1. Player physique, but also player skill level and physical limitations.
2. Bow characteristics.
3. Violin (mostly response characteristics)
4. Rosin

1. Whether the "physical square" is created or not, the "null point" or however you care to think of it has to be at an equilibrium position for the player's physique and muscle and nerve systems. All I "really know" about the influence of this factor is based on my own inner experience. When I try to relate it to other people I have to account for our physical difference and all kinds of other stuff.

2. Different bows can behave very differently in the hands of the same player and this will be a major factor. (I am down to about 10 violin bows now, I choose different bows for my 4 different violins, and different bows for different music. Of the 10 bows there are 2 "pair" that are very similar (although each similar pair has one 19th century bow and one bow 60 to 100+ years older). The remaining 6 bows are all different. By gently bending a bow stick you can see the different ways in which the diameter/distance relationship has been tapered by the maker - and this will influence the "sweet spot" location (if your bow has one).

3. My violins are all different and each responds differently to a given bow.

4. I am likely to use a different rosin with a different bow/violin pairing if I am having trouble ticking off notes the way I want. But I realize the way each rosin works when the bow is freshly rosined will fade in different ways and lengths of time - and is weather related.

Another factor to be considered in choosing the bow spot for detache or spiccato is the musical dynamic. I have sat next to players in orchestra with an amazing spiccato - but always near the frog - and therefore too loud much of the time. A player needs to develop these strokes over range of the bow. With sautille you are pretty much at the mercy of the bow (that's why we test bows before we buy them).

June 30, 2018, 3:19 PM · The point where the arm is at 90 degrees square, the perceived balance point, and the exact middle of the bow will be in slightly different places, depending on the taper of the bow, the bow hold, the violin angle. For the standard detache stroke you don't want to start below the balance point because it is clumsy, it puts extra weight on the little finger. The 90 o square point is where the right elbow is farthest back, it moves forward from there on a down-bow, Starting a detache down-bow below that point would involve a more complicated change of direction of the right elbow.
June 30, 2018, 8:52 PM · Does the "default" position for the start of a detache really matter that much? We end up learning to even out a sound in practically any location, and in most cases you'll do a few notes detache getting from point X to point Y in a bow for some other stroke, so where it is "best" is largely irrelevant over tie.

Every player has an opinion about the bow hold that works for them. I tend to think they are more determined by who you're being taught by, than necessarily what is ideal for you, but most players as they advance end up settling into something that works for their hand.

Edited: June 30, 2018, 11:04 PM · Lydia, i didnt just say at the start of the détaché but where the short détaché occurs on the bow and how it forms a reference place for both different teachers. im not talking about my own conjectures here...these are good players and teachers who havecommunicated clearly their clear ideas about this. and there is a discernable consequence in terms of technique and sound, as i tried to explain.

joel, you're more or less saying almost exactly what the other teacher (B) says. nonetheless, teacher A is a very good player, plays closer to the balance point as a de facto reference point for a détaché stroke and more inclined to involve the wrist, is far less inclined to call upon index finger pressure. and although the argument that playing at the square position implies less modification of the elbow and the hand (pronation), hence less energy espenditure, what i observe is that player B seems to exert less energy by having his reference lower on the stick, haranessing the bow weight (rather than index finger pressure in a more lever like system) , guided by the wrist and fingers with forearm movement. the little finger is not overworked at all, the grip is very balanced. in fact, at higher speeds (for sautillé for instance), his little finger doesnt stay on the stick.

Also Lydia I dont recall stating a desire to simplify things in terms of "whats best". if you read my post, im trying to udnerstand how part of their technique determined other parts and consequentially their sound production. and this is the reason why i pose these questions here, to see what others have to say that may educate me further.

Edited: July 2, 2018, 6:07 AM · Hi Tammuz,

A couple of thoughts... There are many approaches to détaché. The idea of playing a détaché at the square is that the stroke will more likely come from the elbow/forearm with little to no shoulder. Where in the bow this will occur depends a lot on arm geometry using this approach, particularly the relationship between the length of the forearm and upper arm. In the instance where the lengths are similar, then the stroke will occur more towards the middle of the bow. The longer the forearm in relation to the upper arm, the higher up in the bow the stroke will occur in order to be at the square. The overall length of the arm will also play a role and in that the shorter the arm, the lower in the bow things will happen; and the longer will conversely lead to the opposite. Now, that said, look at player A and player B and their arm geometries. Do they have anything to do with what is happening?

In terms of sautillé, the bow bounces in different places at different speeds. There isn't really one balance point. The higher in the bow, the faster the stroke has to be for the bow to bounce; and conversely, the lower the slower. With great bows, this becomes easier. On truly great bow, you can do light off the string strokes very fast almost to the tip. Every single bow is different.

Pronation, sound approach, etc. Pronation is in part the result of the choice of bow hold and hand geometry, namely the relationship of length between the index and little finger. The longer the little finger, the shorter the index, the more the hand will feel comfortable or be natural being more pronated. The opposite is true as well; the shorter the little finger the longer the index, the less pronated the hand will tend to want to be. In general from what I have observed, across almost all instances, women tend to have longer indexes and shorter little fingers, and men the opposite which tends to influence how things will relate. In that sense, the modern American hold with the extended index and very suppinated hand tends to be more comfortable for women than men.

As for "growl" or other descriptors, its can depend on instruments and choice of strings. On a Strad, or Strad model, because of the faster bow speed, you will get a lighter stroke and less contact. On a Del Gésu, or Del Gésu model, where there is more resistance and the bow travels slower, you will get the opposite. It may also require more weight, and have more "growl", but that is due to the way the instruments respond as different designs from the physics point of view. So, caution is warranted. You can't just describe something as an auditory phenomenon without taking into account all the elements involved into consideration.

All this said, détaché strokes regardless of all factors, tend to work more successfully when they occur from an elbow/forearm lead in action. The wrist and fingers should be relaxed and flexible. When people encounter "crooked bowing", usually it is the result of either leading from the shoulder, or excess pressure of the index/thumb into the bow causing the elbow/forearm to lock and shoulder to kick in.

Hope this helps in clarifying a little bit more the differences...


Edited: July 2, 2018, 10:44 AM · Hi Christian,

as usual thank you for your throrough and thoughtful analysis. i appreciate it.

i would like to mention however that it is not just that both teachers/players adopt these varying bow positions for themselves but that they were teaching me to apply it. so when i say that they viewed these positions as places of reference, i mean they did so as applied to the same individual and anatomy theyre teaching (myself and mine in this case).

I think also I was not very clear in my description. Teacher B subsribes to the sqaure position where the elbow doesnt have to move, as you and joel concur, irrespective of its precise place on the stick. i understand your idea that the relation of upper arm to lower arm would determine where that place is on the stick.
nonetheless, relative to Teacher A, and as applied to the same anatomy (ie mine), that point is relatively higher and there is less bow weight. insinuated from that it Teacher B's emphasis on the index finger in transfering weight into the stick.

Teacher A, by contrast, wants a lower point, nearer the frog than B, middle of the stick say, where there is more bow weight on the string. this is irrespective of my or his anamtomy per se (given that we both dont have something too divergent from the average proportion). this is not being viewed from the pov of the square position or the bow particularities. i think it rather forms a coherent whole with his way of playing (as does the sqaure position form a coherent whole for B's way of playing). as a consequence, he values far less the index finger role, and its more about using the bow weight as the propeller for setting the string in motion. interestingly, in prefers keeping the elbow relatively more backwards in order not to lead to a too acute of an angle between the lower arm and the upper arm.

and this brings me again to the sound. in fact, the one who has the square position/index finger pressure/and digs in far more into the string has a quieter sounding violin in its nature, but because he really digs into the violin (owing to his technique which Ive tried to explain, possibly unsucessfully), the sound has more bite, it seems like there are higher and lower frequencies and he projects well. he does this with my violin, his violin ,etc.

by constrast, the one who teaches a lower point on his bow, uses the bow weight to set the string in motion, has a louder sounding violin, but his technique is such that his is a resonant envelopping sound.

anyway, ive tried to explain that their approaches are radically different, not really dépendent on their violins (i think they would chooses their violins to suit their technique rather than the other way around, no?) and that theyve worked their own coherent way of playing from different principles. whether they did so to result in the sounds they were after, or whether the other rudiments of their technique resulted in the sound which then formed their idea of the 'ideal' sound is an interesting question.

we talk often about how different players have different sounds, this is one example of how.

anyway, i hope i didnt Wade in into even more confusion. thanks Christian, as usual I enjoy very much your imput and will try to observe further whats happening when they themselves play.

July 2, 2018, 11:30 AM · The music may dictate how far up the bow you do your detache as well. If you need to be at the frog for whatever comes next, then you may find yourself going lower on the bow then you may in other circumstances. Check Rode's 5th Caprice.
July 7, 2018, 2:24 AM · Instrument vs player?
My two violas were chosen for their tonal qualities (one a "mezzo-soprano", the other a plummy "contralto") and I use different bows and different "gestures".

Long arms?
Playing halfway up the bow brings the elbow forward: to avoid excessive upper-arm motion in fast détaché, we can use a flexible wrist in conjunction with the forearm.

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