Up Bow Staccato

May 11, 2019, 2:39 PM · I have been practising up and down bow staccato for 2 years, and I just can’t make it fast. How did Heifetz do it? I push down with my index finger and release, making a martele stroke, and I can only do it at 80 bpm.

How do violinists do this technique sooooooo fast?? Do you seriously have to stiffen up the whole arm? Do really need talent like many violinists say?
I will not replace it with spiccato because it then throws away the whole point of pieces that employ staccato.

Please Help!

Replies (26)

May 11, 2019, 2:56 PM · Honestly, it could be your bow.

And then of course you need to be using enough rosin, and sticky rosin makes it easier.

Have you tried unorthodox right elbow positions? Or tilting the bow wood back toward you?

May 11, 2019, 3:14 PM · Yes, Honestly you have to tense your arm. To see the physical reason make a tight fist with your right arm (with no bow) You will notice that your arm trembles.To control it practice playing a single note note and accent the first of every group of 4 notes using as much pressure as possible and as small amount of bow as possible.

Another method is to play tremolo at the tip of the bow with a lot of pressure, then start moving the bow.

May 11, 2019, 3:42 PM · I don't believe that up-bow staccato is simply a matter of tensing the arm. That may work for the fastest passage, but it is very difficult to control. There must be an element of relaxation in the stroke as well.
The ultimate example of a piece that needs control is Paganini caprice #10. It can't be too fast or too slow.

Up-bow staccato is unlike other strokes. It requires a trick. What's the trick? That's the issue: it's different for everyone. For one person, changing the grip may help, such as taking this or that finger off. You may have to discover the trick yourself. Simple tension relies on spastic, uncontrollable muscle movements. It's not enough for many pieces.

Edited: May 11, 2019, 4:06 PM · Interestingly enough, I've heard a few anecdotes about great teachers, all of which featured up-bow staccato. The first time was someone asking Zimbalist about the teaching ability of Leopold Auer, with whom he studied in St Petersburg.

He told about the time he was playing some kind of piece for the professor that featured staccato, and he couldn't do it. Auer just looked at him, and said he'd better learn it. In those days, it was a big deal even to be allowed into the capital as a Jew, and his special permission came via the Conservatoire. Failing out would have meant not only his leaving, but his whole family's departure back to the sticks. So he went back to the apartment and worked, and worked, and worked on it all week. For his next lesson, he had it.

Verdict: "Yeah, I think he was a pretty good teacher."

May 11, 2019, 9:39 PM · To Erik Williams:

No way! My bow is 6 months old and it is pernambuco. It was rehaired 5 months ago since the initial hair stock was messed up. I put enough rosin on my bow - until the hair is not too white l, but white enough.

I have tried tilting the stick towards me, like Gioras Schmidt suggested, but that made it *WAY* harder for me to push down and create accents.

May 11, 2019, 9:47 PM · To Bruce Berg:

Aah! No! I have just tried that tense arm thing! Didn’t end well!!!!

Anyways, how do you do a fast tremolo? It’s like people who can do it real fast while being relaxed have some sort of super power or something!

And Christian Li!!!!

That boy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


May 11, 2019, 11:44 PM · My teacher when I was a high schooler said: Tilt the bow towards you, with solid weight on the string, and pull (down-bow) or push (up-bow). Worked for me.

I don't think this is talent so much as luck. A decent bow helps, but it worked even on my terrible 3/4-size bow back then.

May 12, 2019, 12:16 AM · I teach my students two approaches, depending on the repertoire they have to play. Saint-Saens is a different situation than Paganini of course.

The first is the tension-based one which uses the "twitch" muscles of the arm. Each person has a different default speed--ranging from fairly slow to so fast it's unusable. If the student's twitch falls within a usable range, it can be employed, but it's important not to practice it too much because the tension involved can cause long-term damage.

The second is a rotation-based one where the generating motion emanates from the forearm/elbow joint (like turning a round doorknob). This can be speed-controlled relatively well within the same range that a vibrato or trill can, and is what I prefer to use most of the time unless it just has to be blindingly fast.

Bows with a specific property (returning to their original shape very quickly after having tension applied to the stick) work better for this sort of playing.

May 12, 2019, 1:04 AM · "No way! My bow is 6 months old and it is pernambuco"

That doesn't really mean anything. Some very good bows are still not great for learning up-bow staccato. What is the rough price range of your bow?

Also, keep in mind, you shouldn't actually be "pushing down" for upbow staccato. You should be using some sort of rotational force imparted upon the bow that, when released, both provides upward and horizontal movement. At least, that's my take on it. I found that for each section of the bow, a different movement has to be used for effective upbow staccato. For a certain part, tilting the bow back towards me was very helpful.

May 12, 2019, 4:31 PM · Ah forget that pronation thing. I can’t even play Kreutzer No.4 with that! Neither can I play any scale with it!

However, I was practicing two methods of staccato. That useless pronation thing and the movement where you relax your arm and you use your forearm to move up bow while pressing down with the index constantly.

However, I just can’t speed it up!!!!

What is this sorcery? How do they do it sooooooooooooooooooooooooooo fast?

May 12, 2019, 11:03 PM · You may also want to set your standards lower. You're not going to match Heifetz or anything like that.

What level of playing are you at, anyways? Is this really worth your time?

May 13, 2019, 11:15 AM · If you are trying to learn a relaxed staccato, then you need to start with a single stroke, and make sure that you have the right amount of bite and release. If you can get one, then you start on two, which is the basis for the actual staccato. You start slow, play one note and then COMPLETELY RELEASE, and take as much time as you need to completely relax, before starting the next note. Once you can get two notes together, you should be able to add more, and start to speed it up, but you can only speed it up so much as you have that complete release in between notes. Then you can really start working on it.
Edited: May 13, 2019, 1:20 PM · Some things learn themselves slowly and staccato is I think one of those things. Doing it slowly is not terribly difficult. Christian describes it very nicely. Speed up is a different proposition as everybody agrees.

I find that in such situations it helps to take time. Practice for a while. When progress seems impossible put it aside for a while. Then take it out again etc. Slow progress does occur this way. After 55 years of playing I am now at "allegro moderato" with my upbow staccato. Now I only have to live another 55 years and I can do it at any tempo....

I guess if you can learn it faster you are material for a professional player.

If it is any consolation there is a huge, very rewarding repertoire out there which requires no staccato whatsoever.

Edited: May 13, 2019, 2:34 PM · Upbow staccato is one of those things that some people just learn instantly. When I was about 12-13 and starting K4 my teacher demonstrated it for me, and then I tried it, and I was kind of wondering why everyone made such a big deal out of it. It seemed pretty easy. Now for some reason RE learning it is harder.

When people say "there's a trick" what they mean is not some kind of closely-guarded secret. What they mean is that it's one of those techniques where you're only partly in control. The rest is some kind of bouncing or automatic response from your muscles (fingers, wrist, arm) in combination with the natural springiness (elasticity) and grip (friction) of the bow. Once you figure out that "trick" for yourself (and it's nearly impossible to describe in words) then you can play with the parameters (weight, hand positions, etc.) in subtle ways to begin to exert more control over what you are doing.

May 15, 2019, 2:59 PM · I find Eyal Kless' tutorial super helpful and a lot of my students do too: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V9m7cugr9nE
May 15, 2019, 5:11 PM · To Susanna Klein

I have seen that tutorial! However, I can’t really control it that way. Neither can I do it at the tip or keep it up for long.

May 16, 2019, 10:16 AM · Ray Chen has a tutorial on youtube for this
where he basically describes doing a sort of tremolo stroke but moving hte arm continuously up to match the lower half of each tremolo.

I can do this thing, mostly, at moderate speeds at least, but it doesn't sound like Heifetz, who I think is using a more old-school "stiffen the arm" approach. I've also seen it described as a sort of picking something up off the ground motion with your bow fingertips, while moving the arm continuouusly up bow. For me, this works well at lower speeds (say, Kreisler Schon Rosmarin) but not at ripping speeds (Paganini or Locatelli caprices). Actually even for the caprices, not being willing to risk arm strain from the Auer "tight arm and go" method, my main solution is just to slow the pieces down to where I can control the upbow stacatto.

In some pieces, especially those with a long first position stacatto run such as from A on the e string down to the g string, when it needs to be faster than I can control with the Ray Chen approach, I find I can do it a lot faster downbow in the upper half of hte bow, more like a run with some semi-controlled bounce. This will vary a lot by bow, and I haven't tried to use this approach in a concert so I don't know if it is predictable enough.

May 16, 2019, 11:26 AM · There must be something fundamentally wrong in the approach...but it will be hard to figure out what it is without taking a lesson with someone just on that in particular. Common issues: not starting with enough grit or pressure (the pressure that is in the string before the stroke starts), too much bow (or uneven bow length). My up-bow staccato is not great, so I'm not one to talk...but when I go through a bout of practicing this skill I usually do the following:

Take one of two approaches as "how to" - either the aforementioned tight arm (I called it locked wrist as I don't want my arm to be tight) or backwards knocking on an invisible door with wrist motion only. These are fundamentally different ways of getting the stroke.

Then I start with one little up bow (1/4 inch) and do that until I'm happy, then two in a row, then three in a row etc. with a metronome. I think of it as: hop, then hop hop, then hop hop hop while keeping the bow sticky. I do this in the speed that I will need it to go, if that makes any sense. The other thing that helps me, although I'm sure it's mostly psychological, is to practice down bow staccato (pushing the wrist down, leading with the bottom of the wrist). This is SOOO tricky that up-bow staccato (which is the reverse of this motion) seems easier. Getting the left hand to coordinate is a separate project, which I practice in scale fashion. I'm also guilty of taking out up-bow staccato since my motto is when in doubt sound good :)

May 16, 2019, 4:35 PM · Francis Browne

I can’t do tremolo. My hand is too slow for that... for now....?

Edited: May 16, 2019, 7:49 PM · I'm surprised nobody has mentioned the Ysaye method.

Observe as a young Cho-Liang Lin pulls one off with aplomb and then Itzhak Perlman, a few minutes later, shares the Ysaye technique.


Edited: May 17, 2019, 5:11 AM · Can you do two martelés in quick succession without using your arm? The first note or two of a staccato (and the last ones) are very important.

At the beginning, I think it's more productive to aim for an audible and well-articulated staccato at medium speed rather than a super-fast one that cannot be heard.

If you're like me, you can eventually get it with 10 minutes of staccato practice a day for 20 years. Not joking here.

May 17, 2019, 8:46 AM · That fast staccato you're looking for may be a stiff-arm stroke. It's difficult to control, but it is certainly fast.

You lift your elbow high, push down on the bow, and twitch your whole arm from the elbow.

It's more of a parlor trick than a technique, but I guess it's worth trying.

May 17, 2019, 9:49 AM · "I can’t do tremolo. My hand is too slow for that... for now....?"

Okay, this is the problem. Tremelo is a pretty basic technique. If you don't have that, you really shouldn't be worrying about up bow staccato.

This is a weird post.

May 18, 2019, 10:42 PM · Julie O’Connor


My teacher never taught me that technique.

May 22, 2019, 6:53 PM · How do I even do a fast tremolo?

Mine is stuck at 170 sixteenth notes.

May 22, 2019, 7:15 PM · As stated in your tremolo thread: use hand and wrist motion only. If you "tried" using "only" your forearm recently, does this mean you've been trying to play tremolo with your entire arm up until now?

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