Spiccato...

Edited: June 5, 2020, 10:54 AM · I'm having a real problem playing spicatto with something other than my shoulder. In these days of virtual teaching it's difficult for my teacher to help with this. He tells me that I've the correct sound, and I'm using the proper part of the bow, but I'm working too hard for it and that it's coming from my shoulder rather than my wrist.

I understand how it is supposed to work - and I've seen how still his arm is when he demonstrates it - but it's really difficult to address this over Zoom. Any additional tips on how I might address this? My wrist is NOT locked for anything else - but as soon as my bow starts bouncing the wrist checks out and my shoulder takes over.

I must add that I can do this properly on an open string, it's when I start trying to play notes, say a simple 1-octave scale - that the wrist locks up.

Replies (16)

Edited: June 1, 2020, 10:25 PM · Catherine, is there a specific piece or etude associated with you learning spiccato, or has your teacher assigned some particular exercise?

I ask, because if you are just having a go on your own, you may want to slow down, as spiccato done with tension can be a good way to give you lasting shoulder problems, especially if, as you say, you are using your shoulder rather than your wrist. Be especially cautious with doing too much practice on the G and D strings.

http://www.asbweb.org/conferences/2005/pdf/0411.pdf

June 2, 2020, 4:19 AM · Catherine, like Christian said, slow down until you can do it. Also there are a gazillion videos on spiccato on the internet which may give you ideas. Nathan Cole, Todd Ehle, but many others.
Edited: June 2, 2020, 9:03 AM · Thanks to both of you - I've been looking. Many of the videos I've found so far appear to be for more advanced violinists - though I did find Todd Ehle. I will keep looking. My right shoulder has been torn in 5 different places (including a full-thickness rotator cuff tear - and all 5 places were fixed at the same time). Obviously we need to be cautious, but my right shoulder is probably more vulnerable than usual.

Christian - he is currently having me practice on a one-octave D scale - and I'm probably going too fast. I didn't realize that I was still using my shoulder, and neither did my teacher until he asked me to stand up and back off from my laptop a bit so he could have a better view. Thanks for the link to the report,

June 2, 2020, 8:05 AM · One of the better introductions to spiccato was given by Todd Ehle. He takes it from a simple vertical bounce, to a V shaped stroke, and then to the more standard U shaped stroke.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x_1WfiZ8WSY

Slow practice to reinforce the movement and gradually increase speed.

I like his videos because they tend to be short and to the point and focused on actual play and practice.

June 2, 2020, 9:58 AM · This is a weird tip: practise with your shirt off, in front of a mirror. It lets you see how how all the muscles in your right side are moving. Might be helpful for you as you try to move the motion down your arm.
Good excuse to practice some good, old-fashioned narcissistic self-admiration as well
:]
Edited: June 2, 2020, 12:21 PM · Here is my basic method for spiccato and sautille

Spiccato

(Down Bow Position: (suppination) fingers curved, balancing the weight of the tip of the bow with the little finger.
Up Bow Position: (pronation)The position the fingers take if you move the bow hold to the very tip of the bow: much weight on the first and second finger, fingers almost straight.)

1. Performed in the middle to lower part of the bow.
2. The hand is in down bow position.
3. On the down bow the bow is dropped onto the string, on the up bow the bow is lifted.
4. Initially the student should swing his arm in a big, arc-like motion, rather like a pendulum. Start with big arcs and gradually make the arc smaller and smaller, which will increase the speed of the spicatto.
5. The action of the fingers is neither passive, nor too active. To demonstrate that the fingers merely respond to the bow’s encounter with the string:
1. Tell the student to hold the bow vertically in the air. Then tell him to gently bump the center bout of the violin against the bow. If the fingers are flexible and passive, the bow will rebound and fall back to the violin, and the fingers will remain passive.
2. Then instruct the student to bump the e string against the bow,
recreating the same feeling.
6. To demonstrate the active finger motion (Dounis exercise):
1. Hold a pencil in your hand in bowing position
2. Push the pencil down with the first, then the 4th finger. Do not move the forearm.
3. Do the same with the bow in the hand (holding it at the balance point if you wish).
4. Then drop the bow on the G string, down bow. On the rebound lift the bow upward: the tip of the bow drops. On the up bow, peck the bow on the E string . On the rebound lift the bow upward: the tip of the bow
goes up. Use large figure eight motions to begin with, gradually decrease the motion.
5. Do the same as #4, but stay on the G string.
7. To demonstrate the amount of finger activity and to achieve a feeling of control, tell the student to practice spicatto on the side of the violin (on the center bout).
8. If the student's wrist is too rigid, or to achieve the feeling of a "weightless" bow, tell the student to "cradle" the bow at the balance point, without the thumb. Then add the thumb and attempt the spicatto. The student should then move back to the normal playing position, recreating the same feeling in his hand. The bow exerts more weight against the little finger when held at the frog.

Sautille´ (very fast spiccato)

1. Performed a few inches above the balance point of the bow.
2. The fingers are in down bow position. The hands is at right angles to the bow. 3. Use an up and down wrist motion. The motion is the same as tapping, or knocking on a door. There should be no arm movement, except for changing string levels.
4. The student should practice the tapping motion with his hands on a table, without the bow, and then with the bow.
5. Hold the bow firmly.
6. The bow remains on the string, but the stick bounces. If the bow stroke is done correctly the tip of the bow will move up and down.
7. Beware of lifting the elbow, this will put you into up bow position.
8. The principle of this bowing may initially be taught with the hand in up bow position. If done properly, the tip of the bow will not go up and down, but will remain on one plane. This bowing is called the eraser stroke.

June 2, 2020, 3:36 PM · Without in- person private lessons, you won't find better technical advice than that from Prof. Berg or the Todd Ehle videos.
Go outside and play some basketball. The basketball dribble is very similar to the violin Spicatto or Sautille (Italian or French words). The slow, high bounce is mostly arm motion and turns into wrist and finger motion as it gets lower and faster. Gravity and the equipment do the work for you. You only need to add just enough force to keep the bounce steady and controlled.
Test to see if you are holding the bow too firmly. Hold it in front, horizontal. Pull the fourth finger off the stick. The bow should collapse in an arc pivoting around the thumb and second finger, until it is pointing straight down. If it doesn't do that you may be trying to hold the bow with the other three fingers.
Edited: June 3, 2020, 6:31 AM · Thank you for the advice and video suggestions, much appreciated.

Prof. Berg, thank you for the detailed advice - I've printed it for reference.

Joel - After trying your test, I suspect I'm trying to hold the bow with my other three fingers.

Carmen: I hadn't found that 2007 video from Prof. V - it's a bit longer than his more recent one, thanks!

June 4, 2020, 11:17 AM · Professor Berg - I spent some time with your suggestions last night and it seems to already be making a difference- thank you! I need to stick with it, and my tendency to return to the incorrect way of attempting spicatto as soon as I start trying to play specific notes is still there of course. The difference is a better understanding of what the mechanics feel like and that was the missing piece I think. Thank you!
June 4, 2020, 6:04 PM · I suggest that you pick an easy piece like Suzuki book 1 perpetual motion and play 4 notes spiccato for each note in the piece. e.g. aaaa/bbbb/c#ccc/ etc. this way you can concentrate on the bow stroke.
June 4, 2020, 7:22 PM · That's a good suggestion, I will add that. My teacher wants me to do the same 4 spicatto notes for a 1-octave scale, Perpetual Motion will mix that up a bit.

Have I said how much I miss actual in-person lessons?

June 6, 2020, 6:10 AM · Catherine you are blessed with the "correspondence course" teaching you are already receiving here on this forum, but since you mentioned the Todd Ehle Prof.V videos: indeed: the long series he made more than ten years ago is very detailed and very extensive.
June 6, 2020, 3:12 PM · They are great, aren't they? Short and to the point. Some of it differs from how my teacher prefers me to do it - but not much. References are good to have, even more so in this new virtual lessons world that many of us are in.
June 6, 2020, 4:44 PM · Sometimes it's the bow!

About 20 years ago I had an adult student who started up with me to return to violin playing. She appeared to do everything correctly to play sautille, but it just didn't work. Her bow was a decent-name German workshop bow, a W. Seifert (they sell for more than $500 today) when I tried it it was kind of like a random kindling twig (or log). Just for kicks I pulled out a Glasser Composite bow**, I had just bought to try. She tried it and "Voila Sautille and Spiccato!!"

Next lesson, she had a new bow and had spent some biggish bucks for a mid-1920s E. H. Roth violin and she was on her way.
No more lessons with me!

** Those Glasser Composite (not fiberglass) bows came out about the same time as the first carbon fiber bows. I managed to sell or give to students all the Glassers I had bought. They handled very nicely, but provided no sonic delights - but better than the fiberglass ones.

June 16, 2020, 1:48 PM · Do detache on open strings, then lift off the bow on each detache stroke, making the lifting off faster, lighter, and less tension with each stroke.
June 16, 2020, 1:54 PM · It’s a lot simpler than it seems.

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