Strings Notes on Bowings

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The terminology of the various bowings required for violin, viola and cello examinations is clarified below. Certain French and Italian musical terms, when applied to string playing, take on a more specialised meaning eg. detach (Fr.) – often translated as “detached” – does not mean disconnected when used as a bowing term. The following list covers the bowing styles specified in the technical requirements for all grades.


Single strokes of the bow played without breaks or stops between notes. This is the stroke meant when the bowing direction is for detached or separate bows. It can be played in any part, or the full length of the bow, as specified.


This means two or more notes played in one bow without interruption. Whole bow or any part of the bow may be specified. Sometimes the direction is for “legato – (x) notes to a bow”.


Short single strokes, one per bow, with stops between notes and with the bow remaining on the string. Whole bow, or any part of the bow, may be specified. The upper one third of the bow is most commonly used.


Short notes, as if for very small martele strokes, the bow remaining on the string. If two or more notes are played in the one direction of bow, it can be called “slurred staccato”.


These come under the general style of “off-string” bowings and the differences are determined by the tempo required.


SPICCATO is used when the tempo is moderate and there is time to control a lift of the bow off-string between notes.


SAUTILLE is used when the tempo is too fast for controlled spiccato. The bow hair remains on the string and the stick oscillates slightly up and down. This is the sautille style, sometimes called “on-string spiccato” and is usually played at the balance point of the bow, or close to it, depending on the tempo.


SPRING BOWING could refer to both varieties and again the tempo indicated would determine the style which was to be used.


This is a term commonly used in some English-speaking countries. It implies a dotted rhythm played in a staccato style, with the notes either linked in one direction, or played separately with breaks after the longer notes. Usually played in the upper half or at the point with the bow remaining on the string. Sometimes it is played near the heel or nut, when the hair may be lifted slightly off the string.