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☢ Interpreting Bowing Notation & Terms ☢
Can be confusing!
Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 (11 votes) 
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ELCBK
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I have felt, from the beginning, that the word 'standard' should be thrown out the window, when applied to bowing technique terms & notation - it's probably the biggest reason I've been resistant to learning them.

Expecting/hoping for much discussion in this area, because I've had HUGE issues with the confusing, even conflicting, 'teaching material' I've run across that explains TERMS and NOTATION used for BOWING TECHNIQUES... and I know I'm not the only one who feels this way! 

So, just how 'standard' are 'Standard Bowing Term Definitions' and 'Standard Notation Symbols'?   

Btw, I check quite a few sources before I decide to link just one, but there will always be more, and some Classical music terms are Italian, while others are French - I have NO idea why they have been chosen that way. 

Hope no one minds that I quote some posts or add links from other threads, because this is A VERY BROAD TOPIC. 😳 

 

I'll start this off from the Intonation Thread :

SharonC said
Detached slur/hooked bowing.  Dotted notes for rhythm are an entirely different thing.

A slur is two or more notes in one bow stroke.  With a slur alone, there is no articulation from the bow.  The left hand is changing the notes during the single bow movement. 

A dot indicates an articulated movement from the right hand in the bow movement. 

I think composers take some artistic license when annotating specific articulations (& editors, too).  Some will include explanations (most don’t).  I’ve attached an example of a student concerto I’m working on that provides some bowing explanations and articulations. 

The “rules” are not “laws”.  The articulation police are not going to show up at your door because you decided to hook (i.e., slur) two 8th notes that do not have a slur annotation at an end of a phrase so that you can start on a down bow in the next phrase.  That’s why orchestras have Concert Masters (one of the reasons) – among other things, they decide on the bowing, fingering, etc., so that everyone is together.

  

stringy said
Very good explanation Sharon.

Its like most baroque was supposed to be played using the violinists own interpretation of the score.

I think this is what sets maestros from everyone else, their interpretation, sets them apart.

  

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ELCBK
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@SharonC -

Thank you! 

I'm glad Meg not only showed how to bow it, but also the way a DETACHED SLUR is notated.  

{
override Score.TimeSignature # BUT, THIS is why learning to read music is so ridiculously CONFUSING - because I have seen, in quite a few places, the notation that Meg showed (a dot above or below a note, along with a slur marking), called SLURRED STACCATO, PORTATO (aka. MEZZO-STACCATO, or LOURÉ), but then I've also seen it also used for FLYING STACCATO - different bowing techniques.  ...and 2 up-bow BEAMED eighth notes can sound like these bowings!  

LOURÉ bowing was actually described in this video as "several DETACHÉ strokes in the same direction of the bow" - soft articulation with more note played/less space between notes than Slurred Staccato(from String Technique)

 

Now I realize that interpretation of bowing also depends on understanding the context in which a composition is written - like the  2 up-bowed BEAMED notes discussion, here: Bowing Help Please Thread

 

From Wiki about Portato:

One early 19th-century writer, Pierre Baillot (L’art du violon, Paris, 1834), gives two alternatives: a wavy line, and dots under a slur. Later in the century a third method became common: placing "legato" dashes (tenuto) under a slur. The notation with dots under slurs is ambiguous, because it is also used for very different bowings, including staccato and flying spiccato [maybe typo?]. 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portato

 
Hooked Bowing, Portato or Broken Slurs on the Violin - Zlata 

 

@stringy -

I believe personal interpretation is EXTREMELY important!  ...also bending rules. 😁 

Personally, I do feel obligated to try to understand a Composer's intent before I impart my own interpretation. 

Still in an early stage of learning (3 years is still early, for me), as I slowly learn more about Bowing Techniques, Music Terms, Notation Symbols, Music Theory and Genre Characteristics - the better I feel about interpreting a piece.  

 

https://i.pinimg.com/736x/3a/19/4d/3a194daa10b0a111e0c243a9175057a7--violin-music-music-instruments.jpgImage Enlarger

...not getting into confusing aspects of STACCATO until my next post!

Young students may have physical advantages over us Adult Self-learners, but I'd like to believe we benefit from years of decision making, have learned to see more perspectives, understand the importance of relationships and appreciate details. 

- Emily

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Gordon Shumway
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Although it's a thread about notation, I'm going to include this video because it's important for its interpretation of portato, and also because it's a good video - I've taken note especially of the chicken-wing bowing because I have pieces by Vivaldi and Handel to learn where it will be essential to avoid it.

Andrew

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ELCBK
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I don't believe it's a good idea to tell people not to bow parallel to the bridge. 

Changing the bowing direction angle on purpose, for the purpose of transitioning to a different sounding point, is another story - "Viola King" doesn't say that, though. 

Where & how a Violin/Viola is held against the body vs. body width & arm length - doesn't seem to get enough attention. 

Everyone has a different shoulder width to arm length RATIO.

There's more than one instrument factor to consider adjusting for straight bowing (besides using more elbow and less shoulder movement in the bow arm): 

  • instrument size - how far away is the bowing contact point from the tail end?
  • at what point, around the circumference of the person's neck, does the instrument touch, e.g., over the left should, in front, or somewhere in between? 
  • once the Viola/Violin is placed against the person's neck, where does it point away from the body to?  Straight out, or pointing more left/right? 
  • how tall is the shoulder rest? 
  • is the top plate of the Violin/Viola parallel with the floor, or is the instrument body rotated down approximately 45°? 
  • is the scroll end held higher or lower than where the instrument touches the person's neck? 

Now, take into consideration that except for instrument size & shoulder rest, the other 4 factors can be adjusted by the right arm - to work together with the bowing arm. 

I don't think it's good to have such a rigid setup that it leaves no freedom to make adjustments while playing.

People need to figure out what works best for themselves - but beginners need to focus on bowing parallel to the bridge.

 

...btw, I have watched other video performances by "Viola King" where his bowing was parallel to the bridge - still do NOT see his reason for crooked bowing as good.

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ELCBK said
I don't believe it's a good idea to tell people not to bow parallel to the bridge.

I agree with you, but it's part of the much bigger problem that often the same question can require a different answer, depending on who is asking it. In other words, which people are you telling not to bow parallel? 

This problem exists even in the sciences. The answer to the question "how does the sun work?" will depend on whether the asker is 5, 15 or a physics undergraduate.

The explanation of mathematical induction will likewise depend on the age of the maths student.

On to violin...

Far too often on forums someone asks a beginners' question, and people Google it and give an expert answer - like the video, which is aimed at post-beginners. This forum has thousands of masterclass examples inappropriate for beginners. No-one on this forum really needs to know how to do flying staccato.

Beginners bow all over the place due to non-existent right arm control. Teaching them parallel bowing is a corrective to this. But then when they become advanced, conscious redirection of the bow becomes important again - Galamian explains it as an important means of best tone production to bow at a slight angle.

Andrew

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ELCBK
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'Beginner' is a pretty darn ambiguous term when it comes to playing Violin or Viola - anything from picking up a fiddle for the 1st time, to having 5, 6, or more years of experience. 

And, only the individual can know when they are 'ready' to try understanding or doing something. 

Likewise, people have different musical goals, maybe finding some certain techniques more useful to their style of playing. 

Lastly, Masterclasses may have a lot of information people aren't ready for, but I have ALWAYS found useful tidbits - plus I get an idea of where certain things lead to and where problems can arise, so I can avoid them early on. 

...we are mostly adults here, capable of judging what information pertains to our needs. 

 

What I'm concerned with discussing in this thread:

  • multiple terms used to describe one bowing technique 
  • multiple techniques used for one type of bowing notation 
  • different music notation can mean one type of bowing
  • clues to consider when trying to interpret what effect was originally intended 
  • which bowing techniques can serve me best 

 

The "Flying Staccato" video was important because of the way it is notated.

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But there's no notation specific to flying staccato. Bowing notation (which admittedly varies from composer to composer) mostly tells us what effect the composer wants. It rarely specifies a technique. It's up to the player to apply the appropriate technique to get the effect, and there may be more than one appropriate way to do it.

 

In particular, articulation marks and bowing technique always exist in the context of tempo and note length.

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ELCBK
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@AndrewH said: 

But there's no notation specific to flying staccato. Bowing notation (which admittedly varies from composer to composer) mostly tells us what effect the composer wants. It rarely specifies a technique. It's up to the player to apply the appropriate technique to get the effect, and there may be more than one appropriate way to do it.

THANK YOU! 

My question is - how is anyone supposed to know this?  

 

Zlata showed the Flying Staccato as being notated just like these in post #2:

I'm glad Meg not only showed how to bow it, but also the way a DETACHED SLUR is notated.  

{
override Score.TimeSignature # BUT, THIS is why learning to read music is so ridiculously CONFUSING - because I have seen, in quite a few places, the notation that Meg showed (a dot above or below a note, along with a slur marking), called SLURRED STACCATO, PORTATO (aka. MEZZO-STACCATO, or LOURÉ), but then I've also seen it also used for FLYING STACCATO - different bowing techniques.  ...and 2 up-bow BEAMED eighth notes can sound like these bowings!  

 

I'm starting to have an issue with finding a random bowing technique here, there, everywhere - what feels like bits & pieces of different interpretations.

From what I can see, we have to not only learn that modern notation can be different than Classical Composers' notation of the 1800's (take a guess?) - but we must search for a possibility there's still more bowing choices that can be used when interpreting each notation symbol... then figure out what's the most appropriate. 🥴

Am I just missing out because this info is normally taught in a more organized fashion... somewhere? 

For example: I've seen lists of symbol definitions that are vague and things like there's 12 to 20 different détaché bow strokes, but wondering why everything has to be so mysterious & complicated?  I don't want to be deceived into believing there's only ONE détaché bowing technique, when there's many more (even if I don't plan to learn them all at once)!

Ideally, what I'd LOVE to see would be tutorials/lessons like:

"Hey, here's the symbol for such'n-such (plus alias names), now here's ALL the bowing techniques used for such'n-such's symbol"- AND why you might consider choosing one technique over another! 

 

Sorry, trying not to rant, but understand - maybe figure if there's a better way to learn all this!

- Emily

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AndrewH said
But there's no notation specific to flying staccato. Bowing notation (which admittedly varies from composer to composer) mostly tells us what effect the composer wants. It rarely specifies a technique. It's up to the player to apply the appropriate technique to get the effect, and there may be more than one appropriate way to do it.

 

In particular, articulation marks and bowing technique always exist in the context of tempo and note length.

  

I was going to say this, and recommend Galamian's book which shows various techniques that use the same notation, the main determining factor being speed (we'd had a thread comparing spiccato with sautillé), but I understood Emily's

"What I'm concerned with discussing in this thread: multiple techniques used for one type of bowing notation"

to mean she'd already taken that into consideration.

So, to summarise, flying staccato is very, very fast staccato, which is why I asked why Emily thought it was relevant to beginners, usually defined as people who can't yet do anything very, very fast. (or as before, people with no right arm control)

Emily

My question is - how is anyone supposed to know this? 

Well, I find Galamian a good source of information. That's why I recommend him.

The problem is, as I prefer Galamian's 150 pages to Fischer's 5,000, others prefer the internet to any kind of book. And, as we know, the internet is fuller of horse-sh*t than Kentucky.

Andrew

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Well, the key is really that the notation is about what is heard. It's impractical to learn a whole catalogue of bowing techniques all at once, especially because many of them require much better fine motor control than beginners typically have. So: focus on the effect that each symbol represents, and as you add to your toolbox of bowing techniques you will be aware of what they may be useful for.

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ELCBK
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@Gordon Shumway -

Thank you!

Beginners have to start somewhere.  I'll always be a beginner, because I'll always be trying to learn something new - just my frame of mind. 

I appreciate the book recommendations, but I have SO MUCH to read stacked up already - so, the quickest way for me to learn is by seeing & hearing, but I will try to take a look at Galamian's book. 😊

 

@AndrewH -

Thank you! 

I'm ready to start learning more bowing techniques - and I know I can't learn everything all at once. 

Think what has frustrated me this last year, is I've randomly run across enough that I've never noticed or heard of before, it has piqued my curiosity to where I just want to know what ALL the bowing techniques are - how many, what they are called, their defining characteristics, and how they are asked for in notation. 

I want to be able to select from them all - choose what and when I learn any of them. 

Finding where all these bowing techniques & terms are hidden is as frustrating to me as learning; a fiddle tune can have 10 different names & 15 different versions, not all instruments are Concert Pitch, Japanese Silk Kimonos have to be completely dismantled to be washed, finding I have many types of glass - all with different COE's (Coefficient of Expansion)/annealing rates & properties that make most incompatible with each other, etc... 

Okay, got that out of my system! 

 

I thought Zlata's videos & website would be a good starting place - but a lot is confusing. 

She came out with a video "102 Violin Bowing Techniques" in March and her Violin Lounge site has a list of the 102 showing symbols/examples & descriptions. 

All 102 Violin Bowing Techniques & Terms - Violin Lounge

 

...I need some cross reference & most importantly - is this all of them?

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That Zlata Brouwer video is confusing even to me. A whole bunch of the "techniques" she lists are not bowing techniques at all. For example, marcato is an effect, not a technique, and can be done in a number of ways. Chords and arpeggiation are not in themselves bowing techniques. And many of the things she lists are bowing patterns, not bowing techniques.

At best, this is a quick demonstration of what is possible with a violin bow. It's not a good catalogue of bowing techniques at all. In general, Zlata Brouwer videos strike me as info-dumps that aren't very well organized and leave me wondering who the  intended audience is.

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ELCBK
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@AndrewH -

THANK YOU! 

🤔... effect vs. technique - I can see that.  

I was having a hard time picking through it - and too much seemed either like saying the same thing or unrelated to technique. 

Suppose I could start by trying to determine both from her list... but really don't like the way she classified everything - and many of her descriptions make me wonder why a lot of this even exists. 

I'd really like a better reason for 10 different ways of saying there's only a dot above a quarter note!

...there HAS to be something better out there.

Can you point me to any sources that actually make sense? 

 

Btw, edited my previous post.

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An important message is that all notation of anything is inadequate.

All ways of notating human language are inadequate - vowels and consonants change depending on their surroundings, and the letters on the page are just a hint at the sounds your mother taught you. It's the same with syllaberies and pictographic systems.

It was the same with Classical and Romantic orchestral music and it's the same for every instrument.

The staccato intended by a composer can in theory be any length, but they will have compromised between letting a limited range of marks on the page get interpreted differently by every musician and settling for what they know the bog-standard performer will resort to and writing the rest of the music so that what they play will work in its context.

As to so-called (up-bow and down-bow) violin staccato, here's Heifetz playing Hora Staccato. Notice first that his right hand is very different depending on which way he is bowing. This isn't really a technique - every violinist will have to find the way they are comfortable with - albeit with guidance from teachers and videos - both in terms of their personal physiology and the speed of the music. Notation doesn't come into it.

Andrew

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I definitely can't help with any kind of catalogue of bowing techniques. Maybe you can look through Simon Fischer's books, but I don't think it's especially productive to try to study Simon Fischer that way. Those books are best used as a reference if you know what aspect of technique you want to improve and want to learn how to go about it.

I don't have a catalogue of bowing techniques and notation in my head, and I don't  think I could easily organize them that way. I picked up bowing techniques by playing in orchestras and getting tips based on the music that was in front of me at the time. It may not be a systematic way to organize things, but the advantage of learning that way is that each technique is tied to concrete examples in music I've played. The human mind does much better when something is anchored in experience and builds on previously learned technique than when trying to catalogue something far beyond its experience.

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ELCBK
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@Gordon Shumway -

Don't see where this helping me - what if I mimic or learn from a Teacher who relies on an interpretation from another Teacher who relied on an interpretation from a not-so-great Teacher.  ...anyone's interpretation is very subjective. 

Hey, I'm all for applying Fuzzy Logic here, but if there aren't good sources of notation standards to learn, only vague clues to bowing techniques for Classical music - where does that leave me?  I think it leaves me falling back to my 'free-for-all' argument, playing however I want... which I kinda like the idea of. 

I'm not playing in an orchestra, I shouldn't need someone telling me what decisions to make, but if I can't find good sources to base any interpretation on, then how am I supposed to guess intent?  

Are you telling me Classical Music is just as bad as Traditional Folk Music?

In other words, am I expected to just hear & play enough of it so that I can learn to guess at how a Classical score is to be played?

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ELCBK
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@AndrewH -

Thank you! 

Guess I do need to look at learning Classical Music like I would the other genres.   

All this time time I thought it was all laid out somewhere and I just hadn't found it!

I'd make a horrid student, questioning everything. 😶

BUT, I have already been taking mental notes of Classical Composers' style characteristics, as I run across them - and general historical applications/implications to their music.

 

...quite an eye opener! 

- Emily

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ELCBK said
 what if I mimic or learn from a Teacher who relies on an interpretation from another Teacher who relied on an interpretation from a not-so-great Teacher. 

Err, do you remember how you were telling me how many people repeat the same things about phrasing, so you trust them?lumpy-2134

People like Heifetz might be worth learning from.

The Galamian book I often refer to is this one

It's slim and cheap and is worth having in your library. Get the paperback with the Sally Thomas stuff - don't go for the hardback with the random Perlman quote on the front - it's just a poor repro of the first edition and will fall apart if you open it flat too much.

Andrew

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There isn't a precise global standard in classical music, mostly because much of the music was written when ideas couldn't travel long distances in a short time. It's exactly the same reason folk fiddle traditions differ so widely. The notation for bowing and articulation is just standardized enough to give a general idea of what the music should sound like. With classical music, there's been a lot written on the conventions of different eras, or usage of notation by specific composers. There's historical research based on written materials from those eras or composers, some conventions are presumed from the equipment that would have been available to musicians at the time, and for more recent eras we have photographs and recordings. It just isn't generalizable to all classical music.

And a lot is simply open to interpretation. If you're playing solo, you get to make the decisions, keeping in mind a variety of considerations such as playability, consistency with the style of the composer or era, and what seems most effective in the context of the piece. If you're playing in a chamber ensemble, it's a good idea to discuss it with other members of the ensemble so that the group has a coherent interpretation of the music.  If you're playing in an orchestra, the conductor is going to dictate the overall interpretation, with section leaders having some license to decide on technique, keeping in mind both playability and the conductor's intent.

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ELCBK
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@Gordon Shumway -

I still try to take everything with a grain of salt. 

Thanks for the book link! 

I like Heifetz, but if I were trying to learn Hora Staccato, I'd also be studying the actual Composer playing it - Grigoras Dinicu - Hora Staccato

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