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Legato bow strokes

Discussion in 'Orchestral Technique [DB]' started by Rob W, Jul 13, 2005.

  1. For years I have been working on trying to figure out the secrets to a smooth legato and I've both learned and expanded on what my teachers have shown on the subject. I'm still looking for new ideas and approaches though. Maybe one of the great things about the internet is that we may be able to share things in a wider geographical sense, because some times you can definitely get into 'regional' styles of playing.

    Here's my basic take on it, but I really would like to hear what other folks have learned.

    In my early bass playing days (before going to music school), I was briefly and engineering student so I studied a lot of physics, which I think can certainly be applied to certain mechanics of the bass. In physics, I learned that in order to change direction 180 degrees, you need to come to a stop first. If you are traveling +10 mph you need to decelerate and pass through zero before you can get to -10 mph. I think somewhere in string pedagogy this basic fact of physics has been missed.

    The bow, as far as I can see, has only two possible directions that make any usable sound: right (down bow) and left (up bow). Up and down along the string does not vibrate the string in any appreciable manner - it tends to simply add noise. I suppose one might argue a third dimension (rotationally - in the direction if one were to make a string crossing), but I'm not sure that is effectively any more than another angle on the first dimension (right and left) - although I am open to checking this out if anybody can prove the physics to me.

    So how the heck to we make to separate bow strokes (up and down) sound connected? My analysis of it, from a sonic standpoint, and what works for me, is to slow the very last part of the bow stroke down so that the exact finish of one bow stroke is as imperceptable as possible. In a sense, I try to create the 'audio' illusion that the note is still sounding by being purposefully vague about the end of the note. I then start the begining of the next note (after changing direction) in an equally vague manner, then quickly accelerate the bow to achieve the 'main' volume level. The end result, a pair of notes that 'appear' to sound connected.

    So that's my take on it. I'm all ears for other ideas though. (Meanwhile, I'm going to go check that third dimension and see if I can get my head around the physics of the vectors, etc.)

  2. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    Getting away from the bridge can help soften the attack of a note. Also, as you hinted, bow speed at the begninning/end of the note v. the middle helps as well. I think also that 'following through' with the bow stroke might have some effect -- wherein you already have the bow moving the other way in your mind's feel before you finished the other note. I find it a hulluva a lot easier to pull off at lower volumes as well.

    Since I'm playing mostly non-classical arco, I have a few things that I do that may or may not apply directly to classical, but here they are: When I want a legato sort of single-stroke phrasing (detache?), I'll mix in a lot of slurring to greaten the legato effect. Also liberal use of dynamics within your phrasing (aside from having some musical merit on its own) can also soften unintended articulation emphasis.

    Most important, though I think, is having the sound you want firmly in your ear.
  3. a. meyer

    a. meyer

    Dec 10, 2004
    portland, oregon
    Here's how I think about it: The bow must indeed come to a stop at some point. However, if I take all the weight off the bow while I turn it around, the string will not stop, and the bass will keep humming while the bow is stopped. Then I try to catch the still-vibrating string at the right rate, so there is little or no attack to the next note. It's hard as hell to do, but it can sound very smooth.
  4. Charles Shores

    Charles Shores Commercial User

    Jul 26, 2005
    ^ That's exactly what I try to do do get smooth notes. I start with a lower pressure and build up by the middle of the bow, then relax at the end of the note, but keep it vibrating with a few hairs. Then try to come back down as smoothly as possible and try it again...

    I agree that it's hard!