Violin Bowing Terms
bow © Sheila Helser

The violin can be a challanging instrument to master. The bow especially has many difficult techniques. Sometimes these are a bit much for a student to handle.
Violin Bowing Terms = Those words that show up in the music asking violinists to do special bowing effects. Some of the bowing techiques can bring a tear to the eye when first tried. Each week students are exposed to terms in the violin repertoire that challange their bow technique. I will list some here and I have included on this page a place to email me any term you would like to see listed here and also a definition or an explanation of how to play it.


Please share a bowing term with us
click the music machine and email your term

Learn the terms and how to execute them
  • ARCO = bowed passage, to use the bow, in music it tells you to use the bow on this passage

  • COL LEGNO = the bow stick is used to hit the strings

  • SPICCATO = a controlled bouncing or spring bow off the string, Flexible fingers and wrist are a must.

  • SAUTILLE = my personal favorite, is fast spiccato acquired through a completely relaxed hand that permits sufficient elasaticity to allow the bow to bounce itself. A rapid bounce, half on and half off the string, relies on natural rebound.

  • DÉTACHÉ = is a broad legato stroke with a slight space between each note

  • LEGATO = is a smooth stroke without any spacing between the change of bow

  • MARCATO = is a sharp stroke, literally, well marked

  • MARTELÉ - Martellato = is a hammered, accented effect

  • STACCATO = is a light, short stroke with a period of silence between notes, this will very according to tempo

  • RICOCHET - Saltato - Saltando = rebounding bow, bow rebounds on several notes in the same bow, springing

  • TRÉMOLO = moving the bow with great rapidity, trembling, repeat the same note with rapid up and down bow movements, best done with the wrist

  • SON FILÉ = sustained tone

  • FLYING SPICATTO = like regular spiccatto in that the bow bounces, but instead of remaining stationary-the bow is drawn along the strings as it is bounced producing a virtuoso effect. S McLeod

  • UPBOW STACCATO = there are many types of upbow staccatos...there is the normal "loose" kind...the stiff kind...and the off-the-bow "flying" kind. basically we're dealing with the normal "loose" kind. Set the weight with your arm. this weight is constant and never varies. The bow stick should remain down...it shouldn't be jumping up and down. From there...the magic is in the wrist. Do clockwise motions with your hand, so that the third finger is doing the work...use the first finger as the pivot point with the third doing the motion. combine that with smooth arm movement and you're set. One way of practicing (besides going slow->fast) is to repeat a note 4 times with the upbow stacatto. then move to 3 times...then 2 then 1... I believe it was Szeryng who said that a good stacatto comes from a good martele...and it was Galamian who sometimes had students raise their second fingers to help promote the proper clockwise motion. con_ritmo

  • SPRINGING stroke and THROWN stroke French text says SAUTILLE. The terms "springing stroke" and "thrown stroke" are explained by Carl Flesch in his Art of Violin Playing book I page73. This is a great book, and my advice is to buy it and to read it form cover to cover. In the springing bow (sautille, exercise 16) the bow jumps but the hairs don't leave the string, the bow jumps by itself and you do not have the control of each individual stroke, let the bow bounce by itself. Keep your joints loose, pull the elbow in, so the bow is not totally parallel to the bridge and then give a sligthly slanted impulse to the fingers and bow. You must dig IN the string, do not try to lift the bow. The more you dig In, the more the bow will rebound, just think of a basket ball. But the actual hairs will not leave the string....(it is difficult to explain). As for thrown stroke, you control every individual stroke. Here the stick and the hairs will come off the string. Try to play strokes non parallel to the bridge. This time the elbow is not "in", so the axis of the curve that you describe with the bow is parallel to the bridge but the actual path that the bow follows is not. Imagine that instead of drawing a parallel stroke to the bridge you draw a line with the shape of a "C" (of course, the, opening, of the C is by the bridge's side). The shape of a C is not vertical (not only) but horizontal. In the extremes of the C your bow lands and takes off gently from the string. Of course you can do sautille or spiccato forte, piano, fast and slow. The more to the nut you play the louder and slower it will be (and conversely). You have to experiment this by yourself. Casortis exercises are just a small compendium, and they have exercises very easy and they have very difficult ones, you should not get discouraged, the difficult are really difficult. Try first to understand the difference between spiccato=thrown stroke= control of every stroke up & down and sautille= springing stroke= letting the bow to jump by itself and just giving a general impulse when needed. Then use it in musical context (Mozart sonatas and quartets, you should read them all,) Then try the difficult exercises. - Francisco Sard

  • SALTATO = This is a thrown staccato in the upper half of bow. It is a down bow thrown.

  • COLLE = This bowing is in the MARTELE family of bowing strokes. It is Played in the lower half of the bow, it is approched from the air with an attack, then a lift.

  • SUL PONTICELLO = Bowing is down near the bridge and creates a glassy sounding tone.

  • SUL G = Play the passage on the G string only.

  • SUL TASTO = The bow is played lightly over the fingerboard, creating a hazy sound.
    This is also known as FLAUTANDO.

  • Louré or PORTATO = The slight separation of a series of notes taken in a slur. - Steve Sherrill

  • CHANTERELLE = Note or passage on the E string.

  • COLLE = Pinched stroke at frog, often a series of down bow strokes.

  • AU TALON = Bow at the frog.

  • FLAGEOLETS = harmonics - light stroke of the left hand while bowing - as in Gubaidulina's String quartet No. 3 - e.g. phantomlike flageolets.

  • MARTELLATO = hammer style bowing - detached stroke - bow upper half.