Bariolage Violin Bowing Technique Explained with Examples

by | May 27, 2024 | 2 comments

What does “Bariolage” mean?

Bariolage comes from a French word that means “to streak with several colors.” Bariolage is a technique that involves going very quickly back and forth between two adjacent strings, usually playing a melody on one string and a bass drone on the other. This creates the “several colors” described by the term. It was a very popular effect in the Baroque era and has remained important ever since.

What does bariolage look like in sheet music?

How do you recognize a bariolage passage in actual music? Unlike other bowing techniques, you are not going to see the word “bariolage” written into the music. However, it will be very obvious from the notes themselves. First, it will almost always be a passage of sixteenth or thirty-second notes. It might be eighth notes if the tempo is very fast. Secondly, the notes go back and forth between two strings. Check out the examples below to learn to recognize this violin bowing technique.

How do I practice bariolage on the violin?

We will go through some examples of bariolage in a moment. But first, let’s talk about how to practice the bariolage technique.

A common mistake is making the angle between the two strings too wide. What do I mean? If you rest your bow on the A string, you’ll notice that by raising or lowering your arm you can make the hair closer to the D string or E string without touching them. If you’re changing strings quickly, minimize arm movement and change the angle as little as possible. This will create a smoother sound and enable faster speed. Use detaché with a little bit of bite in it to catch the string.

There’s a rule of thumb in violin bowing technique, which says: the faster the movement, the less of your arm and the more of your wrist and fingers you use. Slower string crossings are made with the upper arm, but with faster string crossings you might be able to position your upper arm between the strings and barely move it. The string crossing motion can come fully from your wrist and fingers. Give this a try by putting your bow on two strings at the same time, find a good position for your upper arm and try to cross strings (without making bow strokes) just by moving your wrist and fingers.

The left hand here is also so important. Avoid lifting fingers unnecessarily. Practice slowly to make sure you place fingers down just before the bow. It can help to think of the music as chords instead of individual notes.

Think about which notes you want to emphasize. Traditionally, this would be the bass note. Practice using more bow on the downbeats of each measure to add emphasis and shape. The amount of bow you use will also affect dynamics.

Learning bariolage can be tricky because it is so fast and you’re thinking about bow technique and lots of notes at once. Learn the note by playing them as double-stops with simple martelé strokes. When you add the real bowing, the notes won’t be so difficult!

My last tip is to keep a loose, flexible wrist and fingers so you do not get tired in long bariolage passages.

Bariolage in Vivaldi’s Summer

Let’s look at a few of the most famous bariolage passages in the repertoire. Our first excerpt is from Vivaldi’s Summer. This is a straight-forward classic bariolage example. The melody is in the top voice, and you can hear the emphasis at the beginning of each measure. I’ve included both a score video and a live performance so you can hear and see how it is played:

Bariolage in Bach’s E Major Partita

This is an equally famous but more complex example. This has a rare three-string bariolage, which creates a stunning effect but is very difficult to play! The trick here lies in the arm movements. Practice slowly in a mirror, trying to find a level for your upper arm where you can move it the least. Loose fingers and wrist do most of the work. See if you can catch other more typical bariolage in the piece as well.

Bariolage in Kreisler’s Praeludium and Allegro

Now for our most complex example yet. This is technically a two-string bariolage, but the intervening open e strings make the bowing pattern much trickier. Thus my first practice tip is to practice it without the open strings. Then you’ll notice that the entire passage is just major and minor sixths. Practice these sixths as double-stops, memorizing the spacing between the fingers. By dividing it up, you can also see that it forms a repeating pattern, making it easier to memorize in sections. Emphasizing the first note of every sequence will help keep your bow from going crazy! Don’t rush learning this passage, it definitely requires lots of slow practice.

As you can see, there are several types of bariolage, although most will be the simple form as in Summer. Regardless, the basic technique remains the same: Emphasize the moving line, lift fingers as little as possible, and keep the bow close to both strings. Bariolage is an incredibly fun violin technique and will never fail to wow your listeners! What is your favorite bariolage passage?

Hi! I'm Zlata

Classical violinist helping you overcome technical struggles and play with feeling by improving your bow technique.

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  1. Yvonne

    Dank je wel Zlata!
    Leerzaam. En ik geniet er zó van!

    Liefs voor je Familie.
    Blessings too.

    • Zlata

      Dankjewel, Yvonne, graag gedaan :).


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