Staccato Bowing on the Violin

by | Jan 19, 2023 | 0 comments

Staccato, or “detached” in Italian, is a bowing technique where you stop the bow at each bow change to create separation

More generally, it is also a musical term that indicates short, separated notes. Basically any instrument can play staccato, but here we are concerned with what it means as a bowing technique.

How do you know where the staccato is in your sheet music?

The notes will have little dots above or below them. If you see staccato dots only at the beginning of a passage but then the word simile, it means the entire passage is staccato.

Regular staccato is done on separate bows. However, there is also such a thing as upbow staccato.

This is multiple staccato notes on one upbow, but the bow does not leave the string as it travels. Here is an example from Saint-Saëns’ Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso.

Staccato is much easier to play than most people think.

Common errors include trying to make an accent at the beginning of the note, really crunching the bow into the string, or changing the amount of pressure. Here’s the secret: the amount of pressure throughout the stroke remains the same. It is the same concept as detaché, but you stop the bow at the end of each stroke just before changing directions. It is not necessary to change anything else about the stroke.

Like all bowing techniques, staccato is best learned on open strings first, doing the technique described above. Once you can play one staccato note on each bow stroke, try doing to per bow, then three, etc. This will help you develop control and understanding of how much bow you should use per note.

Early Suzuki pieces are designed with staccato in mind, because learning staccato comes before learning beautiful smooth legato bowing. The Twinkle Variations, Lightly Row, and Song of the Wind all incorporate staccato. If you have never played staccato before I suggest starting with simple tunes like these.

Another very fun and easy staccato piece La Cumparsita Tango. It is full of repeated staccato passages in an engaging tango dance rhythm.

If you already know staccato but would like to refine it, or are just curious about how to identify it in pieces, here are some famous examples.

The Kabalevsky concerto is an energetic piece popular among advanced students. The frequent upbow staccatos add vitality to the melody.

Violin Concerto No. 3 in B Minor by Saint-Saëns is a major concerto and frequently performed. In the main theme of the third movement, there are sequential staccato triplets. They are very rapid so it is difficult to tell they are staccato by ear, but Saint-Saëns notated them that way to imply a little extra bite.

Samuel Barber’s violin concerto alternates between flowing legato melodies and dramatic staccato/spiccato passages. Notice the upbow staccato (four notes together) in the passage marked below. Some violinists choose to play this completely on the string (upbow staccato) while others do it slightly off the string (upbow spiccato). Either is fine so long as you have a clear concept of what effect you want.

Lastly, we have our “ultimate staccato challenge”: Hora Staccato by Grigoraş Dinicu. This was one of Jascha Heiftez’s famous encore pieces. It incorporates BOTH upbow and downbow staccato, which is even more challenging! If you are interested in learning this charming piece, now is the time to be dedicated about your staccato practice!

Hi! I'm Zlata

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

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