What is Default Bowing? (part, amount and direction of the bow) | Violin Lounge TV #229

by | Apr 22, 2016 | Bowing Technique | 0 comments

You might have noticed that there are so many ways to bow and so many bowing techniques. There are so many ways to color your sound on the violin with bowing.

 It might be confusing that there are so many possibilities. What would be the standard way of bowing (if there is one)?

Pablo wrote me an e-mail about this subject of default bowing:

Hello Zlata,

I’m Pablo and I’m writing to you from Tenerife (Canary Islands, Spain). First of all, thanks for your very useful and interesting videos about violin and viola playing. I usually follow them.

Recently, I have been watching your videos about playing certain songs (Christmas songs, etc.) and I have seen that many scores/sheet music have no slurs. It is often said that one has to play détaché when there are no special indications or slurs, that is, ‘by default’. Isn’t it?

In this case, how do we know:

-the amount of bow we should use (whole bow or part of the bow)
-if part of the bow, which section is suitable (upper, middle or lower section)
-the direction of the bow (when downbows and when upbows)

This subject is one of my biggest doubts about bowing, above all when no marks specified.

I would be very grateful if you could give some tips or hints about what to take into account for choosing among these options.

PS: I love your positive personality very much.

Best regards / Saludos

To slur or not to slur?

Yes, playing detaché is the default way of bowing when there are no slurs. Detaché is French for ‘not slurred’. When there is a slur above or below the notes, you play all these notes in one bow stroke. In the video I demonstrate the difference.

Amount of bow

The amount of bow depends on a lot of things: mainly the tempo and the notes that are before and after the note you play. About the tempo: when you play fast, you use a small part of the bow and when you play slow, you use a larger part of the bow or the whole bow.

It also depends on where on the bow you end up after the note before this note and what note you need to play after it. For example if your next note is a very long note, you might want to end up at the extreme frog or tip, so you’ll have enough bow for this long note.

A default way would be the middle 50% of the bow.

It’s hard to see where you are on the  bow while you are playing. For my students I sometimes place stickers on their bow: one on 25% of the bow from the tip and the other on 25% of the bow from the frog. Sometimes I also place a sticker in the middle of the bow to indicate the middle, which might come in handy for slurs. These stickers force students to use enough bow and learn to bow straight. Also it limits them to not use the whole bow all the time causing a superficial tone or making it too difficult for them in their stage of learning.

Hi! I'm Zlata

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

Part of the bow

The middle of the bow is default, but just as the amount of bow it depends on the notes that come before and after it. There are many situations in which you play at the frog or at the tip. Also it sounds different when you play with another part of the bow.

Upbow or downbow?

If you aren’t familiar with these terms: I explain them and show it in the video.

Normally when a piece or phrase starts on the first count of a measure, you start downbow. Of course there are many exceptions, but downbow would be the default.

Upbeats (a shorter measure as the first bar of the piece) are played upbow.


Every violinist makes her/his own bowings based on what’s easier and/or what sounds better. You are free to use the kind of bowing that you think is suitable for the piece. This episode was about default ways, but there are many cases in which you will not use the default way of bowing.

When nothing is specified, these default ways of bowing are the way to go. Start and improve your bowing from there.

This is a vast subject and this video is all but complete, but I hope that I have given you some good tips to start and some clarity on this subject.

Is this video helpful to you? Please let me know in the comments below! If you like it, share it with your friends!



PS: Do you have questions or struggles on violin or viola playing? Post a comment below or send an e-mail to info@violinlounge.com and I might dedicate a Violin Lounge TV episode to answering your question!



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