Line styles

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Under bowings comprises various playing techniques that allow for string instruments of the bow over the strings run. They are used for articulation and phrasing when creating melodies .

Historical development

The techniques and terms of modern string technique that are common today, beginning in the late 18th century, became particularly pronounced during the 19th century. The prerequisite was the development of the modern bow by François Tourte in the decades before 1800. In the previously common bow, the rod was bent outwards and made of relatively soft wood. The result was a low tension in the bow hair, which did not allow a sudden start (today's Martelé or the consonant approach ); every note began with a certain softness. Tourte developed the inwardly curved bow made of pernambuco wood , the rod of which is much harder and therefore allows the hair of the bow to be more tensioned. The tour bow transfers the playing actions, especially changes in pressure of the right index finger, much more directly to the strings.

The theorists of the 18th, and even more so those of the 17th century, left only very few and comparatively imprecise descriptions of stroke techniques. Both the terminology and the symbols used in the musical texts themselves were inconsistent, and the authors were often more interested in the theoretical system than in the representation of reality. It was not until the 19th century, with an abundance of educational and theoretical statements, that a certain conceptual rigor was found. However, the terms used are in no way clear; To this day, there is only agreement among strings about a basic repertoire of names for different types of stroke.


The traditional repertoire of line types was therefore developed primarily for the needs of 19th century music ; as far as perceived at all, older music has been fitted into the interpretations of the music that was current at the time. The usual terminology only applies to the instruments of the violin family ( violin , viola , cello and, with some restrictions, double bass ); other string instruments, especially viols , are initially not included. In any case, the overhand grip is assumed, in which the fingers lie on the bar from above and the thumb supports it from below.

Line types in detail


Johann Sebastian Bach , page from Anna Magdalena Bach's copy of the cello suites . Détaché and legato were the most important line types of the late Baroque. The decisions about legato play were largely left to the player; Legato slurs are accordingly inconsistent and sometimes ambiguous.

"Détaché" (fr. "Separated") was synonymous in the 18th century with "staccato", but today, referred that in each note a line change takes place (ie. Between off and on dash is iridescent). The soft, so gradually unfolding tone of the baroque bow creates a clearly audible pause when the bow is changed. For the 18th century, “détaché” is therefore often equated with the (modern) expression “ non legato ”. In the course of the 19th century, on the other hand, the ideal of the inaudible connection of lines made possible by the Tourte bow developed, so that at least in theory the détaché approximates the legato. However, all authors differentiate between various forms of détaché, depending on the length of the pauses and the development of the tones themselves (swelling, swelling, hard or soft, etc.). Most common today, however, is détaché for short notes, including runs - although of course there are also long notes in which there is a change between up and down after each note.

Détaché is not necessarily specifically designated or specifically noted, since it is usually derived automatically from the notes. Nevertheless, there is sometimes the rule "détaché" above the corresponding system to make it clear that the passage should not be played in an arc . The type of articulation can also be displayed by simply alternating up and down symbols - a notation that is mostly only used in musical notation for amateur / school orchestras, because the required line type would be clear even without the special symbolism. In scores of the late 19th century there is sometimes also the rule “sciolto” (Italian for “separated”).


With legato (ital. "Tied") several notes are attached to each other without changing lines and without interrupting the line. It is called a bow ("legato" or "tie") that summarizes all the notes that are played on a single line. The ideal developed in the 19th century is the perfect uniformity of the line, which is varied at best by an (equally uniform) crescendo or decrescendo. Galamian gives the following example:

Violin legato after Galamian.png

and notes: "With these ties [in the 3rd and 4th bars] the feeling in the right arm [which leads the bow] should be the same as with the whole notes [...]." The instrumentalist does not react to the metrical order of the individual notes, he does not distinguish between stressed and unstressed notes. The listener cannot distinguish between the following shapes:


As early as the second half of the 18th century, long slurs were also used as phrasing marks . The overlong legato lines that appear to be created as a result can often not be executed on a single line. They are therefore divided into several lines, which are attached to each other if possible without an audible pause. The decisions about this are made by the instrumentalist; the number of bow changes required depends on many conditions such as dynamics , timbre, etc.

Short strokes

Staccato and Spiccato in the 18th century

In the 18th century the terms “staccato” and “spiccato” (both in Italian for “detached”) were synonymous. What was meant was a significant shortening of the tone and a resulting pause before the next, regardless of the bowing technique. A distinction between the characters point, line or wedge - line and wedge as a sharper, point as a softer staccato - did not develop until the middle of the century; it was not implemented consistently until the 19th century.


The simple piece Elfentanz from Six Lyric Pieces by Ezra Jenkinson uses exclusively Spiccato.

Today "spiccato" means a shortening of the note that is created by removing the bow from the string. In sequences of Spicca notes, the bow leaves the string at the end of one note and returns to it at the beginning of the next. In today's terminology, “Spiccato” stands for the phenomenon that is called “staccato” on other instruments; while “staccato” has completely changed its meaning in string practice. So if a non-string player - a composer, conductor, chamber music partner - suggests "staccato" for a string position, the player of the string instrument will usually translate the word into "spiccato" and perform the sheet music accordingly.

Essentially two spicca techniques are taught.

"Jumping" Spiccato

The starting point of this technique is the independent jumping back of the bow hitting the string. This bouncing and bouncing back is combined with a back and forth motion of the bow which produces the sound. Height, character and frequency of the tones can be controlled by changing the leverage (play closer to the frog or further in the middle of the bow), the width of the back and forth movement and "tilting" the bow (rotation around the bow bar so that more or less hair touch the string).

The advantages of this technique are that it is easy to learn and an elegant sound that can be achieved with little effort. However, it has the disadvantage that it can almost only be applied to sequences of notes of the same length and that within these sequences it only allows comparatively slight nuances. Once a certain jumping movement of the bow has been found, the change, especially in the bow position, has an unpredictable effect. The jumping spiccato is based on relatively small lateral movements of the arm, so that the very strong movement of the arm, which is associated with the change from the middle of the bow to the frog, inevitably leads to a complete derailment of the bow. A passage like the following is impracticable with jumping spiccato:

Georg Philipp Telemann, “Paris Quartet” TWV 43: D1, 1st movement, bars 80–81

The downstroke over three legato notes requires three times the arc length of the fourth note that is to be played in the upstroke. If you let the bow jump independently on this fourth note, which is short and therefore to be played spiccato, the vehemence of the arm movement, which has to travel from the tip to the frog in a very short time, would spring the bow far away from the string and at Let the beginning of the following smear strike the string in an uncontrolled manner, which would produce unpleasant, loud scratching noises instead of a single sound.

"Canceled" Spiccato

The suspended spiccato is based on individual tones in which the energy of the tone approach carries the bow from the arm away from the string. The bow does not fall back by itself; every note has to be started anew. The independent jumping up of the bow is largely undesirable here; it is prevented by a very flat, lateral arching movement. This technique, in which the arm movement must be observed at every moment, requires a considerably greater effort of concentration than jumping spiccato, but its finer control makes it more suitable for depicting complex rhythmic shapes, such as are particularly required in chamber music.


A certain movement of its own, which is made possible by a not too firm grip, is allowed to the bow of the sautillé. With this "jumping" stroke, the bow snaps back from the string due to its own weight and the elasticity of the bow hair. If a very fast, tremolo-like movement of the bow is transmitted from the upper half of the bow (where the tremolo is played) to the middle or lower half of the bow, the bow naturally pops off and falls back, which causes the notes to be shortened. The sautillé, which can therefore only be performed at a very fast pace, is used for runs for which the spiccato movement would be too time-consuming.

Long strokes

Messa di voce

Messa di voce describes the slow rise and fall of a sustained tone. It has its origins in vocal technique. As early as 1601, Giulio Caccini described in the foreword to his work Le nuove Musiche “il crescere e scemare della voce” (“the growth and decrease of the voice”). Until the 18th century, the messa di voce developed into a central element of the art of singing, which has been described many times by various theorists. Reflexes to this can also be found in the theory of instrumental technique; for the pedagogy of string instruments in the works of Roger North (The Musicall Grammarian , 1728) and Joseph-Barnabé Saint-Sevin (Principes du Violon pour apprendre le doigté de cet Instrument, et les différens Agrémens dont il est susceptible , 1761). Francesco Geminiani wrote in The Art of Playing on the Violin (1751):

“Of Swelling and Softening the Sound
These two elements may be used after each other; they produce great Beauty and Variety in the Melody, and employ'd alternately, they are proper for any Expression or Measure. "

“On the rise and fall of sound.
These two elements can be used in sequence; they give the melody great beauty and variety, and used alternately they are suitable for every expression and every meter [ie every rhythm] ”

In historical performance practice , especially in the 1980s, the messa di voce was applied by many ensembles to every note held without exception; it replaced the vibrato of "modern" performance practice, which was completely frowned upon at the time . This consistent exchange has fundamentally shaped the sound difference between “historical” and “modern” ways of interpreting string music; it became the subject of often very sharp polemics. Today, not all musicians specializing in baroque music maintain the rejection of vibrato, which cannot be justified by theoretician sources from the 17th and 18th centuries, and accordingly use the messa di voce depending on the musical situation. On the other hand, orchestras of “modern” performance practice in particular have integrated the messa di voce into their repertoire.

Son filé

In the 19th century, instead of the messa di voce, the son filé (French: "spun clay") was used. What is meant is the evenly drawn bow stroke on sustained notes, which, however, is compatible with a gradual swelling or declining and thus also a messa di voce. Carl Flesch , who believed that it was the task of the left hand to “liven up and refine” the son filé through vibrato , described the performance practice that emerged in the years after 1900. For the nineteenth century at least since Louis Spohr's violin school (1831), however, there was evidence of a clear reserve towards vibrato; the son filé generally seems to have been a perfectly straight tone during this period.

The consonant approaches


In order to produce the basic shape of a Martelé (French: "hammered"), the bow is placed on the string with pressure so that the full bow pressure is already there when the bowing movement suddenly begins. There is a slightly percussive beginning of the tone. Carl Flesch wrote: "Klingler compares the background noise that arises in the Martelé approach very aptly with the approach of the consonants g, d, t, k." Flesch's formulation "Background noise" documents the difficulty of clearly describing the phenomenon. In fact, it is not a background noise (such as a scratching), but an explosive beginning of a note, which could be more appropriately compared to the glottal beat with which vowel-like words begin in German. The rhythmic precision of the Martelé approach makes it comparable to striking a piano. However, it has nothing to do with " Martellato ", which is particularly widespread in piano technique , which is an extreme fortissimo. It is true that many strings only refer to fort stripes as "martelé"; The reason, however, seems to be more the difficulty of producing a comparable tone approach in the piano. - A well-known piece, the beginning of which is played by almost all violinists in the Martelé, is Fritz Kreisler's Prelude and Allegro .

Consonant approach and Collé

With an appropriate ratio of bow pressure and bow speed, the Martelé approach can also be produced in extreme pianissimo. Since Ivan Galamian, the expression “consonantic approach” has been used to describe the beginning of the percussive note, which is produced without prior strong pressure and at any dynamic level. As a variant of the Spiccatos, it can also be produced with the bow lifted (the Collé). The consonant approach is avoided by many strings because of the risk of failure (if the bow speed is too low, the string scratches or the intonation sags). However, its use is also heavily dependent on a violinist's personal style; Due to their influence on the rhythmic structure, consonant and soft inserts shape the musical statement as profoundly as only vibrato, even if they were never discussed so intensely. Significantly, Flesch only knows Martelé and Staccato ( see below ) as consonant approaches , but one should not overestimate their “importance for overall ability” , while Galamian has a large number of terms and detailed technical instructions for the different variants. In current historical performance practice , consonant approaches are practically never used, especially in the piano.

Multiple tones without changing the direction of the stroke

Spiccato on a bow

Since the late 17th century, staccato dots on successive notes, which were grouped by a bow, denoted notes that were to be played clearly separately (spiccato according to the old terminology), but were to be attached to one another in the same direction. The origin of this technique was the so-called smear rule, which probably goes back well into the 17th century, but was first described by Georg Muffat in 1698 : Every accented note in the beat should be played in the smear, because it begins at the frog and the resulting stronger leverage the sound had to have a tendency towards greater volume. In three-four time, in which three quarter notes were to be played without legato, according to this rule the second and third had to have the same stroke direction, so that a downstroke fell on the next bar one. The resulting problem that the upstroke took twice as much time and thus twice as much arc stretched, was put into perspective by the fact that the first beat was played louder and thus with faster stroke movement, but also articulated more broadly (less spiccato). Even today, lines in the same direction are often used one behind the other to correct the direction of the stroke; if this happens for purely technical and not for interpretative reasons, one speaks of “appending” the notes.

Until the second half of the 18th century, spiccato became independent on a bow as a line type that was mainly used for repeated notes. In contrast to the back and forth played spiccato, which always remains in the same bow position without specific correction by the player, the spiccato on a bow tends to have a strong metric weighting of the notes: Since the bow position moves due to the hanging behind each other - in the upstroke, for example, always further to Frog - the leverage and thus the dynamics also change - in the upstroke, in other words, to a crescendo. The unchanged notation of staccato dots under a bow was also transferred to wind and keyboard instruments as an imitation of string articulation. In each case, short tones were meant. It was only in a much later period that this notation was misunderstood as portato (see below) and accordingly played very softly; To this day, pianists usually see instructions on how to use the pedals.

Staccato and flying staccato

The word understanding of “staccato”, which is common today among strings, developed in the course of the 19th century. What is meant is a series of Martelé approaches in the same direction. Notes played in staccato can follow one another faster than the same notes in martelé (i.e. with a change in the direction of the bow), especially in the up bow. In general, the bow stays on the string. In the flying staccato, on the other hand, the bow between the individual notes is canceled. This line style is a faster variant of the Spiccatos on a sheet; it is also preferably played in the upstroke. During the moment in which the bow is canceled, the bow can be moved back to the starting position, so that tone sequences of any length are possible, which, unlike staccato, are not limited by the length of the bow.


Since the 19th century, the notation of staccato dots under a bow has been increasingly understood as a sign for the portato (Italian: worn ) or Louré; alternatively, there is a notation with horizontal ( tenuto ) lines instead of dots. The notes are played wide, the approach is soft; it is followed by a swelling of the sound.


“Ricochet” or “Saltellando” means that the bow is thrown onto the string and bounces off and on again a few times in the same direction of the stroke. This type of stroke, introduced by Niccolò Paganini , is found mainly in virtuoso string playing, but it is also occasionally required in chamber and orchestral music.

Other line types

  • The legato line for line is basically a detaché, but the notes are placed so closely behind one another that the arc change becomes inaudible and the listener has the impression of a legato.
  • Ondeggiando (Italian "fluctuating", based on onda "wave") is an increase in portato and is only used on repeated notes . The line is not interrupted, but only rhythmically strengthened and weakened. It is required by a legato sheet. An increase and decrease in the intensity of the lines, the rhythm of which is left to the interpreter, is sometimes called "arch vibrato ". The “Tremolo con l'arco” was first requested in 1617 by Biagio Marini in the Sonata La Foscarina from the Affetti musicali collection .
  • Unlike the Martelé decreases the accent , the volume of the sound approach immediately after (Martelé-) again.

See also


  • Carl Flesch : The Art of Violin Playing. Volume I: General and Applied Technology . 2nd Edition. Ries & Erler, Berlin 1929 and reprints; Pp. 45-59, 119-128.
  • Hans Kunitz: The instrumentation. A handbook and textbook . From part XII: violin / viola . VEB Breitkopf & Hartel, Leipzig 1956, pp 1324-1337 (widespread Especially among composers, very material rich textbook of orchestral instrumentation; very flawed not only in the presentation of bowings Kunitz 'perfect alignment with the orchestral style. Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss lead' also too strong distortions when applying his explanations to other styles).
  • Ivan Galamian : Principles of Violin Playing & Teaching . Englewood Cliffs, NY 1962. Quoted here from the German translation: Fundamentals and methods of violin playing . Edition Sven Erik Bergh in Europabuch AG, Unterägeri 1983, pp. 75–94 (Fundamental book by perhaps the most influential violin teacher of the 20th century, which is primarily aimed at advanced violinists. Goes its own way in many details compared to tradition).
  • David D. Boyden, Werner Bachmann: Article Bow (English). In: The New Grove. Dictionary of Music and Musicians , ed. Stanley Sadie. Volume 3, London (Macmillan Publishers Limited) 1980; Pp. 125-135. In this context v. a. the second part of the article by David D. Boyden, which also considers the stroke technique from a historical point of view; with explanations of the special conditions of the baroque arch.
  • Klaus Eichholz : The artistic aspect of bowing . Universal Edition, Vienna 2002 (Does not contain a systematic list of line types, but goes into them again and again in the individual discussions of interpretation problems).
  • Greta Moens-Haenen : German violin technique in the 17th century . Academic Printing and Publishing Establishment, Graz 2006, ISBN 3-201-01865-1 .

supporting documents

For the full bibliography, see literature .

  1. Galamian (1962) p. 75
  2. Only in modern American English does 'measure' mean 'measure', the traditional English word is 'bar'. Geminiani could, however, have meant the temporal references of the composition with the 'meter' and thus included the measure.
  3. ^ Franceso Geminiani, The Art of Playing on the Violin . London 1751, p. 7.
  4. Flesch (1929) p. 46
  5. Flesch (1929) p. 49. Meant is: Karl Klingler, The Basics of Geigentechnik , Leipzig 1921 (information from Flesch p. III)
  6. cf. such as recordings by Rafael Druian or Erick Friedman .
  7. cf. Galamian (1962) p. 95.
  8. Flesch (1929) p. 49.
  9. ^ Hermann Danuser (ed.): Musical interpretation (= Carl Dahlhaus, Herrmann Danuser (ed.): New handbook of musicology . Volume 11). Laaber Verlag, Laaber 1992, ISBN 3-89007-041-8 , pp. 258 f.