Violin & Viola & Cello Technique Glossary
( this new article is presently in progress -
© WPS Feb 2001 Ver. 0.41 )
1st finger ( LH ) : This finger is usually left down firmly on the fingerboard. It often needs to "take 5ths" on 2 strings, not only in chord playing, but also in détaché passages. Throughout all the positions, the first finger, more than any other finger serves as an anchor point, on which the whole hand bears most of its weight. All other fingers must be used with a lighter grip, never giving up the firmness and solidity of the first finger. The first finger must also be deft at changing position, sliding smoothly from one place to another.
1st finger ( RH ) : This finger should not be separated too much from the other fingers of the hand, but often plays an important role in deciding the adherence of the bow on the string. For instance, in saltato, and balzato ( off the string ) strokes, a slight opening up and extending of this finger ( making it less wrapped around the bow ) may help the bow bounce off the string, by releasing its hold and control on the stick. Together with the thumb and the 2nd finger, it should all flex slightly when executing détaché. The finger should "give" on the down stroke, and slowly release, and straighten on the up stroke. These first 3 fingers are the most important in playing détaché.
4th finger ( LH ) : The little ( pinky ) finger. Usually the weakest finger ( unless the 3rd is the weakest ). In first position, the hand should be placed so that it favours the comfortable and round placing of the 4th finger, at the expense of being slightly less comfortable to the first finger ( ie. it is better for the first to stretch back slightly in small hands ). The 4th finger should be rounded slightly, and sometimes should be raised from high above, to aid freedom of movement and mechanism. This is in contrast to the usual closeness of fingers to the fingerboard, useful in playing fast passages. It is important not to stop vibrato on this finger, just because it is a weaker finger. It is a good idea to study trills with this finger ( such as the well-know Dont study ). Placing the thumb closer to the 4th finger ( say opposite the 2nd instead of the 1st ) can add strength to smaller hands or short 4th fingers.
4th finger ( RH ) : Must be kept round, or slightly rounded at least. This finger touches the bow on its tip ( fleshy part is good too ) and is vital in balancing and handling the bow, especially at its tip. In certain strokes, like détaché, it need not adhere to the bow, but some violinists, like Vladimir Spivakov, recommend keeping the little finger on the bow at all times.
4 Octave Scales ( LH & RH ) : Violin scales used in Russia and throughout the world designed to cover the whole register of the violin and the whole fingerboard, thereby mastering the highest positions which are more demanding in terms of accuracy of bowing and intonation. The 4th octave is also practised on its own. G major 4 Octave violin scales are described here.
Alla Corda (It. ) (RH) : Playing on the string. The bow must actively "possess" the string drawing out a deep pure tone. It remains firmly adherent to the string throughout a passage.
Balzato (It.) (RH) : Any note that is bowed / "bounced" off the string.
Bariolage (sometimes ondeggiamento It. ) (RH) : The undulating up and down motion of the bow between two strings.
Bow hold ( RH ) : The bow should be held with a naturally rounded curl of the fingers. The little finger too must not be straightened out ( like a toothpick ! ) , but should meet the bow on its tip, quite rounded. The thumb is placed between the frog, and the leather grip, touching the wood of the bow, with a slightly rounded attitude ( not straightened out ). The thumbnail must not point directly down towards the ground, but rather the thumb should be placed on its side so that the nail points slightly upwards, almost towards the tip of the bow. Don't place the thumb too deeply within the bow ( so it pokes out the other side ), rather, it should touch only on the inner side of it's tip, in order to aid mobility. ( To be continued )
Bowing distribution ( RH ) : The correct distribution of bow throughout a passage which maintains a uniform evenness of sound, and no distorted or loud notes which stand out and ruin or disturb the fluidity of the music.
Broad Détaché ( RH ) : Détaché played usually at a moderate tempo, with a great deal of bow ; typically 80% or more. Kreutzer n2 is a good example of a study which can be practised with this bowing.
Collé (RH) : An off the string lower half ( quite near the heel ) détaché. The attack of the note should be on the string, and the moment the bow is suddenly drawn horizontally it begins its lift away from the string. It is possible to play collé at the tip : Though not usually musically desirable, this might be a good exercise for the little finger hold on the bow.
Contact point ( RH ) : The exact point on the string where the bow hairs come into contact. The contact point moves closer to the bridge as the bow speed drops ; as the weight of the bowing arm increases ; as the string length decreases ( ie. playing in a higher position ) ; and as more concentration of sound is desired. The contact point moves closer to the fingerboard as the bow speed increases ; as the bow flows lightly ; and as an open string or 1st finger is used, thereby playing with the full length of the string. The contact point (c) is one of 3 general "external" factors which determine the quality of a sound produced ( the other two being bowing velocity or speed (s) and the pressure or weight of the bow on the string (w). These 3 factors may be balanced and mixed to produce different tonal effects.
Détaché : A fundamental bowing stroke used when a passage is made up of even up and down bows. One note per bow. The bow should be firmly on the string at all times, and this stroke is usually played in the middle of the bow. It is very important to develop this bowing stroke until the cantabile quality, evenness, and the "joining together" of the semi quaver ( or 16th ) notes is of very high quality. The forearm is the main component in détaché, but the thumb, fingers, and hand flexibility, as well as the adherence of the right wrist to the string all have to be used in the correct amount, so as to produce a refined and smooth quality of sound. There should be no gaps, holes, breaks nor stops in between the notes ; indeed a fine détaché is heard when the notes are heard to be soldered to one another, and the importance of each individual note become irrelevant, as music, melody and phrasing emerge. The amount of bow used can vary depending on the dynamics, and speed as well as the type of sonority desired. There are countless études on détaché and a whole page on it here.
Détaché in the lower half : An advanced form of détaché. This is harder and should be mastered after the ordinary détaché. Typically, the lower third of the bow is used, the right elbow following the hand, instead of being almost immobile as in ordinary détaché.
Extensions ( LH ) : Usually 4th finger extensions. The method suggested in Gavinees' 24 Matinées proposes 10ths from an anchored placing of the 6ths ( 2nd and 3rd fingers ). Thus, the 1st finger stretches down equally, as the 4th stretches up.
Finger patterns (LH) : A pattern of the left hand. Its shape, made up of tones and semitones will depend on the position used and the key played in. Fingers placed a semitone apart should touch. There are some drawings of finger patterns on the simple arpeggio page.
Flat fingers ( LH ) : A technique used for slower cantabile like phrases which require a warm, "fleshy" touch of the left hand. This also aids a singing vibrato. The surface area of the finger increases on the string, producing a warmer, softer and rounded tone. The intonation is also less "narrowly" focused. This technique, in part, can also be applied to soften "hard hands" during light passage work.
Horizontal finger action (LH) : The chromatic movement of the left hand fingers used because each finger must play two notes a semitone apart. There is an animation on this page.
Jeté (Fr.) (RH) : Thrown bowing, usually an up bow and up beat which starts from above the string. Not common.
Left hand ( LH ) : The left hand is often compared to a "computer". It produces no sound, rather, spends most of its time computing correct shifting ( or position change ) intervals, chord patterns, lightness and agility in finger mechanism. Sometimes the shape of the hand is varied ; the soft cushion or pad of the finger being used for cantabile passages ( the flatness of the finger encourages a soft, velvety sound ), and the upright finger position ( with more of the tip contacting the fingerboard ) being used for rapid or brilliant passage work. Difficulties in left hand passages can affect the fluency and confidence in using the right hand. The vertical mechanics of left hand fingers should operate from the 3rd finger joint ( the knuckles ). It is important that only the the finger muscles are involved, as tensing the wrist, arm and eventually spine is highly undesirable. Interestingly, finger action is needed only to raise fingers, as the action of lowering them onto the string is more of a process of dropping them passively, under the force of gravity. Generally, the forces involved in left hand technique should be greatly reduced to the minimum force necessary to hold the string down firmly on the fingerboard. Vibrato is covered under a separate heading. View page on left hand finger patterns for violin.
Legato (RH) : Slurred bowing, playing two or more notes in the same bow, and playing a whole series of notes with equal and even tone, so that they form a whole line of melody. String changes and left hand position changes must not interfere and disturb the smoothness of the passage. In cantabile passages true legato playing might also heavily depend on continuous vibrato, and left hand finger preparation.
Louré (Fr.) : A slightly pulsating legato, also sometimes referred to as portato (It.). The notes are purposely separated ( only slightly ) and a slight vibrato emphasis may be used to draw out each individual note. Not a common bow stroke.
Martelé ( Martellato (It.) (RH) : Literally : Hammered separate bow strokes ( one note per bow ). Gaps are purposely introduced in between each note, and a clear or sharp attack is given to the beginning of the note to produce a striking or accented effect on each note. The bow is not lifted during the gap, but remains motionless, after an abrupt ( or not so abrupt ) stop. One might say that Martelé is a heavier on-the-bow staccato. Be sure to understand that a sustain to the note may also be required...its length, however, will depend on personal style and taste, and also the character of repertoire tackled.
Point of contact ( RH ) : see contact point
Portato ( Porté in French ) (RH) : An slightly emphasized détaché, with added inflection possibly aided to a slight degree by a more expressive vibrato. This can be bowed with several notes in the same bow, or separately.
Posture : The balanced and healthy stance and functional freedom of the upper body, needed to perform a wide variety of right and left hand movements. The positioning of the feet, for a basic "practice" stance, are best placed evenly, with one foot under each shoulder. The direction of the feet should be parallel, as if they were placed on a railway track. The torso should not be twisted, leaving the shoulders on the same axis as the hips and feet. The head should be looking at the scroll, at about 45 degrees from a straight in front position. The violin is placed resting on the collarbone, and lifted to a horizontal position. The head is rotated ( never tilted sideways ) to the left and lowered gently onto the chin rest. It should not grip the violin too strongly, yet there are instances where it should hold the violin more firmly. ( For instance playing in extremely high positions, or changing position. )
Preparing fingers ( LH ) : An important technique for economizing and reducing left hand actions to a minimum. Preparing, ( on the same lines as leaving down fingers ), is also a pre-requisite for smooth string changes with the bow. If the left hand note is not already in place the moment the bow reaches the new string, then a big muddle occurs ! The traditional technique involves leaving the lower fingers on the string for as long as possible. Wohlfahrt's Op.45 first studies often have the line indicating a held first finger. (though 2nd and 3rd can also be held down).
Reflex action ( LH & RH ) : Reflex action is automatic. Place your 2 hands straight out in front of you, palms down, and flicker your fingers, as if typing at a typewriter. Use your fingers only and aim for a light, tiny action, which does not require control from the brain. These tiny, shivering movements are called reflex actions. Many, many movements in violin playing are on this "cellular" level.
Right hand ( RH ) : The right hand is described as being the "artist". Right hand movements are totally different from left hand actions. The right hand produces a continuous sound on a stringed instrument. The quality of sound depends on the string holding abilities of the right hand. A good sensitivity and feel for the right sound depends not only on the hand and arm itself, as a mechanism, but is also deeply rooted within the expressive abilities of the player. Good teachers give the right hand more attention, as the overall style of a player can be judged very quickly by looking at his / her right hand qualities. Freedom and naturalness are two important qualities needed when starting off children and beginners. Indeed it is good practice to develop the right hand slightly ahead of the left. The tonal qualities are much more rewarding in the long run for the beginner who spends more time on open strings and simple pieces. The main job of the bowing hand is to string cross smoothly and gradually, to adhere to the string at all times, and to draw out the best quality sound at all times, never permitting itself to play a harsh, careless or rough tone.
Saltato (RH) : Bouncing or "jumping" bow. Usually two or more notes per bow are used. The same technique as spiccato or sautillé apply.
Sautillé (RH) : An advanced technique, where a bouncing bow is used played at a fast tempo in the middle of the bow. The bow bounces automatically with a small ( but crucial ) participation of the forearm and small wrist movements.
Shifting ( Changing Position ) ( LH ) : A shift is a shift when the thumb follows the first finger ( some schools including ours insist in tandem ) into a new position. A backward extension of the first finger by a semitone would not involve a change in thumb position, and thus would not classify as a shift. Though shifting is a left hand problem, it often requires coordinating and timing with the right hand. The correct, and proper execution of this most delicate of techniques is of paramount importance. Shifts must be executed with extreme lightness and precision, and must never be too heavy nor too conspicuous. An even glide is required during shifting, with utmost smoothness. The shifting finger must not leave the string during its glide, and it must lie quite flatly, and not on its tip, in order to ensure a frictionless glide with no bumps. No break, nor stutter should be heard, as the first studies in shifting actually involve "playing" the shift audibly. There is a scale book, called the "Yost system" which insists good left hand technique is all to do with shifting. It then proceeds to go through many scales and arpeggios to be played with one finger only ( every note being a change of position ).
Spiccato (RH) : Derived from détaché, this bowing leaves the string ( albeit only just ). Separate notes are played evenly down and up, usually at the middle of the bow, with the 4th finger on the stick. At faster tempi, the 4th finger may be removed and the bow passes into what is known as sautillé. The foream and the horizontal component to this stroke is very important. The vertical component is unimportant, though this may not appear an obvious point at first.
Staccato (RH) : Literally means separated notes with the bow on the string ( German style ) or the bow just leaving the string ( Franco-Belgian style - less common ). Several notes may be played, usually in an up bow. Down bow staccato ( as in Hora Staccato by Dinicu ) is less common and somewhat non traditional. The forearm is an important component, and must produce short, even "packets" of motion, detaching the notes clearly from one another even if they are in the same bow. Kreutzer wrote a good beginner's étude for up bow, on the string ( traditional ) staccato.
Staccato Volant (RH) : Flying staccato, with many notes per bow, usually up, where the bow leaves the string slightly after each note (or before !). Pichiettato (volante) is the Italian term.
Thumb (LH) : The thumb is the most important finger in the right hand bow hold. A rigid thumb, or badly placed one can ruin or degrade the general tone qualities of the player. Several bow strokes become impossible to reproduce and a sensation of tightness and muscular pain often results from "bad" thumbs ! Good thumbs are rounded and flexible, participating in the tone production. See the Thumb page !
Tremolo ( Tremulo ) (LH) : An old term for vibrato : Spohr in his violin school (1831) and L. Mozart in his treatise (1756) both write about an oscillation of the sound produced by the left hand called tremolo. As early as 1636 the best violinists were known to sweeten their sound by certain "tremblements" which ravished the spirit. Around 1850 the term vibrato became universally used in place of tremolo. With the French term tremolo can also mean trill, but the words "trillo", ondeggiamento, ondeggiare and ondulé (meaning wavy) also refer to vibrato (or a sort of bow undulation used by Baillot ). The area becomes very gray, but vibrato and many other inflections of the human voice were around ever since the birth of the violin !
Vertical finger action (LH ) : This mechanism is also common to pianists and many other instrumentalists. In passage work, good left hand "fingering" is achieved by a correct action from the knuckle, lightness, agility, freedom, economy and reflex action. Heavy use of the fingers is very detrimental. Click here to view a page on this technique, and find out the importance of lifting the finger.
Vibrato ( LH ) : Considered one of the hardest skills to teach. Vibrato is an oscillation in the pitch of a note, designed to add interest, warmth, tension and character to the tone of a note. The note should oscillate 50% above, and 50% below its true pitch. The left hand finger should oscillate along the length of the string, and not sideways ( which would be non productive ) , as the string length ( pitch ) must be changed. There are 3 main components to vibrato ; fingers ( joints ) , wrist, and forearm. Often all 3 are involved, and a good player can control both the intensity ( amplitude ) and the speed of the vibrato. The choice depends on the music being played. Vibrato should be used as an instrument which serves musical exigencies, and should never be a feature, attracting unwanted attention to itself. In other words it should not distract from the music. A good vibrato draws no attention to itself, but enhances the melodic content of a phrase. The worst cases of distaste involve excess vibrato in high positions on the e string ). Lower notes require a greater amplitude, and slower speed, higher notes require faster vibrato, yet a narrower one. Many teachers start teaching a wrist vibrato on the violin using a middle finger ( the 2nd, or 3rd ) in 3rd position, fixing the base of the hand on the lower rim of the back plate. It is important to sing a note, using fluid whole bows. Also, the finger pressure on the fingerboard may need to be greatly reduced to aid mobility of the hand. Vibrato also used to be known by the old term Tremolo.