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Dinosnore

Indicating bowing for string instruments

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As someone who does not play any string instruments, I am having a hard time wrapping my head around bowing. I have had one of my pieces performed by a string quartet earlier this year and am working on another. However, I would like to improve on notating bowing, but I am not too sure where to start. The only advice I was given was to "slur" 16th notes, but there's gotta be more to it than that, no? I've looked at many scores to try and find a pattern of sorts, but I just can't figure it out.

Thank you.

Edited by Dinosnore

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Down bows are naturally stronger and up bows are naturally lighter, so if you have a pattern of quarter notes in a 4/4 section with nothing unusual accent-wise, it's best to have down on 1 and 3 and come back up on 2 and 4, to follow the natural accents of the phrase. 

For a strongly accented passage where there is time between notes, you might want a series of down bows.  The player will have time to make a bow circle in the time between notes to reset the bow to play the next note as a down bow.  

But any time you change bow direction, be it up bow or down, there is also a slight feeling of accent compared to two notes slurred together.  Slurred notes give a feeling of smoothness and phrasing.  In a particularly smooth line, you'll probably want some slurring, but think about where you would choose to breathe if you were whistling the line.  The bow should definitely change direction there at a minimum.  Think about where there are natural accents in the line.  Those are good places for the bow to change direction.  Think about grouping notes according to a repeated pattern to preserve a sense of orderly smoothness: each measure is slurred, or every four eighth notes, or whatever makes sense. 

Think about how fast or slow a bow can move to play the dynamic you want.  Eventually the player will run out of bow and need to turn around, but that will naturally happen faster at a forte than at a piano.  Think of the bow arm as dancing.  How does the arm want to dance, given the character of the music in a given phrase?  Where would you want to kick out a leg or an arm if you were dancing?

And don't worry too much about dictating every little thing.  String sections generally make their own decisions about how to phrase a line.  Sometimes a conductor will dictate how he would like them to slur something to change the accents and improve the balance between the different orchestra sections.  They all do this for a living.  Trust them.  Marking every bowing is like marking which fingers to use in a piano score.  It's done for beginning students and it's done in the occasional really tricky passage where it's not intuitive, other than that you can mark your slurs and mainly trust the player to find the best solution for up vs. down.

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17 minutes ago, pateceramics said:

Think about where there are natural accents in the line. 

 

Oh geez, that's actually really helpful and makes a lot of sense. I assumed there was some kind of proper way to notate bowing/slurs and I was just not connecting the dots somehow. 

I'd love not having to dictate every little things, but it was one of the things my prof wanted me to work on. I have plenty of faith in the performers' judgement calls. 😛 Thanks!

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I mean, if your prof wants you to mark the heck out of something so that you can be asked to defend your decisions and be graded accordingly, then do as you are told, but I've been in a lot of rehearsals where the conductor will lean over to the concert master and ask what decision they came to about measure 25, because there was discussion of changing what was marked, or it was a fairly bare score where things were left up to the players' experience.  Try watching some good groups playing pieces you are familiar with on youtube and air-bowing along with the string sections.  See if it feels intuitive.  If you know where the music is going next, then where to turn your arm around should feel fairly natural, particularly once you see them all doing it.  And then go back and look at scores again and see if where things are marked makes sense with that in mind.  You'll notice that when the bow just goes up down up down in a fairly mechanical section, it's usually not marked, because the pattern is obvious.  But when the line is expressive, it may be, to help the performer interpret the character the composer wants.  In addition to studying crisp, new scores, you might want to borrow on that's been written all over by generations of violin students at your school and see what they've added as notes to self that the composer/publisher didn't put in there to start with.  

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Mark as an exercise only! Have it played by a string player and get feedback! You'll quickly see patterns and learn the idiomatic way.

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