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Prominently featured in Bluegrass fiddle playing, the ever-so-feared noise of a bow "squaking" over the strings can be used to produce distinctive, yet surprisingly sweet percussive accents if well controlled.

(Especially 5:20)

I start to get the grips of how to do this on cello, but – less suprisingly – it turns out it causes much more wear to the bow hairs than conventional techniques, indeed quite unacceptably high – about three hairs broken per minute of practising it is for me right now. Yet proficient players seem to have not such a big problem with that, e.g. Nat Smith plays entire songs with such a style on the cello, apparently without any hairs failing.

What should I mind to get such powerful accents, yet minimise wear on the bow hairs?

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1 Answer 1

There are some things that will make you lose less: a big revelation for me was when I realized I was using way more bow and force than necessary. A combination of weight (literal weight, let gravity do more of the work than muscle) and a slow stroke using minimal bow length helped a lot. Also, the examples here are amplified; if possible, practice the effect while amplified because it turns out a relatively quiet scratch percussion effect has more than enough sound once amplified. Using tons of rosin, especially around the frog area, also helps substantially. Ultimately, however, the best solution is to talk to your bowmaker next time you get a rehair. There are types of hair, as well as rehairing methods, that are better for this kind of agressive use than the standard rehairing job. In my experience, I didn't like my regular sound as much when I did this, so it might depend on just how much of this effect you do vs. how much regular playing. I have a couple of colleagues that have two bows precisely for this reason.

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Thanks! I've already stopped using my regular bow for this to spare it, only do it with my carbon-fibre one now. So I'll definitely try having that rehaired in this different fashion. — As for rosin, I've already been experimenting (even with that gluey double-bass stuff), unfortunately it rather seemed to increase the failure rate. Probably just too much force indeed; practising amplified is an interesting suggestion! –  leftaroundabout Feb 9 at 17:11

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