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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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3 Answers 3

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

When rock guitarists sacrifice their guitars in what appears to be a moment of pure emotion it is often pre-planned and they have already swapped to a cheaper guitar than their main instrument(s). Perhaps you could keep some cheaper bows purely for this technique?

Another idea, though from a different context, would be to try a viola bow. I know that Steve Bingham often uses a carbon fibre viola bow when he plays the electric violin because the additional weight and different feel of the viola bow help to speed up the attack of the electric violin's sound.

(N.B. I guess the equivalent move for a cellist would be to a double bass bow, but that sounds impractical since double bass bows, even entry level ones, are more expensive and the increase in weight looks prohibitive:

  • Violin 58 - 64 grams
  • Viola 65 - 75 grams
  • Cello 78 - 88 grams
  • Double Bass 130 - 162 grams

so while moving from a violin bow to a viola bow is an increased weight of about 15% moving from a cello bow to a double bass bow is about a 79% increase!)

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I think I might start looking for a light french-style bass bow... would probably also get a bit more sound out of my low-F string! –  leftaroundabout Sep 16 at 20:56

Done properly, you don’t need to lose hairs. You end up losing hairs when you have too much sideways or twisting movement. It’s the type of movement that makes you break them, not the aggressiveness. I don’t do it enough to be comfortable explaining, especially in words rather than in person with instrument in hand, so I’ll refer you to the world’s experts.

Both Casey Driessen and Darol Anger have video tutorials on chops and other techniques for rhythm violin. Darol Anger’s DVD “Chops and Grooves” has been around longer, and has a very good reputation. Casey Driessen has a series of online lessons (http://caseydriessen.com/lessonseriesdebut/), with information available through his own website. I haven’t looked into them, but I took a live workshop with him once, and he was a very good teacher in person. I would expect the videos to be of equal quality. I think that the videos would translate somewhat to the cello, although obviously most of the technique would change, even if the general idea was the same.

That said, I’ve also heard of a rock violinist buying the cheapest $5 bows by the hundred, since she goes through hair so fast.

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