When composing for strings, sometimes I'd like to write a note which is a combination of very loud and very long—something that can't be played on one bow alone. If I write a long note with ties, sometimes the performer interprets that as needing to have one bow, which results in a quieter sound. If I split the note into smaller ones, I feel like a violinist sight reading would give both notes an attack.

Is there a certain way you would notate a long note that can have multiple bows, but still phrased as one continuous note?

2 Answers 2


Here are the last few bars of Elgar's Salut d'Amour.

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The last 8 bars are one long continuous E played on the violin with multiple bows.

Here is a 10 year-old violinist showing you how it is done:

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    "Here is a 10 year-old violinist showing you how it is done" sounds like a twoset-violin style mic-drop ;-) Jun 9, 2021 at 0:55
  1. If it's notated long enough and you make your desire for a loud dynamic clear enough, a smart player will go ahead and change bow as necessary
  2. That's more true in an orchestral context, where people changing bow at random times will be less noticeable. A solo or chamber music part might be more inclined to try to challenge themself to save bow and still project.
  3. If you want to be explicit, best to indicate it in some way. Printing multiple down-bow and up-bow symbols over the same note communicates this, or add a textual direction like "change bow freely" or, I guess, if it has to be Italian, maybe arco ad libitum.
  • arco ad libitum? Could be confusing, “I can freely choose whether or not to use the bow”... Jun 8, 2021 at 22:18
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    @leftaroundabout I agree. I was trying to think whether there's an existing convention for communicating this verbally, but I don't think so, aside from the fact that I've seen "bow freely" in multiple pieces. Jun 8, 2021 at 23:05
  • If bowing is desired, the composer should (and usually does) place up- and down-bow indicators over the held note. If there is no indicator, and it's an orchestral piece, often the section will work out staggered bowing points so that there's always 1/2 or 2/3 of the section bowing at a given time (the other players changing direction then) Jun 9, 2021 at 18:01

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