Either it was lost in translation or it is unclear(if mine, explain what I'm missing that makes it so obvious so I can learn from my mistake).

enter image description here I will explain the error, or possible ambiguities, in the exercises.

How is this performed? The following image are 4 potential ways I could interpret this. Note these are my interpretations, some here think I am asking about how to play them, I know how to play them, as I created them using the above example. I am talking about how to interpret the example above with one single downbow on beat 1 and no other beats. The following are the possible interpretations. I am not saying they are "correct" but that without a correct/standardized rule, one cannot surely know, there are an infinite other interpretations, many not very logical too.

enter image description here

Or take one long bow, change when one wants?

The standard "method" is to down up down up on the quarters. But that is quite fast bowing. Or do we do a sort of "accent" while bowing in the same direction to get each subdivision?

5 Answers 5


You've answered your question yourself: what you call the "standard method" really is the standard method, unless indicated (or desired) otherwise. But yes, all the other bowings you picture do exist: you can play each quarter note with a downbow, or play two down and two up, and so forth. Each different bowing has its own sound and its own musical purpose. But as others have said here, the default assumption is down/up/down/up.

  • 1
    Yes, the standard may be the standard, but that doesn't mean that the beginner knows that or that exercises are implying them. After all, with your logic, the down bow symbols are redundant because also with standard bowing we play downbows on down beats. You could say it is just being clear, but if one is going to be clear then why not show several markings? I don't think there is any justification for leaving out information that reduces ambiguity.
    – user41431
    Commented Aug 24, 2017 at 17:54
  • @AbstractDissonance I think generally because a score would look pretty messy if you had up- and down-bow symbols above every note, when you proceed using the left hand it is pretty much the same with fingerings. In the first lessons teaching books tend to have them above every note then only when the author or editor thinks it is appropriate. I think you are right in a sense that your book (maybe you wanna post title and author) should have told you about the fact about the general assumption ScottWallace mentioned before and maybe it did and you skipped it.
    – nath
    Commented Aug 24, 2017 at 19:09
  • @AbstractDissonance When it comes to reading music and attaining fluency, you'll come to understand that "less is more." More ink on paper with more instructions making music more rigid and procedural makes it tougher to 1. add personal expression, and 2. read natively because of the amount of information to process. You're essentially asking for the opposite of what music should look like for the opposite of what music should be. Think about that.
    – psosuna
    Commented Aug 24, 2017 at 21:57
  • @AbstractDissonance - yes, you're quite correct about these excercises leaving out information. It should have been explained somewhere what the rule/convention is to eliminate confusion. Thanks, I should have mentioned that too. Commented Aug 25, 2017 at 13:09

Here are some score examples (of not being in a different context) meaning all the same, while you could say that for an advanced player example 1. would be fully enough to play it the way example 2. suggests, wile example 3. leaves no room for misinterpretation in terms of bowing direction.

enter image description here

As you proceed you will find that example 1. is very typical for a pickup measure on bowed instruments, while again in your words the standard "method" would be applied as being emphasized in 2. and 3.

enter image description here


Learning to play and read music depends some amount on intuition. If you've ever heard someone say that a mathematician's downfall is reading music, it is because there is open room for interpretation when reading it, whereas mathematics usually has only one form of doing it.

That being said, the standard method you yourself refer to is agreed upon based on this simple inference: If you draw the bow to play one note, the next note must change direction, in order to maintain balance in the amount of bow available. This is something that either must be explained in a lesson, or is present as text earlier in the book. Otherwise, the explanation is not complete.

Starting from that, once a string player sees example 1, the implication (that should have been learned) is to do a down bow, then an up bow, then a down bow, successively.

As for your variable example 1s, let's tackle them in order:

1-1 requires all down bows. To continue bowing multiple notes on the same down bow requires a different notation. Here, as the player you must be instructed to retake the bow at the frog (or near it) for each note for all notes where the down bow sign is. Otherwise, you'll end up playing either staccato (separated notes on a single down bow), or a tie (the down bow makes the notes flow into one another).

1-2 assumes the "standard method". It clues you in with the first down bow. Lack of signs means that you follow the standard style of bowing, which means to change direction with each note. To verify this, another down bow sign is introduced at the start of measure 2.

1-3 is an interruption of the standard method. The first four notes (on the 1st measure) are bowed in the standard method of down-up-down-up. Measure 2 begins on an up bow, so that means you should retake your bow to the tip, and bow upwards towards the frog, effectively reversing your bowing to up-down-up-down.

1-4 is explicit about bowing in the standard style. You must bow down-up-down-up in this order.


What the author of your method book had in mind for Line 1 of the scanned exercise is Down, Up, Down, Up -- as you indicated in Line 4 of your second image.

What they apparently didn't explain explicitly in your method book is that every time there is a separate note, your bow should change direction. (Unless there is some other indication, such as a slur.) They have written a "down bow" symbol above the first note in the phrase, to get you started; and then after that, you should continue in a Down, Up, Down, Up pattern until you're told to do something different.

do we do a sort of "accent" while bowing in the same direction to get each subdivision?

That's a worthwhile exercise -- but not what was desired on this particular page.


In classic violin play, you change bow direction every single note unless explicitly indicated otherwise. This isn't an accordion. There is a reason right-handed people do the bowing with the right hand and the fingering with the left.

If you think quarter notes without particular speed indication are fast, you are in for some surprise...

  • Left handed people also do the bowing with the right hand and the fingering with the left. I'm not sure what point you are trying to make there - there are plenty of good left-handed violinists around! (Left handed pianists don't buy pianos that are a mirror image of the standard ones, either.) The bowing marked for the second line of the exercise is a good clue that you are supposed to use alternating up and down bows, one bow stroke per note. This should have been explained earlier in the book - maybe you missed it..
    – user19146
    Commented Aug 24, 2017 at 8:36
  • @alephzero Just a polite FYI left-handed violins are a thing! Commented Aug 24, 2017 at 11:03
  • There may be a reason right-handed people bow with the right hand, but it has nothing to do with this question. Commented Aug 24, 2017 at 11:30
  • @GeorgeTian I knew that already, but you won't find any professional orchestral players who play left handed, for example. IMHO selling left-handed violins is just a way for the unscrupulous to make a profit out of political correctness (or "differently abledness" as some people would insist on calling it!) - especially if the parents of the left handed wannabe violinist have more money than sense.
    – user19146
    Commented Aug 24, 2017 at 13:51
  • The occasional player who makes a religion out of being left-handed sets up a 'backwards' violin. It involves more than reversing the bridge and re-stringing, there's the sound post and bass bar to re-position too. And there's really no point.
    – Laurence
    Commented Aug 24, 2017 at 14:48

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