I'm currently playing some sonatas written by Marcello for violoncello on bassoon instead, and stumble upon markings, which indicate up-bow and down-bow. Can these safely be ignored or is there some sort of emphasis or accentuation I should try to achieve instead?

A cello player told me, that the effect on intonation is very minor, which supports the idea of ignoring them.

  • I can relate. My son is practicing Saint Saëns' Allegro Appasionato (written for cello) on bassoon right now. I think it's the other markings it would be more helpful to understand, such as slurs, dots and lines. The downs and the ups I think you can pretty generally ignore. Perhaps listening to a few pieces by Marcello would help get your ear calibrated to the general style. Oct 27, 2017 at 11:40

4 Answers 4


Up- vs. downbow definitely has no (intended) influence on intonation, but it does have an influence on accentuation. In fact, the 𝆪 and 𝆫 symbols were originally not meant as bow markings at all, but just the letters n and v, denoting nobilis for important notes and vilis for lesser ones.

On string instruments, the former would then generally be taken as “I must use down stroke for this”, and over time that became the accepted meaning. For classical and romantic music the old meaning is obselete, but if these markings were written by Benedetto Marcello (which I wouldn't take for granted, such markings are often only added later by other people) then I would actually read the “down bow” marking as a weak accent/tenuto, and the “up bow” as a de-emphasizing hint.


The natural tendency of the bow is to have stronger sound near the frog and more controllable and generally softer sound at the tip. A good violinist will of course compensate. Nevertheless, as a rule of thumb one prefers a downbow on a note with downbeat character and an upbow on phrases with upbeat (anacrusis) character.

So if you wanted to give an impression of the bowing directions, you'd likely be a bit more "plosive", breaking into the tone with more lip pressure (sorry, just guessing as I am not a woodwind player myself) for downbow instructions, and be more like mellowing into the tone (and then getting stronger, maybe imagine sucking rather than blowing air, a bit of a singer's imagery obviously not making physical sense) for upbow.

This only makes sense for bowing instructions obviously intended for acoustic effect rather than general bowing management.

It's best to check with the Urtext for bowing instructions written by the original composer rather than whatever the editor considered "helpful" in order to figure out the difference between intended effect and execution suggestion.


While you only asked about bowings, there are a variety of other string-only markings which may come into play. And that's ignoring the double- and triple- an quadruple-stops :-) .

I ran into the problem of dealing with tremolo once. My instinct was to (on clarinet, but same idea) play the fastest, least plosive tongued sequence possible, and was surprised to see other clarinetists playing a trill. I asked the music director, and he said it's difficult -- the ideal situation would be, instead of trilling to an upper note, trill between two alternate fingerings of the note itself.

In the end, we just have to recognize that different instruments are capable of different behaviors, and try to perform the piece in a way that's both demonstrative of our own instrument and true to the composer's original intent.

  • Not all notes (at least for clarinets) of woodwind instruments have alternate fingerings.
    – Dekkadeci
    Oct 19, 2017 at 13:37
  • @Dekkadeci as a former single-reed player (clarinets and saxes), I'm painfully aware of that problem. Oct 19, 2017 at 13:55

A downbow can imply an accent. An upbow starts a phrase with perhaps less emphasis. But don't make too big a deal out of it. As a wind player, you can run out of breath. You need technical strategies to deal with this. A string player can run out of bow. He needs to organize this aspect of his technique. That doesn't mean each downbow is a big accent.

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