So recently I realized that I tend to do just one note per bow stroke for everything I play.

I was taking a look at how violinists played, particularly with Fur Elise, which begins something like E,D#,E,D#,E,B,D... I noticed that on their first long bow stroke, they play all or most of these initial notes. Me, on the other hand, happen to do about 7 short bow strokes (one for each note).

So I thought that I should do the same and attempt to play as many notes as possible in a single bow stroke.

Bang - I have terrible coordination and failed terribly.

So now I'm here, asking if there is actually a technical reason behind this multiple-notes-in-one-stroke behavior or if it is purely for looking like a pro XD.


The reason you would want to play more than one note per bow stroke is to give it articulation. An example of two different sounds an articulation could make are: making the notes sound more separated or making them sound smoothly connected.

The technique in general is called bowing. You can find a list of many of these here.

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    -1: More than one note per bow stroke would give you a legato, connected sound, not a separated one. – NReilingh Feb 4 '13 at 0:08
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    @NReilingh, reread my statement, I did not say that one note per bow stroke would give legato. – Reina Abolofia Feb 7 '13 at 18:19
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    In your first two sentences, I read "you would want to play more than one note per bow stroke ... making the notes sound more separated". I am saying this (>1 note/bow = separated) is incorrect, and that the opposite (>1 note/bow = legato; 1 note/bow = separated) is true. Even if the second sentence is only meant to be an example of what articulation is, I maintain my -1 for reason of the answer being confusing. – NReilingh Feb 7 '13 at 22:32
  • Articulation doesn't just mean separation. Having said that, the sense of these sentences might be worth an edit... – Iain Hallam Feb 13 '13 at 20:22

The difference is the sound-playing multiple notes with one bow sounds smooth, whereas bowing each note gives more definition to each note.

They are both techniques which need to be practiced as they are both useful.

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As Reina mentioned, it's all about articulation. Think of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star". Try singing it, while completely stopping your breathe between notes, "Taa Taa Taa Taa Taa Taa Taaaa", then "laa laa laa laa laa laa laaaa", and then do both again each in one breath. (Seriously, no one's lwatching/istening, just do it ;P ) The range of that "sharpness" from note to note between the Taa's and Laa's is similar to the range of articulation you get from staccato and legato bowing. And the difference between taking breaths in between is the same as changing bows in between.

Additionally, the tie (or 'slur') marking is sometimes used not for bowing, but for Phrasing. You'll even find a large phrase mark with bowing marks within.

As you may have noticed from the terms 'articulation' and 'phrasing', these are both are related to being expressive with your music. How do you want to articulate what you are saying with your music? How do you want to phrase what you are saying? Answering these questions when you approach a piece is what makes music greater than just pitches with rhythm.

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    Someone was watching when I did it :( – Omega Feb 4 '13 at 6:34
  • Well hey, a part of music is entertainment, right? Haha. Did it effectively illustrate the differences i was talking about? – asifrc Feb 4 '13 at 9:11

Suggested bowings are usually marked on most music, however with Fur Elise being an original piano composition, chances are that bowing may not be marked there. I wouldn't suggest doing all 7 notes in one bow like that in this piece. I've had a quick look at the music in Google images, and think separate bows would be better for this one.

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As pointed out already the piece in question was an original piano piece, so there's no "perfect" answer on this - Beethoven never specified a violin transcription! (At least, not as far as I know.)

At a basic level, playing more notes per bow stroke makes those notes smoother than playing them separately. However, as you note there's a practical limit on just how many notes you can sensibly play in the same bow stroke, and while this does increase somewhat with ability level you're never going to be able to play an infinite number of notes in one stroke - sometimes you have to split them up! With that in mind, if you can't comfortably do it in one stroke I'd say turn it into two strokes, and just attempt to smoothly join both of them. Nothing inherently wrong with that at all.

tl;dr The reason for doing it all in one stroke is that it makes it sound much more like one connected phrase, but if your ability level prevents you from sensibly doing that, nothing wrong with splitting it up.

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