Master violin spiccato at any speed (video)

You can jump high and slow, or low and fast!
You can jump high and slow, or low and fast!

Sooner or later as a violinist, you have to come to grips with spiccato. Some folks have it easy: their bows just seems to bounce on their own. But most violinists struggle for months, years even, to get their bows to do what they want when they want!
Maybe you find yourself stuck somewhere in the middle: you can play spiccato, but you only have one reliable speed. Perhaps you can play different speeds now and then, but rarely when it counts.

The key relationship

Never fear! I have a method for developing violin spiccato at any tempo. After some practice, you’ll be able to dial in any tempo at a moment’s notice. The key is understanding the relationship between bounce height and speed.
Just like a ball bouncing on the floor. Or… a happy family on a trampoline at sunset?
I lay it all out for you here:

Did you try the steps in my video? How did they work for you? Let me know in the comments below!

22 thoughts on “Master violin spiccato at any speed (video)”

    1. Thank you for the video. It is helpful.
      I have a question though. Your faster spiccato seems to be a sautillé as at 10:18 in the video (the beginning of Tchaikovsky 3rd movement) with most of the movement coming from the wrist, as opposed to the arm, as in the slower Spiccato and with the bounce coming from the bow, not gravity. As I am trying to become more confident in both bowstrokes, can you distinguish the mechanism of each? Also, do you have favourite etudes to practice spiccato and sautillé?

      1. Hi Ron, it’s true that as the spiccato gets faster it blends into what most people call sautillé. However, I’ve never found it very helpful to separate the two strokes. I think of them as I would bouncing that basketball: as it gets lower to the ground, you will naturally use less arm movement. But it isn’t really a separate technique, more of a continuous line or spectrum. My favorite etudes for spiccato are generally the same as for detaché: things like Kreutzer 2 or 8, which include some string crossings. To make them easier to begin with, you might play 4 spiccato notes for every note on the page. Then 3, 2, and finally single notes. This helps build the coordination for string crossings since that’s a major challenge with spiccato.

  1. Thanks Nathan! Your video is wonderful and I look forward to watching it with my students! I use the image of dribbling a basketball to discuss how the bow rebounds. Just as I don’t have to carry a ball back up after dropping it , I don’t have to physically work hard to make the bow bounce once I set it in motion. Now I can add the height and speed of dribbling to discuss various tempi! ( hmmm- Would be fun if we could get one of the UK basketball players to video a demo? !)
    Thanks again!!
    Margie

    1. That would be awesome! I remember that when I was just starting out with Dan (Mason, my second violin teacher) and trying to get any spiccato at all to “click”, the basketball metaphor was what finally did it. There was something I really had experience with!

  2. I seem to develop a lot of tiredness?/tension? in my upper arm as I try to move the spiccato up in speed. I try to relax it, but it doesn’t seem to happen. I feel like I need my entire arm to do each stroke, and this is very tiring. Wondering if you had any suggestions.

    1. I feel a transition from “whole arm” to just hand the faster the stroke becomes. See Margie’s comment below about physically bouncing a ball. If you do have some kind of ball around, for example a basketball, try it for yourself and see how when the ball gets low enough (and fast enough) it becomes more of a hand exercise than the whole arm. See if that helps you on your way!

  3. Thank you Nathan! After applying the bouncing ball principle, I now feel I am well on my way to having a spiccato that I can control!
    Thanks for facilitating this breakthrough !

  4. Thank you for your video. I enjoyed it. Is it true that spiccato is best played at the balance point of the bow? From the video, it appears that you prefer the middle of your bow for spiccato. And, how loose or tense is the right arm/wrist/elbow during the average spiccato stroke? Should they be mostly locked or super free-flowing and loose, or perhaps something in between?

    1. The balance point (if you mean where the bow would truly balance on one finger!) is usually too low for an easy spiccato. I’ve noticed that I’m often a bit higher in the bow than most players for my spiccato; that could be my particular bows as well. But generally middle of the bow, unless you’re looking for a more aggressive and louder stroke, which would be lower half.
      As far as looseness, it’s like most other aspects of playing, which is to say that it’s a combination and therefore difficult to verbalize. You probably know that a muscle can only be contracted or not: there’s no partial contraction. So what we’re really talking about are how many muscles or groups are involved. You can’t do it with everything locked, nor with everything loose.
      If I had to generalize, most players I see (if they’re having trouble with spiccato) are too loose (or “long”) in the fingers, and/or too loose in the wrist. The first suggestion I have for most players is to “pick up” the bow in the fingers to build in more resistance there.

  5. Patrick Beauchemin

    Thank you. I’m new to your site so that I don’t want to comment to intensively. But – even at this early stage – everything you post is useful, and appreciated.
    Thanks again!
    P

  6. Thank you so much for your informative videos and articles! I have looked to them as a great way to maintain my technique and practicing. I appreciate your work and effort and hope you continue to publish more great work!
    All my best!

  7. Hi Nathan.
    Great videos and explanations!
    One question: how would you practice those “half speeds” between controlled spiccato and sautillé (say 4 notes with metronome at 100 beats per sec)?

    1. Those can be tricky. I still treat them as a “rebound” stroke, where the resilience of the stick and the string do the work for you. I find that most people actually don’t have enough firmness in the fingers for those speeds. If you try with just a closed fist around the bow, you should be able to do those just about as well as with a normal bow hold. That will show you how little flex you need in the fingers as long as your contact point is good and you’ve found the “bounce point” of your bow.

  8. Thanks for another very helpful video Nate.
    I’m a middle-aged amateur violinist who somehow missed out on learning all of the staccato and off-string bowings. I had a great teacher but he didn’t think it was important for me to learn the full spectrum of staccato. Now I have a different teacher and I’ve become proficient at the rudiments of upbow stacatto and spicatto. I’ve learned Kreisler’s Schoen Rosmarin which, as you know, incorporates both of these strokes. So now I wonder what other pieces I might explore that would also require these bowings. Not etudes, I know a number of them which are good for practice, but pieces from the repertoire which I might try next. Any suggestions would be much appreciated.
    Thanks

    1. Well, Paganini’s Moto Perpetuo is a great one to test your spiccato mettle! Also another Kreisler, his Variations on a theme by Corelli…

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