Precursor Games

A way for students to learn the tendencies of the bow is to have them bounce the bow vertically in different areas of the bow. The bow is easiest to control in the middle.

As the bow moves towards the frog there is less bounce. Near the frog the bow will not bounce. As the bow moves towards the tip, there is more bounce. There is plenty of bounce at the tip but it is hard to control.

Another approach to become familiar with the bouncing bow is to let the bow bounce freely in the hand while moving in a down bow direction. This is called ricochet or more informally, “bow dribbles.” This game helps students learn to relax the bow hand and not squeeze, to hold the bow lightly but tightly.

Learning Spiccato — Holding the Bow at the Balance Point

A simple way to introduce the spiccato bow stroke that results in success for many students is to hold the bow at the balance point. The bow should make contact with the string close to the hand, between the balance point and the middle of the bow. This location is called the camber point. Begin with small vertical bounces, gradually moving in a horizontal motion. Describe this motion to students as brushing or painting the string.

Let the hand rest frequently when learning spiccato, and practice it daily at varying tempos.

Once students can produce a quality spiccato while holding the bow at the balance point, have them gradually move their bow hold back towards the frog while playing spiccato.

When playing the brush stroke, the stick of the bow may be tilted toward the scroll so the side hairs will strike the string first.

Learning the Spiccato — Controlling the Bounce with Drops and Rebounds

Once the bow is able to bounce freely in the hand with a completely relaxed hold try controlling the bounce.

Let the bow bounce 8 times in the down bow direction, then an up bow.

Next let the bow do 4 downs, then an up.

Next let the bow do 2 downs, then an up.

Finally, try bouncing down - up.

Think of spiccato as a drop and a rebound.

Start with a single drop and rebound. Gradually increase the number of drops and rebounds.

Common Issues with Spiccato

Watch for these common problems:

The angle of the bow to the string should be perpendicular for the best sound.

The contact points of the bow hair and the string need to be consistent.

Height and width of the bounce must be consistent.

Watch the tip of the bow as an indicator of bounce consistency.


Spiccato is an off-the-string bow stroke. It is called a variety of different names depending on the speed, character, and musical context, including: controlled bounce, bouncing bow, brushstroke, thrown bow, saltando, or sautille, The bowing prerequisites to learning spiccato are control of the detaché and martelé strokes.

Playing spiccato requires curved fingers, and a relaxed bow hand, free from tension so the bow may bounce with a consistent tone and steady rhythm. A teacher should review the basic strokes and bow hold when introducing spiccato.

All spiccato involves a combination of vertical and horizontal motion. The more vertical the bow stroke, the sharper and percussive a note will sound. The more horizontal the bow stroke, the rounder and softer a note will sound. If the quality of sound desired is very short and percussive, very little horizontal motion needs to be added. Giving greater emphasis to the horizontal motion will give greater substance to the tone.