Bowing for Swing Violin
I am often asked what bow strokes to use on the violin for jazz. There aren’t really any imposed bowings since we’re talking about improvised music! So the good news and the bad news is that you can choose your own bowing patterns! Having to choose your own bow strokes, of course, is a difficulty in itself…
So there is freedom, but to get a swing feel, it is still advisable to follow a few basic rules. At the same time, also favor maximum comfort in movement, and try to find the bow strokes with which you are most comfortable. This often results in very personal bowing!
A few basic rules
Jazz phrasing is a mixture of détaché eighth notes, double legati, legati, long notes (half notes for example) that complete an end of a phrase. We always try to choose bow strokes that seem technically comfortable to us while respecting these basic rules.
Here are some techniques to use:
Regarding détaché bowing in a swung feel (where the beat is as though divided into triplets with the first two eighths on the downbeat and the third on the upbeat) try to keep the following bow strokes: down bow on the downbeat, and up bow on the syncopation. The longer note in a syncopated pattern is on the downbeat, and the shorter, syncopated note is on the upbeat. Since both of these use the same length of bow, it causes a natural accent on the upbeat, which is the desired effect.
We are going to try to tie the triple eighth notes, but from the upbeat to the downbeat and not the other way around. Indeed, the fact of tying in pairs from the syncopation gives the accent to the upbeat, and thus we will have more swing! Indeed, accenting the downbeat by tying the downbeat to the upbeat would have less swing and would sound heavier.
You can also tie more notes together, for example in threes at the end of a bar if you don’t want to tie in twos because of a change of strings.
Sometimes use ghost notes to make quarter notes: instead of making them with a longer bow stroke, divide the beat into triplets again. Start with the first two triple eighth notes as a “voiced” note and the second on an upbow as a ghost note. This gives a jazzier feel.
Pick up a solo
A good exercise would be to learn a solo of an instrument other than the violin and try to use the bow strokes you prefer, while keeping these guidelines in mind. And if you’re learning the solos of other violinists, try to see what bowings they use by watching their videos.
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