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Spiccato Music Definition Essay

Spiccato and sautille

February 21, 2008 at 07:06 AM · Sometimes I see some confusion between both and would like to get it cleared up. Also in some music sheets I see notes that have dots on the top while others have arrow-head signs. What should be the technique?

Replies (76)

February 22, 2008 at 08:43 AM · I have never seen Sautille not leave the string. The only time that happens (and it quite simply is not Sautille), is when a player cannot control the speed and weight of the stick and coordinate it with their left hand. So, they do a sort of rapid sawing detache which completely lacks the mildly percussive character and articulation of sautille. I go to many Cleveland Orchestra (and Montreal Symphony Orchestra) concerts, and you will always see their bows bouncing in sautille passages. It is also true of every soloist I've ever seen.

I guess there really is a debate about the bow jumping. Maybe the definition is different in Japan.

"Sautille", derivative of the french verb "to jump". Jumping implies leaving the ground, if only for a split second.


There's a clip from the website of noted pedagogue Kurt Sassmannshaus. He makes the bouncing part of Sautille quite clear. I suppose he's mistaken.

You make a sautille by playing a fast detache in a part of the bow that is less stable. The fast motion combined with the instability point in the bow makes a bounce, therefore it leaves the string. That's how it's been explained to me, and what I've observed.

Please Buri, correct me where I'm wrong.

February 22, 2008 at 12:58 PM · I thought I'd consult a book I have called "Le Violon" to see if there were any definitions given for spiccato and sautillé. The book was written in 1987 by Alberto Conforti, original in Italian with a preface by Salvadore Accardo.

There's a glossary at the back with these definitions (my translation into English):

"Sautillé: rapid bowing obtained in making the bow bounce lightly on the string with much suppleness and precision; sautillé is performed in a reduced portion of the middle of the bow".

"Spiccato: a bowing close to sautillé but employed in less rapid passages, which permits lifting the bow between each note; It is performed with a small portion of the middle of the bow."

There's a page at the back with different extracts to illustrate various bowings. For spiccato it is the 8th notes beginning of 3rd movt. Mendelssohn (9 bars into the molto vivace), and for sautillé the book sticks to the Italian equivalent term saltellato and gives an extract from the Tchaikovsky VC 1st movt. passage poco piu mosso marked p 24 notes continuous to the bar/measure.

On the point of translating the French verb "sautiller" into English, Bescherelle gives sauter = to jump, and sautiller = to hop. Ditto for a large Collins Eng/Fr dictionary i have. The Collins gives a definition of the adjective "sautillant" in the musical sense as bouncy, bouncing.

February 22, 2008 at 03:41 PM · Pieter,

Once again, I'm afraid that your getting into a semantic discussion. About sautille, yes, the bow does jump or bounce. However, the bow does not really leave the string. To do this stroke you have to find the place on the bow where it will bounce naturally (every bow is different, but it usually is somewhere near the middle of the bow or a little higher than the middle). The sautille is done with the wrist and fingers. The movement is somewhat like erasing a mistake with a pencil.

When done correctly, the bow will bounce by itself even though you are keeping the bow on string. You will see a definite bounce and hear a definite articulation.

Spiccato is a slower stroke and usually done in the middle or lower in the bow towards the frog. Here, you do lift the bow off the string.


As far as your question goes,

It depends on the music you are playing, probably I would say tempo will have something to do with whether you use spiccato or sautille. Character of the music will also play a part in your decision.

February 23, 2008 at 07:38 PM · Sautille is done using a shoulder rest, spiccato is done without using one. Prunes are to be eaten in either instance. Case closed.

Sorry I couldn't resist given the fury of previous debates on this site.

Seriously though, perhaps the following will provide food for thought.

Referring to Galamian's book,

"Principles of Violin Playing and Teaching" he writes on page 77 describing sautille:

"This is another jumping bowing, which is distinguished from the spiccato by the fact that there is no 'individual' lifting and dropping of the bow for each note. The task of jumping is left principally to the resiliency of the stick"

Further along, he elucidates:

"To practice the sautille, start with a small and fairly fast detache near the middle of the bow, then turn the stick perpendicular above the hair so that all of the hair contacts the string. Hold the bow lightly and center the action in the fingers which perform a combination of the vertical and horizontal finger motions in an 'oblique' direction about half way between these two movements. To this is added a similar combination of vertical and horizontal actions in the hand which follows passively. For the sautille, the forearm is slightly more pronated than for the spiccato, and the balance point of the hand rests entirely on the index finger, with the second and third fingers only slightly touching the bow. the fourth finger, which is very active in spiccato in balancing the bow, has no function at all in the sautille and has to remain completely passive without any pressure on the stick."

Applebaum, in his book, The Art and Science of String Performance" defines sautille as "a springing stroke derived from the SMALL DETACHE, played around the middle of the bow" and suggests practicing it as follows "play a smooth detache around the middle of the bow on a single note with only the hand and fingers. This may also be introduced on a double-stop on two open strings. There will be a passive action of the lower arm, but a concentration on the activity of the hand itself. Gradually allow the small detache to be played faster and faster. if the hand is relaxed enough, the bow will rebound of its own momentum."

In addressing the issue of balance of the right hand and where the weight of the hand is placed doing sautille, Applebaum writes:

"You may be able to get a fine bounce by allowing the center of balance or weight to be on the first finger. The lower part of the finger, between the base knuckle and the middle joint should be at right angles to the bow stick. Some pupils manage to get a better bounce by applying more weight of the hand to the little finger. For many players, it is advisable that the tip of the first finger relax its hold on the stick."

Finally, when asked to describe a sautille glissando (like the kind used in the Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso on the high E descending chromatically before the upward scale leading to the return of the main rondo theme) he writes:

" In the sautille glissando the bow springs off the string exactly as it would in the regular sautille."

February 24, 2008 at 06:13 PM · For what it is worth, this is the way I teach spiccato and sautille


1. Performed in the middle to lower part of the bow.

2. The hand is in down bow position.suppination) fingers curved, balancing the weight of the tip of the bow with the little finger.

3. On the down bow the bow is dropped onto the string, on the up bow the bow is lifted.

4. Initially the student should swing his arm in a big, arc-like motion, rather like a pendulum. Start with big arcs and gradually make the arc smaller and smaller, which will increase the speed of the spicatto.

5. The action of the fingers is neither passive, nor too active. To demonstrate that the fingers merely respond to the bow’s encounter with the string:

1. Tell the student to hold the bow vertically in the air. Then tell him to gently bump the center bout of the violin against the bow. If the fingers are flexible and passive, the bow will rebound and fall back to the violin, and the fingers will remain passive.

2. Then instruct the student to bump the e string against the bow, recreating the same feeling.

6. To demonstrate the active finger motion (Dounis exercise):

1. Hold a pencil in your hand in bowing position

2. Push the pencil down with the first, then the 4th finger. Do not move the forearm.

3. Do the same with the bow in the hand (holding it at the balance point if you wish).

4. Then drop the bow on the G string, down bow. On the rebound lift the bow upward: the tip of the bow drops. On the up bow, peck the bow on the E string . On the rebound lift the bow upward: the tip of the bow goes up. Use large figure eight motions to begin with, gradually decrease the motion.

5. Do the same as #4, but stay on the G string.

7. To demonstrate the amount of finger activity and to achieve a feeling of control, tell the student to practice spicatto on the side of the violin (on the center bout).

8. If the student's wrist is too rigid, or to achieve the feeling of a "weightless" bow, tell the student to "cradle" the bow at the balance point, without the thumb. Then add the thumb and attempt the spicatto. The student should then move back to the normal playing position, recreating the same feeling in his hand. The bow exerts more weight against the little finger when held at the frog.

Sautillé (very fast spiccato)

1. Performed a few inches above the balance point of the bow.

2. The fingers are in down bow position. The hands is at right angles to the bow.

3. Use an up and down wrist motion. The motion is the same as tapping, or knocking on a door. There should be no arm movement, except for changing string levels.

4. The student should practice the tapping motion with his hands on a table, without the bow, and then with the bow.

5. Hold the bow firmly.

6. The bow remains on the string, but the stick bounces. If the bow stroke is done correctly the tip of the bow will move up and down.

7. Beware of lifting the elbow, this will put you into up bow position.

8. The principle of this bowing may initially be taught with the hand in up bow position. If done properly, the tip of the bow will not go up and down, but will remain on one plane. This bowing is called the eraser stroke.

February 25, 2008 at 08:38 PM · To Nate and Pieter,

While it is true that Perlman and other players are able to perform hideously fast string crossings with a stroke that bounces, and may not even think about the different definitions of their strokes, the very concept that a sautille is different than a spiccatto is very useful pedagogical concept.

Recently I coached a college student who wasn't qble to play the fast notes in Ziegunerweisen fast enough, and it was because her concept was wrong: she simply thought she had to take her standard bounce and do it faster. It was when I showed her that it was a different way of thinking altogether that she got it. The hand motion itself is different: instead of a U shape at a slow bounce, the hand describes an almost vertical motion for a sautille.

Lyman Bodman in his "Essays on Violin Pedagogy" echos Galamian and Paul Rolland when he advises that the first step is a "condensed fast short detache almost scratching the string, but with the bow moving slightly on a vertical oblique to the plane of the string..."

Pieter, I didn't find your statement of what the Cleveland Orchestra members do to be convincing (and I grew up sitting in those same student rush seats as you do and remember when Steven Geber had his hair, and when Dan Majeske's was jet black). For one thing, what repertoire were they playing? The stroke at the bottom of the first page of Don Juan will be more off the string than one used in the Bartered Bride. The opening 16th notes in Schubert's 5th Symphony demand a very soft on-the-string stroke that just almost bounces but not quite. Perhaps someday you'll get in, and you can say "we in the Cleveland Orchestra..."

February 27, 2008 at 06:19 PM · Hello everyone. I'm new member here, but i've read the issue discussed here about difference between spiccato and sautille. I think the answer lies on the bow it self. Spiccato mainly used when we play music from the time of Mozart, and sautille will be played mostly at the time after him. So as we could observe, the bow at Mozart time is lighter in its weight rather than our modern bow, which found its shape at the early of 19th century. Our modern bows are made of heavier wood. So at Mozart time, when the player wanted to perform bouncing effect on their bow off the string, they have to give more pressure on the bow, because it's light. This will result in spiccato. While after that time, the weight of the bow increased significantly, so it help the player bounce the bow with smaller effort than in spiccato. This will result in sautille. I think we could conclude that sautille is a kind of spiccato without too much effort. Of course, because it's a kind of spiccato, the bow will bounce, and the hair will be off the string also. But because the wooden stick is heavy, it doesn't take high bounce to do it. About why some players cannot achieve hair-off jumping when they play sautille, it clearly depends on the weight of the bow. The sautille character of the bow is unique, different bow will result in different sautille effect. Heavier bow will produce clear sautille bounce and vice versa. I suggest also the role of rosin in sautille bouncing. The stickier the rosin, the higher the bounce, because when the bow moves across the string, and the rosin tends to stick the hair on the string, making a constraint to it, while at the same time we force the bow to move, the bow will react to "jumping off the string".

February 28, 2008 at 04:33 PM · Hi Djuned-Ageng,

Welcome! It's nice to have you here. I'm afraid, though, I need to clear up a few misconceptions in your post.

First: "Spiccato mainly used when we play music from the time of Mozart, and sautille will be played mostly at the time after him."

This is not the case. Spiccato strokes are used in music from all periods: in baroque pieces through to contemporary compositions. You're partially right in saying that we don't see much sautille until later, but it certainly isn't the primary off-the-string stroke in music after 1800.

The other misconception is that a heavier bow bounces more easily/higher than a lighter bow. How a bow reacts depends on many things: the stiffness/flexibility of the stick, how it's balanced, the cambre, etc. etc.. I think it's easy to understand this when you try to guess comparative weights of bows while holding them in your hand - not easy at all.

February 28, 2008 at 10:27 PM · Pieter,

I'd like to clarify asomething. When I said "poor examples" for Tchaikovsky and the Mozart Rondo, I was agreeing with you: my bow would leave the string as well.

However, I'd like to make another point as well. I'm going to assume that you, as a student at CIM, are elite. That is, you can do things that 90% of the rest of the violin students in the country cannot do. The problem is that the vast majority of violins students have flaws, either in control, set up, or simple talent. The quandary that I am in as a teacher, and one you will find yourself in as well later on in life, is "how do I get this student to solve this problem?"

I'll go back to the Wieniawsky A-minor Caprice, using myself as an example. I have a good spicatto, but if I had to perfom this in public, it's unlikely I could take the bow off the string successfully, at least in the opening (I'd have better success in other passages towards the end). So what do I do? I play a sautille, leave it on the string, and still get the speed and articulation. The same with many fast passages in the Vivaldi 4 Seasons: too fast to either bounce or play detache, so the on-the-string sautille provides articulation without the player getting behind everyone else.

While you're also right that most Galamian or Delay students can play everything off the string, the fact is that they can do things most people can't. A good example is the ricochet bowing in Paganini 5. I'll bet a few on this forum can do it, but I can't, so I'll resort to something else. Your point of view as a talented and technically capable student may be "how did Heifetz do it? Can I do it that way" is different than mine: "Many people in my orchestra can't do this bowing. What else will work?" or "this student can't do it--what's the next option?" Your viewpoint is idealistic, mine is pragmatic for my situation.

I'd suggest that thinking of a sautille as being on the string may well work for many people who have had no success attempting to always get air.

Just one more point: I don't think whether or not the bow leaves the string depends on tempo alone. It has has also to do with character. The Schubert 5th excerpt is an example of 16th notes that are really not very fast, but will sound good with the bow on the string, especially in a dry hall. In a less-than-great orchestra, asking people to actually let it bounce off the string may, as it would in my orchestra, be asking for trouble.


February 29, 2008 at 03:20 AM · Jim... a number of violinists have used viola bows, like Shlomo Mintz who has one of the most insanely virutosic bow arms of any violinist. In fact, there aren't many violinists who can rival his off the string techniques, and he certainly has done all that with a viola bow.

There's also a few violists who use Voirin and other lighter cello bows.

A few people have said that it depends on your bow... that really isn't true. Any bow, even the worst ones, bounce. In fact, you can probably make a cheap $20 fiberglass bow bounce easier than a good pernambuco one. You learn how to play with your bow. Yes there are different balance points and characteristics, but it has absolutely nothing to do with your equipment. That's like saying "my violin can't do double harmonics".

I don't think that this would make me or anyone elite. Anyone can do it if they work on it. It exposes a problem in coordination, and it's an important problem to solve because it's a fundamental issue, not something like having no stacatto which is apparently just having bad luck.

March 1, 2008 at 01:17 PM · Hi,

My, my, my how words can get confusing... My own two cents?

Both strokes end up being OFF, but the origin of the start is different. In a sautillé, the bow starts on the string. It bounces at the point of instability, with the bow doing the work rather than the player. In a spiccato, it is more like Buri said of a controlled stroke. Here the bow is lifted by the player, rather than by it's natural bounce. It can start from on or off the string.

In a sautillé, one sees a different plane in the bow arm than in a spiccato. The elbow is lower and the plane is flatter, the distance from the string being very, very small - varies from bow to bow.

With a spiccato, one has to suspend the elbow/arm above the string. The bow is brought down to the string by a combination of the arm, fingers and wrist making a pendular motion (a kind of half-moon shape). The stroke still has to be horinzontal in motion (not too vertical) or like Szeryng said, it would sound percussive.

Hope this helps...


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