Violent Echniques Challenge!

We’re all about violence violins here at Arslanian Learning. To that end, we have a special challenge for young violinists. In this video I will show you five essential techniques that you need to have in your tool kit. Then, at the end, I’ll issue a challenge to you.

1. Pizzicato

This quirky Italian word conveys its meaning in the way it sounds. To execute a pizzicato, place the thumb of your right hand against the edge of your fingerboard. If you have your bow in your hand, make a fist so that the metal screw of the bow doesn’t hit the wood of the violin. With your middle finger, pluck the string. Leopold Mozart says you should use the index finger, but I find that uncomfortable, so you can choose what works best for you. You need to pull with some force to make a sound, but don’t overdo it.

When a composer wants you to use pizzicato, you will see “pizz.” written above the music. Once the pizzicato section ends, you will see “arco”, which means you must go back to using your bow. Here is a whole orchestra playing a piece entirely in pizzicato. It’s, fun, absurd and a favourite of orchestras everywhere:

2. Col Legno

This phrase comes from the combination of “co” meaning “with” and “legion” meaning “tree” or “wood”. Hold your bow in a fist and turn it over so that the wood is facing down. This probably goes against everything you’ve learnt so far. Now, tap the strings gently with the wood. It sounds like some tiny creature scuttling around the room. When composers want players to use Col Legno, they will indicate this by writing the words above the relevant section of the music. To make them go back to playing with their bows the right way, the composer will write “arco”.

3. Tremolo

To do this one, your hand has to “tremble” to make the bow move rapidly up and down the string. To set up for a tremolo, get your bow on the string at the tip. You will only use the upper quarter of your bow for this. Lean hard with your index finger on the bow and do some short strokes up and down. You can use a metronome to help you keep to a beat. When you’re comfortable, go faster. Then, go faster again, until you produce that shimmering, chaotic sound. Watch the strings in this famous piece:

Tremolo notes have their own notation. It’s important that you understand that there is a difference between fast semiquavers and tremolo. In classical music particularly, semiquavers must be carefully counted and measured, even if they’re quick. Tremolo is specifically for unmeasured repetitions: basically, as fast as you can! The notation for tremolo is three lines through the note stem. Take note! If there are only two lines through the note stem, you must play measured semiquavers.

4. Glissando

You can make people laugh with this one. Place your first finger, then begin to move the bow across the string. At the same time, move the finger up and down the fingerboard. Make sure you take your thumb with you. You should hear a sliding sound. It’s great for cartoon effects. It was used memorably by the great baroque composer Biber to impersonate a cat:

When composers want you to do a glissando, they will usually indicate the starting and ending pitches, with a squiggly line between them, like this:

5. Harmonics

Your strings have a number of “magic spots” on them, where you can produce an eerie, hollow sound. This is called a harmonic. The first one you learn is the one exactly half way up the string. Creep up the fingerboard and stretch out your fourth finger. Lay it gently on the string. Don’t push down. You will know you’re in the right place when you hear the characteristic whistle sound. If you’re not in the right place, it will sound horrible, so brace yourself! If you want to learn more about the science involved, check out this link.

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