Have you been wanting to learn more about violin extended techniques?
In this article we will explore the violin’s library of sounds Aleksey Igudesman brings to his performances in this lesson on violin extended techniques.
Read on to find out more — and click here to watch the associated lesson for FREE inside tonebase.
Scratches and switches
How can we expand the range of sounds that we produce on the violin? Let’s walk through several extended techniques and look at how to execute them.
First is the “Piazzola scratch” (commonly known as the “chicharra” in Tango nuevo). Translated into English, this word means “cricket” or “cicada” as the resulting sound is very similar to sounds made by these bugs. Play on the colored part of the D string with a heavy hand for a penetrating sound, and scratch side-to-side. Try a wide variety of rhythms.
Building on this is a scratch across the colored part of all four strings in one stroke. Other techniques include:
- A “swish” parallel to the strings
- Holding the bow like a baseball bat (pictured left)
- A “grunt” made by pulling the bow toward you across the strings (pictured right)
A sound that’s typical of Tango is an ascending whistle. Begin with a slow slide on the E string that turns into a rapid ascent. Try wavering the pitch up and down as you slide, evoking a more comical slide whistle, or even trying to create a “cat call” sound effect.
Tambor is a common Tango technique where the nail of your left hand touches the string, and you perform a pizzicato with the right hand. The sound should be very dry, without any harmonics.
Play a descending glissando from any high note on the E string, and then abruptly slide your finger off the string to simulate a mousetrap! Eek!!
There is a lot of music we can still play with a small bow! Shorter and faster phrases will work much better than long, flowery ones. Since it’s somewhat more difficult to use, it may be valuable to work on your music with it and then return to a normal-sized bow.
For a really wacky experiment, Igudesman can take a milk frother and weave a plastic cable strip through the tip to create a substitute for the bow. If you are sure that only plastic is touching your strings, then it is quite safe!
Harmonics (also called “flageolets” on violin) are the natural overtones that result from any vibrating string. On the violin, we can divide the string by a half, a third, a quarter, and beyond to obtain harmonics one octave, a fifth, and two octaves above the open string’s pitch, respectively.
We can also play artificial harmonics on the violin with two fingers. This means we are using one finger to hold down the string and another with a soft touch to sound the harmonic. Most commonly, the two fingers are a fourth apart. Artificial harmonics work on any note on the violin, raising the pitch by several octa
This is a technique where the bow is lowered on the strings abruptly to create a percussive sound. Invented in modern practice by bluegrass fiddler Richard Greene, the method was developed and improved by players such as Darol Anger and Tracy Silverman in the Turtle Island string quartet to imitate the sound of the drum set, first for use in jazz, but later to rock and other styles. The height of the bow in the air is determined by tempo – a higher bow is more apt for a slower tempo. At a faster speed, you want the motion to be compact.
Try to jump around with tempo in your practicing; instead of moving up in small increments, try going from slow to fast to medium and back to slow.
Now that we’ve gone over all of these violin extended techniques, you should be a step closer to expressing yourself in the most unconventional ways.
If you’d like to watch the lesson on this topic for free, just click here.
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