Bowing Strokes - Détaché

This page © 2001 RDJH Westbury Park String School : V.1.20



A fundamental bowing stroke, ( also know as German détaché ) used in a very large portion of violin literature. It is played in the middle of the bow, with one note per bow used. Beware that détaché is not to be translated as detached or disconnected. That would be almost the opposite to its true meaning. The notes must be joined together, without breaks or gaps in between. The exact quantity of bow depends on whether one is playing a small concentrated stroke, a medium or a broad stroke. Also dynamics are deciding factor. The more bow used, the larger the amplitude of vibrating string, and the louder the volume. In all cases détaché must be played on the string. The bow hairs must adhere to the string as much as possible. The end result will be a singing tone that is held throughout the duration of a single note, right up to the end, and a seamless or uninterrupted continuation of tone as the next note is played.
The up bow must be as sonorous as the down bow. ( usually it is slightly less adherent to the string ). The best way to study détaché is to play very very slowly, ensuring all the bow hairs are catching the string, producing the correct amount of friction necessary to set the string in action.

Above : The forearm mechanics involved. Note how the angle between hand and forearm ( wrist ) changes. This wrist action is important, as it allows the forearm the freedom of movement necessary for this bowing stroke. Détaché is 85% forearm, the remaining motions produced by a good elasticity and softness in the fingers and hand. The right elbow is best kept immobilized to encourage the forearm to function, though later it must be allowed to remain passive and free.

The most common mistake in this bowing is to involve the upper arm too much. This error is caused by allowing the elbow to follow the hand during each stroke. From the diagram below it can be appreciated that keeping the elbow still is paramount when learning to use the wrist. The wrist should be extremely flexible, but beware a floppy and exaggerated wrist action that does not allow maximum string adherence. The correct wrist suppleness is very important in ensuring the bow sticks firmly to the strings


The 3 main components : Above ; the three lines represent from left to right : The upper arm, the forearm ( 3 lines ) , and the hand ( 3 lines ). The middle line ( where the forearm and hand are in a straight line ) represents the mid point of the détaché stroke. In some arms the square position ( from Galamian's definition ) of the forearm will coincide with the middle of the bow touching the string. Longer arms will have their mid point somewhere between the middle of the bow and the tip. It is desirable, however, for a good tone and mechanism not to stray too far near the tip, but to remain strictly close to the middle of the bow.


Above : One mistake is keeping the thumb straight ( photo on right ). This locks the hand, and the wrist and ruins the whole thing ! Always keep the thumb slightly bent ( photo on left ) to ensure a healthy bow hold and to ensure the circulation reaches the whole hand.

Détaché must also be played with full bow hairs ( flatly on the string ). This bowing stroke is so vital and so large a topic to cover in this essay, that many important factors have not even been mentioned. It is a bowing stroke that can only be mastered in 3 - 6 months of very hard work, following an expert teacher, who will supervise and guide the student in using all the components involved in the correct quantity and to the best effect.

Finger and knuckle flexibility and participation : An excellent way to stimulate the action of the fingers is to practise détaché with only 3 fingers. The picture below shows the ring ( 3rd ) and little ( 4th ) fingers raised from the bow, in order to "push" the first two fingers and the thumb to really flex. The flexing resembles a squid or jellyfish swimming, and at first must be greatly exaggerated along with the stroke, because many players may be very rigid and immobile around this area... and their joints will find it hard to flex at first, because they may have spent many years playing with a "porcelain" hand.

Finger and knuckle animations : Here are some rough indications (via animated GIF files) displaying the finger flexing motion, and knuckle flexing motion. In both cases these have been exaggerated with respect to normal violin playing. When starting to study détaché with extremely slow tempi, one can actually exaggerate the movement almost as much as these animations, in order to unblock / unlock, and exercise in the extreme the muscles around the thumb. If these components are immobilized during the détaché stroke, then an almost certain rigidity, and stiffness (if not pain) will set in. One of the hardest things to understand is how loose or firm one should let the fingers become...indeed this factor varies, depending on the volume and strength required. In general, it is likely these components will be too stiff, though the opposite (too loose) is often encountered when players are trying to "show off" some apparent recent discovery they think they must have made about flexibility. One must seek expert guidance to master this small, but essential component of détaché. ( Hint : please wait until the page has fully finished loading for these animations to load and play at the right speed ).

finger action - try it with a pencil !knuckle flexibility - try it on the desk !

Relative motions : One word of warning : the animations are rather fast in the case of the fingers, so please try it out in slow motion with utmost patience...the mechanism is likely to be a little superficial if done too quickly and artificially. Remember the the speeds ultimately are relative and in proportion to the speed of the bow, the tempo and the amount of bow used. The above animations only show you what part of the hand we are talking about. They do not give an idea of the motions in context with the whole arm ~ nevertheless, the student must be aware of and exercise each individual component before grasping the "big picture."



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Last modified: February 01, 2001