Bowing patterns

The direction your bow is travelling in, and whether or not you chose to change the bow direction at the end of each note, will affect the sound of the notes you play. It’s useful when you first start to learn to play the fiddle to begin to get some control over whether you’re playing a down bow (from heel to tip) or an up bow (tip to heel) for each note.

Here’s some basic bowing exercises you can try out, based on playing the D scale, with recordings of each pattern so you can hear the effect each one has on the sound.

The first bowing pattern uses a single bow stroke for each note.

Written music - D scale, single bowstrokes



For the next pattern, try playing pairs of notes without changing your bow direction. You might hear this being referred to as playing slurred pairs of notes, or slurred notes.



Now you can try playing slurred pairs, but shifting where the slur occurs within the bar, so that you play the first note (the open D) on a single bow stroke, then slur together notes in pairs after that. This will mean that the D at the top of the scale on the way up (3rd finger on the A string) is slurred together with the D at the start of the scale on the way down. You can make these notes sound separate by  speeding the bow up to emphasise the start of the second D.



This pattern starts with a single note played on a down bow, followed by 3 notes played on a single up bow. The tempo is steady with each note being played for the same length of time. In the example below, the notes are each played as quavers, or half-beats. As we are fitting 3 notes into the up bow, after playing only one on the down bow, it’s essential to move the bow fast on the down bow, so there is plenty of space on the bow for the three up bow notes that will follow it. The effect of playing down bow stroke faster than the up bow is that the down bow note will sound louder. So this pattern is often used in tunes (especially reels) where you want to emphasise the note on the beat. You will hear it used a lot by fiddle players from Shetland. It is often referred to as a ‘1 down 3 up’ bowing pattern.



This last pattern is a variation of the pattern above. In this version, the strong down bow is moved to the off beat in the bar. So the pattern starts with 2 notes slurred together on an up bow, followed by a down bow played on the off beat, then groups of 4 quavers bowed with a ‘3 up 1 down’ bowing pattern. See if you can play this one while you’re tapping your foot on the on beat.