Cello Bow Technique

by Steven J. Miller
Learning to play the cello requires the understanding of several bow techniques.

Learning to play the cello requires the understanding of several bow techniques.

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Cello bow technique is a vast subject requiring years of study to perfect. The basic movements and techniques will help the cellist to develop a competent playing style, making it possible to play several types of music. Composers must also know the basic techniques to write effectively and idiomatically for the cello.

Loose Bow Hold

Maintaining a loose bow hold is the key to good bow technique on the cello. The right hand should grip the bow lightly, balancing the majority of the weight of the bow between the thumb, index and middle fingers; the remaining fingers should come down loosely over the top of the bow. Learning to use a loose bow hold will reduce tension and allow you to play more efficiently.


On the cello, the down-bow moves from right to left starting at the frog, or base, of the bow, and moving towards the tip. This technique creates a more powerful initial bowstroke than the up-bow. Forceful accents and strong entrances require the use of a heavy down-bow technique. Cellists will use down-bowing on most of the downbeats in music.


Up-bowing is another basic bowing technique; it requires the cellist to bow the string by starting at the tip of the bow and pulling towards the frog. This technique creates a subtle starting pitch perfect for creating an imperceptible entrance. Placing a "V" shape above the note indicates performer should use the up-bow. Cellists generally use this technique for upbeats in music.


Détaché is the standard method of playing when no other articulations are present. It involves the alternation between up-bow and down-bow bowing for each successive note. This is an efficient method of playing since the player doesn't have to draw the bow all the way back to the starting position for each new note. The cellist uses a rocking motion to alternate back and forth on the strings. A down-bow or up-bow indicated in the score will interrupt détaché playing.

On-the-String Techniques

In addition to détaché, several advanced techniques classify as on-the-string techniques as the bow does not leave the string while playing. Louré is a legato-type bowing technique that places a slight separation between the notes. Staccato is a common technique that creates several short and separate bow strokes, while slurred staccato playing creates a series of short notes played with a single bow-stroke. Martelé literally means "to hammer" and results in a quick, heavily articulated stroke symbolized by an upside-down triangle above the note.

Off-the-String Techniques

Off-the-string bowing techniques require that the bow bounce on the string in differing ways to create sound. Spiccato involves rapidly playing several notes by bouncing the bow on the string; this creates a very light attach that allows the player to play quickly. Jeté is a technique that uses only the upper third of the bow. The bow is literally "thrown" across the string to make it bounce, creating three to six quick pitches.

Tremolo and Arpeggiando

There are two final techniques common in cello playing: tremolo and arpeggiando. Tremolo allows a player to quickly alternate between two pitches, creating a flurry of sound. There are two methods of creating a tremolo: one uses the bow and the other uses the fingers. Arpeggiando is similar to spiccato, but allows the cellist to slur over three to four strings at a moderate tempo.

About the Author

Steven Miller graduated with a master's degree in 2010. He writes for several companies including Lowe's and IBM. He also works with local schools to create community gardens and learn environmentally responsible gardening. An avid gardener for 15 years, his experience includes organic gardening, ornamental plants and do-it-yourself home projects.

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