January 17, 2011 – Markings for Bow Lifts

As I have been teaching more and more from Suzuki Volumes 1 and 2 for Violin, I realize some incongruities with symbols used for the bow lift. As a former wind player, I am well aware that a breath mark is used at the end of phrases. Recent Suzuki volumes do not use the comma (above the staff) to symbolize a breath, but instead, to symbolize a luftpause where the music takes a slight breath. I understand this use, but prefer to still use the comma to be used as a bow lift. I painstakingly write in a comma and the words “lift” and “set” in Song of the Wind, Long Long Ago, Allegro, and Gossec Gavotte. It’s somewhat confusing when we get to a piece that uses the comma to denote a pause and not a lift. I think teachers should place the marking inside parenthesis (‘) to denote that it is intended to be a pause for students.

This wikipedia article, titled “Breath mark” reinforces my interpretation of the symbol to mean a bow lift.

I don’t think this use in the Suzuki books are by any means grounds to seek further revisions, I however, would just like to make my belief known in these areas so my students (and parents) never become confused about what should be done in their music. Truly, they should learn that when you have a down bow followed by a down bow, you might need to lift, but I feel it should be made clear to students in the beginning when a lift should be made in order to train this necessary function of string playing. Maybe the void of bow lifts in the Suzuki Volumes is meant to be filled by the teacher’s own handwriting. If there was a marking, I would emphasize it. Suzuki volumes should be heavily marked in order for parent and student to know exactly what should happen.

In other musical manuscripts, including Samuel Applebaum’s “Beautiful Music for Two String Instruments,” I have seen the symbol for a caesura used to denote a bow lift. I find this use to be completely incorrect and tell my students that. This does not mean the music is not still playable, but the symbol used is incorrect. I think it should be the responsibility of the publisher to correct symbols used in their publications to express the most commonly interpreted meanings.

Another great example of a musical symbol being used incorrectly is in the book “Introducing the Positions” by Harvey Whistler. Instead of the carat (^) marking between notes, Whistler uses the bracket marking that most musicians interpret as whole step for his half steps in the book. Who is to blame for these inconsistencies? I guess we will never know. I just do my best to educate my students the choices they should make for notation. After all, part of my job as the teacher is to show them how to question the world around them when necessary.

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