Chapter 1

The Note

The bow causes the string of a stringed instrument to vibrate. The vibration is transferred to the instrument via the bridge. The instrument causes the air to vibrate. We then hear this as a tone.

What we hear depends on many factors. The most important, of course, is the player. But this interests us only marginally. In fact, the player, instrument and bow act as a whole. Each of the components affects the others. But my visual attention is focussed on the part played by the bow. Not every player appreciates the importance of the bow. It is therefore interesting to try different bows from time to time. I find myself astounded again and again by the huge differences one hears. Not only is the tone different, but so are the dynamics, the whole essence of the music. It seems as if different bows also invite the musician to play differently.

The three parts of a noteThe three parts of a note

My intention is to analyze these differences. What is it about the bow that gives it this individual character. My approach is not strictly scientific. As in psychology, empirical and subjective explanations are also accepted. My findings are therefore not completely provable, but I hope they will be understandable.

What complicates this exercise is that every detail of a bow affects every other detail. The character of the bow arises from the links and interrelationships of these details. To bring some order into this complicated business, a few definitions are necessary.

The tone is a sort of wave which swells and diminishes. This wave is divided in three parts. The swell I call the response, the diminution the damping. What takes place between them is the sound.

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