How to Give Your String Ensembles the Right Lift

They’re as important to string performance as dotting your i’s and crossing your t’s are in writing. They’re the feature that can distinguish a good ensemble from a great ensemble. And like most worthwhile aspects of style and precision, they’re often only noticed in the breach. String teachers know that the polish and unity created by coordinated ensemble bow lifts take practice and guidance.

But are bow lifts for cosmetic effect only? Sandra Crandall, director of orchestras at Bexley City Schools in Bexley, Ohio, contends that they are crucial for creating “a very specific sound that is desirable in the context of the music being performed, and to get the player back to a down bow on the down beat if that is needed to play the passage.” She adds, “Bow lifts must be coordinated because the attach/release will be ragged if they are not.” Bow lifts, then, can be essential for musical reasons too.

Crandall encourages teachers to enforce “careful marking and editing of parts” to ensure ensemble bow lift uniformity. “You cannot,” she says, “trust the published music not to have an occasional ‘bow goober.’” She further recommends that students mark their own music in order to become fully aware of the importance of bow lifts. Teachers increase student ownership of this stylistic skill when they choose not to merely pass out copies of the music that they have already marked up.

This article has been adapted from an article of the same name by Cynthia Darling. Read the entire article on page 51 of your January 2010 issue of Teaching Music.

— Nicole Springer, January 5, 2010. © National Association for Music Education.