One of the most wide ranging techniques on a bowed stringed instrument is what is commonly referred to as staccato. In essence, staccato is where the notes are short and spiky – this can be achieved in different ways. The Martele (pronounced mart -el-lay) bow stroke is where the bow is gently pressed to the string and released rapidly to create a little ‘kick’ or accent at the beginning of each note. It can be played rapidly or slowly and there is generally a small gap between each note. Whereas this would be rarely applied when hiring string players to perform on a pop or rock track, it could be used in a more classical sound – perhaps for a film soundtrack or television production.
The spiccato bow stroke is what is commonly referred to as ‘off the string bowing’ because the bow leaves the string at the end of each stroke. This gives the music a distinctive sound which can be used in a variety of different context as it’s so versatile. Spiccato bowing is great for rapid scales and will create a ‘brilliant’ effect (as in bright) or could be applied in a slower and heavier passage to add drama.
Adding variety with spiccato and martele bowings can accentuate the strings by using the whole section, or just one group of instruments (for example, only violas) and both are widely used ways of adding interest or energy when orchestrating for strings.