Bouncing staccato to bass stools

Other times you want a definite gap between the notes, and you may play a piece of staccato, where the bow touches the string momentarily and then is allowed to bounce off it, then fall back on play the next note, bounce off it and so. This gives short sharp bursts of sound with just the resonating string sounding between the sharp peaks sound. I've read more than one famous violinist saying that the fingering of a violin, (which most people think is the difficult bit), is really the easy part of playing a violin, because they're such limited things you can do with the left hand. Basically you get it in the right position or not, you can slide notes in and out of position, you can do fast or slow vibrato, and that's about a lot. With violin bowing, there are probably a hundred different things you can do, I don't really know, I just do them but never thought about them too much other than when teaching certain techniques. I really must write a detailed rambling at some time about violin bowing so the next time you watch and listen to a string quartet at a wedding, you can be amazed and awestruck by their skill. For now it's getting close to teatime, so I went go further into that.

To finish off the ways of making a noise on a violin, other than smashing it angrily against your music stand in frustration because you still can't play that difficult run, then there is pizzicato, that is plucking or twanging the string,  much like when playing guitar. Indeed, in orchestral music, the composer sometimes instructs the violins to hold their instrument like a guitar, put the bow down, and strum the instrument. I can't recall doing this in a string quartet, I'm sure somebody has written the piece for this somewhere. The more normal way of doing pizzicato is to have the violin the normal position under the chin, grip the bow with a hand so that it is being held vertically and out of the way, putting the thumb against the corner of the fingerboard and plucking the string with the first finger. If you want play really fast, you can use the first and 2nd finger like the legs of the cartoon figure running. This is rather tricky, and then not many violinists who can do this, me amongst them. Sometimes one doesn't put the thumb against the fingerboard, though having the thumb on the fingerboard locates the hand in the right position and it's easier to be accurate. There is another form of pizzicato, the left hand pizzicato, that really only appears in violin concertos, (again, I can't recall coming across this will all playing string quartets). It's really the ultimate in showmanship, and I think was introduced by the violinist composer, Paganini, Italian virtuoso violinist, and like most Italians, show off (is all right, I'm allowed to say that, as I'm half Italian), who is doing his thing in the early 1800s, being born in 1782 and dying in 1840. You supposedly double jointed or freakish in some similar way, which probably enabled him to do these crazy things.

Oh yes, another way of making a noise that I'd nearly forgotten about, is to hit the sound box with the heel of the bow. This is sometimes instructed in schools, and violins don't do this because it knocks the varnish off their instrument and instead they tend to use their knuckles. Fortunately, it's a technique that is not very often used.

All this stuff that I've been rambling on about applies more or less to the viola and cello. We can therefore move on to the double bass. As said before, the instrument is closer to the viol family than to the violin family. Although you see violins and double basses in orchestras, they tend to be positioned to the extreme left and the extreme right on the stage, so not very close together. However the cellos are usually just in front of the double bass, so that's a good comparison. Superficially the shape looks the same, but there is a little difference in the shape of the instrument where it joins on to the neck, and in the cutouts whether bow goes. Very often the front and the back of a double bass is flat, all much flatter than on a violin, which is in fact relatively potbellied, particularly in some of the older German instruments. The bow is also held in a different way, more like the way of holding the bow for a file.

Being such a large instrument the player either has to stand behind it, or if their feet get tired, perch on what is effectively a barstool. Seating is quite important when playing an instrument, and cellists always make a great fuss about having a big comfy stable seat (they seem to have sensitive backside) and the violinist tend to get the rubbish seats that are kicking around the performance area. I'm being rather extreme here, because there are reason to balance why a cellist does lead a very substantial seat whereas a violinist can almost do without a seat, using a seat more like the saddle of a bicycle, which you don't fully sit on with all your weight.

Having got through the instruments we get to the conductor. Simply orchestras always have conductors. String quartets never have conductors. Chamber orchestras sometimes have conductors, like the symphony orchestra, or sometimes are led and conducted by the leader of the first violins in the same way as a string quartet. What is going to happen in the string quartet or symphony orchestra regarding conducting, is never an issue, but in the chamber Orchestra they can be great arguments and disagreements about whether to allow a conductor in or not, and some conductors can get treated as 2nd rate citizens in the chamber Orchestra. Fortunately, at a wedding this is never an issue, as it always string quartets or string quintet's that play, and they never need a conductor (even though quite often the wedding guests like to come along and play conductor). If this is done by the wedding guest in a good-humoured way, it can be quite amusing for the string quartet to try and follow them, wandering all over the place in tempo to try and stay with the wedding guest, who invariably hasn't got a clue what they're doing. It can be quite a laugh for everybody. Sometimes though, the guest does this in an arrogant way, in which case there totally ignored by the string quartet (and sometimes simply orchestra conductors are ignored by the orchestra, particularly if there is an immune industrial dispute going on, as was the case many years ago when I was a schoolboy and used to go to concerts. They sometimes got totally ridiculous.)

Let's have a look now at the person that ties the whole orchestra together, the managing director of the whole business. As I've mentioned earlier, the conductor is very specific to the Symphony Orchestra, only appears in some chamber orchestras, and never appears in the jazz band, a ceilidh band, a string quartet or barn dance band. So let's have a look at what the conductor does and then consider why you don't get a conductor and the other ensembles that I've mentioned.

In a symphony orchestra the conductor is absolutely vital. Without the conductor, they would be at best a lack of balance between the sections of the orchestra, and at worst complete chaos. The original function of a conductor was simply to beat time. For the music that was around the beginning of the 16th century, little more was needed. There wasn't complexity of dynamics of the complexity of interactions between string sections, woodwind and brass that there are in a modern symphony. Thus, the chief singer in a choir or the harpsichord player in an orchestra, or in a concerto, the soloist themselves, was expected to set the tempo and at times when they were not fully occupied with performing, to beat time with their hands in the air or with a roll of paper a stick.

Many conductors have been eccentric figures, performing for the audience much as a dancer or mime artist, but that's not the real function. The conductor is the arbiter of the music, and must have a clear idea of what they want the performance to be like. Without a conductor, there would be 90 or 100 different ideas amongst the orchestral players. Also, the conductor being positioned at the front central point of the orchestra, has a better idea of what the resultant sound of the various orchestral sections will be like for the audience, and can get different sections to play louder or softer as necessary. The function of the conductor is to convey to the orchestra, during the performance, fire and arm and complete body language motions, the changes in Tempe and volume that are required to make the performance. Accidents, entries and interplay's are also indicated by good conductor. There are also there to save the day in the event that things go wrong, which can happen even with the best orchestras.