When one is playing on the guitar, one is strumming. One can strum on the strings of a violin too. But most of the time, one uses a bow to play on the violin. Is there a single word for that?

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    FWIW, violinist very seldom talk about strumming. The general term for anything you do with the hands only is pizzicato. (In German this is also sometimes used informally as a verb, pizzen – not sure whether something similar is said in English. To pizz?) Jul 26, 2015 at 23:27
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    @leftaroundabout - The written abbreviation on the score is usually pizz. However I don't think anyone says it. It would sound somewhat like "piss" in English. Jul 26, 2015 at 23:36
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    @chaslyfromUK "pizzicato" is an Italian word and it's pronounced "pitz" in English, at least by all the string-players I know (except for the ones who eat pissa not pizza.)
    – alephzero
    Jul 26, 2015 at 23:45
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    Fiddling as with fiddler on the roof? Why not? Jul 27, 2015 at 0:42
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    @BlessedGeek Some violinists would be insulted to be said to be fiddling, as fiddle or fiddler are terms typically associated with self-taught violin players that play folk music. Jul 27, 2015 at 18:49

5 Answers 5



How to Use Exquisite Bowing Techniques on a Violin. http://www.wikihow.com/Use-Exquisite-Bowing-Techniques-on-a-Violin

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    I know it sounds like it's too good to be true, but this is a very common and very accurate verb for the action.
    – Cord
    Jul 26, 2015 at 23:23
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    Pronounced "Boeing".
    – GEdgar
    Jul 27, 2015 at 0:36
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    @GEdgar But, if your bowing is good enough, you get to do some bowing afterwards. Jul 28, 2015 at 10:10
  • And if the bow gets hung up somehow you get a "boing".
    – Hot Licks
    Apr 11, 2016 at 0:36

There are several specific adjectives phrases to describe the exact manner of bowing, but the general word is arco. https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/arco#English

Here is a good introductory glossary of specific techniques: http://beststudentviolins.com/terms.pdf


Arco is the Italian word for bow, so the word for bowing is essentially "bowing", and when speaking in English--especially in informal situations--it would be acceptable to simply use the word bowing. Like many musical terms however, the traditional Italian version is preferred by those-in-the-know.


<unwarranted pedantry>

While one may say generally that a guitar is played by strumming, strumming is only a category of articulation (like arco is a category of articulation). Specifically, strumming is a continuous stroke by finger or pick across several strings; if only one string is articulated we categorise that a pluck instead. Plucking can be further described: up strokes and down strokes, free strokes or rest strokes, finger strokes or picked strokes, etc... In other words it is inaccurate (or at least neither specific nor rigorous) to say that guitar is played only by strumming. A variety of articulations exist on guitar and strumming is a class of articulation.

Likewise there are a variety of arco articulations: up stroke and down stroke, sul tasto or sul pontecillo, detache or legato, etc...

On viols (the violin's family) strumming is technically possible, but incredibly rare. Plucking (one string) is what you are thinking of. In orchestras this is usually called pizzicato (abbreviated pizz) because that is the Italian word for "plucked".

In practice arco is often used as a sort of antonym to pizz. So a violinist might see a part of her music marked pizz where she should pluck and a part marked arco where she should use her bow again.

</unwarranted pedantry>

As reward for reading this rambling wall of text, here's a pretty sweet cover of Jimmy Page's solo from Dazed and Confused, which is played with a bow (arco) on a guitar: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7R6yUyUPd7o

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    Good, but the viol family and the violin family are different things. The violin is from the violin family not from the viol family.
    – tchrist
    Jul 27, 2015 at 2:47
  • "Bowing" is much, much more common in everyday usage, and will be almost universally understood, but this answer treats is as a side note. You even use it in defining the term "arco", which isn't used at all outside the classical world, and within it shares space with "bowing". This answer doesn't give "bowing" enough credit.
    – Karen
    Jul 27, 2015 at 13:33
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    1) I think by definition those of us on ELU are pedants, so it's always warranted :) 2) Jimmy Page is/was amazing, and has some ridiculously long fingers. Jul 27, 2015 at 17:52
  • @karen musical notation is always in italian. So while bowing is the layman's term, arco is the musician's term.
    – JamesRyan
    Jul 28, 2015 at 9:37
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    As a violinist who was once taught by a former lead violinist of a large city's symphony orchestra, I've always referred to it as "bowing" in speech, as did my aforementioned teacher. Arco is seen on sheet music where pizz is also featured (if it's not mentioned, arco is the default) but when actually speaking we always said that a section should be "bowed", rather than "played arco". The only person I've ever known to call it "playing arco" was a conductor I once had... who was a clarinetist. Take that as you will. Jul 28, 2015 at 10:53

I think you are referring to fiddling. The "normal" way of playing a violin is to fiddle it.

fid·dle (fĭd′l) n. 1. A violin, especially one used to play folk or country music.

v.intr. 1. To play a fiddle.

v.tr. 1. To play (a tune) on a fiddle.

To stress the fact that one is using the bow (e.g. as opposed to strumming or plucking the strings in a pizzicato), then you would use the term bowing.

But for the subtler meanings I'd ask http://music.stackexchange.com .

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    No... you fiddle a fiddle. They may be the same instrument but the method of playing them is vastly different.
    – Catija
    Jul 26, 2015 at 22:59
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    The term seems indeed to have evolved, but fiddling is playing a violin using a bow. It may have differences in style - i.e. in how you move the bow. See vithefiddler.com/difference-between-fiddle-and-violin
    – LSerni
    Jul 26, 2015 at 23:05
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    Your very statement says "the normal way" is to fiddle it... but the dictionary definition clearly shows that it only relates to folk or country music applications.
    – Catija
    Jul 26, 2015 at 23:07
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    It says that it especially relates to -- not that it only relates to. I admit this might be perceived as a fiddling distinction.
    – LSerni
    Jul 26, 2015 at 23:18
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    Isemi is correct: refer this to the music site.
    – ab2
    Jul 27, 2015 at 1:44

Just for completeness' sake (there are already better answers): Playing.

Generally speaking, if you are writing a story or something and say someone was playing the violin, the assumption is that a bow is involved. It will provide the right mental image, and as the most familiar and common term, is probably what you want in almost all cases.

But, because you are asking this question, and used the word "playing" in the question, I'm assuming this is not one of those common cases.


Here are some sentences to give you a feel for these words and how they're used:

The violin is a bowed instrument.

This piece is entirely plucked. The violinists will set their bows in their laps.

The next piece is mostly bowed, but there are a few small plucked sections.

The bowing here is a little tricky but I've marked all your parts. [There are symbols that let the musicians know what direction the bow should move for each note.]

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