Magazine article Strings

Get in Touch with Your Inner Rhythm Guitarist

Magazine article Strings

Get in Touch with Your Inner Rhythm Guitarist

Article excerpt

Strum bowing contributes rhythm and 'feel' to your band's groove

EVEN IF YOU'RE A HOTSHOT FIDDLER in a blue grass, jazz, or rock band, there are times when you need to get out of the way and support somebody else's solo work. Sometimes you're helping with the harmonic outline, like a bassist, but maybe you're moving in on the drummer's territory, just making a percussive sound to add spice to the syncopation. That little "chunk" or "chucka-chucka" sound on the second and fourth beats is the chop.

Electric violinist Tracy Silverman has hosted frequent "chop shops" at various conferences and music camps, but these days he's less interested in teaching a specific chop technique than in spreading the word about a broader concept in which the chop plays a part, as does the shuffle, which you generally do with the upper part of the bow.

Silverman calls the concept "strum bowing."


As Silverman describes it, strum bowing is analogous to the work of a rhythm guitarist, who strums the strings withconstant up-anddown hand motions marking the beat and its subdivisions - but not always touching the strings on every pass of the hand, depending on the music's groove, its particular rhythmic feel.

The groove, Silverman explains, is "what makes a performance sound 'laid-back' or 'in the pocket,' or stiff or rushed." One of the things that makes a "feel" better, he adds, is that it is truer rhythmically - the value of the subdivision, often the 16th note, is consistent. Otherwise this subdivision often varies, almost imperceptibly, either because the player is intentionally using a sort of rubato (which is not advisable, generally, with a groove) or simply from a lack of rhythmic accuracy.

But these variances are enough to change the feel. The adherence to a generally consistent rhythmic grid is something that is true of all groove-based music.


"Now, within that consistent groove, good rhythm players will, paradoxically," he says, "create a 'feel' by being behind or ahead of the beat or in some way creating a humansounding rhythm that doesn't stiffly adhere to the grid. For most classical players, the first challenge is to learn to respect that grid and develop a bowing style that includes strum bowing patterns."

The strum bowing pattern for any rhythm can be determined by subdividing the rhythmic phrase, adhering to a constant up-and-down bowing grid, and playing the original notes as accents and 'ghosting' the unaccented notes - making a pass with your bow, but not touching the bow to the strings.

Silverman likes the flexibility of strum bowing. "Because all grooves break down to their subdivisions, eventually you can easily shift from one groove or style to another, rather than learn specific chop or rhythm patterns that may not work in other styles or at other tempi," he says. …

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