People are often intimidated by the sautille’ bow stroke. It can be difficult to acquire the skill of coordinating the left hand with the bow hand in such a rapid succession. But if you know how to work on each layer of this technique separately, you will have a much easier time learning sautille’.

Do you know the three practice “layers” for sautillé?

The secret to learning ANY difficult technique on violin is to know how to break it down into layers, isolating each skill separately before combining them. Often, it can help you to identify these “layers” if you consider each hand separately.

For instance, sautille’ involves a very rapid bounce of the bow high up, above the mid-bow point. Consider just your right hand: bow hand must be relaxed, wrist must be flexible, right hand must allow your bow to find its “idle” speed, and yet help the bow hairs to “grab” the string enough on each bounce to get tone and renew the energy for the next bounce.

Consider the left hand: your left hand must find its notes without the slightest hesitation, or it will interfere with the sautille’. Fingers must strike the string energetically, and lift off just as energetically.

After considering each hand’s tasks separately, we identify the “layers” that can be worked on separately:

  1. Practice repeated pitches JUST to teach the BOW hand sautille’
  2. Practice getting your left hand up to speed
  3. Practice synchronizing your two hands

Word to the Wise: practice with a metronome

DO ALL OF THESE STEPS WITH A METRONOME, and play around with the tempo. If you can only do sautillé at ONE SPEED, that’s great, but you need to develop the other speeds as well so you have some versatility. Some skills can be fudged rhythmically…..sautille’ is not one of them! Using the metronome will keep you honest!

Layer one: practice repeated pitches

First thing you want to do is to explore the physics of your bow. Figure out how it bounces, and find that magical spot just above the middle where the bow starts to bounce on its own, as if it had its own little motor inside. THAT is your sautille’ spot. All you have to do now is learn to put a leash on that little puppy and teach it to go faster, slower, and cross strings.
The BEST way to figure out this first layer is to play something rather easy, maybe just an open string, or a simple scale, or “Perpetual Motion” from Suzuk Book 1. Whatever you choose, I highly recommend you choose something on ONE STRING ONLY at first. (String crossings are an altogether different skill.)

Play your simple passage, (let’s say it is a half scale on the D string, “D, E, F#, G, A”. Play each note with 4 repetitions. Do this fast, like 4 bows per click at 120-132 BPM. When you can do that, then play the same passage with only 2 repetitions per note, but keep your speed the same.

Next, we must practice using triplet repetitions. This is extremely important, because it simulates an actual sautille’ stroke very well. (every note on an up bow in triplets will also be on an upbow on singles. This is not the case when you do 4 and 2 reps)

I recommend playing 6 repetitions with the metronome set at 132-144 BPM…but you will be playing 3 reps PER CLICK. This setting will keep your sautille’ speed roughly equal to the speed you were at when you played 4 repetitions. After you can do 6 reps, do 3 reps.

FINALLY, you are ready to attempt single reps. Chances are you will be able to successfully play sautille’ on your simple passage at this point. But, many people will still have problems due to some “layers” in the left hand that need to be addressed.

Practice getting your left hand up to speed

You want to make sure your left hand isn’t getting in the way of your sautillé. You have to be able to play the notes VERY FAST with your left hand in order to keep up with a good fast sautillé. Left hand must be articulate, energetic, with absolutely NO hesitation. I like to practice this 2 ways:

1) Practice in SLURS, with a METRONOME until you can slur 4 or 8 notes at FULL SPEED with no mistakes. This places the entire burden of articulation on the left hand and really makes your left hand “step up to the plate”, so to speak.

2) Practice it plain old detaché, nothing fancy, just on the string, separate bows, WITH METRONOME, at full speed, with no mistakes.

In essence, you are removing the difficulty of one hand so that your focus can be placed entirely on the other hand.

Once you can do both those steps, you can rest assured your left hand won’t get in the way of your sautillé.

Identifying the “layers” in a complicated technique takes practice and experience. Adopt the general rule of considering each hand separately, and you will learn this wonderful practice technique.