Technique: How to play a chop groove

CaseyDriessen

Mix up chops, ghost notes and melody notes to create a rhythmic groove with tonal variation

CaseyDriessen

Casey Driessen © Arthur Driessen

American fiddle player, co-author of The Chop Notation Project and international contemporary violin workshop leader

Chop grooves are a fantastic way for string players to give each other rhythmic support when they are playing non-scripted, non-classical styles of music such as folk, rock or jazz. Classical players who have come to my workshops have also taken these techniques to use in their string quartets or trio arrangements.

To begin with, many people struggle to switch between the different types of vertical and horizontal bow stroke in a groove, so in this article I show how to build up each movement gradually until you can alternate between them quickly and automatically. Developing these techniques can help anyone to improve their bow control, rhythm and sense of time, and will enhance any string player’s skills and musicianship.

EXERCISES

Over the past two years, I have worked with violinist Oriol Saña to create The Chop Notation Project, a notation system to help players, teachers and composers communicate up-to-date chopping techniques clearly in writing. In this article, I use this system to illustrate how to use these four types of note when playing a groove:

Chops

Standard pitch Play this regular bowed note at the heel with a short, crisp articulation, in the first 10cm of the bow at the frog.

Hard chop This is a percussive, vertical bowing. Lightly mute the strings with your fingers, then drop the full weight of the bow on to the A and D strings at the frog, for a crunchy, crisp sound. The motion is perpendicular to the floor, not to the instrument. Finish the chop by lifting the bow rhythmically back off the string:

  • Keep the bow parallel to the ground, at a slight angle to your instrument, so that the hair catches and pulls the string the tiniest amount on impact
  • Keep your fingers flexible. You don’t need to hit the string hard. You just have to hit the right spot
  • Lift the bow at the same angle, to catch the string and create a similar, quieter sound

Soft chop This is the same as a hard chop, only gentler. Use less bow weight for a softer sound, and find a different tone by using a different sounding point (see below).

Sounding points Practise chopping midway between the bridge and the fingerboard, closer to you, and further away, to vary your tone.

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