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Exercises for Smooth Legato Bowing

Our new series of blogs about bowing technique features pieces of music to help you (or your students!) develop different types of bow strokes. This week’s post introduces the Legato stroke.

Legato means smooth or seamless. A legato stroke is a succession of sustained notes.

String Crossings: When these notes occur across the strings you need a pivoting movement to help make the string crossing as smooth as possible.

Think of painting a letter C or turning a key in a lock! The bow should lean towards the new string while still playing the old one.


Get Ready…

Use these questions and tasks to prepare and get ready to play the piece:

Before playing Gussie’s Variation, first try ‘Exercise 2’ (images below). Use the whole bow (WB) for each slurred pair. Which is easier to play, and why?

Now consider the answer to these questions:

  • What do you have to do with your right arm when crossing strings?
  • Check the key signature and finger pattern before playing Gussie’s Variation.
  • Tip: Imagine you are a puppet with strings attached to both your elbows. This will help keep elbows swinging freely during string crossings.

Let’s Play!


Treble clef version for violinists

Alto Clef version for Violists


Bass clef version for cellists

How Did It Go?

Use these questions and tasks to review what you just did, and think about how you could make it better!

  • What other ways could you play this piece?
  • Have you tried starting on an UP bow? Is the movement of your right arm the same?
  • What about dynamics? Add your own to the music. How far from or how close to the bridge would you place the bow if you wanted to play softly? … very loudly? What about the angle of the hair?
  • What does Cantabile mean?
  • Violinists/Violists: What is especially difficult in bar 7?

Next Steps…

Now try these tasks to build on what you’ve just learned…


  • Play Climbing the Scale from slurring the quavers, as you did in Gussie’s Variations.
  • Play other easy slurred pieces to improve your legato stroke.
  • Try this Exercise as a different way of combining separate and slurred bowing:

This series is based on Bow Strokes for Violin, Bow Strokes for Viola, and Bow Strokes for Cello by Caroline Lumsden and Anita Hewitt Jones. Piano accompaniments for all pieces are available in the printed versions!