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View Full Version : Playing the uke like a violin



Johnny Calzone
08-27-2010, 02:14 AM
First off - I don't know anything about bowed instruments and how they work. All I know is that they have strings like a uke and kinda look like a uke. So I wonder if I could get a bow and just shred right away.
If so, where can I get a cheap bow or rather what do I need to build a non-fancy one? I don't know how long violin bows are but I figure that ~20 cm would be just about right for soprano-usage. I also figure that playing it more like a cello would benefit the uke's health by reducing the risk of dropping it.
A problem might be playing the strings individually as they are leveled. I can think of two ways to handle this:
1.) Screw playing individual notes and concentrate on chords (do string players even play chords?)
2.) Screw playing on a traditional uke and slap a violin-like bridge on a cigar box.

Is any of this even possible? Has it been done before? etc. pp.
Any help is greatly appreached!

Keef
08-27-2010, 02:22 AM
I dont have any answers but i have wondered about this too

kissing
08-27-2010, 03:10 AM
I briefly had my violinist friend use his bow on my uke.
It didn't make much sound.

Actually, violins use either steel strings or gut strings.
Never heard of Nylon strings being used on violins.

Skitzic
08-27-2010, 03:13 AM
I briefly had my violinist friend use his bow on my uke.
It didn't make much sound.

Actually, violins use either steel strings or gut strings.
Never heard of Nylon strings being used on violins.

So in theory, if you put gut strings on the uke...it could work?

ichadwick
08-27-2010, 03:28 AM
You'll have to change your bridge to an arched violin bridge. This will affect the sound, since ukes are not designed for that style of energy transmission. You may have to so some work to lower the action, too. Instead, why not tune a violin to uke-style tuning and play it?

lindydanny
08-27-2010, 03:31 AM
The problem will be getting a new bow rosined up correctly.

Violins rely on friction of the bow strings on the violin strings to create the sound. To enhance this, violinist use rosin which is applied to the bow. New strings on the bow or on the violin generally take some time to work up a coating of rosin before they are playable (much like stretching a string before it will keep a tune).

At one point in my music life, I took a few lessons on violin. One thing that was impressed in me very early was that it is a cardinal sin to touch any place where rosin should be building up. Watch a professional violinist playing either bowed or pizzicato (plucked) and you will notice their fingers never touch anything where the strings will be in contact with the bow. The natural oils in your hands (which is impossible/impractical to remove) will ruin the rosin build up.

If you were to try this, which it might be interesting to do, then I would dedicate a uke to it. Never touch the strings where you are bowing (which will likely be just below the sound hole).

A couple of other things that you should take into consideration:

The shape of the neck and the bridge is very important to a violinist. Notice they are radiused. This is so that the bow can individually play each string. On a ukulele, the fretboard and bridge are typically flat or only slightly curved. This is part of the simple design and what can separate ukulele from western guitars (wester guitars can have radiuses from 10" to 15" and even compound radiuses that change over the length of the neck).

Also, the basic construction on the inside of the ukulele is set up to react better to plucked strings as opposed to bowed. Violins have gone through a hundred years of evolution before the Italian masters of the 16th century (I may have the wrong century there) came up with the standard design. That design has not changed very much in 400 years even with the advent of technology. Some of the original master pieces of violin making are considered acoustically perfect. Think about that for a second! That natural arched shape and the addition of a sound post that directly transmits sound from the bridge to the back of the instrument make the entire violin sing when played correctly.

Don't mistake any of this for me talking you out of it. I actually would encourage the experimentation. I only wanted to give you some food for thought on what makes it work (since you said you didn't know) and what to consider as part of the experiment.

~DB

P.S.: By violin, I mean all bowed instruments in the family.

hoosierhiver
08-27-2010, 04:24 AM
I was really into this idea a few years back. I bought a small psaltry bow, but with the nylon strings it didn't make much sound ( I also didn't know how important rosin was). I might have to try it again sometime with steel strings.

arashi_nero
08-27-2010, 04:37 AM
personally, i think you'd be fine to play a bow on the uke. you'll probably want to get a strap and just hold it a little lower than usual. also, i doubt you'll be doing much more than chords, but if you move your fingers fast enough, you might be able to get individual notes while doing the chords.

in orchestra, our percussionists would use violin bows all the time on cymbals and on the vibraphone. being that it was metal, it may have been fine, but they didn't have to build up the rosin on those. i do see how more rosin would help with resistance because resistance=more vibrations=more sound.

i'm assuming this is why you want to play your uke with a bow:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AIHabvURnpk

here's another vid of a japapnese progressive hip-hop/punk band using a bow on a guitar. now that i watch it (i last saw this YEARS ago), it looks and sounds like he's not really using the bow, but i know when the video came out, he said he did.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mTkEyzyKXqs

either way try it on your uke. just go talk to a music store that has student violins and they can probably hook you up with a good price on a bow.

dianalele
08-27-2010, 08:45 AM
hooray, my area of expertise!
aight, lets see if I can clarify what everyone is saying.

You already know that the bridge isnt arched on a ukulele like it is on a violin. This helps violinists play one note at a time. And to answer your question, yes violins can play chords. They can play two notes at a time (called double stops) or they can roll a 3 or 4 note chord. So, you might want to alter the ukulele bridge, or just accept the fact that you will only be able to play chords.

Now, the quality of bow doesn't really matter, but you will need rosin. Don't worry, you can get rosin for like 4 bucks. It really is just tree sap. Before you apply the rosin, take a key and scratch up the smooth surface of the rosin. Then slide the scratched up surface up and down the bow. As someone said above, rosin is what makes bows work. The hair on a bow is actually made of horse hair, and without rosin, that hair is really smooth. Rosin makes it sticky, so when you pull the bow across the strings, it vibrates them. It is somewhat important not to touch the bow hair or the sticky strings, but just because the oils on your fingers will counteract the stick of the rosin a bit.

The bow with rosin will work on a ukulele, but it will be quiet. I recommend getting a pickup or trying it on an electric uke.

Good luck with your experiment!

Johnny Calzone
08-27-2010, 11:28 PM
Wow, thanks for all your answers!

I guess the only way to get a bowed uke is to build it myself, which I won't get to until next July because of university and months and months of ukeless studying. Which means that I have plenty of time to assemble ideas.

What's for sure is I don't want a genuine baroque-like instrument and I'm perfectly fine with it being nothing more than a gimmick.

Here's what's been crossing my mind so far:

- Cigar Box body.
- How would I go about building the rounded fingerboard having access to only basic woodworking tools (handsaws, clamps, chisels and sanding paper)?
- I see that a violin neck joins the body at an angle. Could go with the basic, even ukulele neck and compensate for that angle by having a wedge-like fingerboard? I don't know if wedge is the correct word here, found it in a dictionary. What i mean is something like this: /| <- that would be the neck held upright, looked at from the side.
- How can I make the bridge as basic as possible? I thought of just rounding a flat piece of wood. How do I fix it to the body?
- What strings should I use? Can violin strings be tuned to GCEA (on a standard soprano scale)?

ukecantdothat
08-28-2010, 09:11 AM
Violins, cellos, etc can easily play two notes at a time, but because of the arching bridge it's hard to do more than that. There was a jazz fiddler (Stefan Grapelli?) who would loosen the bow and stick the violin neck thru it so the hairs of the bow would make contact with all the strings, allowing for some nice chordal stuff (and probably some nice damage to the underside of the violin!)

Brad Bordessa
08-28-2010, 03:38 PM
I had a bow from a violin a friend let me borrow (long time ago...). It worked on the wound low-G, but not the other strings. I don't know if it had rosin on it or not, but I never put any on.

upskydowncloud
08-29-2010, 11:09 AM
First off - I don't know anything about bowed instruments and how they work. All I know is that they have strings like a uke and kinda look like a uke. So I wonder if I could get a bow and just shred right away.
If so, where can I get a cheap bow or rather what do I need to build a non-fancy one? I don't know how long violin bows are but I figure that ~20 cm would be just about right for soprano-usage. I also figure that playing it more like a cello would benefit the uke's health by reducing the risk of dropping it.
A problem might be playing the strings individually as they are leveled. I can think of two ways to handle this:
1.) Screw playing individual notes and concentrate on chords (do string players even play chords?)
2.) Screw playing on a traditional uke and slap a violin-like bridge on a cigar box.

Is any of this even possible? Has it been done before? etc. pp.
Any help is greatly appreached!

Just out of interest. Why?

Johnny Calzone
08-29-2010, 11:25 AM
Imagine that right now there's a mini cello on your lap. Imagine playing it.