How to play the Musical Saw
Firstly, if you are a youngster wanting to embark on playing the musical saw, that’s great, but I recommend talking to your parents first. I always remember the trouble I got into after my parents found me sitting in the garage with my father’s tool kit and a violin bow. Secondly I would recommend that you DON’T use a normal wood cutting saw as the sharp teeth may cause some injury to you or to the furniture in the immediate area. Instead I would try to find a proper musical saw which does not have real cutting teeth and, having additional flexibility, is kinder on your hands. Most musical saw companies will also supply you with a basic string bow. This is good for starting with and will produce most of the notes. I’ve included some links to saw suppliers on one of the other pages.
For anyone else I would recommend you invest in a proper cello or string bass bow as this will help you to create addition volume and improve the quality of the sound. It doesn’t have to be good quality bow, but it does require a full head of hair. (The bow…. not the saw player!!)
You will also need to get yourself some rosin, This has to be lightly rubbed onto the bow’s hair to provide that extra grip on the saw blade, and make the necessary vibrations to produce the sound. You may also want to get yourself a comfortable upright chair or, as I did, a portable drummer’s seat.
Before you learn how to play the saw this is an example of what is possible. This was recorded at a concert for the Barnsley Hospice in South Yorkshire.
||Sit upright on your chair with both legs in front of you with your knees together and both feet flat on the floor. Make sure you have about a 90 degree bend at the knees.
| Position the saw
||Take the saw and place the wooden handle between your knees with the blade pointing up and the teeth facing towards you. Please remember which direction these teeth are facing, in case the telephone rings or the neighbour calls around. You don’t want to be standing up in a hurry as this might create a unique string of non musical adjectives.
|Left hand position
||Using your left handed saw, take your left hand and place the index, middle and ring fingers on the very top left hand side of the saw. Lift your hand over the top of the blade and push the thumb down about 4 to 6cm lower than the fingers, but on the opposite side of the blade to the fingers.
|Creating an “S” shape
||Holding the saw firmly between your knees and move the whole blade to the left. Pull up with fingers and push down with your thumb to create an “S” shape in the blade. After 5 to 10 minutes of this I can guarantee it will hurt. The trick is to try and find a comfortable position where you can still produce a slight “S” shape without hurting those fingers or hand.
The “S” shape creates additional flexibility to allow the saw to ring and produce sound between the two bends. As a side effect it also creates three virtual strings which can be used separately to play chords (for the adventurous) or merged together to deepen the sound of the note. The middle string is your main string and this is what you will. be using. However for experimentation purposes strings exist between the bottom bend and the handle and between the top bend and your fingers is another. You may relate this to being the area of string on a cello/violin that is on the other side of a bridge. It can produce unusual harmonics (squeaks).
| Using the bow
||Hold your rosined bow in your right hand at the heel end of the bow (for string instrument bows, this is where the screw thread is). Remember not to touch the hair as it will become greasy and will not grip very well on the blade. Lightly place the bow on the smooth edge of the saw, between the two bends, and pull the bow down from left to right. You will have hopefully produced your first note.Note : There are different styles of using a bow. Many players generate the sound and take the bow away from the blade. They then manipulate the blade to change the notes.I personally like to keep the bow in touch with the blade at all times. It provides phrasing sounds that you wouldn’t get. However you must take care a listen to the sound you produce. Many players in the world hate to hear the sound of the bow as it reduces the quality of the sound.
| Changing the note
||Moving the blade to the left and applying additional pressure with the fingers and thumb will raise the note in pitch. Moving the blade to the right and applying less pressure will lower the note.
||Vibrato, which is the Opera singers wobble, can be produced in different ways. Some players use the hand to wobble the blade similar to the method used by a string player. This is an excellent way of producing vibrato on demand, but it could possibly hurt your hands after while. I personally produce the sound from a controlled leg wobble.This is quite difficult to do especially if you are on a stage in front of thousands of people where nerves do have an effect. However, try pushing your toes down and lifting the heel slightly. Now try rapidly moving the leg up and down, keeping contact with the floor at all times. At first this is hard on your leg and is likely to make your leg ache a little. With experience you will find that perfect position where the leg will almost wobble by itself. Often this requires some experimentation with the position and height of your chair.
|The Cheat is handle that fits onto the top end of the blade. In some case they bolt onto the blade, but as in this case, which is home made, the cheat slides over the end of the blade. It is there to help reduce pressure on your fingers and wrist, it provides a clearer sound and wider range of notes. Some manufacturers will provide one with the saw, however it is very easy to make your own.
To use the cheat you still are required to create the “S” shape bend. I suggest holding onto the cheat one in position over the blade, move the blade to the left and then pull down a little with the cheat (handle). You should now have the perfect “S” shape without and pain.