There are many different ways to play a musical saw. I don’t consider myself to be an expert however this method below is the one I find most comfortable for playing the instrument.
As you change the note you must move the bow up or down the blade. Changing the formation of the “S” shape effectively moves the positions of your virtual strings. If you don’t move the bow, you may cross or change strings. The effect is like an adolescent voice breaking where one moment you are playing very low then suddenly you are playing very high.Complete masters of the saw will manipulate this to make perfect musical leaps or play chords by starting a note on two separate strings. I’ve not completely mastered either technique yet, but I’m getting there.
There are many different bowing techniques. . The two most dominant types are
- Those who produce the note, but lift the bow off the blade. This has the advantages of giving you a nice clear note, but the sound disappears very quickly and further disadvantages become apparent when you place the bow back on the blade. Sometimes a ricochet, which is often caused by nerves in a public performance, will spoil that perfect sound.
- Those who produce the note and leave the bow in contact with the blade. As a violinist I have always been taught to keep the bow in the string (or on the blade in this case). This gives you the advantages of a consistent and controllable volume. Rapidly moving the bow backwards and forwards will help you to increase the volume, which is very useful if you are playing as part of an ensemble.
The bow can also be used as a damper to kill the note while you are playing. I do this in two ways:
- Putting additional pressure on the blade, but not moving the bow.
- Raising or lowering the bow on the blade.
To help control nervous vibrato, try making a wooden wedge to place under your right foot. It should lift the back of the foot to the perfect vibrato height, in my case about 3-4cm.
Keep the saw clean and the bow well rosined as this will help to create a loud pure sound. It also reduces the risk of you fingers getting sticky from the resin.
To avoid getting unwanted pains in your arms and fingers why not try using a cheat. A cheat is usually a piece of wood that either screws directly onto the saw or just slots over the top of the blade. It is used like a lever to help bend the blade into that crucial “S” shape. This one I made, but you can now buy them from most musical saw suppliers.
Recording and Microphones
When recording a musical saw there is a tendency for the microphone to pickup the sounds of the bow scraping across the blade. In a big hall you wouldn’t notice that sound, but close up you do.
The positioning of the microphone is best located directly underneath the blade and out of the way of any movement of either the saw or blade. A desk Microphone stand is ideal for this.
For the professional sound engineering there are a whole set of tools to remove the unwanted frequencies associated with the scraping sound and on stage this is acceptable. In a studio, a cheap alternative is to use a thick bag. I’m currently using an old cooling bag and this muffles the higher frequencies, but lets the musical saw sound through. It by no means perfect, but its 90% better than without.
If you want further assistance you may contact me through my email address.