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!!)
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.
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).
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.
The one pictured is made of oak (hardwood), it is 22cm in length and has a height of 3cm and a depth of 2cm. There is a cut in which the saw blade will sit into. This has a depth of 1.5cm the cut is made at 5cm from one end of the block of wood. I have used a file to remove any sharp edges and sandpaper to smooth the surface.
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.