On watching the Unicorn Strings demo video I noticed the player using a technique to do a downward run of notes which I can't figure out. It's most noticeable during the excerpt from the Sugar Plum Fairy. He seems to do a fast downward scale of a few notes with one smooth bow movement rather than moving the bow to each string individually. Can anyone explain this technique to me?

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Hi Simon,

It's a classic, but easily over-used ornamentation. You can achieve slides (two adjacent notes without lifting the bow), slurs (the same, but with three or four notes), and full fledged glissandos (half the instrument involved like on a harp or piano). To pull it off smoothly requires a couple of things. First, you need a bow that is well tensioned and has no stray hairs to get caught on the pins. Second, you need a psaltery that has 'top-over' hitch pins. That is, the modern variety whose hitch pins have a shallow slot cut in the top with the string exposed as it goes over the top of the pin. Some psalteries have pins that stick up over the strings like on an autoharp. Those can't do the technique.

Holding your bow perpendicular to the side of the instrument***, tilt it back toward you at a slight angle. You want the plane of the hairs to be angled upward so they can slide over the pins. Using the lightest pressure you can, draw the bow while simultaneously moving down the instrument. It's a motion kind of like whittling a piece of wood with a pocket knife. With practice you be able to slide through as many notes as you want, start and stop on particular notes, and have a smoothly flowing transition. When you get really good at it you can even go in the opposite direction and do it on the up and down stroke of the bow. It's really all about moving smoothly without getting stuck on the pins.

***Note that this bow position is used for the glissando. For normal play the bow is held perpendicular to the strings, not the side of the instrument.
Thanks very much for the tips!


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