The literal meaning of the Italian word spiccato is similar to that of staccato—“detached,” or “distinct.” In string playing, to play notes spiccato means to play them with a bouncing bow. With its stiff but flexible stick and tightened horsehair, the bow is like a long spring, so it wants to bounce. But spiccato involves a controlled bouncing. The bow comes off the string after each note, but the player has to find the balance between making the bow bounce and letting it bounce.
String players use many different kinds of spiccato strokes—brushed, stiff, light, heavy—and with the different spiccatos they can produce sounds that range from soft and feathery to loud and harsh. One of the marks of a very accomplished string player, in fact, is the variety, flexibility, and control that he or she demonstrates with spiccato. When composers, want notes to be played spiccato, by the way, they place little dots over them in the music.
A Minute with Miles is a production of South Carolina Public Radio, made possible by the J.M. Smith Corporation.