David Wong: The Basics of the Chop; Creating Percussive Backup With Your bow

David Wong: The Basics of the Chop; Creating Percussive Backup With Your Bow

Transcribed from video:

Chopping started in the bluegrass tradition and it is a percussive way of playing violin with the bow.  It came in to use in the 70s and early 80s as a way of creating percussion in bluegrass bands. Bluegrass bands are mostly fiddle, upright bass, banjo, maybe a washboard, but not a drummer.

I’m going to teach you two different kinds of chops and show you how to make these rhythms.

Ghost Chop:

  • We are going to take our instrument, our bow rather, and we are going to land it on our middle two strings really close to where the fingerboard is.
  • Place it, then we are going to pick it up. And, when we pick it up instead of picking it straight up we are going to pick it up a little bit to our left.
  • While you’re doing that, if you can take your left hand and cover your strings so that if you were to pluck them they wouldn’t make any notes. Land, and pick it up.
  • It’s not quite an up-bow. Let’s make sure that we bring it more up then to the left.  If we are talking angles, 90 degrees would be straight up.  So, you should pull your bow up and over at 80 degrees toward the left.  We are going to do these as eighth notes, 1 &, 2 &, 3 &, 4 &. Landing on the count and picking up on the “and”.
  • Same with bass, middle 2 strings near the fingerboard and we are going to land it and pick it up.
  • Remember when I told you to rosin the very bottom of your bow….Place that right underneath your pointer finger, so that it is really close (to the strings), so your thumb is almost touching your top string.
  • You can take your left hand and cover your strings and try to make no sound, and on the pick-up make sure its kind of like a mini snare sound.

These are called ghost chops and they are to keep time.  If you have a metronome you will always want to practice with it while doing this, because like drums you don’t want to rush.  As it gets faster you’ll see that it goes not as high ( referring to the position of the hand when pulling the bow from the strings) and is much softer.  What we want to hear is “and, and, and” (In a count of 1 &, 2 &, 3 &, 4 &). You don’t want to hear the One and Two…

Regular Chops:

The next thing we are going to do is a regular chop.

  • For everyone but cello and bass, this happens on our top two strings.
  • For cello and bass that is going to happen on your middle two strings and you are going to push (down) toward your bridge instead.
  • For violins and violas, what we are going to do is take our bow and turn it slightly towards our left hand and use the edge, not the flat part. And, we are going to go closer to our bridge and land it like this. It’s called a chop.
  • (See Demonstration in video) If we had a big tree and we took an ax and we chopped into the tree, what would happen? It gets stuck.  If we take the ax and swing, it should get stuck.  So we land it and pick it up. (Making two sounds)
  • For cello and bass instead we push towards the bridge (down) and then we pick it up.

Those are our two different kinds of chops.  Now obviously we have to use these and put these together to create some kind of rhythm.  So what we are going to do is:

We are going to do ghost chops on beats one and beats three and regular chops on beats two and beats four.

  • The important thing is the ghost chops, when we land them we don’t want to make too much noise.
  • Doing a count of 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &.
    • We will Place-1 Ghost-&,
    • Chop-2 Pull-&,
    • Place-3 Ghost-&,
    • Chop-4  Pull-&

If you can practice this, take a metronome and you start really slow, like about 60 bpm, and do just ghosts. Then maybe you take the regular chop and do it on just beat three.

Example exercise of doing chop on just the 3.

Practice by starting at 60 with your metronome and slowly increase it by 5 beats per minute.  60, 65, 70

Incorporating into that notes next would be adding notes in the place of a ghost chop.

So if we were to play eighth notes instead we could start with maybe the A.

  • We would go like this:
    • A (1 &),
    • Ghost (2 &),
    • Chop(3 &),
    • Ghost (4 &).
  • The important thing is to play, then get your fingers to cover the strings so we don’t get this (example of notes ringing through).
  • Then you add chords to it, like a guitarist would. When you see a guitarist play sometimes they’ll go (strums on violin), strumming 8th notes
  • They use their left hand to cover up notes and make different rhythms.
  • See how my right hand is just continuously moving?
  • So what we do is we add chords too, and it starts to sound like this. (Example of using rhythmic bow technique just learned over chords played with left hand)
  • With that rhythm, then start to add a new rhythm. Something like a triplet.

So it starts to turn into this kind of rhythm that you can use with a bunch of other people and it becomes like you can be the guitarist in your quartet.  It creates a really nice backing area for the rest of the quartet, and you can switch off that part.  I think it is a really important part for arranging pop tunes because once you have those rhythms and those chords it stops sounding like you are playing as a string quartet and more like you are trying to create the sound the band itself is creating, which I think is the most important part about doing a cover; recreating sounds rather than recreating the notes.