Lesson 1 of 7
Congratulations on your decision
to play the musical saw! Even though you
can play music on just about any saw,
life will be a whole lot easier if you
use a saw fabricated specifically for
music. You'll get about a 2 octave range
vs. 1 octave. And the sustain and
playability of a Musical Saw is
magnitudes greater than a carpenter's
saw. Playing the saw is very easy - there
are only two things to do: Make the saw
vibrate to produce the sound (you can do
this by either using a bow or a mallet)
Change from note to note (you do this by
either tightening or loosening the bend
in the saw.) Most people find it easier
to start out playing with a mallet and
then graduating to a bow - so thats
the approach well take.
Holding the Saw
Lesson 2 of 7
Goal: Teach you how to hold the
Sit down on a dining room chair with your
knees about 3" apart. Place the saw
handle between your knees with the saw
tip pointing up and the teeth facing you.
DO NOT press your knees tightly together
or your legs will get very tired. This
next step is crucial: To play a
note, the saw must be curved in an
"S" curve. Refer to
the drawing on how to make that curve.
Use your *left thumb about 4" from
the tip and push the saw down and to your
left. The saw will be at a 45 angle to
your left. (Actually it will really be
curved since you have it clamped loosely
between your knees.) To make the second
curve of the "S", with your
left hand, hook your 4 fingers under the
tip and pull up (while your thumb is
bearing down). You now have the
"S" curve. If you ever lose
this "S" curve while you are
playing, your saw will fall silent. In
the picture, the "S" curve is
greatly exaggerated. The small curve made
by the thumb and fingers only needs to be
a gentle curve.
Practice: Experiment changing the
tightness of the bend in the saw by
moving your left hand up and down... all
the while maintaining the "S"
curve. The reason you are practicing
these movements is because these are the
motions you will make when you start
playing the saw - You will tighten and
loosen the curve in order to change from
note to note. But for now, we just want
you to concentrate on preserving the
"S" curve while bending the saw
Finding the Sweet Spot
Lesson 3 of 7
Goal: Teach you what the sweet
spot is and how to find it on your saw.
For this exercise, you will need
something to act as a mallet - (a wooden
spoon, steak knife, screwdriver, etc.)
Hold the saw as discussed above and pick
up your "mallet" with your
right hand. We don't want metal striking
metal - so flip your mallet around so
that you strike the saw with the knife
handle and not the knife blade. While
holding the saw in an "S"
curve, start rapping the top of the saw
blade with your "mallet". Start
about 2" from the saw handle and bit
by bit, creep up towards the tip. Listen
closely to the tone the rapping makes. It
dies out fairly quickly doesn't it? As
you move up the saw blade, you will find
a spot that when you rap it - the tone
sustains for quite a few seconds. You've
found the sweet spot! Let's try it again,
only this time bend the saw a different
amount and try rapping it to find the
sweet spot. When you find the sweet spot,
compare its location with the previous
sweet spot - Notice how when you bend the
saw different amounts, the sweet spot
moves. The sweet spot moves toward the
tip as you bend the saw tighter and back
down to the handle as you loosen it. OK,
let's try this. Start rapping the saw
until you find the sweet spot. When you
find it, give the saw a good solid rap
and let the saw sing for a while. Now
relax your left hand so that you lose the
"S" curve. Notice how the saw
stops singing? That's how crucial the
"S" curve is. One final
experiment. Again start rapping the saw
at a sweet spot. When you find it, give a
good rap and bend the saw either tighter
or looser and listen to the tone change.
Practice: Play around with rapping the
saw with your "mallet" to find
the Sweet Spot for different bends. To
make this exercise more pleasant, you can
even try rapping and bending out a tune.
Holding the Bow
Lesson 4 of 7
Goal: teach you how to take care
of and hold the bow
We don't need the saw for this lesson, so
you can put it away for the time being.
Up until now, you have been making the
saw vibrate by rapping it with a mallet.
We are now going to let the bow take the
place of the mallet to make the saw
vibrate - The music is much prettier when
you use a bow instead of a mallet. If
your rosin is new, you have to prepare it
before rosining your bow. Use your pen
knife to scratch the surface of the rosin
in a cross hatch pattern. Don't cut very
deep into the rosin, all you have to do
is just scratch it. Your bow has two
ends, the non-pointy end is called the
frog. On the end of the frog, is a knob.
Whenever you play, you must tighten this
knob so that the hairs are taught without
being too tight. As soon as you finish
playing, unscrew the knob to relax the
hair. Never touch the hair with your
fingers - as the oil from your fingers
could ruin the hair. To rosin your bow,
tighten the knob and then hold the bow
near the frog and sweep the bow up and
down the rosin. If this is a new bow, you
may have to do this 50-100 times.
Thereafter, you may only need to take
about 20 strokes every time you play. To
hold the bow for saw playing, hold it in
your right hand by pinching the wooden
stick between your thumb and fingers just
as if you were holding the stem of a
champagne glass. The pointy end pointing
down and the hair facing you. Your thumb
will be between the stick and the hair.
Practice: No practice for this lesson but
remember to always loosen the knob before
putting your bow away.
Bowing the Saw
Lesson 5 of 7
Goal: teach you how to bow the
saw and where to bow for each note.
Now we will need both the saw and the
bow. We won't need your
"Mallet" again, so you can
return it to the kitchen drawer. Hold the
saw as we taught you in the first lesson.
Make sure you maintain the "S"
curve. Hold the bow in your right hand
and try to maintain the bow perpendicular
to the saw edge at all times. Just as
there are sweet spots on the top (flat)
of the saw, there are equivalent sweet
spots on the edge of the saw; and those
are the sweet spots you will have to find
with your bow. When you bow, you
wont be bowing the top of the saw,
rather, you will be bowing the edge
(opposite of the teeth). Try to position
the bow on a sweet spot. With moderate
pressure, draw the bow across the edge of
the saw (you can either bow up or down).
If you don't get a note, you probably are
not on the sweet spot. try moving the bow
a little towards the tip or handle and
bowing again. Alternatively, you could
just change the tightness of the bend of
the saw. Pause frequently to rosin your
bow. When you do bow on the sweet spot,
you will hear a beautiful tone. As soon
as the saw sings, pull the bow away from
the saw, otherwise, you will deaden the
Practice: Try bending the saw different
amounts and then locate the sweet spot
with your bow. Try bowing with up
bow strokes only, down
bow strokes only, or a mix of both
up and down strokes - determine which
bowing technique works best for you. Pull
the bow away from the saw as soon as you
play a note. Try bending the saw after
bowing it to change pitch.
Lesson 6 of 7
Goal: Teach you to change notes.
This is the last lesson before you
actually play songs - so hang in there.
You've already practiced pulling the bow
away from the saw as soon as you play a
note. Now when you pull the bow away from
the saw, try bending the saw to play
several pitches before the volume dies
out - As the volume dies down, move the
bow to the current sweet spot and give it
another stroke. Experiment with playing
as many notes as you can between bowings.
Practice: Scales. To get started, have
someone play scales on another instrument
and play along with him/her - then try
Playing a Song
Lesson 7 of 7
Goal: Have you start playing
beautiful saw music.
You've done all the hard work - all
thats left is to start playing
music! So pick up your saw and start
playing. You will find it as easy as
whistling. Try to play the first few
songs by yourself (not to a CD/radio).
After a while, you can start
"jamming" to a CD. You will
find you have to rosin your bow quite
frequently - maybe every song. Focus on 3
things: maintaining the "S"
curve, keeping the bow perpendicular, and
bowing as lightly as possible. Start each
practice session with a set of scales
before starting in on the "fun"
Heres a listing of things to watch out for when you're playing the saw:
- One common mistake is to bow too lightly - make sure when you bow you maintain medium pressure. We don't want you to bear down too hard with the bow as that will cause significant wear on the bow hair. But, if you bear down very lightly, you'll have a hard time playing. - Experiment with varying amounts of bow pressure.
- Another error is changing the bend of the saw whilst bowing. This may work out for you when you become a bit more experienced. But when starting out, keep the saw stationary until you finish each bow stroke
- vibrato - To get a more pleasing sound, bounce one of your legs (usually your right leg - if you bow with your right hand) - this is sometimes called "nervous knee". When you first start out, just keep your knee jiggling the entire time. Once you become an expert, the goal is to attack each note without vibrato and then build up the vibrato - but this is an advanced techique that you won't have to worry about for several months.
- Cheating while bowing - Instead of drawing the bow perpendicular to the saw, you can sweep the bow towards the saw tip as you are drawing up on the bow - Using this technique, you are able to cover a broader swath of the saw while bowing - so you don't need to know exactly where the sweet spot is at all times. - The problem with this is that you will have a lot more "bow noise" while playing. but it is a shortcut while you are learning to play.
- Using a cheat - A cheat is a small wooden handle that attaches to the tip of the saw. Not only does this handle allow you to bend the saw much more easily but it will also keep your left hand from tiring out.
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