2. Tailpiece

As with other parts of the wood of the instrument, the tailpiece may be bowed lightly to produce an air sound. However, as it is suspended between the tail-gut and the strings, and therefore under tension, it is also possible to use heavy bow pressure to activate the tailpiece itself. As with all stringed instruments, whether modern or baroque, tailpieces vary from instrument to instrument. Therefore, the pitches that may be achieved by bowing the tailpiece also vary.

Over the past few decades, numerous compositions for modern string instruments have featured bowing on the tailpiece; notably in the string music of Mauricio Kagel, Helmut Lachenmann, and Krystztof Penderecki.[1]


Bowing the tailpiece on the baroque violin:

Although tailpieces are not standardised across all baroque violins, they are typically smaller and lighter than modern tailpieces; are often made out of lighter maple wood (as with my instrument), rather than ebony hardwood; and are always without the metal fine-tuning hardware found on modern instruments. Air sounds on the tailpiece are achieved in the same way as bowing lightly on any other wooden part of the instrument. Because of the lack of the obstacle posed by fine-tuners, it is possible to navigate the area from the tailpiece to the strings more easily on the baroque violin than on its modern counterpart. Gut strings may be attached to the tailpiece with knots that sit underneath, or with loops that hook around the tailpiece. The former arrangement is not preferable for all baroque violinists; however, it does make this area more accessible with the bow.

The lightness of my maple tailpiece makes activating vibrations of the tailpiece itself easy to achieve, even with the lightest of my baroque bows. As the tailpiece on my baroque violin has a particularly lovely timbre, it has been used in compositions that I have commissioned[2]and makes regular appearances in my improvisations.



Figure 11.1 – top and side view of strings with loops anchoring to tailpiece. Instrument with maple tailpiece with ebony inlay made by Steven Gregory, belonging to the author.


Figure 11.2 – top and side view of strings with knots anchoring underneath the tailpiece. Instrument with ebony veneer tailpiece belonging to Julia Fredersdorff.  


The following is an example of the baroque violin tailpiece bowed lightly in a piano dynamic producing an air sound.

Video example 11.1 – bowed baroque violin tailpiece in piano dynamic


The following is an example of the baroque violin tailpiece bowed heavily in a forte dynamic whereby the tailpiece itself is vibrating.

Video example 11.2 – bowed baroque violin tailpiece in forte dynamic


The following is an example of bowing on the tailpiece in bars 5-6 of the violin part of In Consequence by Jacob Abela (2018, p. 1).

Video example 11.3 – excerpt from violin part of In Consequence by Jacob Abela (2018, p.1), bars 5-6



Figure 11.3 –excerpt from violin part of In Consequence by Jacob Abela (2018, p.1), bars 5-6


Suggested notation:

Tablature as found in Lachenmann[3] is suitable in passages requiring extensive movement to and from the tailpiece area. For short, isolated passages, a square notehead on a single pitch as in Figure 11.3 above, perhaps additionally with “tailpiece” written above the first instance for clarity.


[1] For instance, in Kagel’s String Quartet 1 (1967), Lachenmann’s second string quartet “Reigen seliger Geister” (1989, p. 5), and Penderecki’s Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima (1961, p. 19).

[2] For instance, in Giles (2016, p. 2), and Abela (2018, pp.1-4).

[3] See Lachenmann’s solo violoncello work Pression (1969/2010, p. 1), his solo violin work Toccatina (1986, p. 5), and his string quartets Gran Torso (1988, p. 1), “Reigen seliger Geister” (1989, pp. 2-5), and Grido (2002, p.2).