The Retake

This page is a subdivision of the “Choosing Bowings” page.

What is a “retake” ? Even though sounds like something from Japanese cuisine (like shiitake mushrooms and the “sake” drink) it is actually a simple and fundamental bow technique in which, instead of starting our new bow impulse from the point at which the bow finds itself, we make use of a little musical space (silence or resonance) to silently bring it to the position that we want it to be in for the next note. This is best illustrated by some musical examples in which the moment of the retake is indicated by the arrows:

retake in rest to opp dir MozBrahms

No music scores show any sign for this choreography (bowing) of the retake, not only because no standard sign exists but also because there are other bowing alternatives to the retake (namely the “hook“) and no editor wants to tell us how to play the cello. This lack of “instructions” can be a shame, especially for inexperienced players. In some of the edited sheet music available on this website, rather than overloading the page with thick invasive arrows, the comma has been used to indicate this type of retake. This is however definitely not the optimum form of notating a retake because in most printed music a comma indicates a rhythmical delay. So the best solution would be perhaps to use the dotted slur to indicate when no retake is necessary. In the absence of a dotted slur between two consecutive bow strokes in the same direction, the retake thus becomes the default bowing.

The above examples illustrate the most common type of retake, which is the bringing of the bow back towards the frog for a short upbow after a longer downbow has taken us out towards the tip. In this, the most common retake, we lift our bow off the string and bring it towards the frog before the short note. In order to be able to do a retake, we need to have a “musical space” between the notes that is long enough to permit us to bring our bow back silently to where we want it to be without disturbing the musical line. In the above examples, the “retaking” of the bow occurs during notated rests, but this is not always the case. Sometimes the “musical space” between the notes is indicated by a staccato dot on the note previous to the retake. In the following example not only is there no notated rest for the retake but also we are retaking from downbows to downbows:

retake brahms 1 III new

But at many times there may be neither a rest nor a staccato dot to give us “retake time” between the long and short bows of an asymmetrical figure:

retake before short 3 exmpls

In these cases we will need to “steal” the time for the retake from the long note by shortening it slightly. It is surprising just how easily and frequently we can do this, making an almost inaudible “gap” after the long note, even when it is not specifically notated (as a rest or dot). The secret is “resonance“. If, near the end of the long note, we release the bow from the string while still maintaining plenty of bowspeed (see Note-Endings), that long note will keep sounding even without any bow contact, and this resonance – like the piano’s sustain pedal – creates the aural illusion that we are still sounding it with the bow. During this resonance, we will bring the bow back towards the frog.

No matter how it is notated – with a notated rest or not – the musical space (time) in which we do our retake is full of the resonance of the previous bowstroke. So when we talk about making the note previous to the retake a little shorter we only mean reducing the time that the bow is pressing on the string. The resonance continues for the note’s full value.


Most often we will do our retake after the long note (and before the short note). This is the case in all the above examples. But sometimes we will, by choice or obligation, need to do the opposite, bringing the bow back towards the frog in a brief gap after the short note:

brahms dble III assymetry

Sometimes our choice between these two options is absolutely clear, but at other times our decision could go either way:

retake when


Just like in the above musical examples, our retake can be followed by a new bowstroke in either direction. In the above example from Brahms’s Sonata Nº 1, our retakes are from downbow to downbow, but in all the other examples they are from downbow to upbow. We can also do retakes from upbow to upbow, and from upbow to downbow.

retake from upbow


There are many reasons for which we might decide to retake our bow. In order to play as expressively and as easily as possible, we need to plan our bowing directions (bow choreography) so that our bow is taken effortlessly to where we want it to be. Basically, a retake is simply a means to get to the part of the bow that we want to be in for the next note. Some of the reasons for a retake might be purely technical, others are purely musical, but most often the reasons for a retake are a combination of the two. Many musical effects are much easier (more natural) in a specific part of the bow or in a specific bow direction (diminuendo towards the tip, crescendo towards the frog, pianissimo at the tip, spiccato in the middle of the bow, sforzando at the frog etc). Crunchy attacks are much better at the frog, which is why some passages use a succession of “retaken” downbows to give that extra energy, each note being like the crack of a whip – and the wrist having a wild workout:

retakes wild down

At other times the reason for our retake is for simple reasons of bowdivision: for example to avoid extreme bowspeed changes (and their resulting unwanted accents) in rhythmically asymmetrical passages (as is the case in most of the musical examples given above).


Click on the following link to open up a compilation of repertoire excerpts in which can be found examples of all the different varieties and permutations of “the retake”:

The Retake: Repertoire Examples