The term ‘to stagger’ or ‘staggering’ the bow is an orchestral technique which refers to the changing of the bow direction in order to create a seamless, legato sound. In an orchestra or ensemble of stringed instruments (whether violins, violas, cellos or double basses), the players will decide to ‘stagger’ the bowing when there is a particularly long note to be held which can’t be achieved in a single bow stroke. Instead of all the players changing at the same time (creating an audible break in the sound), the ‘staggering’ will gloss over the individual changes in bow stroke to give an impression of smoothness and continuity in the sound. This can be done in any situation where there is more than one musician playing simultaneously. It could also be used whilst overdubbing, as long as each player in the string section remembers when they changed bow in previous takes!
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