Musical Saw Dreams: the Singing Saw


I’ve joined the illustrious Chicago Sawing Circle (copyright 2015, Matt Test). I’m trying to play the carpenter saw. With– ahem– the violin bow not the cello bow.

If you google “playing the carpenter saw” or “Stradivarius saw” or “musical saw” or “singing saw”– you’ll get some helpful videos. That’s good. The words “hold the saw in an S-shape”, unless accompanied by a visual, are a little cryptic.

NOTE: Suggestions below are for Right-Handed musical saw beginners. Please reverse as needed.

You can sit or stand. I sit, of course. Saw teeth face toward you. Wooden handle snug between your knees. My carpenter saw is plastic-handled, actually. It’s also 25″ which is one inch shorter than my teacher recommended.

Your left palm pushes up at the steel saw tip, your left thumb presses forward. To, yes, create an S-shape. Playing the carpenter saw is very hard on left thumbs.

You bow on the saw’s straight edge. Tilt saw more vertically for low notes, more horizontally for high. “You want to be relaxed and easy-going with the saw,” my teacher said. “Oh dear,” I said. But if, like myself, you are neither relaxed nor easy-going– this might be your ideal instrument. In a Zen and the Art of Saw Maintenance kind of way. Perhaps. In any case, the “nervous knee wiggle” to achieve a fancy vibrato should prove no problem at all.

Handy Heloise Tip: To clean rust off your bargain $5 used saw– try vinegar, baking soda, and several Scotchbrite pads. Lemon juice and salt works too.

Holding the violin bow.

Your right thumb will poke through the bow eye-hole, right fingers resting on top. I like my fingers in a Spock-spread– two stretched far left, two far right. A photo online showed a male saw player holding his bow that way and it appealed to me.

Use plenty of rosin. One web article recommends that you initially rosin your bow 50 times! My teacher says, “You really cannot over-rosin for the saw.”

Tighten your bow before you practice and loosen it again afterwards. Beware of over-tightening where it resembles a Robin Hood archery bow. Bow-hairs should lie straight.
“Do you enjoy it?” said a woman in a wheelchair. We were waiting for practice rooms. She was helping her friend, a blind man who played piano.
“Well, I just started,” I said. “I’m pretty lousy. I sound like a dying cat.”
She smiled a beautiful smile and said, “It’ll come back to life” before rolling away.
Am I– at 54 going on 55– too old to be a saw prodigy? Will I never shyly curtsy in orange velour holding my saw aloft before a packed Carnegie Hall crowd? Everyone jumping on their seats and wolf whistling, spike heels piercing seat cushions, clapping so hard that plaster chips are floating down from the ceiling like confetti. Because we just witnessed Vivaldi’s 4 Seasons played to saw-toothed perfection! Followed by an encore of– I don’t know– Philip Glass’ 4 Seasons. And since it’s really impolite to end on a Philip Glass tune– I quickly juice up my bow with rosin– and, one final time, flex my thumb– before launching into an especially poignant rendition of Supertramp’s Take the Long Way Home.

The saw makes all sad songs even sadder.

When I play that buh-da-da-duh-duh-duh Chorus “and then your wife seems to think you’re part of the furniture”— the whole place is wracked with applause and sobs and falling plaster and foam rubber from the seats and the smell of wet, tear-drenched tuxes all over again.

Lastly, holding the violin bow in my teeth and mugging shamelessly, I rattle and bend the saw with two hands to make cheeky King Lear snap-crackle thunder noises to appease the peanut gallery.

It will be a Carnegie Hall saw concert to end all Carnegie Hall saw concerts!



I took the long way home.
Thanks for stopping by. Feel free to comment with terrible saw puns.

Helpful Addendum for Musicians: If unable to locate a free practice room– try using the famous River City Think System.


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