How to play the Saw by Charlie Blacklock

Here are a few instructions that I hope will help you toward learning how to play your saw.  

Sit forward on a solid chair.  The chair should be a comfortable height when your feet are in the following position; place your left foot flat on the floor and then put your right foot back far enough so that the heel of your foot does not touch the floor.  Place the saw over your left leg with the handle just behind your knee, with the teeth of the saw facing you.  Bring your right leg over to hold the saw handle firmly between your knees.  Try not to let the saw blade touch your clothing as it may deaden the sound.  

Now you need an S-curve in the saw.  Do this by grasping the small end of the saw with your left hand, placing the fingers over the end and the thumb on top.  Bend down the thumb and pull up with the fingers making a slight “S” curve.. It seems that many beginners put too much bend in the small end of the saw. While keeping just a slight bend in the small end of the saw, with the handle tight between your legs, bend the saw down, more for the higher notes and less bend for the lower notes.  

To get the notes, sounds or music from the saw, there is a little coordination that must take place.  You must not only tap or bow the saw in the right place for a given note, but the bend in the saw must be correct for that note.  There are times when you may want to give a note a little vibrato.  This can be done with your leg on the handle by vibrating your right foot.  This is the reason for the heel of your right foot not touching the floor.  This is quite hard to do at first and takes a good deal of practice.  You can keep working at this to obtain the vibrato that you desire.  Generally the vibrato should be kept smooth and to a minimum.  

When using a bow, keep the bow well rosined and, of course, bow on the back edge of the saw.  Short strokes with the bow will produce the sound you want when the saw is bowed in the correct location.  

Another method of producing the vibrato is with the hand that bends the saw rather than using the foot.  Some saw players do both.  Also some players prefer sustaining the sound by keeping the bow very light on the saw.   

Also, vibrato should never be the strong “wow-wow” that is done by some saw players.  An engineer at a recording studio told em one time that players may do this to cover their mistakes.  While this is not vibrato,  it could be used in a few cases while playing jazz music.  

Finally, while giving a workshop which was attended by a number of musicians, I was asked how the “rests” in music are handled while playing the saw.  This is important as the “rest” written in music is part of the rhythm.  I believe there are two ways to incorporate this.  One way is to stop the bow tight against the saw at the proper time and the other way is to put your hand against the saw to stop the vibrations.  I demonstrated this by playing “Three O’Clock in the Morning”, a tune that would not sound right without putting the “rest stop” in it.

Because the saw is not a real  popular instrument, most saw players get a lot of attention and applause.  I would like to feel that I receive the applause because I am playing the music well and not just because the musical saw is a novelty.

Charlie Blacklock