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A Beginner's Guide to Playing the Musical Saw

The musical saw is a unique and unconventional instrument that has gained popularity in recent years for its ethereal and haunting sound. While it may seem intimidating at first, learning to play the musical saw can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience for musicians of all levels.

Getting Started

Before diving into learning how to play the musical saw, it's important to understand the basics of the instrument. The musical saw is simply a regular hand saw that has been modified to produce musical tones. The saw is held in the player's lap, and the sound is produced by bending the saw to create different pitches.

When selecting a musical saw, it's important to choose one with a thin blade and a comfortable handle. The blade should also be straight, as this will make it easier to produce clear and consistent tones. Additionally, many players prefer to use a bow to create friction on the blade and produce sound, although other tools such as mallets or even fingers can be used as well.

Holding the Saw

Once you have selected a musical saw, it's time to learn how to hold and position the instrument. The saw is typically held between the legs, with the handle resting on one thigh and the blade pointing towards the opposite thigh. Some players prefer to use a cloth or pad to protect their legs from the sharp edge of the saw, while others simply wear thick pants or use a leather guard for protection.

The player's non-dominant hand is used to hold the saw in place, while the dominant hand is used to bend the saw and create different pitches. It's important to experiment with different hand positions to find what feels most comfortable and allows for the most control over the sound.

Producing Sound

Once you have the saw positioned and ready to play, it's time to start producing sound. The most common method of producing sound on the musical saw is to use a bow, similar to that used with a violin or cello. The bow is drawn across the blade of the saw, creating friction and causing the blade to vibrate and produce sound.

When using a bow, it's important to apply consistent pressure and maintain a steady speed to produce clear and full tones. Experimenting with different bowing techniques, such as varying the angle or pressure, can help to achieve different sounds and textures. It's also important to keep the saw blade clean and free of debris, as this can impact the quality of the sound produced.

In addition to using a bow, some players choose to produce sound on the musical saw using mallets, fingers, or even guitar picks. Each method produces a slightly different sound and requires different techniques, so it's worth experimenting with different approaches to find what works best for you.

Finding Pitches

One of the most challenging aspects of playing the musical saw is finding and producing specific pitches. Unlike traditional instruments, the musical saw does not have fixed frets or keys to guide the player, making it more difficult to produce precise pitches.

To find specific pitches on the musical saw, it's important to experiment with the amount of bend applied to the blade. Bending the saw closer to the handle produces lower pitches, while bending closer to the tip produces higher pitches. It's helpful to practice bending the saw while using a tuner to guide you and help you to identify and maintain specific pitches.

It's also important to develop a sense of muscle memory and proprioception to consistently produce specific pitches on the musical saw. This can take time and practice, but with dedication and patience, it is possible to develop a reliable sense of pitch and control over the instrument.

Playing Techniques

In addition to producing sound and finding pitches, there are a variety of playing techniques that can be utilized to create different sounds and effects on the musical saw. Experimenting with these techniques can help to expand your playing abilities and create more dynamic and expressive performances.


Vibrato is a common technique used to add expression and emotion to music, and it can be applied to the musical saw as well. To create vibrato on the saw, the player simply applies slight and rapid bends to the blade while producing sound. This creates a subtle wavering effect that can add warmth and depth to the music.


Glissando, or sliding between pitches, is another effective technique that can be used to create beautiful and fluid passages on the musical saw. To perform a glissando, the player simply bends the saw while moving the bow across the blade, creating a smooth transition between pitches. This technique can be used to create dynamic and expressive melodies that are unique to the musical saw.


Harmonics are another interesting technique that can be used to create ethereal and otherworldly sounds on the musical saw. By lightly touching the blade at specific points while producing sound, the player can produce higher pitched overtones that add a celestial quality to the music. Experimenting with different harmonic positions and pressures can lead to a wide range of unique and captivating sounds.

Getting Comfortable

As with any instrument, it's important to spend time getting comfortable with the musical saw and developing a sense of control and confidence. Consistent practice is key to building the necessary muscle memory and technique to play the saw effectively.

In addition to practicing specific playing techniques, it can be helpful to experiment with playing along with different styles of music or accompanying other instruments. This can help to develop your sense of timing and musicality, as well as provide opportunities to explore the versatility of the musical saw in different musical contexts.


Learning to play the musical saw can be a fun and fulfilling journey for musicians looking to explore new and unconventional instruments. With dedication and practice, it's possible to develop the necessary skills and techniques to create beautiful and captivating music on the saw. Whether you're a seasoned musician looking for a new challenge or a beginner looking to try something different, the musical saw offers a unique and enchanting musical experience.

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