From Adam Dawdy
Posted August 10, 2007 at 11:11 PM
You are already off to a good start because:
1. You desire a beautiful tone. (The greater the passion for it, the more persistently the violinist will pursue it.)
2. You have identified "squeezing" as something to remove in the advancement of tonal beauty.
3. You have identified string changes as a specific technique which when done in a different way will make an improvement in the tone quality.
Here are some tips:
1. Sometimes string players unintentionally train themselves to use bow pressure as a way of bringing the bow hair to the next string. This causes a choking of the string vibration. Play repeatedly, any 2 consecutive notes, of the d minor Allemanda, which are on 2 different strings. Analyze what you are doing as you repeat the 2 notes many times. Make sure that the bringing of the bow hair from one string to the next is entirely done with the arcing of the bow (and a very subtle counter-arcing of the violin is a nice refinement), but without any bending the first string with bow pressure. Another way of looking at this is what Miss DeLay would call a "sequence of events". The events to be done in the correct sequence are string change and bow change. The sequence is string change first, bow change next. If you play downbow on D string followed by up bow on A string, wait to feel for the bow hair resting on the A string before you change from down to up. If the bow change occurs before the string change is completed, the player instinctively presses so he'll hear the new string....unfortunately, what he will hear is the new string being choked!
2. Listen to hours of recordings and live performances of violinists who produce gorgeous tone. Listen to great singers. The more you hear of the highest quality, the better for you.
3. Do some of your practice without vibrato, so as to encourage the most careful listening to intonation and to freedom of string vibration.
4. See what happens by trying a little shift of concentration from "What is the bow doing?" to "How is the string vibrating."
5. If you ever have the opportunity to have a few singing lessons, take it! It is great for your violin tone, particularly the learning to listen like a singer.
Thanks for your advice. Would you please elaborate on your 5th point, re singing?
I took singing lessons and I sing soprano with more ease, I think, than playing the violin, although I have a much greater passion for the latter. I think I see the point you are making, but I’m not sure. For me, singing is all about breathing, balancing oneself, and keeping everything above the diaphragm relaxed. In a sense, my bow-arm is like my breathing mechanism in singing. The most concentrated breathing is like a well-performed son file – a very long, clear and pretty sound. Then there’s the ringing/vibrato that comes so naturally without any pressure of the throat but is achieved with the support of the proper breathing. It's very easy for me to achieve this in singing but not so in violin playing. In fact, when I play the violin, I’m so busy with everything violin that I simply can’t relate much to what I’ve learned in singing. I would really appreciate it if you could discuss a bit more on the relationship between these two forms of performance, especially on how transferable these skills and understanding can be. Thanks in advance.
There is already some excellent advice. As a teacher (and player) I find that a squeezed tone results usually from incorrect basics (though incredibly small sometimes). Here is advice that I might give to my students (and myself):
1- The bow is actually balanced on the string by the hand. The hand does not hold the bow. On a scale of 0-10, the hold of the right should never be more than 3.5 (excellent advice from my last teacher who has one of the best bow arms in the business).
2- Bow hold: I am a proponent of the FB school, but that said, with any hold, there are two things to watch for: The thumb and middle finger make a ring and should be in line; if the middle finger is ahead or behind the thumb, the lack of balance will create problems in sound. And, your fingers should not be too far apart; beware of the clawing-out of the index which creates tension and will squeeze a sound.
3- There are four strings, so four planes of the bow (plus three others for double-stops). Each plane has one level of elbow. Try to keep the elbow on one plane when on one string. The elbow should really only move for string crossings (or be suspended for slower off-the-string strokes).
4- The sound should be produced by a horizontal motion. Though weight needs to be adjusted according to the instrument, in most cases, contact point and bow speed will be more determing factors than pressure. A good rule to help: The closer to the bridge, the slower the speed, the further away, the faster the speed of the bow.
5- Double-stops are horizontal in motion with a slight roll of the elbow to change strings. They should not be conceived of as a drop of the elbow or anything vertical. That will squeeze the sound.
6- Make sure that you are physically in the right geometry for the stroke. This is actually more important than the part of the bow you are using.
7- The sound comes from the forearm, and though the wrist and fingers should be supple, in most cases they are actually following the forearm, not leading. A good way to remember is to think: The hand follows the arm, the arm does not follow the hand.
8- Think of sound in a physical way, rather than abstract terms. For example, if you want more bow, think more forearm. Think of the means of producing the sound rather than something abstract.
9- This is important: Play with the violin rather than against it. Many violins can sound much better when we play with what the violin tells us rather than imposing something foreign to its nature.
10- Don't work hard, work easy! This ties into #9. Easing-off most often gets you more than the other way around.
Best of luck - Bach is great - and cheers!
What I find in the study of singing that is especially beneficial to a violinist is the singer-specific ear training.
The ability to distinguish amongst small differences in the sound of a vowel is one important example. Once my voice teacher said to me: "Sing "AH". I sang "AH" (or so I thought). He said: "No, no. Sing "AH"! I said: "I thought that is what I just did!" He said: "You didn't sing "AH"! You sang something halfway between "AH" and "AW"!" I soon caught on that he was making, and wanting me to make, far finer distinctions in vowel listening than I had been. This is so relavent to violin tone. It is especially relavent to the key role that intonation plays in tone production. Whoever increases his ability to hear tiny changes in the vowel sound of the violin as he makes the subtlest change of pitch, has advanced his bow and vibrato tone production.
Another example of voice-specific ear training is in distinguishing between what is heard when excessive throat tension strangles the tone, and what is heard in correct voice production. Would that every violinist were expert in this!
Singers are trained to hear the difference between loud screaming and powerful singing. They are brought up with an aesthetic and a tradition which encourages them to develop a complex and projecting tone. They hear and understand that a tone becomes more powerful and projecting as more overtones are reenforced by chest resonances, nasal resonances, head resonances etc., not by screaming. Violinists are often way behind singers in this. This lack of a cultivated ear all too often leads them to select a violin that irritates and repulses the most, yet is weak and empty. Worse yet, it may lead them to play the violin in a way which is sorely lacking in both beauty and projection.
Milstein said: "The violinist's dream is to imitate the human voice." I believe that the greatest artists, the ones who get right to your heart and move you the most deeply, are those who are best able to use the voice-like qualities and inflections of the violin.
Do you know of the tone production exercises in the "Basics" section of Dorothy DeLay's practice schedule? They're absolutely amazing for tone production...I will do my best to pass them on here but it's easier to show than tell (you might want to check with a well-known teacher and make sure I'm even doing them right ^^)
Vocabulary to know: "round turn" is the term used for one "repetition" of each exercise. In the sounding point exercise, a round turn is from fingerboard to bridge and back, in the speed exercise it is from fast to slow bow, in the pressure exercise it is from low to high pressure and back to low, and on the hair exercise it is from one hair to full hair.
1. Sounding Point. Place the bow on any FINGERED note on any string (preferably D or A, but you should work the E and G once in awhile too). Begin by moving from the fingerboard sounding point to the bridge sounding point and back again over the course of a full bow (one round turn), making sure that there's lots of vibrato and a clean, pure sound all the way. As you feel more comfortable increase the number of round turns to 64 per bow (as you put more round turns per bow, the distance travelled will be less, and the variation between sounding points will be less--that's OK as long as there is some distinction). Oh, and cut the vibrato at 32 round turns ;)
2. Speed. In a similar manner--choose a sounding point and start your bow very very quickly, making sure to isolate speed only (use very little pressure) and slow it gradually so that at the tip or frog you're moving the bow extremely slowly (one round turn). Work up to about 16 round turns per bow (my max so far!)
3.Pressure. You should probably know exactly what I'm going to say...start off with no pressure, increase gradually to full pressure, and then back off gradually to where you started over the course of one bow. Increase the number of round turns per bow to something that's challenging but comfortable (no cracks, etc, in sound). Remember, always keep that vibrato going.
4.Hair. Start on one hair, and go to full hair gradually, and then back off to where you started over the course of one bow (one round turn). Increase the number of round turns per bow...you catch my drift ^^
If you can get your hands on a copy of THE "practice schedule" (that thing seems almost biblical to me!) by all means do it--those exercises along with all the stuff outlined in there are fantastic (they've helped me tremendously) but you really do need to do them in conjunction with all the other stuff.
Also, pick up a copy of Simon Fischer's "Basics" as well as a copy of Isaak Vigdorchik's "Violin Playing:A Physiological Approach". Great books!
Hope this helps!
Sometimes, I play letting the bow lead the way, and it is a crystal clear beautiful legato experience though not very big, but room filling.... And when I start from the perspective of more foream, it's a bigger sound of course.
I'm guessing I'll get a lot of details in this thread about this--Thank you Adam for creating it.
Anyway, that chamber effect where it literally glides from note to note is powerfully beautiful, and I could play in that context forever. I had the experience last night where it was so light and fluid that I lost my bow for a second and it glided across sounding points--and even that, sounded good.... (insert grin).
So this bigness and smallness of sound. Where does it fit in in tone production?
If I'm understanding your above post correctly, the implication of the words "naturally associated" is that among the many kinds of G string tone one could produce, there is a special and natural association with the Basso voice. Among the many E string tones possible on the violin, there is a *natural association* with the Soprano voice. I believe that this natural association is the root and foundation of a tonal aesthetic: Audiences are especially attracted to something that sounds voice-like, and performers give themselves a greater intimacy of communication with the audience when they speak and sing to them with a voice-like variety of tones.
Two examples I can think off the cuff. One is a pop singer and one is the old-world acapella sound that has distinctive characteristics. I've captured at least a little of each at different times when I can 'really' really focus and get everything popping. I think that's why I respect my violin so much.
When I was a child, I use to play-act that I was writing my own "Peter and the Wolf" or something, reproducing images on piano. So there are a couple levels to this thing.
One level speaks specifically to the human-voice aspect of violin; and, the other speaks to the impressionistic aspect of violin. Well, as an adult beginner, the limiting factor relating to the human voice, I admit I find comforting I guess in a world of parameters that help focus one's efforts.
But how would we put a Monet spin on this? I'll gladly leave that to all the true progressives.
From the subtle elbow aspects, to down and dirty exercises it's all there. And if that weren't enough, Oliver et.al. took us to the functional abstract.
I found myself in my mind applying all the exercises in that I (in the past) routinely practice speed and pressure; and, now can go many steps further both directly and indirectly. (Been on summer hiatus, well, garden hiatus).
And the details! Understanding the precedence (string change before bow change). How cool.
And my Carl Flesch's Problems of Tone Production in Violin Playing has just arrived a few minutes ago (yes, they deliver them on weekends in Canada). It looks quite interesting.
I focused on the bow vibrating the string, waiting for contact in string crossings, staying in the same plane, and became more aware in a very small way of the other three planes.
Anyway, earlier it was legato-fest with above as a study; and, later it was same fest, with much etudes, S3 review,refinement of S3-5; and trouble spot review (too many to list) ;).
But these discussions are magnifying some type of layering of improvement I can't put my finger on. When I started bringing posture into this, further playing my forward and relax things, adding another tonight (moving my head lightly as a posture reminder), and applied some of tone production things, it was kick-butt.
I'm getting to where I can consistently just pick up and legato-out at leisure now, without warm-up. I use to have to work very very hard to get to that 'zone'. And my wild bow arm is settling in, again as result directly of this and other discussions. And other things, it came to mind.
I wouldn't want to choose, but I think this qualifies maybe in the top 10 really basic good truly useful threads of the year--in my mind maybe top 3 even. Wow.
I'm going to compile these into a basic tone production document, organizing them into physical (hold, posture), technical(basic elements-SP, weight, speed, string crossings, bow changes), and finally aesthetic (qualified and keeping things within the context of detache and detached notes, jumping out of the box talking about singing). And I'm glad it's basic.
I hope to further add material from violin masterclasses on seamless bow changes, and underwrite the wonderful wonderful Delay advice shared on four specific exercises with Sassmanhaus' 'very basic' bow pressure speed foundations.
This has been very rewarding for me. I advanced the string crossing before bow changes beyond my expectations last night. And I was pleased to discover that my thumb and middle finger were ok of their own in my bow hold, but started bringing it into better focus.
And as noted from the night before, waiting for contact in string crossings has been very helpful as well. My Emil inspired Witch's Dance benefited immediately even at that intensity.
So when I went to parsing all these notes, I found the discussion coming from several directions as mentioned in the beginning here, and hope to use everyone's words to make something more lasting.
The wonderful notes on singing, and furthered towards the qualities of individual strings actually stand on their own I think, and would be justified in a masterclass spirit that could integrate the many advanced bowing techniques that are actually part of all this. So I'll try and comment that in somehow as well.
And here I think, is the abstract of the abstract.
P.S. If anyone would like to tackle detached notes in string crossings, as well as on a single string, that would be cool--in a very basic way.
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