Is tone synonymous with projection?
Courtesy of a 5 month old and a small house, my practicing has been relegated to either a small upstairs bedroom with a 6 foot ceiling, or a non-heated/cooled room added to the existing house in better weather conditions. In both rooms, my main violin drives my ears batty! The instrument requires a bigger space than any room in the house can provide. So, the dilemma: muting seems a sacrilege for the instrument and I really like to practice when I can between feeding and/or changing diapers, etc...
I also have a cheap Chinese Stainer model(ROY). It sounds like a cardboard box with strings. It is possible to find a decent tone without projection? Any models, makers, or should I just suck-it-up and put a mute on it?
To answer your question, No, tone does not equal projection depending on what you mean by tone. Loudness is closer to it, but projection as in the carrying of sound over distance is driven by both loudness and frequency of the sound. A sound rich in overtones is more likely to "project" if only because of the wider sound spectrum that is generated. Arguably the sound heard at a distance isn't the same as closed by, lacking the higher frequency overtones that are more rapidly attenuated , but the lower frequencies are still "tones". A tone that sounds shrilled to the player may sound beautiful and deep to the audience because the high frequencies shrillness doesn’t carry very far, whereas the lower deep sounding frequencies do carry much further. So an instrument that lacks deep sound overtones isn’t likely to project very well. That is why I always smile when a player claims an instrument projects having never listened to it from a distance. The observation makes no sense whatsoever from a players’s perspective other than equating loudness to projection.
Tone can equal projection if the tone includes brilliance. However, projection may not be related to what you hear while playing. Especially in a small room.
Muting is not a sacrilege. We do what we can with what we have, and some times it is necessary to use a mute. As long as one doesn't practice most of the time with it, I think it is a necessary and useful tool.
I practice about 3 hours a day at present and often start at 7:30-8:00am - so I use a heavy practice mute until 9:00am to spare the neighbours. All the other suggestions to dampen the room etc are excellent, and I also have a small room which is dampened with blankets duvets etc which I was using it for recording voice narration. It worked very well, just like a professional studio with a reverb time of well under 0.5 second.
There are numerous violins which have a pleasant tone, but not loudness, and as consequence should be less expensive than the ones with both. At the other end of the scale fall electric violins, which have no tone and no loudness, and are the quietest.
Some "tones" project better than others. If you think outside the realm of violins for a moment, lets compare an oboe and a clarinet. The tone composition of an oboe will always "cut through" better than clarinet.
To complicate matters, a more general definition of projection is ability to hear at a distance. Loudness certainly helps, but contrast is also a factor, like an asymmetric vibrato.
"But you'll have to find some means to practice at times with the regular motion of the strings, i.e. no mute, but not necessarily at full volume."
I agree with all the suggestions for insulating the room. Thick rug, fabric wall hangings, furniture that doesn't have hard surfaces (a big soft couch with pillows and blankets, for instance), a desk covered by a tablecloth, etc. And possibly a sound-absorbing panel on the ceiling (hang an acoustic tile or something).
Just out of curiosity: what kinds of pieces are you trying to practice?
1) Put a rug in the room, ideally with a pad underneath it. That might be enough right there to take the edge off your ears.
Regarding your own instrument: It's hard to know what results to expect from it without actually trying it out myself in the same locations you're using.