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Karen Allendoerfer

Goals, part 2

August 2, 2007 at 1:08 AM

In my quest to improve the sound of my violin, I ordered Infeld Reds, based on what Pauline wrote in her blog ("I love my Infeld Reds!"). They came last week and I finally found the time to put them on my violin yesterday. And wow, they really do make a difference. For the first time I think I'm happy with the A&E sound on my violin (and the fact that the E is gold is a nice touch--cute). In the upper register, the violin sounds ringing, clear, and bell-like. It has resonance that it didn't have before. And the feel of playing it is more satisfying. Now it's only the G that really stands out as blah. It's still, scratchy, gritty, hollow. I'm not blaming the strings. I'm wondering now about a new chin rest. The one I have now clamps onto the left side, rather than around the middle the way the one on my viola does. I read on one of the discussion threads that where the chin rest is positioned can matter. It also seems to matter a little bit where the shoulder rest is. I'm not interested in learning to play without a shoulder rest entirely because I got rid of my back and neck pain with this rest (a Kun), but it still seems like I have to be careful where I put it.

I went through a period when I was breaking in my viola bow during which I realized for the first time that it was possible to put too much rosin on a bow. I'd take the bow out of the case and just rosin it up automatically before I started playing. And then my new viola, that started out so rich and smooth-sounding, was starting to sound gritty. I was worried at first, but it was just from too much rosin. I went cold turkey on the rosin for almost a month, things improved immediately, then I didn't use enough for a while; I'm closing in on just right. I'm now wondering what archival layers of caked-on junk are sitting there on my violin bow making everything scratchy. So, it's probably past time to get my violin bow re-haired. I can't remember the last time, it could be 10 years ago. Maybe even longer!

So then, just for fun, I tried the viola bow on the violin, and it's too heavy. My violin apparently needs a very light touch, as well (something that I doesn't come naturally. What can I say, maybe I was always a violist). And then, surprise, the light touch that made the violin sound better also makes the viola sound better.

Even with all that: having a Luthier fix the soundpost and the nut a few months ago, replacing the strings again, facing a new chin rest and bow rehair, I'm feeling pretty good about the progress I've made with the sound of this violin recently. It seems like I've been able to think about and diagnose and trouble shoot some of the problems on my own, and I've never been able to do that before on the violin. I'd just think it sounded bad and get discouraged and think it was my fault. It's turning my attitude towards the violin around. But I'm not sure I would have been able to do that even now if I hadn't just been through the experience of trying, buying, and playing a viola that I like. So that's why I think that I want to keep up playing both instruments at some level. Playing the one informs the other.

From Yixi Zhang
Posted on August 2, 2007 at 4:35 AM
Karen, like you, I would get tons of ideas from others and then I’ll just want to figure it out all by myself by exploring my own path. For me though, it's the shoulder rest. I used it for years when I was young without any pain or discomfort, but I couldn't now. I’ve tried at least ½ douzen but none will sit properly – one way or the other, they all like to take off. I think this is partly due to the more technically challenging stuff I'm doing now than before and partly due to age. So for me, sr is a device I would prefer not to use if I can. About 6 months ago I started to play without the rest.

So far so good, but I'm not giving up on the rest entirely and I tell you why. From time to time, I'll go back to the sr just to see if it'll work better with a new technique that I'm exploring. To me, if it sounds better with the sr, it doesn’t follow that I should or shouldn’t use the sr; it only tells me that I have a puzzle to solve: why the difference? I’d then go back and forth by playing with and without the rest to figure out where the problem lies and to see if I can fix the problem without the rest. So now the sr becomes a very interesting experimental tool for me, somewhat like your viola for you, I guess. For instance, by this comparison, I noticed that I could play with more ease on the G string with sr than without, and I figured out that this is due to the fact that I am 5’2” with limbs are shorter in proportion to my height. With the sr, the violin is slightly tilted to the right which makes the G string more reachable for my short arm. Knowing this, I now play without the rest by slightly adjusting the violin and my left elbow when I play on the G string, especially on 5th or higher position. The adjustment is subtle but worked. It further gave me another insight into how dynamic the relationship between my body and the violin is. There are a lot of sound advice people have given how to hold the violin, but it’s never one size fits all. The violin needs to be treated it as part of me to be working together, not a troubled colleague that I have to manage, if you know what I mean.

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on August 2, 2007 at 5:20 AM
If a centered chin rest works for you on your viola, I's certainly try one on your violin.

I've found that my Infeld reds are very sensitive to bow movements and bow pressure. At first, they made me feel that I had a new and better bow. That may partially explain why you get good results with a light touch with your bow.

I'm glad that you're getting brave enough to try new "fixes" on your violin and especially glad that they're working and giving you confidence.

You sound to me like someone who wants to and can play both violin and viola.

From Anne Horvath
Posted on August 2, 2007 at 12:50 PM
Hmm. There is an awful lot of violin on this blog...(insert smiley face here).

You might want to try an Infeld Blue G string, along with the Infeld Red D, A, and E strings. This brand is designed to mix-and-match. Also, make sure you are getting the rosin crud build-up off of the strings.

You know what else occurred to me? The quote:

"No matter where you go, there you are".

From Terez Mertes
Posted on August 3, 2007 at 6:29 PM
Karen - I enjoyed reading this and I have to tell you, the night after I read it (had no time to comment back then), I had a dream that my bow went wonky on me from changes in humidity and I watched in horror as it stretched and stretched and pretty much exploded, and there I was, left with all these hairs everywhere, hanging by one end of the bow and I said, "Well, looks like I need to get it rehaired." I think it was from reading your post - funny, that. : )

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