Volume control - best way - or best ways??

July 23, 2010 at 11:39 PM ·

Many factors of playing (lets forget setup and rosin etc) influence sound volume and most of these are controlled by the bow: speed, pressure, angle (amount of hair in contact with the string) and position of contact relative to bridge or fretboard. 

My question is what is hte best way or combination to achieve a maximum dynamic volume range without sacrificing tone.  Pressure is the easiest way to up the volume but this also changes the character of the note the most so what do you guys recommend?  And do you use different combinations in different passages?

thanks..

Replies (31)

July 24, 2010 at 01:41 AM ·

Speed of the bow, no excess of pressure. To much pressure kills the natural resonance of the violin...

July 24, 2010 at 02:15 AM ·

>Pressure is the easiest way to up the volume

Actually, I'm not sure that I would agree with that statement.  I think the easiest way to increase volume is to increase bow speed.  But the bottom line is you need all the techniques you mentioned in your arsenal.  Different pieces require different techniques to achieve not just volume, but he color of the sound you want to create.

My teacher has me practice various tone control exercises; I believe they are the same exercises taught by Galamian.  Basically, you play open strings.  For example, down bow A-D, then up bow A-D using exactly half the bow for each string.  But apply pressure to make the A loud and release that pressure to make the D soft.  Repeating that over and over.  Then you reverse it; make the A soft, and the D loud.  Then you can do the same thing by changing bow speed -- loud A using a lot of bow, then soft D with very little bow.  Then you do the same thing but change the proximity to the bridge.  For all these exercises, you are shooting for loud-soft on the down bow, then loud-soft on the up bow.  But first you achieve with constant speed, varying pressure, next with constant pressure, and varying speed, and finally by changing the proximity to the bridge.  Then reverse it, soft-loud, soft-loud.  Then you can do 4 notes per bow:  A-D-A-D down bow, then A-D-A-D up bow.  Then 8 notes, then 16.  You get the idea.  You can also apply this to your scales; e.g., alternating notes of the scale loud-soft-loud-soft.  If you do these exercises for a week or two, you will start to automatically incorporate varying pressure and speed and proximity to bridge as you play music.

Good topic.  I think this is a really critical aspect of being more expressive.  The volume changes must happen instinctively without conscious effort on your part.  The moment you have to think about it, then the expressiveness suffers. 

July 24, 2010 at 05:24 AM ·

 To much pressure kills the natural resonance of the violin...

True, but whether you kill the sound depends on how far from the bridge is the contact-point as well as the pressure applied. Unless trying for a "sul ponticello" sound, a firmer contact is needed if playing nearer the bridge or the adhesion fails, and the bow slips. Distance of the contact-point from the bridge dictates quality rather that volume. Smiley's suggestions should be very helpful. As well as varying firmness of contact a player needs to be aware of "bow-division" i.e. how much the bow travels for each note. A short note amongst detached longer ones will be too strong if the length of stroke is not reduced for it. Lucien Capet emphasised that. It's hard to get a real pianisimo whilst sawing away with the full length of the bow.

July 24, 2010 at 08:21 AM ·

 A well known violinist once told me that you can't crescendo without using vibrato. I think that's probably a bit of an exaggeration, but there's a bit of truth in that.

The vibrato adds a lot to the volume and projection of the sound. Also, the string can take more bow pressure if you are vibrating, although too much pressure can be counter productive, as already mentioned. I think it's best to think in terms of the speed of the bow, and then add the appropriate bow pressure accordingly. The sound also projects more when the bow is nearer the bridge.

Another thing that should help is to use the larger muscles to power the bow where appropriate (i.e. back muscles).

July 24, 2010 at 08:44 AM ·

Neil Hoang


 "The sound also projects more when the bow is nearer the bridge."

Absolutely correct. A professional opinion, and very welcome.

I find that a lot of string players, cellists, viola players and fiddle players feather away far too far from the bridge, and consequentially get a small thin sound.

Some players find it hard to do ponticello as they can't get the bow near enough to the bridge. Practise ponticello to get used to playing near the bridge, and then back off a fraction to get a big powerful sound.

I expect a lot of the people who have been playing for a few weeks or even a couple of years will soon come on and contradict me over this advice. Nothing changes!

July 24, 2010 at 08:49 AM ·

Marc: To much pressure kills the natural resonance of the violin...

Thats exactly what stimulated this topic.  I was using pressure to get volume - but it was both rather inneffective and I hated the way I lost the singing tones.  So I figured there was a more reliable method.  Oddly, there seems to be rather little written about not how to do this but how best to achieve high volume (after all, low volume and a nice tone are relatively easy).

David: ...whether you kill the sound depends on how far from the bridge is the contact-point as well as the pressure applied...a firmer contact is needed if playing nearer the bridge or the adhesion fails, and the bow slips.  That I get, and its no doubt one reason for the higher volume.

Distance of the contact-point from the bridge dictates quality rather that volume. Is that all though?  Seems to me it is louder with the same pressure.  However, its definitely different tone wise too, it tends to be a harsher sound - which makes me wonder if it is in fact possible to play loud and sweetly resonant.  Excepting, of course, that Pearlman does it all the time.  So whats the secret??  Or am I missing something? 

July 24, 2010 at 09:15 AM ·

 Distance of the contact-point from the bridge dictates quality rather that volume. 

Move away from the bridge area and the sound gives an impression of softness without greatly affecting the volume. 

I am surprised at Peter, who played in orchestras, wondering at all that playing over the fingerboard he has witnessed. I recall Hugo Rignold exhorting the fiddlers an the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain to "get away from the bridges you so much love". There's a more blending sound to be had that way - however I don't agree with doing that all the time ! I was in a job for years where a permanent flautando seemed to be expected. But I am surprised at the idea that a sound made away from the bridge is automatically thin - doesn't that happen if the bow grip's too tight, the bow's too stiff (crushing?) and the pressure too much for that area ?

The string is less "bendy" near the bridge, enabling the sound to be "pulled". But the left hand finger grip needs to be stronger, too, to avoid scratchiness. It seems natural to want to increase the intensity of vibrato as the sound strengthens - more emotion ! "Singing" sounds result from control of the distance of point of contact from the bridge - "straight" bowing - difficult to maintain because shoulder, wrist and elbow are the center of arcs of circles. The sensation should be similar to that of maintaining diaphragm support when singing:- don't "quit" after starting notes. Posture, and bowing from the shoulder and back, rather than from the forearm, is essential for a large sound, as has been observed already.

July 24, 2010 at 09:23 AM ·

David

It's interesting that you have referenced Hugo Rignold as I played for him for nearly three years in the CBSO. I don't remember him ever saying about playing away from the bridge, but he frequently asked people "to dig it out." He also sometimes thought we used too much bow.

A lot of the principal string players and others thought his ideas about string playing rather wierd, although he had been a fiddle player himself at one time, mainly in the light music field.

July 24, 2010 at 09:48 AM ·

 Peter,

I guess the fiddlers in the NYO had been practising in "concerto" style more recently than some of those CBSO folk. Presumably he said what was needed on the occasion. That's good. Many "carvers" say exactly the same at different orchestras regardless.

That thing about too much bow relates to what I tried to say about a flautando sounding softer whilst actually retaining quite a bit of volume. There's a "solo" pianissimo, for concertos, that's by no means quiet. Those folk just take off some edge. Barenboim improved vast areas of a Bruckner Symphony at the Hallé by getting the first violins to play the upper octave in quiet passages with less bow, whereas Barbirolli had us sawing away from end to end of the stick - the result for Danny was an actual rather than pretend piano, and the upper octave sat on the supporting lower one, colouring it.

I hope this thread really is is about range of sound, rather than just belting it out !

July 24, 2010 at 10:32 AM ·

David

This is an interesting discussion on sound, and bow techniques.

Just under a year ago I spent most of a day (until I'd had enough) at the RAM as they had an open conductors day for the conducting students. Along with a load of BS about "not conducting faster to catch up with the orchestra" (who but an idiot would do that!!) - they had an Academy orchestra doing Tchaik 6. The student conductors had no idea how to do the opening and no one asked the violas and cellos to use more bow with little pressure and flautando. So they played it with small bows and too much pressure. It sounded awful.

As Joan Sutherland once said to us when she had to show Pav where he was in the part, as he'd got lost, "it's the blind leading the blind." In the case of the conductors its more the deaf leading the blind ...

July 24, 2010 at 10:33 AM ·

Hi,

Interesting topic...  I find that people often confuse volume with projection.  A projecting sound is what we should be seeking rather than loudness.  Therefore, the factors involved are more weight, and speed of bow, but not so much pressure.  In fact, I personally find that one should not press as this leads to tension and really chokes the sound.  Quality and clarity of sound are what projects best.

That said, different violins (and strings) respond differently.  For example, many Strads choke under pressure, some at the slightest pressure.  Del Gésu's need more weight and a slower bow speed to respond, and some even need pressure.  Strings like Pirazzi and Vision encourage pressing (or maybe were designed to work with the modern tendency to press).  I think that in order to project, one has to go with how the violin reacts.

I think that one should think more in terms of colour of sound and how active or less is the bow arm.  That will translate better into what one wishes to project.  Also, on many violins, contact point is determined by bow speed.

The orchestra point is a good one.  When people produce a colour that does not blend, it is actually because they use pressure, rather than speed and contact points.  That is what bugs most conductors.

My own two cents on this early Saturday morning...

Cheers!

July 24, 2010 at 12:01 PM ·

Great topic!!! And all the above mentionned answers I agree with. My point  of view has to do with the right way to apply bow pressure, and I strongly believe it is achieved with the natural weight of the bow and hand. If it comes from the wrist, you are blocking all the process. Same with left hand technique. This is called "symbiose" of both right and left arms and gives you the feeling that your entire body is truly adapted to the instrument, without any sense of behing stiff. Everything is in suspension and allows great freedom, and naturally,the volume in sound increases. Your body becomes like the strings of the instrument and allows, without interruptions,the vibrations to be enhanced. More problematic are always the slow movements. The bow is usually kept right in the middle in the lower positions, and closer to the bridge on the higher ones. Vibrato has a very important effect in increasing the volume and that is the reason you must focus on working on different kinds of vibrato, not only one... Faster vibrato, slower, all adapted to the music you are playing.

It is true that some Strads or Guarneris are totally allergic to an excess of bow pressure. Ehnes and Hahn can project far away in a concert hall in an effortless way, just because of the right point of bow contact and the "symbiose" I was discussing above...

I will open a new discussion this weekend   about the Baroque form of the Labyrinth and the art of modulation. I will post an example of the Labyrinth of Locatelli, the original version, played in such a way that it will defined most of the questions on our actual subject- matter... No, it is not Oistrach or Szeryng... You will see.

July 24, 2010 at 12:21 PM ·

There's a story that a student asked the famous teacher Max Rostal how to get a big sound. The reply was "Take up the trombone".

Many recordings are informative as to the timbre of sound a soloist makes, but misleading as to the VOLUME of which a fiddle is capable. Speaking as someone who has performed, albeit in a VERY minor supporting role, with soloists such as Menuhin, Oistrakh, Szering et al, the perceived volume in real life, when playing a concerto with an orchestra, is nothing like the "miked up" effect on those revered recordings ! In this lies a danger of hang-ups.

As has been observed, the thing to do is to learn to let the violin "ring" with clarity and quality. Forcing just dampens the sound.

I enjoyed Peter's observations re conductors. Can anyone name another walk of life, apart from orchestral playing, where folk are forced to follow a person with a white stick? 

July 24, 2010 at 01:13 PM ·

David: As has been observed, the thing to do is to learn to let the violin "ring" with clarity and quality. Forcing just dampens the sound.  But I am still not clear on how you "ring" quietly and (more difficult) "ring" forticimo (or with projection).  I played with it a bit more this morning and it seems one way is to achieve a "ring" when you are close to the bridge.  This is more difficult (to me) than in the mid-fingerboard-bridge region or close to the latter.  

Also, it may be different for an orchestra player vs a soloists?  The latter can much less afford a tone-dampened sound.

(I'll get to some of the earlier posts later - I kinda thought this subject would stimulate some intricate discussions..)

July 24, 2010 at 01:14 PM ·

["I enjoyed Peter's observations re conductors. Can anyone name another walk of life, apart from orchestral playing, where folk are forced to follow a person with a white stick? ]

The blind leading the blind?

(run and hide) ]

July 24, 2010 at 02:58 PM ·

Of course, we have to admit the fact that conductors always have the biggest sound. And they always conduct in C major...

My experience of soloists, sometimes in a small room, is that they always produce a big sound, and quite a hard sound, nearer than most play to the bridge.

Being close to a soloist in an orchestra, and in a concerto in a concert hall, means one hears all the noises and bits of shrapnel coming off their instrument that the audience does not hear. When you are two feet away it sounds one way, 20 feet away and more,it sounds wonderful.

July 24, 2010 at 03:58 PM ·

 Elise, 

Here's an extract from the Hill book on Stradivari :- writing of how the leading players would test the sound of a violin "...they knew by experience that, for violin tone to carry in a concert-hall, it must be produced in such a way that the strings continue to vibrate after the bow has left them, which implies that the strings must not be attacked with such force by the bow that the vibrations are checked or damped. "

As Peter observes, soloists going full-steam-ahead do sound quite hard, even raspy close up. A problem for a good many players is the desire to make their own violin sound under their ear as a "great" violin is made to sound at a distance, or on a recording. I have known good players to be offered the use of first-class old Cremonese violins and be unable to play them, finding them nasal and harsh after their own user-friendly English of French instruments.

Is this thread going to open any cans of worms ??

July 24, 2010 at 04:36 PM ·

Perfect symbiose: notice the right wrist,freedom of the entire body and sound production done with various speed of the bow. Watch his neck...

 

 


Le Labyrinthe de l'harmonie en Ré Majeur. LOCATELLI .
envoyé par ViolonisteZV. - Regardez d'autres vidéos de musique.

July 24, 2010 at 08:49 PM ·

He has a very long fourth finger. A very free kneck.

And he uses a shoulder rest ...

Great bowing technique.

July 24, 2010 at 11:35 PM ·

Peter:true about the shoulder rest, which if you look carefully is not resting on the shoulder at all. The violin is in front of him and his entire  left arm, very close to the body. Like Ehnes and Kavakos. In fact, they use exactly the same technique as the violonists who do not use a shoulder rest...

Notice to that his left arm,like Ehnes and Kavakos never swings from left to right or vice versa. It barely moves. Everything is done with his left hand which embraces all the finger board, like if he was holding a small ball. Ghur and Fetis about Paganini have discussed many times this subjet matter and the description of him, playing and holding the violin are quite similar to the live example of the above mentionned performance... Minimalist in the left hand, Maximum from the bow...

July 25, 2010 at 12:49 AM ·

He also is not clenching the instrument with his chin.  Notice at 1:30 he takes his chin completely off the instrument.  He seems to make good use of the shoulder rest while avoiding the tension that usually comes with it.  One slight problem (if you want to call it that), his head is turned significantly to the left while playing.  I'm not sure the exact cause of this, but for long term comfort, it would be preferable to orient the head in a more neutral position (e.g., looking straight forward or just slightly to the left).  But overall, a very impressive performance.

July 25, 2010 at 02:06 AM ·

 A full tone can also be enhanced by thinking of the violin resisting the weight of the bow on to the string. Like clapping with two hands moving together, you get a louder clap than if you leave one hand passive while the other moves toward it. This is especially useful when reaching climactic notes- witness Milstein at :48  in this video, for example.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Clque0acvaE

In the last video listed below in this series Simon Fischer talks about the violin not being passive and playing a role with the bow together:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7N6KW-M96CA&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=urFPFn7s3m4&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ElfFq5Hn6a8&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Il58JA2hV4&feature=related

July 25, 2010 at 07:15 AM ·

Marc

Yes I agree with you, use of a shoulder rest does not imply pressing down or lack of freedom to move the instrument around. The freedom of the head is the vital point.

"Minimalist in the left hand, Maximum from the bow..."

Again I agree and if you look at all the greats they have this technique. Ricci talks about Paganini in this way as well.

July 25, 2010 at 09:05 AM ·

He has a very flexible neck indeed, and it looks like the shoulder rest is there only to set the playing angle. He doesn't seem to put any pressure on it. A highly extensible 4th finger too. That caprice must be one of the trickiest things to play, with the open strings inside the chord shapes! A wonderful performance,

Jim

July 26, 2010 at 04:04 AM ·

Elise, I have an experiment for you. Can you draw your bow on a string from frog to tip and tip to frog with constant contact and no rough spots, screeching or touching another string? If you can't, practice daily until you do.  When you're able to do that, can you play a short scale, say one or two octaves only, but with the bow so ever so lightly on the string but always in constant contact with it while feeling the weight you are producing with your whole body through the bow? Is your hand heavy and yet you'r barely skimming the surface of the string? Can you play through the whole scale like this constant contact with the bow literally just resting ever so gently under the weight of your hand (this is not an oxymoron), and can you seamlessly connect your notes and cross the strings literally seamlessly?  Can you play harmonics? Bring this a level higher and play your whole scale in harmonics never losing contact with the string and never breaking between notes, i.e., utterly seamless.  If you can do that, then can you start to find your way into the note and then naturally your flooded with a sense of how to draw the bow accross the string and as you become more atune to the intonation i.e. when you play a C, it's really a C and a D is really a D etc...and as you become more involved doing that you find your bow getting heavier, sinking into the string, never losing contact with the string, totally smooth...can you aim for that.  Can you go back to playing harmonics and find that your left  hand fingers are not really prepared for the bow and if you listen clearly you'll see that your left hand doesn't know what the right one is doing, but when you see this, you can practice is and get everything working so everything is seamless? Then you can play so light you'll be playing harmonics or just dig into the note (not the string...and what was said above about the string vibrating after you leave it is true, but get into the note, and if the note is pure, the string will vibrate, you'll see it with your eye. Purity of sound. Then, you will be clear about how to play pianissimo and how to play forte, or doublt forte.  It will all be intuitive at that time.

Try it, even if it takes years.

 

 

July 26, 2010 at 12:05 PM ·

Michael.  Amazing and intoxicating.  I can play a note well enough on occasion (my violin truly sings) to realize what you are about, but obviously I am nowhere near the nirvanah you describe. 

M: Can you draw your bow on a string from frog to tip and tip to frog with constant contact and no rough spots, screeching or touching another string? So far so good. 

M: Can you play a short scale, say one or two octaves only, but with the bow so ever so lightly on the string but always in constant contact with it while feeling the weight you are producing with your whole body through the bow? Is your hand heavy and yet you'r barely skimming the surface of the string? Can you play through the whole scale like this constant contact with the bow literally just resting ever so gently under the weight of your hand (this is not an oxymoron), and can you seamlessly connect your notes and cross the strings literally seamlessly?  Approaching this but its definitely not at the level you describe.  Still, its reachable...  One of the hard things to grasp is the difference between 'pressure' and 'weight of the arm'.  Physically, its obvious that the weight of the arm can only be transferred to the string by pressure.  But as I see it, its the difference is between pressure that is sensitive vs insensitive to the reaction of the string.  Wrist-induced pressure provides volume but does not accomodate the string's natural vibration.  On the other hand, weight of arm-induced pressure caresses the string to allow it to resonate.  Rather like scrubbing a pot vs stroking a cat.  Don't try the former on the latter :)

M: Can you play harmonics? Bring this a level higher and play your whole scale in harmonics never losing contact with the string and never breaking between notes, i.e., utterly seamless.  Definitely a work in progress - I was introduced to 'scale' harmonics in Monti's Czardas and I'm afraid although I can get them, they are still in the squeaky stage!  Perhaps there is a topic on these that I can search....

M: then can you start to find your way into the note and then naturally your flooded with a sense of how to draw the bow accross the string and as you become more atune to the intonation....and as you become more involved doing that you find your bow getting heavier, sinking into the string, never losing contact with the string, totally smooth...can you aim for that.  I soo want to get this....

M: ...and find that your left  hand fingers are not really prepared for the bow and if you listen clearly you'll see that your left hand doesn't know what the right one is doing, but when you see this, you can practice is and get everything working so everything is seamless? Then you can play so light you'll be playing harmonics or just dig into the note (not the string...and what was said above about the string vibrating after you leave it is true, but get into the note, and if the note is pure, the string will vibrate, you'll see it with your eye. Purity of sound. Then, you will be clear about how to play pianissimo and how to play forte, or doublt forte.  It will all be intuitive at that time.

And the last paragraph says it all.  If I may be prosaic, its like seeking the 'purpose' of life, the more you chase it the more it runs away from you, but if you simply live it to your best you will know the answer as a matter of course...

Thank you so much for a lesson I will not forget...

ee

July 28, 2010 at 12:21 PM ·

Postscript: I think I've found the real issue - its my bow hold.  My new teacher noticed that I was flexing my wrist on some down strokes - well, that opened an entire can of worms - its a bow hold that has not changed in 40 years.  We talked about it briefly (not much time) and then I went back to Basics - litterally, in SF's book.  What I learned is that my hold makes a sweet sound - but does not permit the transfer of weight from the arm, as discussed above. 

Just a few days of working from scratch on the hold has litterally transformed the volume potential. There are so many changes - not least learning how to maintain pinkie-contact, the relationship betweent the thumb and second finger, and generally working between the fingers and thumb.  I also found the brief description on Maestronet to be quite useful though I'm not sure that it is identical to Basics....  Now I have to learn how to control this Harley: brrrrrrrrrrum :)

July 28, 2010 at 01:42 PM ·

Elise: Have you watched the Locatelli video? Wrist: like a painting brush, no tension. And all of the labyrinth is an up and down bowing crossing 3 strings on each sequence. Détaché:that is all about détaché!!!  There is also the finger stroke. Oistrach and Kreisler were experts in that field. When you control this motion, you double the volume of the sound without effort. This allow you to keep inaudible the changing of the up and down bow. No cesure anymore. It is better to practice it with short detaché at first until you feel it is so smooth when the bow change occurs, that it really gives you the impression of a never ending sound. Combined with a fine vibrato,this acomplishes miracles in sound production...

That is the main reason why I uploaded that video... Think labyrinth...think circular... Circles are basic movements of the universe and the key to achieve endless sounds in music,what ever the instrument you play...

July 28, 2010 at 08:45 PM ·

Marc - the labarynth playing is gorgeous and yes, what sound he generates, at least in the lower registers (is it supposed to be like that in the upper ones?).  And yes, his bowing arm is about as relaxed as i have ever seen.  The form of this music is one that surely permits the maximum string resonance - you touch it then immediately leave it to sing while you touch the next one, in a continuing cycle.  It reminds me of church bells (I used to listen to the real ones as a kid).

Thanks for uploading - very inspiring...

Obvioulsy what I really need for volume is a church to practice in :D

July 28, 2010 at 08:47 PM ·

john: do you have a link to that video?  I'd love to see it - sounds like detache as a very, very long spiccato!

July 30, 2010 at 06:12 PM ·

Michael,

That's like the Tao of violin playing. I'm going to make it part of my warming-up routine. Thank you!

Bart

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