When do we get beautiful sound?

July 28, 2010 at 12:06 PM ·

Hey everyone!

I have just hit the two year mark, about a week ago, since the beginning of my first violin lesson. I am 17 (late starter I know =P, unfortunately my family isn't very music oriented more athletic) and about half way through Suzuki Book 4. Through this short span of playing I have developed a great passion for the violin.

My question is how long after beginning does it take to create a very crisp beautiful sound out of the violin.

When I play for friends at school or family at home they tell me I sound very well, and are jealous. However I recently recorded myself playing and I thought I sounded kinda poor, and was wondering what I could do to help my sound.

So here are my questions:

Roughly how long of playing the violin on average does it take to play with a crisp ear-pleasing sound?

What factors increase the beauty of the sound of a violin, technique-wise?

Thanks,

Tyler

 

Replies (27)

July 28, 2010 at 12:50 PM ·

This may be the elusive eldorado!  I managed to get my sound to OK but then could not go further - very recently (see the volume topic) I discovered that my bow hold was flawed and am currently trying to reprogram - the effect on sound strength has been instantaneous but the subtle sounds have (hopefully for now only) gone.  Still, I prefer the strong playing in my tapes to the 'skimming' that I was hearing before.

I think you will read everywhere that the sounds depends almost entirely on your bow (there are violin factors too of course - like simply bowing straight).  What I found was that teachers get bored with working on some aspects of my technique - probably because I resist and they tire of trying.  So to improve your sound tell your teacher you want to do anything necessary to improve it - but be prepared for initial setbacks!!

July 28, 2010 at 01:32 PM ·

Tyler : "Roughly how long of playing the violin on average does it take to play with a crisp ear-pleasing sound? What factors increase the beauty of the sound of a violin, technique-wise?"

First question is a bit open-ended, but if you've been playing for 2 years and you're 17, you've probably got a lot further than someone in their 40s with 2 years behind them.

Basic factors for tone, aside for the the violin (and just as importantly, its setup), strings and bow, the standard factors for a good tone are : consistent, moderate and even bow pressure the full length of the bow, in both directions. Midway between the bridge and fingerboard should give a warm sound. Volume can be increased by any one of 1) closer to the bridge, 2) more bow pressure, 3)greater bow speed.

More advanced topics include angle of the bow (amount of hair in contact with the strings), bowing off-parallel (where you start nearer the bridge and end up nearest the fingerboard, to very gradually change the timbre of the note .. and the reverse, where you start near the fingerboard and end up nearest the bridge). There are a host of other things, but that should do for now :)

Jim

July 28, 2010 at 01:40 PM ·

 Beautiful sound. Hmmm. It reminds me of the old computer games my kids played. They couldn't render the scene very fast so you couldn't see game objectives clearly until you "moved" closer to them. Every time you moved you saw something else more clearly. Frankly it doesn't matter how good your sound gets, you'll always be looking for something better. Every time you hear the sound of Ysaye or Kreisler you'll be back to the drawing board trying for something yet better than where you are. The search for tone is like the song that never ends. 

July 28, 2010 at 02:02 PM ·

If your instrument, strings, and bow are good, and properly "treated," the quality of your sound will be improved by

1. proper intonation

2. proper use of the bow

3. good vibrato

A bad violin sound is often due to a bad recorder. If you are using a video camera or a tape recorder, a good sound can be very hard to get. One of the digital recorders, like Ederol or Zoom will give a much truer sound image.

Andy

July 28, 2010 at 02:36 PM ·

It takes a ***** long time. But not for ever. A degree of patience, and enjoying the journey, is essential. Otherwise I can recommend saxophone.

July 28, 2010 at 03:19 PM ·

 Besides the fundamentals of straight bowing there are other things that can affect crisp sound ie.

Are there other fingers touching the string that you are bowing on. If the strings are too narrowly placed or your fingers are too large it can be a problem to be solved  by changing your fingering technique.  Finger pressure on the strings must be constant unless doing vibrato, and the pressure must come from the very tip of the finger. Sloppy fingering will not give crisp sound. Repeat twenty times. 

July 28, 2010 at 09:32 PM ·

By the time you finish Suzuki book 5, you should have a clear, satifactory sound. Then Mozart concertos start and you should enjoy your playing much more. So, hopefully, within 1-2 years more depending on how much you practice. Patience =) Good luck

July 28, 2010 at 10:00 PM ·

 Amen John Cadd. It is also one of the rarest sounds in modern violin playing. Don't add such discouragement.

July 29, 2010 at 02:05 AM ·

Roughly how long of playing the violin on average does it take to play with a crisp ear-pleasing sound?

10,000 hours.  9,000 if you are a prodigy.

July 29, 2010 at 03:16 AM ·

Smiley is actually close to the truth for a master's sound. Buy a cheap del Gesu, that will help right now. Hang in there, it will come.

July 29, 2010 at 01:41 PM ·

"Roughly how long of playing the violin on average does it take to play with a crisp ear-pleasing sound?"

"10,000 hours.  9,000 if you are a prodigy."

So true! 

But by book 4 you should be having some beautful moments.  I am an adult and about where you are after FIVE years of playing, so you are chugging along nicely!  Sometimes I have glimmers of musicality...

 Good work!

July 29, 2010 at 06:47 PM ·

You need 10 000 flying hours to become a top player - an excellent performer, even more maybe for a virtuoso.

But you can play beautifully, if simply, fairly early on. Within some months for some, a little longer for others. It depends where your focus lies. If you concentrate on the beauty of your sound production, and imagine what you know you want to sound like, it comes more quickly.

Just set yourself achievable musical goals, and master them. You will play them beautifully.

gc

July 31, 2010 at 03:55 PM ·

My teacher said: You will know if you had a good sound when you make someone sleep by your playing...

August 2, 2010 at 02:23 AM ·

"Roughly how long of playing the violin on average does it take to play with a crisp ear-pleasing sound?"

"10,000 hours.  9,000 if you are a prodigy."

10000/365 = to about 27 years. maybe 9 years if you seriously practice 3 hours a day everyday from the day your born. lol

Back to the question: I find that you must get used to the violin and practice-- a lot. (not really the answer to either of your questions :P). Of course the violin and the bow also helps/prevents you from making a clear sound. Keep practicing scales then maybe slow pieces I reccommand Meditation by Thais for this, if you can play it (i think i was at my 4th year first playing Meditation). Again, not the answers to either of your questions but STILL LISTEN TO WHAT IM SAYING ALRIGHT?

August 2, 2010 at 02:35 AM ·

10000/365 = to about 27 years. maybe 9 years if you seriously practice 3 hours a day everyday from the day your born. lol

@Wesley, I don't mean to burst your bubble, but 3 hours a day is nothing for a serious musician.  There are plenty of musicians who play 5 hours a day or more.  At that rate, you can reach 10,000 hours in a relatively short amount of time.

August 2, 2010 at 09:53 PM ·

I am now on 2500 hours total. I feel 1 h is too little, but unfortunately my profession consumes me the rest of the time, 11 am until 11 pm...I really would wish I could practice 1.5 hours per day, because it would move me forward much quicker.

 

 

August 2, 2010 at 10:44 PM ·

Lena if you really believe this 10000 hours story then all you would want to do is log up the hours. The  question is how long is a piece of string.  It all depends on your ability,  the training you get and how quickly you can absorb the fundamentals of your trade. I saw a ten year old girl kick the bud of all the thirteen year olds violinists in a national competition because of innate talent and  she did it with the sweetest smile on earth. So forget about a time limit,  you will flower in your own time.  Crisp clear sound is not that elusive.

August 3, 2010 at 04:54 AM ·

This question is for SmileyH:

It goes without saying that one needs to put in the hours, 10K or more, especially for an instrument that is relatively difficult to begin with. However, does it also depend on the age at which one starts to play the violin? Meaning, is it 10K hours total or after one passes the twinkle-twinkle-little-star stage? Also, if one were to begin playing at, say 20, does the 10K figure still hold good? Or does one need to bump that up to 12K?

 

August 3, 2010 at 09:54 AM ·

I'm old. Nobody has kept track of the hours I've played. The question revolves around how long it takes a violinist to produce quality notes. I can honestly say I know violinists who have played for decades and still don't! It could be that they have developed bad habits that they find hard to break, or they don't care. I would say that it depends on the person and their commitment to doing it. It's important to practice and put in the hours, but do it on good technique. Practicing your errors over and over until you can't stop doing them is not a good idea. Take it slow, be patient. You have the rest of your life. The violin is a lifetime commitment and we are always learning. Another point: sometimes the problem is the instrument. Usually people start off playing cheaper student violins and as they progress they replace that with a better violin, and so on and so forth. I used to play a violin that was very hard to produce a quality note on, yet I did. When I traded with another violinist they were shocked at how good I was playing it! Then I got another violin and BOY did I sound even better!

August 3, 2010 at 11:37 AM ·

@VJ,

Good question and definitely a point of controversy.  There are those who do not believe (or will not accept) that we learn slower as we age.  I started a thread on this a while back and there was no definitive answer.  See the following.

Rate of progress vs Age

I personally believe that we DO progress slower as we get older so in my opinion, yes it does require more hours for a 40 year old to achieve a "pro" sound than say a teenager.  That said, I have worked pretty hard for the past 2 years, and I feel that I have made tremendous progress.  I am in my 40's.  So, I know from personal experience that progress is possible, even for old farts like me.

August 3, 2010 at 07:22 PM ·

Tyler, in my mind, there are five keys to creating a GREAT sound, and they are: intonation, intonation, intonation intonation, and perfected bowing.

Got it?  You could spend the next ten years practicing the violin and doing it wrong, or spend the next year, perfecting your intonation and your bowing.

Relative pitch is the ability to find your notes relative to tuning to "A", as opposed to perfect pitch, where you're born with this rare and innate ability to find your notes from some unknown source in your brain. If you don't have perfect pitch, you HAVE to develop relative pitch (like most of us), you practice your scales, fifths, thirds and octaves until you've figured it out in your brain and it will be with you forever.  Now, the bowing, some say produces 70% of your sound, and they're probably right.  I'm sure many here could reccommend what to do based on their own experiences, and I can only tell you about my own.  Sevcik produced a series of books on bowing techniques.  Do them, or at least his first.  Learn your detache, martele, spicatto, stacatto etc.  Personally, I think by producing a really really good martele, will give you a sense of bow and string contact that will do you well for all other kinds of bowing.  That is just my opinion based on how my body and brain work.  But most of all, if your intonation sucks, you'll never produce the sound you want.  Be patient, believe in yourself, and be totally determined to achieve what I talked about here and you will sound better than a lot of violinists.  Trust me.

 edited to add: I forgot to mention one thing I did that probably improved my playing immensely, and that is; pick up your violin, tune it until you know you've got it RIGHT, and take a tune from your head, and play it.  That's it.  No notes, no books, nothing.  Just make up a tune in your head and sing it and then find those notes on the violin and practice that for awhile.  Do that every day. Then, the strings become like your own vocal chords.  Start out with tunes that consist of as few notes as possible.  Less than 10. It's easier that way.  Just do it for a couple of months and you will see exactly what I mean.

 

August 4, 2010 at 01:14 AM ·

SmileyH:

Thanks for the response. I'm in the same boat: in my 40s and picked up the instrument after a long (20+ years) hiatus. It takes me quite a while just to warm up and your (empirical) figure of 10K hours does make sense; longer if one is over the high-water mark. I was told that one needs to put in the hours for any tangible results.

August 4, 2010 at 10:34 AM ·

@ Michael: thanks a lot for your advice!! Indeed, as I retook the violin those 3 years ago I can only work on the intonation since I lack a teacher. So I am happy to hear your advice. I usually tune the violin for hours. (Exaggeration.) Intonation is the most fun work for me, even though my intonation so far is far for satisfying :) (But I nowadays hear well every falseness I produce, even if I cant always implement the correction.

@Dion: I hope to flower soon :) I wish just I could have more time every day to practice (1.5 hours would be optimal). I usually always set up a goal before my practice session (although, often lately by stress it has become simply "just to improve what i did yesterday and past yesterday by iteration").

 

By the way, are there some tests online one could try in order to find out whether one has relative or absolute pitch?

August 4, 2010 at 11:26 AM ·

@Lena :

 Yes, buy yourself an electronic tuner. It will make tuning so much easier and quicker and you can test your intonation with the tuner on every note you like. The little gadget will tell you whether you are playing the intended note and if you have perfect pitch, and a red light will flash if it is angry.

August 10, 2010 at 04:09 PM ·

Order some CD's of the great tone-producing violinists, and listen to their legato playing, where the tone matters most. My favorites include Fritz Kreisler, Maud Powell, Jacques Thibaud, Ginette Neveu, Mischa Elman, David Oistriach (early recordings), Jascha Heifetz, Nathan Milstein and a few others. In my opinion, very few if any violinists of today can match the tone of these great masters.  Whereas the technique of these masters is nearly faultless and perhaps an impossible goal to match, their tone quailty in simpler passages CAN be learned. Stay focused and concentrate when you practice, and do not allow any distractions. Allow gravity to assist your relaxed bow arm for downbows, and gently push the up-bows at a slow, steady pace. Thats how I taught tone production. What you play is less important than HOW you play it.  Each note has a soul and must be felt before drawing a sound.  Always listen to recordings of the great masters!

August 10, 2010 at 09:27 PM ·

Evan, I can't believe I finally found someone who essentially believes the same thing as I do about the tone of these great violinists unequaled.  I would like to add a name to that, and it's Josef Hassid. I don't know if you'd agree, but I fell in love with his tone.  I think he's only made six recordings before his unfortunate turmoil and death.  His music can be found on the internet.

August 11, 2010 at 07:57 PM ·

There are players that practised for 1000s of hours and yet have not developed a beautiful clear tone. Somehow even with good technique and a responsive instrument the finesse of creating that tone has eluded them. It has to do with how you listen.

In my humble opinion  teaching is sometimes too focussed  on technique , getting  the right note in the right time etc. Not that that is not necessary. But to create that nice tone you have to specifically listen for it.

What helped me was playing by heart and later on improvising, in a room with not too dry acoustics. (Even a garage is better than a fully carpetted small room) .Then focus on the sound of each note; vary bow weight ,speed and  placement and firmness of left hand finger placement and vibrato. If you like a sound try to reproduce it and go from there. And of course listen to the greats specifically for tone and see if you can reproduce some of what they do.

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