Adult beginners and tone?

March 10, 2012 at 10:40 PM · Adult beginner feeling some frustration. I've had a total of 3 years instruction. The first time I had lessons was for a year, then I had to take a break due to scheduling commitments. I have been taking lessons for 2 years now steady and am getting ready to finish Suzuki book 2.

My question is, as an adult beginner, am I ever going to get the 'choppy' sound out of my playing or am I doomed because I was not able to start as a child? How much of professional recorded music is nice recording equipment? I think I sound fine when I hear myself, but when I play back what I record I am not so it my inexpensive equipment or is it me?

Replies (63)

March 10, 2012 at 10:44 PM · Think long-term. Compared to kids who've been playing a couple of years, you're probably doing fine! When you've been learning for a decade, then you can compare yourself to teenagers tackling Bach...

The fine control of tone takes a long time to develop, and there's no shortcut, because it's about developing very sensitive muscular control and automatic reactions rather than simply knowing what sound we want to make.

March 11, 2012 at 12:16 AM · You can't expect to develop your best tone when you are playing your "next piece" (that is, something that you can't really play very well yet). But you can and should expect good tone when you are playing slow scales or even open strings. There are several parameters that you need to experiment with simultaneously:

1. bow speed

2. downward pressure applied

3. bow "lane" (placement between the fingerboard and the bridge)

4. Bow tilt angle.

5. Frog vs. middle vs. point (for strokes other than whole bows)

Your teacher should be guiding you on this because simultaneous optimization of all of those parameters is indeed a very large matrix to be searching with only your own ears. And of course all of them will depend on musical context, but long whole bows on open strings or slow scales is a good place to start.

The way to find out how much of a professional's tone is the recording equipment is to go to a live recital. (The answer is "hopefully none of it.")

March 11, 2012 at 03:30 AM · Julie: we have an adult beginners Facebook group here:

You are doing well!

March 11, 2012 at 03:31 AM · P.S. Yes, you will get out of the "choppy" stage. And yes, it might take a while....or maybe not! Keep it up! I am going on year 7, and at the end of book 4....

March 11, 2012 at 05:09 AM · Thank you so much! And yes, I have been comparing myself to teenagers playing Bach on! So I am just expecting too much from myself at this stage, that is very reassuring :)

I will talk more with my teacher about exercises I can do, and I can most certainly work on long slow bowstrokes in the meantime.

And thank you for the group information...

March 11, 2012 at 06:24 AM · One big issue with adult beginners is trying to get all of the joints and tendons to conform to the violin, after a lifetime of solid forming of the ligaments and muscles. This fact certainly contributes to the choppyness in the playing of adult beginners. Gaining dexterity is a priority.

A beginning solution is to do appropriate hand and finger stretches over several months time, so that the fingers can be loose and nimble enough to make the necessary stretches in playing violin, both in the fingering and bowing. Stiff fingers in the bow hand can be detrimental to sound, as well as slow and rigid adjustments in the left hand fingering.

Here is a link to a blog article of mine featuring some stretch exercises:

March 11, 2012 at 06:29 AM · Are you playing on a decent violin ? What strings are you using ? What type of bow do you have ? A good player can make almost anything sound good but the rest of us need all the help we can get !

Don't give up and don't get frustrated. Patience is required for learning the violin ; probably far more so than any other instrument.

March 11, 2012 at 08:53 AM · Don't listen to all the stuff about finger flexibility. I've laid off playing for as long as six years and picked up the viola or fiddle and carried on like it was yeasterday. OK, sore fingers can be a problem for a couple of days if you then do 3 hours a day.

The bad news I have for you is yes, it is you, and not the recording. BUT don't be put off by this, and don't record yourself!

The ability to play well will come, and also to make a decent sound. In fact you need to let go and lose control and not hold on. A really good teacher is essential, although they are in extremely short supply.

Don't try and learn on the Internet and treat everyone's opinion on here with some suspicion, barring one or two people who really do know. (OR it might even be three or four people!)

The trouble is you won't know who they are, but it may become clear in time.

March 11, 2012 at 09:37 AM · Peter is one of the three.... and I'm not!! :)

I'm an adult returner who has been playing about 4 years - and tone has come back. My tone came back about 3 months ago and to achieve this I did all of the above - slow bow on open strings. Watching it to make sure it was straight (this makes SUCH a difference - and eventually you can learn to NOT draw it straight but master this first!), getting the speed right for the point of contact (distance from the finger board, basically getting slower towards teh bridge)

After you have those you can work on the most crucial aspect - varying 'weight'. Here you will almost certainly need a teacher to learn you must learn the difference between 'weight' and 'pressure' - perhaps the most important aspect of tone production I've come accross thus far. An indicator that you are doing it wrong is if you vary volume by pressing down with your index finger. One description I was given was that it is as if you are dragging the bow, and not pushing it.

I won't say anymore for fear of getting it wrong (remember I'm just another student).... Good luck!

Oh - one more thing - you might want to look at Fisher 'Secrets of Tone production' DVD. Simon would definitely be in Peter's three... Actually, he might be in the 'one'..

March 11, 2012 at 10:08 AM · Drawing a good tone on open strings is a very good point, and I do it frequently. I noticed James Ehnes doing it the other day even though it was to tune and settle a probably new string. (This was in a masterclass).

You can also do it on stopped notes but test them to make sure they are in tune, for example third finger G on the D string tested against (an in tune) open G string.

A lot of us do these basic things, like testing tuning, playing open strings, because we realise how easy it is to lose good intonation and a good open sound. The best open sound you will get is on open strings, and one always strives to get the same open sound or as near as possible on stopped notes. (Added vibrato helps on stopped notes too, but this is too soon for your to worry about that). Get a pure and strong straight sound on open strings and you can work from there.

As Elise has said (as a committed student) speed of bow times prssure of bow times position on the string are vital and a good teacher will soon get you familiar with these techniques.

(Thanks Elise, I wouldn't like to say whether or not I am one of those who knows, I'm still learning). (One is a lifelong student if you want to play any instrument seriously).

March 11, 2012 at 12:09 PM · Peter

"A really good teacher is essential"

Your teacher's personality may be too passive or they don't know how to correct the problems you are having. A good teacher, IMO, is one that has a "fix it" mentallity and an assertive personality. I find a lot (not all) of adult students are able to learn the basics in 4-8 months and sound half desencent, not playing poorly. What holds a lot of adult students back is poor teaching concepts, tension, and passive teachers.

Exampl: you are having some intonation problems. How often does your teacher correct your intonation: once in a while, often or never?

Eastman violins beginner models (300-500$) are consisently warm sounding. You can also use Violino strings by Pirastro and Soft ronsin (olive by Pirastro). This will give you a better sound under the mic, straight bowing helps also.

March 11, 2012 at 12:13 PM · I really recommend the books of Kato Havas for this issues, because her philosophy of teaching is to first build a nice posture and relaxed tone production and then go into more technical stuff. In her books are great instructions and exercises like basic movement descriptions and how to relax your bow arm and violin hold. Everytime I make her exercises it brings me one step forward to an relaxed tone and musical freedom. I am not exaggerating. Her books are really underrated. Flesch, Galamian und Co. all try to get into detail so quick while Havas goes back to the basics and from there builds up really solid foundation!

her books that I read:

-A New Approach to Violin Playing

-Stage Fright: Its Cause and Cures

Both are really really recommendable and not as expensive as Fleschs or Simon Fischers books.

March 11, 2012 at 02:48 PM · Thank you for the responses, lots of information! Yes, I am actually playing a nice instrument. It's a 1927 Heberlein and I use Evah Pirazzi strings - I love how it sounds in the hands of a 'pro' but cannot reproduce the fluidity of tone, so I know the instrument is capable of producing it, I just cannot draw it out.

I will talk to my teacher more, and check out those resources offered in this thread - anything that will help! We've talked about tone some, but primarily she's been working with me on left hand dexterity lately. Maybe I just need some more 'tone specific' exercises and time.

March 11, 2012 at 04:56 PM · Julie,

I think everybody gave excellent advice about tone production ex.

But out of curiosity, what are you using to record yourself?

March 11, 2012 at 06:28 PM · Bravo on posting video of your own playing! It takes lots of courage to do that, I wouldn't have done it myself!

Try to pay attention to the gap between each notes, and connect them together (and disconnect/shape them according to phrases). Minimize the slight pause/gap between each note within a phrase, and sustain the volume of each note until the very last moment. This, alone, will make a huge difference.

March 11, 2012 at 07:23 PM · Evah's are a bright string(high tension) for projecting the sound out, they are probably not the best string for under the mic. Strings described as warm are generally a better choice, less bow noise and clean tone sound.

This recording was done with Violino strings (low tension) and Olive rosin(soft). The sound is warm , maybe a bit too warm (muted). That's Ok because I change to different types of strings every 4 months to see how they respond under the mic. This week I am trying out the Zyex strings by D'addario to see how they sound under the mic. You need to try different things until you get the sound you're looking for.

Playing close to the bridge with light, fast bowing = squeaky and noisey. A little closer to the fingerboard will give you a warm clean sound for a mic.

March 11, 2012 at 08:28 PM · @Amber, I am just using my laptop and/or my digital probably not the highest quality recording equipment.

@Casey, my teacher likes me to record myself and try to spot what I liked/didn't like and improve upon it. I did hesitate to post, but I figured what the heck, everyone on this site has been where I'm at now, how bad could the heckling be? ;)And thank you for the exercise suggestion - I don't like the disconnectedness of the notes right now so that might help.

@Charles, thank you, I did not know that! I have tried Zyex and love them, but the Evah's sound a bit nicer under my ear. Hadn't even considered string choice may affect recorded sound. I'll have to experiment a bit more with different brands then.

March 11, 2012 at 08:32 PM · And Charles, your playing is gorgeous! You have the fluidity I wish I could reproduce...

March 11, 2012 at 08:34 PM · I do think having a good degree of flexibility important to playing violin, all the while everyone's experience playing the violin is different. My initial response was based on the teaching of complete beginners, who have had no musical training, nor played the violin before in their life. These are individuals with less flexible joints and have problems stretching to play b-flat to b-natural on the a-string. I've found that those I've taught definitely had stiff joints that needed loosening up over time initially.

Gaining dexterity is just one of the minor things one can do to help with your tone and intonation. The comments based on bowing movements are good, and the comments posted here all contribute to getting a good tone.

It may be true that if one has been playing on and off in their lifetime, that one's experience is that of not necessarily needing to do hand-stretches or dexterity exercises to properly play the violin. At this very moment I know that I couldn't do the splits to save my life! But I know with my effort and incentive, that could be achieved in time...

March 11, 2012 at 10:50 PM · I'm always perturbed by the comments about how 'brave' people are to post a vid of themselves playing. Like its so bad or something that they risk ridicule?

I don't find learner violinists bad or uncomfortable to listen to, I find it fascinating to see how people are developing, so I'm glad when the videos are posted. I have done so myself and would never have considered it a brave move. Its being posted to a violinist site, I'd hope that the people who take the time to listen and comment are only going to be consturctive (and in my memory for the many posts, they are, although some with less tact than others).

I have nothing technical to offer, but repeat the phrase that stopped me thinking like a weak beginner and becoming a confident player (at a level) - you have to commit to making a good sound. Let go of the self consciousness, uncertainty, caution, and play to get a big sound. I am still at the stage where my teacher has me play most things mf, even though I have started on grade 8 stuff and nearly 8 years learning, she wants a big sound that can then be shaped. Maybe a similar idea would work for you to get over the choppy stage. Go strong.

March 12, 2012 at 01:37 AM · Peter, I too have been working on tone and long slow bowing. I also started working on Schradiek exercises on one string. Julie this I might do after you achieve a decent bowing. It is really difficult to think your B,C#,D, and E are in tune and then the open A is out of tune and you can't do anything about it. Good practice for long bowings and you won't get as bored as open strings. Do the open string or third finger G first for some time.

I too am an adult player that started playing again and I'm facing the same frustration. I want to sound good and play everything I can read. It's very frustrating but stick around here and do everything you can to understand what you can do better. It's all about being thankful for all the advice but figuring it out yourself. Achieving the ah-ha I now get it. Elise says use a mirror. I use a MacBook and make videos of myself playing. You will see your mistakes. You just have to look for them.

March 12, 2012 at 02:25 AM · I was expecting to not even be able to listen to you, but I think you actually sound pretty good. I certainly have heard much worse from more experienced players. Good for you!

March 12, 2012 at 04:44 AM · I'm also an adult late-starter, now intermediate level after 4 years of joy and frustration. I have two thoughts to share with you as for the tones: I bought this tuner from my teacher, we use it while I play. This tuner can indicate all my notes too lower or too high, when it's good/perfect, I see the green light. Another thought is that I saw online a product claimed to have 30 yrs success called "Perfect Pitch" training. It consists of 30CDs, and costs $115 (free shipping anywhere). It trains you to know the exact pitch and recognize a chord by its name and a key of a piece of music you are listening ... isn't that great!? Once we have the perfect pitch, our violin playing will improve dramatically. So I'm thinking of getting a set of this training material. What do you think? (FYI:

March 12, 2012 at 12:40 PM · Brava Sharelle, could not agree with you more. Being awesome for where you are at is not the same as sounding like Joshua Bell, who is awesome for where he's at but it's a very different place to where I am!

March 12, 2012 at 12:49 PM · @ Elise, "Here you will almost certainly need a teacher to learn you must learn the difference between 'weight' and 'pressure' ..."

I'd really love to hear an explanation of this because every explanation that I've heard so far stands in sharp contrast to what I learned in my college physics courses. But please don't respond here ... that would be hijacking. I'll start a new thread later today.

March 12, 2012 at 01:13 PM · @Charles, "What holds a lot of adult students back is poor teaching concepts, tension, and passive teachers."

Sometimes I wonder what kinds of assumptions and generalizations teachers are making about adult students. After all we know that there are teachers who won't even take adult students at all.

I do think there are likely some generalizations that are valid. But I don't want to start down that road.

To the OP I would say that I have found it useful, from time to time, to spend 10-15 minutes of my lesson just talking to my teacher, violins down, making sure that he has the chance to review and comment on how I am practicing, and setting some concrete goals for the next couple of months. Perhaps you should ask him/her what you might play on your next solo recital?

March 12, 2012 at 03:39 PM · @Paul I'm an adult player that has taught guitar lessons and I was trained by three exceptional teachers. I signed up for violin lessons and it was expensive. The music school required a 6 month commitment. I'm very frustrated with my teacher because he has no plan he shares with me. I have every violin standard known to man and he doesn't seem to want to use any method, exercise, étude, or scale that I have. I have Wohlfahrt, Kayser, Kreutzer, Mazas, Dont, Sitt, Hrimaly, Schradiek, Sevcik, Trott, and much more. I just don't know what the plan should be. When I finish in June I am going to look for an independent teacher. I am near the NC Symphony so I should be able to find a teacher. I'm just frustrated that teachers don't know how to just figure a plan and discuss it.

March 12, 2012 at 04:34 PM · Paul wrote

"@ Elise, "Here you will almost certainly need a teacher to learn you must learn the difference between 'weight' and 'pressure' ..."

I'd really love to hear an explanation of this because every explanation that I've heard so far stands in sharp contrast to what I learned in my college physics courses. But please don't respond here ... "

I'll respond to whats relevant here (since my post should be interpretable). First, these terms are not scientific, they are practical and understood by probably many generations of violinists - there could be much better (and yes even sensible ones).

As I understand it the difference in the terms really stems from the fact that the bow is not only pressing on the string it is also moving and the hand is not actually moving in a straight line (due to the give of the strings and also the give of the fingers). Again, as I understand it, ideal tone (at any particular contact point on the string) is generated by a perfect combination of weight, motion and pressure.

Here is where it gets interesting. The temptation is to apply pressure by 'pronation' (inward rotation) at the wrist - this can be recognized by a strong contact point between the index finger and the bow. In fact (and my own experiments suggest this really is a fact), this gives you volume but kills string resonance and tone. Thus pressure has to be applied to the string by an even, and not rotationary, downward action. That is why the term 'weight' is actuall pretty good because weight is vector - towards the ground and can not be in any other angle. Many teachers and texts talk about applying the 'weight of the arm' - thus a pressure downwards.

I sincerely hope I am not out on a limb here, if so I know I'll be quickly corrected :) (its OK guys..). as mentioned above I've found the idea of dragging and pushing (down, up) the bow a nice mental concept to help achieve this end.

March 12, 2012 at 05:49 PM · @David I don't see what you've got to lose by starting your next lesson off by telling your teacher that you need him to help you design a plan for your improvement, and that should include help in the selection of scales, exercises, etudes, method books, and individual repertoire pieces. Your teacher might have assumed that you are "in control" of the big picture and are only showing up to get technical pointers. If this doesn't work, then your teacher is wasting your money and you should ask the music school for a pro-rated refund.

March 12, 2012 at 10:10 PM ·

March 13, 2012 at 06:04 AM · "Once we have the perfect pitch, our violin playing will improve dramatically. So I'm thinking of getting a set of this training material. What do you think?"

What do I think? Not much of this view, actually. Perfect pitch may be convenient in certain circumstances but will probably not improve one's playing. What it will improve is the bank balance of the people that put out the set of CDs.

March 13, 2012 at 08:56 AM · Well said, Scott!

Charles Cook said:-

"Eastman violins beginner models (300-500$) are consisently warm sounding. You can also use Violino strings by Pirastro and Soft ronsin (olive by Pirastro). This will give you a better sound under the mic, straight bowing helps also."

Charles -

I'm not trying to deliberately disagree with you, but it might seem that way!(wink).

It's just that I'm not a great believer in getting a fiddle that sounds warm under the ear, or one that might suit a mic better. A better mic might be a better answer!

Also, fiddles that sound warm under the ear can sound pretty poor at 20 feet, and there does seem to be an obsession with playing instruments that sound great to the player, but may be a wet pancake at 5 metres.

Although strings can make a difference I'm not sure rosin really does (but it's profitable for the rosin makers). Of course a good bow can make quite a difference, but here again I know very good professional players who say that bows make no difference to the sound. (Ease of playing they might agree about though).

An old Italian fiddle worth six figures may sound great under the ear but dissapoint in the hall. A contemporary fiddle (worth four figues) might sound a little bright and even rough under the ear, but wonderful in the hall.

(AND of course I strongly disagree about straight bow, at least without qualification of the meaning).

March 13, 2012 at 04:30 PM · @Peter. I agree that it's always the violin, the mic, or the audio equipment. I have a lot of experience with acoustic guitars but I have recently learned things that defy what I thought was common logic.

I was on the hunt for a decent sounding violin or was I? I am so mad with myself now. I got a Franz Hoffman outfit first. The sound was okay but the workmanship in the varnish area was not good. I was just unsatisfied. Then I found an early 1900, 1794 labeled wreck of a Jacob Stainer that I just knew would sound great. I totally refurbished it. It's beautiful and it sounds okay but it has no volume. Next I find a Hofner outfit that was made in China. I got that one eBay for the beautiful flamed maple. It really "sounded" good from the bid pictures. Once again this one was way too loud and tinny from the reall nice and extremely hard lacquer they must have used instead of varnish at the factory.

Long story short, it's not the equipment so much as the player. And my guitar experience means absolutely nothing in the violin world. I have a Lui Xi violin from Yitamusic that costs me $152.50 and when my vibrato came thru for a fermata on a third finger G on a QuickTime video using my MacBook I was floored. That was the "violin" I was looking for.

March 13, 2012 at 04:52 PM · Julie, I just received Simon Fischer's Basics in the mail yesterday and I really wish that I had this a while ago. I totally understand your quest for tone and sound quality. By coming from an instrument like a guitar or the piano, one can strike, pluck, blow, strum, or otherwise play a pure tone that sounds good. The violin requires this system of Springs that Galamian refers to means a system of bones, ligaments, muscles, wood, horsehair, all operating in perfect tension, relaxation, pressure, weight, and at every "different" position of the bow as the bow is moved.

Hang in there. I'm doing so, so much reading, testing, watching, listening, etc. and I have improved a great deal. It's not where I want it to be but I have also come to the understanding that this has to be part of the fun of learning to play the violin. You have to be your greatest critic. No matter how hard you are on yourself, it will still be the fact that you will care the most that you improve. I know that sounds harsh but I thinks it's why I get so mad when I realize that I am paying money and wanting him to care more about my playing than I do.

Edit: sorry, him is my teacher, lol.

March 13, 2012 at 11:19 PM · Can I add to paul Deck's excellent first post!

6. The "shape" of the stroke - I see 3 possibilities:

a) Straight beam with square ends: the ugly "choppy" sound;

b) Leaf-shaped: no pressure at each end, but an increase in weight and speed during the stroke; for slow near-legato, or medium speed detaché;

c) Thorn-shaped: hooking the string with the rosin, followed by a lightning-swift take-off; for sharp accents and martallato.

Mixing b) and c) will provide for most needs, except for spiccato and saltellato.

But a) gives violinists a bad name!

In a given stroke, the index finger provides the bite and pressure, the 3rd and 4th fingers allow the lightness.

Please, no straight lines, just very broad curves! (In the vertical plane.)

Julie, I think you are doing quite well! There are some notes missing near the end of the bourrée, (even in the suzuki version)and there is the old problem of staying in tune when returning to a lower string, but your are on the right track..

March 14, 2012 at 12:52 AM · Thanx Julie

Peter I would kill to have a warm, open old Italian violin in the studio to play. I could record it with my camcorder and it would sound good.

I like to use the terms depth, clean and natural to describe recording gear. Warmth in recording gear can be noisy and muddy sounding. You will like it at first but the novelty wears off. If you want warmth its better to fix the instrument. Every instrument is different. I would say that my violin isn't mic friendly. I would prefer a violin with more resonance(open) and accent the frequencies between 100-1500hz and 8000-14000hz instead my violin accents the 5000- 10000hz range (bow hair noise range) and is a bit dry.

March 14, 2012 at 02:11 AM · I endorse Adrian's contribution. :)

March 14, 2012 at 04:30 AM · Greetings,

I don`t have time to read all the posts so sor4ry for redundancy and boredom caused.

1) I do not like the Eva Pirrazi string in two specific instances. First, on my violins they sound lousy. Second I think they are the wrong string for children, beginners and even intermediate violnists. The reason is they are rather higgh tension and require extra tension to play which feeds back into extra effort/tension in the bow arm in many cases.

Although I am being even more contraversial her, it is just my opinion, a lot of todays soloits would sound rather better if they didn`t use them and worked more on singing tone rather than forcing sound out. I still remeber Milstein fillign ahuge hall better with his small (!!!) sound than most of todays soloists.

I would urge Julie to change strings to start with. Nothing wrong with Dominant.....

2nd) The business of adults being stiff and tense and therefore les sable to do soemthign is in large part a mental problem and ncidentally, there are `stiff` adults who produce a great sound in comparison to relaxed and sloppy juveniles.

3rd) It is a myth that violin playi9ng/tone needs ot sound bad at the beginning and get progresivley better . If it is taught properly a beautiful is the goal form day one and the studnet is only asked to do tasks that produce a beautiful sound even it is merely a ringing pizzixccato open string. Unfortunately there are a lot of useles steacher soput ther ewho do not understand a) what tone production is acvtually about and b) how to terach it.

Incidentally, the same mythology is rampant cocnernign intonation.

The correct analogy is learning to drive.

One does not drive on the wrong side of the road and learn to move over to the side in increments during the instruction period.(This may not be true in Japan though)

An adult beginner should be thinking beauty, producing beaty and wearing nice make up from day one.

Best wishes,


March 14, 2012 at 05:22 AM · "An adult beginner should be thinking beauty, producing beaty and wearing nice make up from day one."


As a matter of fact, I do require my adult female students to wear makeup from day one. It's # 5 on the "dressing for your lesson" list, in between skimpy little cocktail dress (#4) and 4 inch stilettos (#6--click, click, click).

That's just my own studio policy, though. In your case, my assumption is that you sell Mary Kay on the side.


March 14, 2012 at 06:28 AM · aren`t those stilletos a killer....?

March 14, 2012 at 09:34 AM ·

Julie "Adult beginner feeling some frustration"

" back what I record I am not so it my inexpensive equipment or is it me?"

Adrian "...but your are on the right track"

Adrian, from Julie's own words she doesn't seem to be on the right track. Some adult students have problems with tension, but in Julie's case the tension is being caused by a poor set up, the wrong equipment and technique. These problems generally don't take years to fix , but would take a few months for her to get right. Julie has the ability to play at an intermediate level, why isn't she?

Julie you have the talent to be better, your technique is a handicap. Your teacher is responsible for teaching you good technique it's not your burden.

March 14, 2012 at 09:36 AM · As much as I'm trying to, I can't disagree with anything Buri has said, two posts back!

EXCEPT about the makeup, as I like 'em "au naturale" ...

March 15, 2012 at 03:57 AM · Yes, I think I AM on the right track! My dissatisfaction with my current level of tone production has caused me to seek help. You've all given me much to think about - and after a conversation with my teacher tonight, we tried a few things and it appears my bowing wrist tends to pop up for starters, and my shoulder is deciding to get involved when it's not wanted or even invited.After making some adjustments my tone immediately improved but I cannot yet reproduce it without focusing totally on it (it won't be second nature for awhile). So I think part of my problem is bow-arm mechanics. If I can make that second nature, perhaps my overall tone will continue to improve as I gain technical ability.

I may also try a different set of strings when they are next due as I have only tried a few.

So I have some exercises to do.

But one more question...MUST I wear the stilettos? ;)

March 15, 2012 at 04:24 AM · We have a very successful local handcrafts shop here and their philosophy is that they only make what they think to be really beautiful things because to them "ugly things should not exist." I think this is a good philosophy for learning tone production. Try to make every note as beautiful as possible and don't let ugly sound get away with it.

Also try to train your right hand/fingers to feel the sound when you draw your bow. If you have ever done brush painting, you'll know what I mean. Try it, you may just be one of the lucky people who have such sensitivity. This trick was taught by my teacher and has helped me a lot in tone production.

March 15, 2012 at 09:58 AM ·

March 15, 2012 at 11:29 AM · stilettos are compulsary. just make sure its the shoes....

March 15, 2012 at 11:47 AM · The propper place to keep your stiletto is in the conductor's kneck ... (Only joking ... well, maybe not ...)

March 15, 2012 at 07:58 PM · you'd be relaxing and using more of your bowing. Feel the piece, don't only play it because you want to make sure that your fingering is good, don't be in a rush and think,"voila! I did it!" in the end of the piece, but feel....relax....use more'll get better tone.

March 16, 2012 at 07:23 AM · Call me crazy, I seriously thought by makeup Buri meant vibrato -- use with care and too much of it can be off putting.

March 16, 2012 at 10:50 AM · To Julie's original question (!):

- the "choppy" sound is a matter of technique and self awareness, as all these excellent posts say;

- the slightly strident tone has several causes

a) you are playing out of doors without walls to send back the warmth of your tone;

b) the microphones in computers, telephones etc, are designed to accentuate the consonants of the spoken word, and so they will accentuate the grit in the tone.

So, Julie, try to buy or borrow a "real" recorder (e.g. the Zoom H1), place it 10-12ft away, turn off the automatic gain control, and play indoors!

I still think you are on the right track, or you wouldn't have started this thread!

March 16, 2012 at 07:49 PM · "I still think you are on the right track, or you wouldn't have started this thread!"

Even on the left track it can sound OK. I find both tracks together often sound best. I'm having a problems trying to find all my tracks, some go back to pre-1970 ... I've also lost track of which string is which.

March 17, 2012 at 12:05 PM · Julie

As another adult beginner, there are four resources I have found particularly helpful for tone production.

The first is the books of Kato Havas, as mentioned above.

The second is Simon Fischer's tone production video, which is, I would suggest, essential. You can buy it from his website.

As an ex-cellist I've also been exploring cello resources.

So my third recommendation is the teaching of cellist Margaret Rowell:

I've found Rowell's ideas particularly helpful, particularly the focus on channeling power into the root of the hand, leaving the fingers relaxed and free.

And finally, I'd recommend the videos on this site, particularly:

This is by a cello teacher, Jamie Fiste, who I think is influenced by Paul Rolland, a radical violin teacher who worked with Margaret Rowell.

Havas, Rolland and Rowell all focus on the free flow of energy from its roots in the back through the joints of the arm and into a relaxed bow hand. Once you start to get the feel of this you'll find the tone will begin to come.

My own approach has been to prioritise tone over pretty much everything else. I don't see the point in playing fancy pieces badly - I'd rather play simple pieces well. So much of my practice time is essentially an experiment in tone production.

I'm no teacher, it goes without saying, but to me it seems there are slight rigidities in your shoulder and elbow which will inhibit your tone: your bow arm looks a bit stiff. If you can free up your "pivot points" (as Jamie Fiste calls them) I think you'll be pleased with the improvement...

March 17, 2012 at 03:06 PM · I think I will check out the Zoom H1- hopefully changing the recording equipment can give me a better idea of what I sound like played back (maybe I won't feel so discouraged at times ;).

And yes, I think my bow arm is 'stiff.' My teacher is having me go back to some very basic music so I can focus 100% on loosening the wrist and elbow and not getting the shoulder involved until it's time to use it.

I will also be trying some new strings at next 'string change' and am looking for other resources to help with bowing and tone exercises so thank you for the resources! This project is going to take awhile.

March 17, 2012 at 04:04 PM · Julie

You might find that new recording equipment makes little difference. The problem is probably more with you.

And unless your record in a good room with excellent accoustics (a large room rather than a small one too) it won't sound good. Also you need good mics which will cost as much or even a lot more than a good recorder.

March 17, 2012 at 09:52 PM · The H1 costs around 100 euros in France - its little "electret" condenser mics are remarkably good. They won't flatter your tone, but they won't exagerate the shortcomings either!

March 17, 2012 at 09:58 PM · No matter what recording equipment you use (100 Euros or 1,000,000 Euros) it won't improve your tone. You just need to improve your tone.

March 18, 2012 at 04:19 AM · @Peter, yes I know I need to improve technique to improve tone...I am just trying to ensure the recordings are accurate by upgrading my equipment. I want to make sure I'm getting the most true-to-life recording so I can fully hear where I'm going wrong.

I think I will still continue to do video also to analyze what is going on with the bow arm mechanically. Because I can guarantee you there's got to be something wrong with that because I cannot reproduce the smooth tone I hear when my instrument is handled by a professional ;)

March 18, 2012 at 07:49 AM · Julie - you are doing the right thing! And using a mirror and/or a video camera will help a lot to correct bow arm problems (and left hand too). Perhaps your teacher should use the mirror to show you how the bow arm should working during lesson time.

This is how I would approach the problem with a pupil.

March 18, 2012 at 08:09 AM · I use the mirror a lot in my lessons. Julie, ask your teacher to play side by side with you in front of the mirror, or the camera, playing simultaneously or alternately.

Also, ask yor teacher (or even a friend) to record the same music, on your violin, on the same equipment, video or audio, at the same distance.

It requires some experience to really hear oneself properly while playing. Recording, even with modest equipment, is the best way to compare what you see, what you feel, and what you hear. The ear is the ultimate arbiter..

March 18, 2012 at 11:57 AM · I have modest recording equipment and I've found what Peter says to be true. Occasionally I have been recorded by a friend with better equipment and it hasn't made a big difference. In addition to what Adrian said about recording your teacher playing the same piece, I think you can make the most of the equipment you have if you record yourself playing different pieces and different kinds of pieces at different times. Then you get used to the limitations of your recorder and what it can and can't do.

Back when I decided to get a new violin, one of the most interesting comparisons I made was of myself playing the same piece on my violin and on my viola. It sounded so much better on the viola (and I'm a violinist first, I just started fooling around with the viola as an adult, so it wasn't my better overall technique on the instrument) that I became convinced I needed a new violin that had a better tone in the low register. And, I got one :)

March 18, 2012 at 12:31 PM · Karen - yes, you are right.

In my dubious past I was on occasion responsible for studio made recordings of other musicians, where I either acted as producer and sometimes producer/engineer.

Using pretty high grade equipment with access to a lot of expensive mics and recording in a good accoustic it was possible to make very accurate high quality recordings. Of course, the musicians were very good too, so it should hve been plain sailing, but sometimes it wasn't. The instruments being used were always pretty high quality, old Italians or very good modern instruments, and the pianos were always Steinways or of that quality, and of course in tune (as much as pianos can be in tune ...)

March 18, 2012 at 06:26 PM · Ive only been playing for 3 years, so Im in no position to offer much of an opinion, but I enjoyed the video

March 19, 2012 at 12:07 AM · My husband just bought me the Zoom H1 and I am thrilled to report that I don't sound *quite* as wretched, so the recording is maybe 20% of it. The recording sounds more like I hear under my ear so I think it will be a good tool to use educationally.

And I am absolutely taking it to my lessons to see if my teacher will play, and will play with me :) And I have already begun playing in front of a mirror for direct feedback (I know, you must think I am so vain)! But it's to monitor my mechanics I swear!

I would like to thank everyone so much for their advice and help, I'm getting some awesome ideas for improvement.

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