Tone Production: the core in one's sound

Edited: February 18, 2018, 11:44 PM · Amy Beth Horman wrote in her recent blog “Fall in Love with Your Sound!”
Gorgeous sound isn’t about being impressive or flashy or loud. It is about being understood, centered, and clear.”

This topic deserves more thoughts and discussion. We all heard from time to time that even some accomplished players don't always produce a moving tone. Some would say that their sound is not centered or lacks core.

I've been told often that I've got a good tone, but I don't know if I can say my sound has a core. I don't know what's like to have a core in my sound. Do you? What do you do to achieve and mantain that core?

Replies (25)

February 18, 2018, 5:08 AM · This is an interesting topic!
I think it would depend on what is meant by 'core'. That is not quite clear. I am guessing that what is meant here is a sound which has a projection and maximum resonance. That is the only thing I can think of which would apply to all sorts of sound colors and dynamics.
What helps me a lot when practicing projection is to develope an idea of how the violin sounds further away. The sound we hear while playing is very different from what people hear a few meters away from the violin. In big halls that is even more an issue. One of my teachers used to tell me to put one ear into the last row of the concert hall. That seems like strange advice but I started imagining that I could hear what I sound like from further away and I think that helped me.
For maximum resonance I find it important to be centered as well as open. Open in the sense that there are no blocks inside me. Mental or physiological. For example some unnecessary tension somewhere can have a significant effect on the resonance. The difference in resonance when my jaw muscle is tense or relaxed is quite amazing. I imagine the sound being able to go through all of my body without hitting a wall anywhere.
This is definitely a topic that deserves more discussion and I must say I find it difficult to put my thoughts on this into written words so sorry if this doesn't make much sense. ;)
Edited: February 18, 2018, 9:04 AM · My 2 centimes d'euro:

A tone without "core" can be light, airy, charming, with a rainbow of colours. To "project" it must have a little stridency (the "singer's formant", between 2 & 4 kHz). For the "core", we may need to feel the whole instrument vibrate, so that listeners get the warmth of our tone at a distance.

- An airy tone with light bowing, halfway between bridge and fingerboard;
- for projection, neare the bridge;
- for a tone with core, more pressure, adapting speed and contact point to allow, rather than force, wide string vibration.

The "Greats" of the past, (so often lamented in these columns!) needed a good core tone in the days of 78rpm dicsc and early mono LPs, since the "sheen" of their tone was lost in surface noise, and later, tape hiss. Their rapid, humming-bird vibratos helped detatch their marvelous playing from its surroundings. Modern recordings allow us to catch the bloom and shimmer of our gentler, more subtle playing.
At the expense of depth and warmth?

Edited: February 18, 2018, 10:49 AM · To me, without looking it up somewhere, I would interpret "a sound with core" as being full, and focused. Perhaps influenced by my French background, were "corps" (pronounced core) would in this context mean full bodied, like a full bodied wine (un vin avec du corps). As I look up its English meaning, core as an adjective would mean "principal" (as in a core objective) and as a noun "central body" (as in the core of a nuclear plant). The central body meaning could be interpreted as "a well defined central element", in other word focussed sound.
Edited: February 18, 2018, 12:13 PM · I think "core" has to do with bowing nearer the bridge. People who have "core" do it and know how to do it. I often notice that beginner-level violinists are really uncomfortable, hesitant, reluctant, actually afraid of bowing closer to the bridge and are unable to produce a louder but still pure sound there. Once you have that feeling, it reflects also to your playing closer to the fingerboard. You simply have a "deeper", "faster", "more contact" sense of bowing. It is the ever so evasive concept of "tonus".
February 18, 2018, 12:33 PM · "More air" = "orchestral sound". Faster bow speed, more bloom and less focus to the sound, blends into a section.

"More core" = "soloist sound". Slower bow speed, bow a little deeper into the string, a "condensed" sound that is more focused, stands out from a section.

You should be able to switch between the two, since which you want is context-dependent.

Edited: February 18, 2018, 5:55 PM · I agree with what is written above. I was taught additionally that tone and intonation are closely related because strongest resonance is achieved when one is playing perfectly in tune. I believe this is one reason why teachers should focus on core ("soloist") sound from their students because when you are bowing for core sound you also can better hear the small imperfections in your intonation.

Something I have noticed about cello instruction is that teachers seem to focus on a bloomed sound with minimal pressure with young students.

And by the way thanks for the thread, Yixi. I always enjoy reading Amy Beth's posts, always rich with genuine insight and practicality.

Edited: February 18, 2018, 11:49 PM · Many good points so far. I know we are talking about something that is very hard to put our finger on. What really made me think about this issue is what Amy Beth said that "gorgeous sound isn’t about being impressive or flashy or loud. It is about being understood, centered, and clear." Is "being understood, centered, and clear" are three different or interconnected qualities?

I think if by "core" sound we mean playing close to bridge with slower bow, that to me only explain the intensity or projection of the sound. But projection alone won't do, nor would "soloist sound" be sufficient. I'm sure we all heard solo performances that make big sound, but instead of drawing us closer to hear what they got to say, it may push us away. To me, it has to have certain personal quality that it touches listener. Not all soloists have that.

Vivien mentioned that core could be all sorts of sound colors and dynamics, and the balance between being centered as well as open. Lots of food for thought.

February 19, 2018, 6:54 AM · I think what you are calling "core" is a sound that has a strong fundamental balanced by many overtones. This sort of sound has many advantages, such as making vibrato more audible and opening up a variety of tone colors to the player. I generally refer to this as "richness" rather than "core". This quality can exist regardless of where one is playing in relation to the bridge.
February 19, 2018, 7:20 AM · Maybe now is the time for me to ask about two words often bandied about, two words with respect to sound quality whose real "meaning" escapes me: "core" and "focus."

Most of what I know about string sound I think I learned almost in an instant when I first put a cello bow to some cello strings at age 14 after having played violin for 10 years. The feeling in my right hand when pulling the cello bow on the cello strings while producing a rich sound was the same as on the violin. And so that was what sort of led my playing for the next 50 to 60 years. (The rest of what I learned about relates to vibrato and overtones, frequency and projection.)

Then I got on these various string-player-sharing websites and heard these new words like "core sound" and "focused sound." I would like to actually read definitions.

I know I can use my ears and the spectrum analyzers on my smart phone to "see" the amplitude vs.frequency effects of different bow speed, bow "pressure" and vibrato on the sounds I am hearing myself make or listening to others make and I would be interested to know how those relate in "core" and "focus"


February 19, 2018, 8:05 AM · I don't think that having a core to the sound depends on being close to the bridge. You can draw a sound with a solid core over the fingerboard, if you have to.

I also think that preferences in sound are specific to individuals. For instance, I really love Milstein's tone, which is often described as being "silvery". He tends to use a lot of bow, and there's a little more air in the sound than you typically hear from soloists; his projection is probably in significant part driven by his Strad. Contrast, say, the thick, intense sound produced by David Oistrakh. Neither of them tend to play especially close to the bridge unless they're deliberately aiming for that color, note.

(Another important lesson learned from violin-shopping: Not all instruments require being close to the bridge to get a focused, intense sound. Nearly three years after buying my current violin, I'm still having to remind myself that I don't need to be right up at the bridge to get the sound I want; I have ingrained habits that I still need to break, since this violin rarely requires playing close to the bridge, and there are distinctive 'lanes' where the sound quality comes more into focus.)

February 19, 2018, 8:41 AM · thanks Lydia, sure, I only tried to identify "learning to play closer to the bridge with a clear sound" as a fundamental hurdle one needs to take in their development towards having core in their sound. once the hurdle is taken it is likely that the capability is easily extended to developing a sound with core to it also at other soundpoints. I tried to write that, but wasn't clear.
February 19, 2018, 8:44 AM · Andrew, it remains an elusive notion. there is also an attempt at discussion at Westbury Park Strings:

Tonus and Other Matters
Tonus right hand tone production - more on this subject
Tonus Questions and feedback

February 19, 2018, 9:40 AM · Jean - Thank You. Marvelous site!

The book on bel canto violin playing by David Jacobson "Lost Secrets of Master Musicians" is quite related (amongst all his autobiographical stuff).

February 19, 2018, 4:10 PM · Isn't this the core of Simon Fischer's tone exercises and the relation between soundpoint, bow speed and pressure and making the violin string vibrate as much as possible?
February 19, 2018, 4:48 PM · Tammuz,it's related of course but more complex than that. When I heard people (highly accomplished musicians) commnented on a particular professional solo performer "lacks core in his sound", I think I kind of know what they mean. The sound was decent and clear, but kind of unthoughtful and boring.
Edited: February 19, 2018, 9:01 PM · I'd love to hear what some of the folks who trained in the "Heifetz Tradition" such as Elizabeth Matesky or Nate Robinson would say about this topic. I wonder how "core" relates to projection, but maybe that is a separate question.

I think Hilary Hahn's sound has a strong "core" too.

February 20, 2018, 10:59 AM · Hahn's sound has a very focused core, yes.

I don't think "core" has anything to do with being "unthoughtful" or "boring". Those are interpretive characteristics. Nor does it necessarily relate to decibels per se; you can have a lot of volume, and even good projection, without as much core to the sound.

The trade-off between core and bloom (or "air") is not just situational (orchestra / solo / chamber) but also dependent on repertoire.

Edited: February 20, 2018, 4:04 PM · Ms Hahn is a latter-day Heifetz: the same superb control and vibrato, fine shading of phrasing - and charm to top it all! I imagine even the petulant David Jacobson surely would admire her playing, which has indeed a good "core" tone..

I feel that "core" is not a particular kind of tone, or technique, but the impression of an underlying strata in the sound, constantly present whatever tone colours are produced, be they airy, penetrating, deep or brilliant.

A lack of core can be musically very satisfying: Let's compare Kreisler and Thibaut, Heifetz and Szigeti, Oistrakh and Menuhin...

Ying vs Yang?

Edited: February 21, 2018, 9:54 AM · I'm with Adrian in that it's not mere technical thing but a lot to do with player's tonal sensitivity that leads to magical impression of the sound. Of course it's interpretative at such level of music making. But I don't think lack of core can be musically satisfying for listener, at least not to my taste.

It appears that core is like love -- hard to explain but you know it when you've experienced :)

Edited: February 28, 2018, 11:03 AM · Water-colours (transparent) vs oils (opaque)?

February 28, 2018, 11:02 AM · I was comparing two recordings of Mozart's G major concerto: Grumiaux's presented the musical landscape in all its brilliance and subtlety, while Menuhin, with his more uncertain sound, seemed to take us by the hand on a very personal - and beautiful - exploration.
February 28, 2018, 11:46 AM · I'm not qualified to comment on technical issues on this thread, but the discussion of 'core' sound made me think of Hilary Hahn, so i was pleased to see Paul Deck's mention of her. Impressionistically, to me Hahn's sound is clear, focussed and has a quality of 'depth' which is not flashy or mannered. I suspect that quality is in part to do with articulation and interpretation, as well as tone, though as a strictly amateur violin player I'm happy to be corrected.
February 28, 2018, 11:50 AM · My teacher's conjecture is that Hahn's bow is practically (figuratively) glued to the string; she produces an amazingly intense, fluid sound. You'll note that unlike the Galamian/DeLay pupils, she doesn't play especially close to the bridge.
February 28, 2018, 7:49 PM · Bow "glued" to the string is so important! When I watch fantastic soloists or chamber players, I can't help noticing that no matter how much their body swing, the bow and strings are so connect as though they were glued together. This kind of bow control is what I aim to eventually achieve.
March 1, 2018, 12:26 AM · That close, almost fused connectedness between the player and the instrument is noticeable in many eminent players. It's wonderful to watch. One of the things that made me want to learn the instrument.

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