Good sound quality in high positions on a gut string

October 5, 2018, 9:52 AM · So I’ve been learning Paganini’s Caprice on gut strings (I’m crazy I know) and whenever I try to play the really high notes up on the e string, they just sound scratchy, rough or they don’t really speak as clearly as I want them to. So I was wondering if anyone has any advice.

Replies (10)

October 5, 2018, 11:40 AM · How do your scales sound on gut strings up high? It seems like you may be trying to do a lot of different stuff at once. I would work to get high notes in a simpler context if I was trying to get used to something new like that.
October 5, 2018, 1:03 PM · Well Christian, my scales as I go up in the high positions sound still scratchy and so I’m wondering if there’s something happening with the fmright arm or left hand that might help reduce the scratch and help the notes speak clearly. Does the bow need increase in speed and less pressure? Closer to the bridge?
Edited: October 5, 2018, 1:12 PM · I always had trouble with gut Es. Not sure if it was my bowing or the fact that I'd only have a good 2 hours to play on them before they frayed and snapped.
In any case, transitioning from synthetics takes time and effort. Slow down a bit and focus on getting good tone on each string. Just two octave scales up and down on each.
You'll eventually have a "eureka" moment.
October 5, 2018, 1:28 PM · Hi William,

I don't know the first thing about gut strings, but generally the higher up we play in position, the more the bow needs to go towards the bridge, and generally, as we go towards the bridge, we require more pressure. With too little pressure, you tend to get a sul ponticello (which literally means "on the bridge") effect which sounds like what you are describing.

It's really something you need to experiment with, and you should use your ear to guide you. Again, I don't know the nuances of gut strings, but I would personally find it counterproductive to be working these kinds of things out on gut strings if this was an issue that I also had on other strings. But if you want to work it out for yourself, then change just one variable at a time; You have distance from bridge, pressure and bow speed to choose from (and maybe some effect from your left hand too - For example, a wider vibrato lets you play louder without your tone breaking, but I would leave vibrato out of this for now). So try and leave 2 of the 3 variables the same, and focus on just changing, say, distance to the bridge, and see what happens. Then you can add other elements and see what gets you closer to the sound in your head.

Good luck! I'm sure others in addition to Cotton will have more good advice.

Edited: October 5, 2018, 6:54 PM · Update: today as a practiced, I noticed that the high notes speak more if I play closer to the bridge. I will later experiment with bow pressure and speed but today during rehearsal I played the higher notes pretty adequately so I will examine my technique more carefully and see what’s working. If anyone has any advice not mentioned at this point that would be much appreciated.
October 5, 2018, 7:47 PM · Yes, whether you are using gut or synthetics, you will get greater clarity closer to the bridge.

You need to experiment with your sounding point / speed / pressure with new string sets.

October 5, 2018, 11:40 PM · Perhaps also the angle of the bow hair (in every meaning, of course, but especially how flat the hairs are, or angled away from you).
Edited: October 6, 2018, 2:27 PM · In Baroque music it is rare to find a violin part going into the third octave on the E string, the second D on the E usually being the highest. I believe Bach's highest on the violin E was the second A.

With these points in mind, playing in high positions on a gut E is by no means insuperable if the advice of Lydia and others here is followed. When you master the technique you may very well find that ultra-high notes on a gut E have more "body" to them than those produced by the higher tension steel E.

I'd also experiment with a lower gauge gut E.

October 6, 2018, 6:08 PM · Playing techniques needed to change to take best advantage of synthetic strings, and the same would need to happen when going back in the other direction.
October 8, 2018, 2:01 AM · Trevor I totally agree. Although, gut Es don’t have the edgy, penetrating and piercing quality of steel they have the depth, color, and richness that one can never find on a steel E. Not to say they are quieter though. The gut strings are amazingly powerful on my instrument. Could still hear myself playing in a modern orchestra playing fortissimo.

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