Rosin and Whistling D string

Edited: March 20, 2019, 7:55 PM · When practicing tonight some rather odd sounds emanated from my violin towards the end of my practice session. It is difficult to describe, but very much like a hollow whistle and it was definitely from my D string.

Stopped, replayed the phrase, and it happened again. I've been working on this piece for 2 months and certainly never heard THAT sound before tonight - and as a returning beginner I've heard some odd sounds over the last 3 months - though much less often now - and this was new. After it happened the 3rd time in a row I decided to rosin my bow just to see if it would fix it, and it did - I usually just give it 2-3 swipes every 2 days and that did take care of things. (Piastro Oliv rosin)

Is this a normal sign of needing to apply rosin? A sign of something else?

Replies (12)

March 20, 2019, 8:06 PM · Wipe the melted rosin off the string.
March 20, 2019, 8:34 PM · Wouldn't there be visible rosin on the string if there were too much? I wipe off my strings after each practice session... I should have mentioned that.
March 20, 2019, 8:57 PM · It definitely could mean you need to apply rosin. Try rosining more often and see if that gives you a more even and smooth tone. The same issue can happen to me when I think I have enough rosin but actually don't, for example I used to rosin every few days, but now I give a pass on the bow almost every practice session after I warm-up to get a feel for the bow. Those kinds of squeaks and whistles also happen more often for me when the strings are getting worn out as well. How old are your strings?
March 20, 2019, 9:02 PM · The most common cause of whistling is poor technique, if your strings are clean. I can't remember the last time I managed to make the D squeal, but if your bowing is crooked, too light, too close to the bridge, or all three, anything is possible.

Play in front of a mirror. Even now I spend an hour each day playing slow scales and making sure my bowing is absolutely flawless with a mirror. It's something that quickly goes bad if you don't pay it enough attention.

March 21, 2019, 4:21 AM · My strings are only 4 months old so age shouldn't be a factor. The second and third times it happened I was very focused on what/how my bow was doing & where it was. At my level that cannot be ruled out of course. The rosin application made an immediate difference, but that could also have been from a change of focus.
March 21, 2019, 6:45 AM · In my experience the D string is the first to let you know if there is a problem with the bow hair.
Edited: March 21, 2019, 9:16 AM · It also only happened on C (D3).

Hopefully it won't repeat and it was just a lack of rosin. I know what it sounds like when my bow slides, or when the bow isn't biting into the string. At the time I was also playing with quite a lot of weight on the bow as I was experimenting with dynamics as I work on something for my next lesson.

The bow that my music shop provided with my intermediate Chinese workshop violin is quite nice - a special version of the Coda Bow Prodigy called the Protege that they partnered with Coda Bow to develop.

Edited: March 21, 2019, 3:58 PM · In the identical introductions to his violin and viola books "TONE experimenting with proportions on the violin/viola" Simon Fischer has written "High, harmonic-like, whistling sounds are the result of the bow being moved too fast or too light for the soundpoint; low, scraping, pressed, gritty sounds are the result of it being too slow or too heavy."

I love the final sentence of that introduction (even though it is not only pertinent to this specific discussion; it has relevance to others):

"The great cellist Pablo Casals said that good intonation is 'a question of conscience'. Surely the same can be said about purity of tone as well."

I think an experienced player can adapt to different instrument, strings, bow, rosin, setup fairly quickly (hopefully within a bow stroke in an emergency) but all of these things do affect the way we address the instrument. We all have a certain comfort zone within which we play our best and we want our own equipment to be at the optimum position in that zone - but if we are forced out of it we can usually compensate.

March 21, 2019, 4:27 PM · Thank you Andrew! As I become more experienced it will be easier to figure out what is going on and how best to address it. I certainly wasn't ruling out my technique, which is quite basic at this point. It was very perplexing as I thought I had ruled out "the usual suspects", or thought I had, which led to the rosin conclusion. Then I couldn't find that particular symptom listed as a common sign of that.
March 21, 2019, 5:01 PM · Going one step further, Simon Fischer enumerates 5 bowing soundpoints, Point 5 (five) is just over the end of the fingerboard and point 1 (one) is as close to the bridge as you can usefully bow.

Fischer calibrates bow pressure from 1 to 9 (light to heavy) and bow speed, 1 to 9 as slow to fast. For soundpoint 5 he says the ideal bow speed as 9 and bow pressure as 1 and and for soundpoint 1 the ideal bow speed = 1 and pressure = 9. Using this scale he suggests the sum of speed and pressure for each soundpoint = 10. One usually moves from one soundpoint to another by angling the bow while playing.

Of course these "soundpoints" are just like the marks on a ruler; all positions between the 5 named ones are in play and accessible to our bowing.

Practice and experience inform us just what physical realities comprise 1 and 9 for speed and pressure with our own instruments and bows.

Edited: March 21, 2019, 8:03 PM · Andrew - thank you for the additional explanation, and the light just dawned on me. It wasn't that the weight on my bow and my speed was incorrect (which meant I didn't find my usual suspects at fault) - but rather that particular combination should have been on another sound point instead of right in the middle where I normally play - thus producing that very strange sound. Time for me to do some research and find Fisher's full discussion on this. I just received "The Violin Lesson" and haven't had a chance to dive into it - that will change this weekend.
Edited: March 21, 2019, 8:14 PM · Just a minor point about Soundpoint 5. For most violins the end of the fingerboard is at 2 octaves + a fifth, which is where Soundpoint 5 is. If you have a violin with a Baroque length fingerboard (as one of my violins has) the end of that fingerboard will be at 2 octaves, which is not necessarily the location for Soundpoint 5. So there may be a useable Soundpoint 6 at the end of the short fingerboard - you'll have to experiment and see what happens.

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