Striving for tone

Edited: November 12, 2019, 12:21 AM · Hello again! As I said in a previous post, I'm a Bluegrass and old-time fiddler with no classical training. However, I do have a fiddle teacher and strive for classical technique, even if I'm not able to achieve it; especially that luscious tone. Everyday when I practice, I practice long, slow bows from tip to frog in a scale. No vibrato. Only focusing on purity of tone and making sure my bow arm and wrist are operating as I feel they should. Is this combined with my passion for it enough to achieve beautiful tone or will I end up needing a classical teacher eventually? If not, are there any books or exercises you recommend in addition? Should I attempt more advanced classical bowing techniques even if I don't need them for my style of playing?

Any help whatsoever is greatly appreciated!

Replies (13)

November 12, 2019, 4:11 AM · Just remember that you need to use the correct amount of weight/pressure to make the string vibrate as widely as possible. Experiment with different amounts of weight/pressure and find out whats optimal for your instrument. Not all are the same :)
Edited: November 12, 2019, 4:57 AM · Curves.
Apart from undeviated sunbeams, there are no straight lines in nature, only very flattened curves.

A straight bow-stroke is the result of a complex association of curved motions. Striving desperately to make a dead straight line can tighten the muscles.

I start my practice with short, soft dipped strokes in the middle of the bow, and gradually lengthen them each way. Even when using the whole bow, the swinging motion remains, albeit invisibly.
This way, the beginnings and ends of each stroke are momentarily weightless.

I massage the string, I don't scrub it!
Folks seem to like my tone....

November 12, 2019, 4:43 AM · At where your right thumb goes, there's always a "bad sound" button. The more you press it, the worse you'll sound.
November 12, 2019, 5:24 AM · There's a Nicky Benedetti video on tone production.
November 12, 2019, 5:39 AM · Working with a classical teacher would be best. Words can only go so far in tone production, but seeing and copying and having a person there to watch what you're doing is best. Until you do get a teacher, in addition to the fine suggestions others have made, I suggest you start playing "classical" music. By that I mean playing from traditional string teaching books instead of trying to get a classical tone while playing bluegrass and old-time music. The String Builder series is quite good, and Solo Time For Strings is also quite good. Start with book 1 in each series and play all the exercises and songs as they are presented.

Where you're used to playing lots of notes in bluegrass and old-time fiddling, those books will take you back to whole notes, half notes and quarter notes before gradually getting you back to quicker notes. The advantage of playing music with longer note values is that you can devote a lot of your attention to your tone and your bow control while still playing music which should sound good to someone listening to you play.

Concentrating on just the bow motion is great as a start, but putting it into practice in playing music is necessary so that your brain can learn how to concentrate on both issues (rhythm/pitch and tone) at the same time.

An added benefit is that if you've been learning the bluegrass and old-time tunes by ear you'll improve your music reading skills.

A final suggestion -- listen to as many superstar violinists as you can, especially on slower pieces such as middle movements of concertos and the slower movements of sonatas. You'll discover that there isn't a single concept of great tone and that will help you to develop a personal concept of the tone you want to achieve.

November 12, 2019, 6:14 AM · It may be that the specific tone you want to achieve can't be achieved without vibrato. And are you also using a fiddle with steel strings in your attempt to achieve this tone?
November 12, 2019, 6:20 AM · Still, the bow is a crucial and difficult element. If you can flash back 100 years to when many soloists didn't use much, and get their sound, you'll be in fantastic shape when vibrato does enter the picture.
November 12, 2019, 6:29 AM · And when a Strad cost 75USD, lol.
November 12, 2019, 11:03 AM · Having a teacher would help in developing the right mechanics that's for sure. In the absence of a teacher, at least practice in front of a mirror as without a straight bow, there will not be good tone production. Then focus on your arm weight and bow speed, feeling the pull/push of the string without "slipping"/losing the grip of the bow hairs, which will depend on a combination of bow speed, contact point and arm weight. There is no single perfect combination, all 3 are interdependent and you have to learn what work best to achieve the desired tone production. Don't over apply rosin unless you love gritty sound.
November 12, 2019, 1:00 PM · We cannot completely separate technique, style, equipment, and repertoire. Classical violin lessons will only improve your technique, but trying to play Mozart And Bluegrass with the same Violin, bow, strings, bowing style, will always be frustrating. Violinists that own a baroque replica violin will not use it when asked to play a Tchaikovsky symphony. What worked well for me was to separate my two worlds; I did classical Viola and non-classical Violin, and the feel of the bowing was about the same. You might have to own two violins; a classical violin with a mellow tone, and a bright, fast fiddle with steel strings. And at least two bows with different weights. If you own only one violin then use a compromise choice of strings, something like Helicore steel or a bright, loud set of synthetic core strings. There are of course exceptions; Mark O'Connor does a variety of styles with one set of equipment.
November 12, 2019, 8:06 PM · No one here is going to tell you that getting some classic lessons would be a bad thing for your tone production, because it won't be - but very few things are truly impossible, and I"m sure there are some ways besides that you could make progress. Simon Fischer has a video called Secrets of Tone Production that I highly recommend. Even after playing classically for many years I learned some new things from this. And Mark O'Connor manages to have a quite nice legato tone with almost entirely fiddle-style lessons - but then, he is kind of an unusual case.

Note that if you achieve a perfect classical tone, you may find that it doesn't work right with most fiddle styles (too "operatic" perhaps). However you may find things like Irish slow airs good to practice tone on, especially something like County Clare style.

My daughter's teacher has been working on her tone production recently, and one of the results of this that really surprised me is that moving the bow arm elbow higher and lower can have a remarkable effect on tone, even when you do essentially the same thing with the forearm. I can't really make the physics of this make sense, but empirically it works. However this sort of experimentation probably works better with an experienced teacher than by yourself. If you want to self-teach I'd stick with working with videos like the Fischer one. Also Bruno Monsaingeon's documentary The Art of VIolin is great for watching the bow arm of many famous players.

Good luck!

Edited: November 12, 2019, 9:21 PM · Second vote here for Simon Fischer's video. And the one on youtube with Nicky Benedetti. And pay attention to folks like Joel who are serious players in both worlds.
November 13, 2019, 12:52 AM · And don't forget your bowgrip and fingers! As long as there is tension in the bow grip or you play with stiff fingers, the tone poduction is not optimal.

I think lessons from a classical violinist is a good idea when you don't find this in your lessons now. When I watch YouTube, there are a lot of fiddlers with a classical training, it is all about knowing how to handle your fiddle. I have lessons form Alex Depue, he is very good in both worlds and uses Skype for the lessons. I started violin as a kid but still learned soooo very much last three years, also about tone production (and intonation and shifting and improvisation, and handle stage fright, etc)
But I also visit jazz weekends and have lessons there from jazz violinists. I learn things in the different styles that I can use in all musical worlds. I think taking lessons form experts in different musical worlds are a treat for yourself, you will always become a better player.

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