G string contact

January 27, 2020, 8:43 AM · I am working on Ravel Tzigane, and am finding that I have to work super hard to get that strong, punchy G string sound that the opening requires. Maybe it's just me, but I feel that, with sufficient arm weight, I shouldn't have to press downwards to simply ensure that the bow maintains sufficient contact with the string. My open G has the tendency to sound slightly airy unless I take special care to ensure contact. In other words, my bow doesn't easily dig into the G string. I have my elbow at the necessary height, but feel like my arm weight is not enough. The forcing of the bow into the string is hurting my playing, as I am so busy focusing on my concentration of sound that it is hard to make it sound spontaneous and free.

To be clear, this is not a volume issue but a sound concentration one. I don't think my technique is totally to blame, as I have tried the opening of the Tzigane on a friend's violin and marveled at how little effort I had to input to get the desired sound. Still I'm curious to hear if anyone on here has had a similar problem and how they addressed it with their current tools (i.e. no switching instruments). Thanks!

Replies (44)

January 27, 2020, 8:46 AM · Your string may be too high off the finger board. I had this issue on a previous instrument
January 27, 2020, 9:48 AM · My son had a similar issue with Tzigane -- especially in the middle of the first page where it goes super high (he also has a wide C# wolf there). His violin's weakness is definitely the G string. He also had trouble concentrating sound on the octaves when the melody comes back in. Then again, he's also 14 and his bow arm just isn't that developed, so that didn't help either.

Some things that helped:

1. A lot of people just play the whole opening super strong and forte. It actually sounds better if there are more colors and dynamics. If you back off on some of them and save the real heavy concentrated sound for just the most important parts, you will sound overall better. Also use your time and pacing for emphasis.

2. Check your rosin and string. Oddly, using one particular rosin made a big difference on this opening. Not sure why. If he used anything else -- even an older container of the same rosin -- it would get scratchy instead of deep. You may also want to try a different G string. We found he had to change it about monthly as well to keep the depth of sound. (He uses Evah P Gold.)

3. Think about pulling the sound instead of pushing it. Often, we use weight to push into the sound, but if we think about pulling the sound out, sometimes it helps.

4. Consider changing some of your bowings. People use a wide range of bowings in this section. Some work better with a not-so-strong G-string. Sometimes you would think an Up bow would give more sound, but my son found he could actually pull through the Down bow better in some circumstances.

5. Experiment with feeling the sound through different fingers on your bow (index, middle two, and thumb; pinky on upbow). You may find that placing greater emphasis on the middle two fingers and/or thumb might help you pull out the sound more without having to press through the index finger.

6. Longer term -- have your violin checked out. They found my son's fingerboard warped slightly, which was contributing to some of his G string problems. Fixing that didn't solve everything, but it improved it by at least 50%.

January 27, 2020, 10:29 AM · Try a gut G, maybe of a lighter or medium gauge. There are a million ways to modify the setup to enhance the G string (lighter tailpiece, removing material from the bridge, moving the soundpost), but that is the simplest way.
January 27, 2020, 10:38 AM · What strings are you using? Bridge and soundpost position may factor in responsiveness. Perhaps it’s time for a sound adjustment.
Edited: January 27, 2020, 11:29 AM · Can't really tell how you are transferring weight onto the G-string without seeing you, but some students do have difficulty because they tend to lift weight as they raise the upper arm to reach G level. Must remember to keep weight onto the bow even as you raise your arm.

On top of everything else mentioned above use this as a chance to master your colle stroke; pinch and release, "pluck" the string to get that punchy attack. Thing to keep in mind: some fiddles can't take pressure and need a much more lateral stroke, for which you need much more release after your colle motion; other fiddles can take the pressure and you can just dig in after the colle.

Edited: January 27, 2020, 12:15 PM · I can confirm that in my experience a gut-core G (I use Pirastro Eudoxa or the less expensive but equally good IMO Chorda) will result in a reduction in a wolf note in the second octave, as will the positioning, type and weight of the chin rest. I have found a center-mounted rest is better in this regard, and how tightly it is fixed - too tight is the equivalent of a heavier rest. No two violins are the same so an opportunity for inexpensive experimentation here.

Edit added: afterthought – I wonder what strings Ravel would have had in mind, if he'd thought about it. In his day gut strings would have been very commonly used, apart from the E perhaps.

Edited: January 27, 2020, 12:07 PM · OP, a "stong and punchy" sound on the G string does indeed require more work. No fiddle will do that without a great deal of cooperation from the player. :-)
January 27, 2020, 12:15 PM · Hey thanks for the comments so far! My issue isn't really the attack (I know someone mentioned colle), but rather keeping the intensity of the sound as I hold the note. I find that, unless I apply extra force, the bow does not stay super into the string (even with full weight), and the sound lacks some amount of fullness or depth that makes it "cut". David, I agree that the attack should require energy, but I don't feel I should ever have to force the sound during a held note, as this is (more often than not) can result in uneven tone and a less than ideal sound.
January 27, 2020, 12:25 PM · If you've got the 'pinch' part of the stroke down, then focus on the 'ride.' Note the difference in contact point needed to pinch well (softer sound point) and ride well (bit closer to bridge.) You need to control your crooked bowing so that you're at the optimal sound point for every part of each stroke.
January 27, 2020, 3:49 PM · One more thing - my son had to bow the G string starting at a considerable angle at the frog to get into the string. I would always yell at him about it, but it was the only way to get the "ride" started with the sound he wanted.
January 27, 2020, 4:20 PM · Evan, you mentioned in the OP:
“ I don't think my technique is totally to blame, as I have tried the opening of the Tzigane on a friend's violin and marveled at how little effort I had to input to get the desired sound.”

If it isn’t you, it could be your setup. Does your friend use the same G string or combination of strings as you? Did you use your bow and rosin on your friend’s instrument or your friend’s stick? Could you need a rosin with more grip?

January 27, 2020, 7:51 PM · Evah pirazzi gold strings are some of the best strings I’ve tried. Unfortunately the G string can be troublesome for some violins, mine included. It gave my violin a terrible wolf high the g string and as a whole was pretty unresponsive. I had trouble getting into the string when trying to play faster rep. Once I switched strings the wolf was gone and the response was back.
Edited: January 29, 2020, 10:07 PM · Echoing Susan, I had a piece (Mozart 5) where there is a chord leading up to the return of the main theme, and it's open E at the top. I had to cut that chord at a steep bow angle to keep it from whistling and squeaking every time. It worked great, even though I'm sure it looked really weird. But the issue went away when I changed to a different E string.
January 30, 2020, 10:09 AM · Are you starting with down-bow at the tip?

When I first started learning it, before I'd had a lesson, I did a dufus bowing of a typical up-down at the frog until a friend said to start at the tip.

February 1, 2020, 5:05 PM · The SIMPLE answer is to adjust your right arm level very high so the bow hair almost touches the left violin bout. If you are drawing a down bow from the frog, make sure you continue to RAISE your elbow level continuously so the bow hair continues to be near the left bout. Forget all the BS about "the weight of the arm." What you need is LEVERAGE on the G string.

The same concept applies to pressure on the E string, although it appears to contradict the above.

The reason I am using caps is because most people on this site don't listen to my advice, even though I studied with Gingold, Galamian, Delay, Neikrug, Milstein and others and have a BS, MM, and DMA from Juilliard.

February 1, 2020, 5:19 PM · Thanks Bruce! That was definitely a super helpful piece of advice and lines up with what my teacher has been telling me (i.e. using gravity to my advantage). I'm sorry to hear that people don't listen to your advice, as I often find your comments very informative.
Edited: February 1, 2020, 5:55 PM · Bruce,
With all due respect (I can only dream to study with all those legendary pedagogues) I have to disagree. The "BS" as you call it about the weight of the arm is actually a valid way to get into the string more. Raising your arm at that considerably high level will both tire out your arm and create unnecessary tension in your bow arm especially on the G string.

I have been taught the very same way you are speaking for years. But the fact of the matter is I have been able to get into the G string and get the sound the OP seeks without doing that. And my E string has stopped whistling as much because I don't bow on the outside of the string anymore which is what causes the string to vibrate in an incorrect way which causes the whistle.

My playing after I stopped raising my arm so much has become so much better and I play more relaxed. If your violin is set up properly you shouldn't have to do that. And that could simply be as easy as changing strings. I switched from evah golds (when I had to raise my arm to get the G to speak) to vision solos and I no longer have to do that.

I don't know if you know of Karen Tuttle, but she was a very famous viola pedagogue who taught at Juilliard the very school you came from. She was a huge advocate for playing the viola comfortably and without tension. I am a violinist, but I play viola as a secondary and have been taught in the way she did that has been passed down through her students and use these very same techniques for my violin playing because I wanted to play as comfortable as all the viola students do at my school.

Bruce, I have a lot of respect for you and what you have accomplished, and I don't mean to insult you in any way. I value your advice a lot, but I had to say this. It is correct that you need the right arm angle, but not to the extreme and you are correct the arm should stay at the same level throughout the stroke.

Bottom line: OP, take your violin to a luthier and get it properly set up and get some strings that actually speak on your instrument especially the G string. Vision solos are a great place to start, but your luthier will be able to tell you the best recommendation for your unique violin. As soon as you do that I'm sure you'll be able to play that opening line. And if you still can't, perhaps it's time for a new violin that can do it.

Edited: February 1, 2020, 6:16 PM · Hey Christian - it's not about being able to play the opening line. I'm a highly advanced player and am certainly able to do it. My concerns are much more subtle, and maybe I don't adequately convey that in the post. It's about doing it comfortably where I feel I'm not having to work super hard to draw the sound from my instrument. It may in fact be my fiddle, which does lack a bit of depth. Given that, I'm trying to figure out how to play as into the string as possible. But having played a friend's instrument, I at least can see that I shouldn't have to consciously try to push this concept to its limit to get my desired sound. Still, that is where I am, as I still have to perform and take auditions on my current instrument.
Edited: February 1, 2020, 8:17 PM · Sorry Christian. You do not have the credentials to criticize my comments. You just do not understand what I am talking about. Oh, and by the way you could come and have a private lesson with me if you wish to know more. It is $175. Dr. Berg
February 2, 2020, 3:13 AM · sounds overpriced!!
Edited: February 3, 2020, 3:02 AM · Dr. Berg, I have no credentials except a lifetime of finding solutions (even for those who show little initial talent). May I point out that when I use the imagery of "arm weight" the vital "leverage" is still there!

As a violist, I have come to adopt a lower bowing arm ("lower" as in the playing of David Oistrakh..): plenty of leverage without parasitical tensions or potential injury.

I really enjoy your playing, but one size does not fit all, however well-made be the shoes/tuxedo etc...

February 2, 2020, 11:44 AM · Press harder. Play closer to the bridge. And vibrate in a manner that meshes with the first two.
That'll be $174.

I'm sure some reading the command to "PRESS" are going to get their Barney's pin-striped all-cotton boxers in a knot. If you do start at the tip--where everyone starts--arm weight will not do it. It's physically impossible unless you are at the frog. It's first-finger PRESSURE.


*All-caps intended as annoyance rather than pedagogy.

February 2, 2020, 12:09 PM · I can’t believe I am the only person to recognize that Evan played this passage to his own satisfaction on a friend’s instrument!!!!
Evan, please stop trying to do something that is apparently easy for you in your friend’s instrument without making a change to your setup. You shouldn’t have to change a technique that you have seen works, simply adjust your instrument / bow / rosin with which you’re working.
Edited: February 2, 2020, 1:19 PM · Hi Jerry - thanks for noticing that. I changed my G string from a Thomastik TI (very very bassy but a bit grainy at times) to a Vision, a string I used to use but was too bright with my old setup. This has solved quite a few problems for me (i.e. opened up my A string, gave my E string a bright edge without being too bright, and the string itself (the vision) is both clearer and smoother). My violin does lack a bit of depth for my taste (to be fair, I bought it almost 6 years ago, when it was far above my level of playing) and perhaps, in my quest to compensate, I chose a string (the TI) that is overly muddy and punchy without having enough of that satisfying G string core. Truth is, a lack of depth cannot be made up for by changing strings and I should not have tried. With the Vision, I have more leeway to explore and get a sound close to what I envision (though I don't think my instrument can quite achieve the exact sound I'm looking for). Still, this is helping me to make the most of my current tools.

That being said, I appreciate everyone's technical feedback. My technique is sufficient to play the opening of Tzigane well on an instrument with lots of depth/core on the G string, but I needed to adjust to get the most out of my instrument. I could sit around and complain about how my instrument isn't the best in the world (though it is quite a good fiddle for most things - and I play at the professional level), but I still have to take auditions and perform on my current instrument at the end of the day. Therefore, I just want to thank everyone (especially Bruce and Scott) for your helpful words.

Edited: February 2, 2020, 1:40 PM · Bruce,
Do not use your status and degrees to belittle me and assume I do not know what you are talking about. I know fully well what you are talking about. You are talking about using leverage in order to get a stronger sound and contact with the G string. I understand because number one I’m not dense, and number two that is the very same way I was taught before I went off to university. I don’t need “the credentials” to be able to disagree with what you’re saying. I have the teachings I have received whilst pursuing my undergrad that give me a better way of playing.

Evan I never said you couldn’t play it. I was talking about how to not work so hard. I am very positive you can play that passage forwards and backwards I was just trying to tell you how to play it easier. It sounds like your violin is fighting you since you were able to play it easier on your friend’s violin, which is why I suggested the luthier and a proper set up. If that doesn’t work then you have likely surpassed your current violin and need a new one.

Edited: February 3, 2020, 3:00 AM · To be clear:
- the index can only apply downward "pressure" if the thumb presses upwards: "leverage"!
- the "BS" about arm weight is a mental trick to integrate all this in a flexible whole-arm motion, however high or low the elbow;
- I raise my lowish elbow for certain strokes such as tremolo, and up-bow and down-bow staccato, to allow a better wrist movement.

I once had an expensive and useful lesson on tone with violist Patrick Ireland, and naturally he watched and listened to me before making suggestions.

Edited: February 2, 2020, 3:16 PM · Evan,

Your technique might not be optimized due to your current equipment not giving you the feedback you need. Sometimes you can figure out how to adjust by practicing on a different instrument for a while.

Can you arrange to practice on a different violin for a week to compare to your own? Ask your friend, or borrow from a shop. Or practice with another bow for a week. Analyze and compare how your technique feels on your own equipment.

Have you rehaired your bow recently? Old hair does not grip as well. Experiment with the tension of the bow hair, like loosen or tighten it by a turn. That can affect how much you’re exerting, combined with whatever string you're using.

Edited: February 3, 2020, 11:12 AM · Bruce Berg wrote:
"Sorry Christian. You do not have the credentials to criticize my comments. You just do not understand what I am talking about. Oh, and by the way you could come and have a private lesson with me if you wish to know more. It is $175. Dr. Berg"

Golly-dang, Bruce, have you not yet realized that "credentials" do not always coincide with smarts?

I may be one of the most credentialed fiddle makers in the world, but I still learn every day, including from amateurs.

My suggestion would be to get over yourself.

February 3, 2020, 10:23 AM · Too imply dr berg that your credentials imply you understand the only way to play the violin well is to me quite absurd. Kavakos makes a spectacular sound with a very low elbow.
Edited: February 3, 2020, 1:32 PM · Everybody has their difficult moments. Certainly on an online forum, it is better to simply not react in such cases. I support Bruce and want to thank him for his valuable contributions on the forum which I hope will continue for a long time.
Edited: February 3, 2020, 3:09 PM · I've been wanting to respond to this thread for a while, but could not find a good "hook" to enter on especially after Evan overruled changing violins or bows. Different strings or different rosin can affect the area troubling him, so I have decided to take the STRING approach because I think it is more expensive and more complicated.

I believe a thread I (apparently) initiated on Maestronet 16 years ago is relevant to this discussion:

I still have 4 of the violins mentioned in that old post and since then I have tried (probably) a dozen different string brand sets on all 4 of those violins.

I had 3 violins that had some troubles higher up on the G string.
Using Larsen Tzigane strings removed that problem on those violins. But there were other, better cures

When they first came out I started using Thomastik Peter Infeld (PI) string sets with the Platinum-plated E string. To my surprise, I found that the PI-Pt E string solved the G string problem on the troubled violins (without reverting to the Tziganes).

Keeping the PI-Pt E strings on I've now been through the PI sets, Thomastic Vision Solo, Pirastro Eva Pirazzi Gold (EPG), Warchal Timbres, and Tricolore gut. (The PI-Pt-E does not balance the latter 2 sets - so I had to use the Warchal-E and Goldbrokat-E strings, respectively).

These last 2 sets were very tricky for me: on my 2 best violins one was terrible with the Tricolores while the other was quite good, and these violins were bad and good with the Timbres - but in the reverse order.

The best set over-all for me on all 4 violins (if I had to select just one combo), topped with the PI-Pt-E, was medium EPG. All upper G-string problems vanished.

However, with the fairly large investment I have made in the Warchal Timbre sets, I have those full sets on my 2 other violins - with the appropriate Warchal E string. I would judge that the Warchal Timbres are as good or better on these 2 fiddles than anything I have used in the past 20 and 50 years, respectively.

SUMMARY: One's string choice can make ALL the difference in instrument response and tone. Each string affects the way the bridge interacts with all the other strings, so improving the G string may simply be a matter of using a different E - or maybe not!

SETUP makes a big difference. All but one of my instruments has received a different (professionally installed) bridge in the past 25 years) and all but one a new soundpost. Because soundpost positioning makes a big difference (especially for some instruments) I have been doing my own "setting" for the past 65 years, but when I'm still not happy I take it to a pro.

February 3, 2020, 4:49 PM · I suggest thinking about Bruce's advice from the perspective of a physics problem. Imagine you are rolling a cylinder, like a log. We apply a bit of rotational force -- essentially torque -- to the string in order to set it in motion. If you are spinning an object, and you try to do so by applying an impulse directly perpendicular to it, you will get less momentum than if you were doing so to its "left" side, assuming that the impulse is applied to spin it clockwise.

By raising the level of the arm, it's not that we're pressing more. It's that we're changing the part of the string that the bow contacts, and therefore the angle at which we are applying torque. If Evan's G string requires more torque in order to start and keep vibrating, it makes sense that Bruce's suggested adjustment would do the trick.

February 3, 2020, 4:50 PM ·
"the "BS" about arm weight is a mental trick to integrate all this in a flexible whole-arm motion, however high or low the elbow;"

I fully get the desire to tell students to use arm weight rather than pressure. Telling someone to press encourages a scratchy sound, especially from less advanced students who have not yet learned to control other elements of bow use such as speed, contact point, and vibrato.

So from that standpoint, it does make a certain amount of sense, although people tend to be rather dogmatic about it, as if saying it will suddenly produce a different sound.

I still like the sound of "PRESS HARDER!!"

February 3, 2020, 4:54 PM · Disclaimer: I've never played this and wouldn't be able to. Certainly won't attempt to disagree with Scott and Dr. Berg.

But I was intrigued enough to look up a few videos and came across Patricia Kopatchinskaja's interpretation, in which she doesn't really sustain all the notes with the kind of force you're talking about: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w0ObgSKBqTQ

It's an interpretive choice and more seasoned pros might disagree with it but she really sells it. Maybe you could play around with something similar?

Edited: February 3, 2020, 5:11 PM · If you consider what Bruce said, and Lydia's thoughts and holding your violin in cello position play your G string with the bow hair as close to the bass-side C-bout as you are able, you will be able to demonstrate that it works and changes the tone. You will be able to watch the string, see how it vibrates differently than if you bowed across the top of the string and hear the difference.

But there may still be a optimization deficiency with the strings you have on your violin.

February 3, 2020, 9:15 PM · Lydia and Andrew,
Your comment about thinking of this as torque is exactly about what I suggested. Andrew's comment about holding the violin in "cello position" is one of the methods I use in teaching this concept. Thanks to both of you!

@ Lyndon $175 for a private lesson is actually less than some charge in the Dallas, Houston, or Austin areas and so is not overpriced given my teaching credentials. I guarantee a solution to any technical (or musical) problems in my lessons.
Dr. Bruce Berg
Emeritus Professor of Violin
Baylor University

Edited: February 3, 2020, 10:11 PM · I'm not sure you can realistically guarantee that you can solve any student's technical or musical troubles, but you definitely can say for certain that you'd never get my business with your attitude.

Or do I lack sufficient credentials that would be required for that to concern you? :)

February 3, 2020, 10:27 PM · I dunno. A guarantee on a one-off lesson lowers the risk of spending that kind of money. :-)

More seriously, i have personally paid the concertmaster of a major symphony $250 for an hour-long one-off lesson. I have also studied with a teacher who routinely charged $250 per lesson. (She offered me a lower fee than that, thankfully.) Two different cities.

Edited: February 4, 2020, 1:31 AM · @Lydia - I'm not sure rolling a log is a good analogy. A log lying on the floor has friction with the floor and because of gravity acting on your body it's easier to pull something up than to pull sideways. In the latter case, you may lose balance or slide. These effects are not relevant in case of a violin string that is attached to a violin that you're holding; you could play it just as well in zero gravity.

In theory, there could be a difference in how the string vibration couples to the bridge and the top plate, depending on whether the string vibration is horizontal or vertical. But I don't hear much difference on my violin between playing pizzicato horizontally or vertically on the G string.

Other hypotheses:

* rosin caked to the sides of the G string affects the response depending on bow angle. This is easy to rule out by cleaning the string.

* The biomechanixs of the right arm combined with how the brain controls them favor a steeper bow angle for getting the optimal force vector at the contact point (relative to the bow hair orientation).

(I have credentials in physics ;-) )

February 4, 2020, 2:54 AM · May I point out that Bruce, (or rather Dr.Berg!) has made his fingerings for major concertos available for free... typing the music out in Finale, which in itself deserves a medal!

February 4, 2020, 7:48 AM · The "log" image reminds me that the bow also introduces a rotational motion of the string, responsible for certain distortions not mentioned in my old high-school physics manual.
February 4, 2020, 8:18 AM · Yes--my teacher and I really like Dr. Berg's edits to the Bruch concerto. I've been working through his version. I appreciate that he made them available.
February 4, 2020, 10:41 AM · "I guarantee a solution to any technical (or musical) problems in my lessons. "

So do I. The problem is that students so rarely employ my solutions...

$250 per hour of lesson?

Edited: February 6, 2020, 8:34 AM · I can think of people I would be willing to pay $250 per hour to learn from, but they would be very few and far between.

For the most part, what I have encountered on "the high end" have been people who are quite willing to give their information and learning away for free, or something pretty close.

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