Playing pp with a good tone

Edited: March 3, 2020, 9:51 AM · I'm fine when bigging it up but scratchy/shaky at pp. Anyone have exercises for this? I think it's about successfully starting the note? Ta folks.

Replies (22)

March 3, 2020, 10:07 AM · I'm fairly sure a Kreutzer study could be used for this (no. 1 I think)
March 3, 2020, 10:31 AM · If you play close to / over the fingerboard, you can use a very soft weight and a bit more bow, which might help if the bow is getting choked up. Open string practice at different sound points is helpful to get a feel for the requirements of bow pressure and speed for a given dynamic.
March 3, 2020, 10:39 AM · You have these variables to work with:
contact point
speed
pressure
bow angle
vibrato
bow distribution

Whatever problem you have is some combination of the above. You can play Kreutzer (or any other slow tune), but you still have to think in terms of these basic elements and assess what you need to do.

March 3, 2020, 11:06 AM · Also keep in mind that your instrument could make it more difficult that others. Wide dynamic range is a characteristic of good instruments.
Edited: March 3, 2020, 11:24 AM · There are two approaches to playing piano. If you are in an orchestra section and you see pp you don't worry about fuzzy tone, soto voce, you just back off to near zero, maybe fake, maybe turn off the vibrato, to get out of the way because some other instrument has the lead. As a soloist you still need to be heard, so you go for the "spun-tone" best quality clear tone with a minimum of bow weight.
Edited: March 3, 2020, 11:43 AM · Thanks folks. Sometimes there are so few in the section 'backing off' is quite treacherous. I do Kreutser 1, and have an Ok swell - quite useful in fact. It's initiating the tone that's a challenge. I'll check out spun- tone.
March 3, 2020, 12:11 PM · Sorry to be a broken record, but if you can't play low notes softly with a full tone and a clean start, that's an adjustment issue.
March 3, 2020, 12:15 PM · Ta. I'll explore that.
March 3, 2020, 12:50 PM · Dynamics are also relative, especially for solo playing; if you record piano and forte passages the differences are in part volume but also in style of playing.

That said, it is hard to work on this (I am too), especially if you are using a recorder to monitor your success. Beware! Most recorders, especially those on cell phones, are designed to record spoken words. To do this they have 'volume compression' - meaning that they increase the volume of quiet sounds and decrease that of loud ones to keep the sound in the middle of the recording range. Thus far I found one ap (on an adroid) that allows you to override compression: 'RecForge II'. It takes getting used to a bit - note that when you tap 'record' it goes first into a sound-check mode so you need to hit the check mark to actually record. To turn off voice compression go into settings and check 'Disable AGC'. Now you can set the recording sensitivity with the slider under the waveform before recording. It seems quite forgiving, especially for a single violin.

I hope that is useful.

March 3, 2020, 1:57 PM · In orchestra, in pp passages, you can allow the sound to waver a little because the continuity of sound will be maintained by the section as a whole.

As a soloist, you might not want to substantially drop the number of decibels that you are outputting, especially if you are playing with orchestra. You will, however, change the color of what you are producing, by changing the sounding point, your use of vibrato, etc.

Edited: March 3, 2020, 2:23 PM · It might be your violin as Michael says, but the problem for me (and I suspect for many of us) is that we have the violin we have, and there is only so much adjustment to be done. So, presuming you have had your violin adjusted by someone who knows that business, until you can afford better, your only recourse is to work on the parameters that Scott listed. Key is to work on them one or two at a time so that you can see how they interact with one another. One more thing to remember is that your violin does not sound the same to a listener who is even six feet away as it does under your ear.
March 3, 2020, 2:26 PM · Tilt your bow. Then you can still apply enough weight to grab the string while only using part of the hair.
March 3, 2020, 2:56 PM · Tell your local guy to try pushing the post towards the middle .5 or 1 mm or so. Not much.
March 3, 2020, 3:50 PM · I do tilt the bow getting to full hair approaching the tip. @Michael - I've a spare I mean to mess with the post on. I'll try different positions.
March 3, 2020, 5:13 PM · Elise, thank you for the RecForge tip. I've now installed the app.
Edited: March 4, 2020, 3:51 AM · Yeh, thanks Elise. I've also downloaded it.
March 4, 2020, 3:16 AM · My teacher always said. A good piano is essentially a good forte 2 rooms down the hall.
Treat your sound like you treat your forte - with energy and force. Just make it quieter.
March 4, 2020, 4:59 AM · Supposedly, Klemperer said that forte is like iron. Piano is like steel.
March 4, 2020, 5:49 AM · One of my favourite conductors (George Hurst) said you need a large string section for the pp.
For him, piano was a warm singing sound - and pp was half of that (or less).
The individual sound might be sort of wispy, but as a section it's great.
Personally, I've found my strings make a big difference.Some strings just wouldn't speak unless quite loud - I'm currently using Warchal Amber which do what I want.
Edited: March 4, 2020, 11:41 AM · You really can't get away with "backing off" (or similar hiding techniques) in a good string chamber orchestra, especially if you have a conductor who is very alert and on the ball, as ours is.
March 4, 2020, 1:45 PM · I think my conductors are far too polite!
March 4, 2020, 3:25 PM · One of my conductors, on a pianissimo passage:
"Super hardcore sul tasto here. Not everyone has to make a functional sound. We'll just drop a silky veil over our entire lives."

The section effect is very different from the individual sound, of course.

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