Improving tonal quality in high positions

August 22, 2017, 9:27 PM · Hello
I am working on improving my tone when playing across all strings in high positions ie 5+. I'd be grateful on insights on how to improve this and what are the differences in techniques for improvements between the strings?

Thanks v much


Replies (21)

August 22, 2017, 9:52 PM · play slowly. you could practice some kreutzer etudes? also play some 2 octave scales starting on G string 4th or 5th position. good luck
Edited: August 22, 2017, 11:24 PM · Crudely speaking:

Up the string: Play progressively nearer the bridge, and with longer bow-strokes, as the vibrating section of the string shortens.

Across the strings: heavier shorter strokes on the lowest string, going progressively powards longer, lighter strokes on the highest.

These adjustments are more noticeable on a viola, and also on a less responsive violin. They are not often mentioned, since we often do them as we search for the best tone experimentally.

August 23, 2017, 8:19 AM · The #1 issue that students have in the high positions is control over the contact point. As Adrian says, you MUST be closer to the bridge. Even the slightest deviation in contact point over the length of the stroke will change the sound quality.

This is how I demonstrate the physics of sounding point with my students:
1. in first position, try to bow in the exact middle of the string. It sounds terrible, right? You can't drive a string from its mid point.
2. now pick a very high note on the fingerboard and note the RELATIVE contact point when the bow is midway between the bridge and the fingerboard where we are taught to put it. Wait--in that high position, isn't that contact point now close to the center of the speaking length? So, just like trying to bow the mid point in first position, why would you expect a decent sound quality at mid point in any position? You can't.
3. So the lesson is, unless you need to produce some soft tonal color, try for the contact point that is loudest and clearest. This takes a lot of control in the highest positions and is one thing that separates the professional from the student or amateur. It's also tiring to practice this for long. My recommendation: invest in a good ear plug when practicing up there.

August 23, 2017, 8:37 AM · I like your demo Scott!

Further to what Scott and Adrian have said, you gotta get used to all the extra noise produced playing near the bridge, especially on lesser instruments. Get someone to demonstrate for you. All the hissy noises you hear under your ear cannot be heard from a short distance (10 ft.)

Speaking of control, make sure you have absolute control over pressure, speed, maintaining contact point in the lower positions as a prerequisite, in other words, you should already be able to produce an absolutely even tone at all parts of the bow, both directions, for any length of bow, at all dynamics (which can be trained using a stopped bow exercise.)

August 23, 2017, 9:30 AM · I completely agree with Scott and Adrian that you'll need to play close to the bridge in order to sound good high positions. Also, make sure your left hand is stopping the string enough to produce a clear note. Also keep in mind that you may need to play more into the string and use more bow speed. Also make sure your bow is moving at a consistent pace.
August 23, 2017, 10:12 AM · Simon Fischer also breaks down all of this very clearly in _The Violin Lesson_, OP, if you want to read a thorough treatment.
August 23, 2017, 10:18 AM · You hardly need to press down at all at the high end. You just need to touch the strings - particularly on the E. Try it.
August 23, 2017, 10:18 AM · I wrote but i couldn't post.

Honestly you'll find the answer yourself if you keep playing. It'll be frustrating.

Go look at your bow arm if it has flex. You know not a piston like motion

August 23, 2017, 10:49 AM · Ella, playing more into the string seems the exact opposite of what I think is right, especially on the e string.
Do I understand correctly you ask for a heavier bow in high positions?
As written before, number one key is the bow position. Also light but faster strokes, on the g string you can still play with more weight, if you go to the bridge.
August 23, 2017, 12:59 PM · Maybe a less responsive instrument, or a "forte" E-string, needs more pressure high up? I should like to know what top players do!

Until then I stand by what Scott and I said.

August 23, 2017, 1:05 PM · The amount of pressure depends on the musical requirements of the passage, doesn't it?
If you're wailing on it, you use more pressure. If not, you use less.
August 23, 2017, 4:33 PM · I'm very sorry. On the G string, you'll need to play more into the string up high, but not on the E. Sorry.
August 23, 2017, 4:36 PM · For me comfort in high positions comes naturally, when I warm up my bow arm carefully. I think in general contact point exercises and bow exercises with different bow speeds readjust the fine tuned motions of the right arm so that a good contact point in relation to the string is found in a more intuitive way. It also frees the left hand. For the left hand as mentioned above, don't press! The amount of pressure needed is usually much less than expected!
August 23, 2017, 5:32 PM · Working on your tone is a lifetime thing. What Scott said about contact rings very true in my experience. After all, what would happen if you could magically just move the nut up an octave to play all that high stuff? Where would you put your bow then?
Edited: August 24, 2017, 11:57 PM · hi Sonia in case you are still reading this, the Sevcik opus 1 book 2 has many exercises in fixed high positions (6th and 7th) which you can work on piecemeal. just pick one measure from such exercise and work concentrated on it for just fifteen minutes, trying to get it to sound as beautiful, clean, clear and musical as possible! initially you will not like it, but it will improve quickly! especially the basic technique of keeping fingers down when changing strings is more difficult in high positions and requires some training of the left hand, the main issue being to keep your last finger joints relaxed! but the effort will be paid back handsomely! plus bowing close to the bridge of course, as already explained above.
August 25, 2017, 4:13 AM · I would like to remember that just good violins will sound good on high positions on the G string, in general you will find many wolves and rasped notes there.
Edited: August 25, 2017, 4:56 AM · Luis, my experience with the G string on my #1 violin, a late 18th century German copy of an S (possibly), is that if, and only if, I use Pirastro's gut-cored Chorda do those wolves and rasped notes disappear; use any other G, including Eudoxa, and they return. That violin is at its best with all gut and a baroque tailpiece.

In contrast, my Jay Haide does not have wolves anywhere, no matter what strings I use - gut, synthetic or steel; but the JH doesn't have the tone and projection of the old violin. Not a bad violin for a lot of my playing, though.

August 25, 2017, 8:39 AM · The difficult region is the 7th position on the G string, mainly the C.
Edited: August 25, 2017, 1:37 PM · And the b, there are a lot of violins with wolf at bb, b or c on the g string.
Edit: of course the ones an octave higher than first position
August 25, 2017, 9:49 AM · Honestly my only experience with wolf tones is on open Es sometimes

Could you describe wolf tones :)?

August 25, 2017, 10:02 AM · Ahmed, a wolf tone is a term meaning when you put your finger down on the string and bow the desired note does not happen but an undesirable sound occurs. I have minor problem with second C note on my G string.

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