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Improving Tone Quality

How to improve tone quality

hoe to play in tune on a violin

Learning how to produce a beautiful rich tone on the violin or viola can seem like such a complex minefield of apparently contradictory concepts and actions.  Bow speed, weight, angle of bow, amount of hair on the string, and the challenge of making seamless bow changes; these all contribute to the tone you produce.

Obviously, before you focus on tone you want to make sure that you have set your violin position up to suit your body type, you know how to hold the bow and can bow parallel to the bridge. Perhaps the single most important concept that can help transform your tone is to realise that the bow is playing a constant catch/release game with the string.

The tiny hooks on the bow hair and the grippy rosin serve to grab and pull the string until the tension is so great that the string flicks back. It’s why the more pressure you apply to the bow the more the string appears to vibrate from side to side.

Another key concept for developing a beautiful tone is that you pull the sound with the bow; pushing just leads to a forced sound. In essence, the middle fingers of the bow hand caress the bow and the tone. If you simply rely on applying pressure through the first finger it becomes a contest of brute strength where you will crush the string vibrations and possibly injure your hand.

And as they say you can’t push a piece of string. You want to allow the weight of the arm to drag the bow along. Weight (pressure) and speed combined with this idea of pulling the sound from the instrument can transform your tone very quickly.

Probably the single most important exercise for practising these ideas is slow bowing or son filé. This exercise involves playing long held notes (around 20 seconds per bow stroke). There are an infinite number of variations of the son filé. Try experimenting with adding accents or dynamic changes within each held note.

Some teachers even recommend holding a single note for longer than a minute. But don’t practise son filé for more than 10 minutes at a time. Son filé may not always sound great but ironically it is one of the best ways to improve your mastery of applying bow weight and the subtle finger control that creates beautiful tone.

Pro-am Strings— helping your cross all your violin and viola learning bridges with ease.

This post was written by Stylus writer, a former professional violinist/ violist who has taken his gift for phrasing and tone into the world of words. You can learn more about his work athttps://styluswriter.co.nz

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