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Your thoughts on tone


GoPractice

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Hoping there are no wrong answers here.

Every so many years, evaluating tone for myself and students becomes important. There is the personal and audience aspect to tone, which is unavoidable at a site like this. There are many who imagine an ideal, depending on research. For violin, Heifetz, Oistrakh, on LP and those who have heard, like Zuckerman, Perlman, ( Maestro Lin, ) and Hahn and all the current greats who are too numerous to list, Jansen, Venagrov, Repin. 

As it has been a perilous new academic year ( s, ) required and developmental changes are being made. For more advanced students, assuming they practice over the summer, they get their new instruments/ set ups, early. If they went to camp, they comeback with notions, which is great as this is where their exposure and the ability to notice differences in technique and sound gets full value. A trick, to some level, is to exploit the desire to emulate one's heroes. 

Hearing something ( others playing, recordings, ) and hearing what one plays are definitely different. To keep it simple, and perhaps binary? are there preferences as to what you like?

This is a very subjective area. And we might use different terminology to describe experiences.

For a part of the Covid pandemic, I often stayed in an apartment where noise was an issue. I had to imagine how to sound, to myself, playing quietly. Then there were trips to the desert where I sounded horrible but played to plants in the distance. And with the availability of so many types of strings, it's been an expensive nightmare supplying sets. It's not the easy e- string swap.

A complicated argument I have with evolving students, is the need for developing a personal skill without going nuts. Depending on the literature/ repertoire, there might be an ( imagined ) ideal tone? Makers rarely speak of ideals, but getting instruments into the hands of the pros of pros might be a proud moment.

Asking for thoughts well into the "new" century, from early recordings to an established internet. 

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10 hours ago, Altgeiger said:

The only question I can see here is, "Are there preferences as to what you like?"

 ( ... )

This is perhaps the question? I know it is terribly unfair to ask for ideals in a limited span of words. And it's nearly impossible to generalize when there are extremes in character, technique and within the context of pieces.

Current likes? In the past, it was easier to eliminate ( avoid ) tone that was not liked. Like eliminating instruments one did not like when shopping for something new or more expensive. 

I am noticing how player's choices have evolved a bit this past decade. I wanted to be a bit more vague as it may not necessarily be an evolution, but that some players have struck upon an idealized sound that is apart from the past. One that had not been really heard or noticed in a particular way, recorded or live or in a magazine article. Some of my friends are swooning over players I have never heard of and they heard about a recording or a performance from someone else or social networking. I am pretty sure that in the Swan shop, players are less restrictive on choice of tone and follow the instruments to where they lead.

Online services accelerated the access to hearing instruments. And though the performances are of interest, I am mostly curious about the tone. Not visiting different performance/ rehearsal spaces nor being around dozens of different players 4- 5x a week reduces my intake of sounds. 

This post was poorly conceived. In light of the profound change in music a century ago, given our current realm of technology, we might or expect to hear instruments differently? About a half a dozen years ago, PI strings were changing how I was hearing graduate and undergraduate student violins because the players liked how they sounded or played. Tungsten Spiracores have definitely changed how I am hearing cellos live over the past decade.

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I am not entirely certain of the exact question.  After having read both of your @GoPracticeposts, I will offer the following thoughts:

1. Alot of your comments are with regards to external factors like strings, the instrument itself, and the environment.  With regards to those ideas, in general, I look for a balance.  

Strings - something that is not too bright, not too dark.  Strings that are responsive to my skill level (too responsive and my lack of perfection is exposed).

Environment - During Covid, we had the unfortunate luck in having bought our first house 2 weeks into lockdown.  The unfortunate part was that I was stuck with 3 months rent remaining in my apartment.  So, I practiced in an empty apartment for about 2 months and with the carpet, and the fact that I couldn't play out due to noise issues, I focused more on skill than sound production and used a mute.

Instrument - well, I am not of unlimited means and my instrument is my instrument.  Forever instrument? No. But I can say that I have put a lot of focus in producing the best tone from my instrument that I can.  That being said, when I try out other instruments for periods of time, I play different because of the limitations or potential that does not exist in my current instrument.

2. As to tone preference having to do with my playing and my heroes, this is a dynamic endeavor.  I listen to lots of recordings from Kreisler and Heifetz all the way to Randall Goosby and Maria Duenas.  If I had to pick, and I hate binary questions like this, my go to artists are Heifetz, Vengerov, Fisher, Chen, and Hahn. 

Heifetz - I know that the scratchiness I hear on a lot of his recordings are the microphone set up and the technology at the time.  I have heard many people mention that in person, in a hall, Heifetz tone was beautiful.  I like Heifetz because of his intonation, clean playing, and the often surprising artistic flair from his unexpected gliss/portamento.

Hahn - she plays clean. Period.  Notes are articulate and she doesn't push the extremes.  Her sustains and vibrato are consistent and pleasing to my ear.  When I am beginning to learn a piece, she is my go to.

Fisher - I like the balance of modern and old-school that Julia Fisher brings.  She reminds me of a hybrid between Anne Sophie Mutter and Hilary Hahn.  She is my go to artist when I have experimented with many things and am ready to polish up or prepare for performance.

Chen - His playing is as clean as Hahn but he plays out.  I don't want to say loud.  Chen's playing is a lot more in your face in terms of volume, approach, projection, etc.  I cannot use him as any guide post in practicing because he has insanely long fingers and does things I would never be physically able to do. But I listen to him for ideas.  Lastly, he is always smiling!

Vengerov - well...Vengerov is passionate.  I love this about him.  He really pushes the boundaries.  My most favorite thing about Vengerov is that he has so many wonderful YouTubes teaching and giving advice.  His tone is beautiful, but sometimes I think over the top.

Now of course, there is one artist who may not be the cleanest, most experimental or most anything else, but I always listen to him for the warmth of his tone.  I did not mention him in my initial list on purpose.  

Itzhak Perlman.  Wow.  His tone is sustained, warm, inviting, and simply wonderful.  I cannot fathom how he does some of the things he does with the girth of his fingers.  Also, his ability to produce certain bow strokes with only his wrist and fingers is simply amazing.  

Overall, in terms of tone, my personal goal changes during the stages of learning.  At the beginning, I want only clean tone.  Clean intonation, clean bow strokes, clean sustain.  After that, I really like experimenting with exaggerated dynamics, accents, gliss/portamento, etc.  At the end, I always come back to clean tone and hope that some of the experimenting that I did sticks.

 

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I suppose it has been said often enough by so many top players, but I'll start with it anyway:

"Develop a concept of sound/tone/phrasing in your head - i.e. 'visualize' (auralize?) what you want to sound like, then find the technical means to make it happen."

Related to this, is that we should all have an individual, distinct sound from anyone else. As we grow up listening to so many great artists, it can be instructive to imitate those we admire. It is a way of learning how to produce different tones, shades, and colors. But ultimately, especially if we aim to play solos or even more importantly if we aspire to be a "soloist" is to have a unique sound. All the violinists mentioned above certainly do. I'll add Anne-Sophie Mutter and Rachel Barton Pine to the list. I can always tell when they are playing on the radio. Also Oistrakh. What a marvelous tone he had. 

I also find it instructive to pick out different instrumentalists and vocalists for their unique sound as well: Amy Winehouse, Sarah Vaughn, Cecilia Bartoli. 

Finally, what the phrase, the piece, the era, the composer add to "how it should sound". I remember seeing an interesting master class with Zuckerman once (on YouTube, I believe) where he was asking someone to "Play Mozart in the style of Beethoven" and things like that. Also, 2 Set Violin where Hilary Hahn was a guest, and the "game" was to play various passages with certain emotion in mind and to see if the others can guess what emotion was intended. It was an excellent lesson in basic interpretation!

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I think when we are young we listen for and hear one set of ideals and as we get older, we learn to listen for different things.

When we talk about tone, we are talking about intonation, vibrato, and bow control.  When I'm working with students, I'm looking for good geometry (a straight bow) and listening for the ability to produce a clear tone at various contact points with various bow speeds.  Frequently, I find myself having to reassure students that playing nearer the bridge is essential technique even though there's more danger of scratching, screeching, or crunching.

When I'm making choices myself or listening to a professional, I'm most impressed when changes in color reflect changes in the phrasing.  The greatest artists are able to transition dramatically between different color palettes.

I suppose, the greatest artists don't even need tone though.  I think I'm told the anecdote here before about seeing Bobby Mann play a chamber music recital with the faculty at SFCM in (maybe) 2008.  He did not have much bow control, his tone was all over the place.  But his knowledge, his intention was so extraordinary that it didn't matter.  Even without great tone he was able to give a convincing performance.

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2 hours ago, Stephen Fine said:

I'm most impressed when changes in color reflect changes in the phrasing.  The greatest artists are able to transition dramatically between different color palettes.

So true!

As a lifelong student, I am constantly striving to accomplish these types of musical segues.  My teachers keep telling me "etudes"! All day, every day!  So I practice etudes and see improvement, but I often wonder how much of this is skill and how much is simply raw talent?  

There are professionals out there, recording artist caliber, who have gone on record saying that they did not do much in terms of etudes when they were younger because they learned the Suzuki method or what not.  Only after they transitioned to a conservatory did they focus on etudes.

2 hours ago, Stephen Fine said:

He did not have much bow control, his tone was all over the place.  But his knowledge, his intention was so extraordinary that it didn't matter.

Is it raw talent?  Is it years of wisdom and experience?  What ever it is, please give me some!

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On 9/6/2023 at 10:23 AM, violinnewb said:

Is it raw talent?  Is it years of wisdom and experience?  What ever it is, please give me some!

For Robert Mann, it was certainly years of wisdom and experience at that point.

Over the past year, I've spoken a good bit to friends about the relative importance of genius vs. being in the right place at the right time.

I went to music school with geniuses, they're not quite a dime a dozen, but when you are in a good program, you get used to seeing them around.

Only some of them become wildly successful!

The thing about the ones who become wildly successful... it compounds.  Once you're famous more great artists want to work with you.  When your collaborators are bigger, bolder thinkers you grow as well.  Better gigs multiply.

These friends of mine who are lovely and geniuses... they're no more lovely or genius than others I've known, but circumstances have elevated them to extraordinary fame and fortune; genius alone is credited.

We live in a weird society.

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29 minutes ago, Stephen Fine said:

For Robert Mann, it was certainly years of wisdom and experience at that point.

Over the past year, I've spoken a good bit to friends about the relative importance of genius vs. being in the right place at the right time.

I went to music school with geniuses, they're not quite a dime a dozen, but when you are in a good program, you get used to seeing them around.

Only some of them become wildly successful!

The thing about the ones who become wildly successful... it compounds.  Once you're famous more great artists want to work with you.  When your collaborators are bigger, bolder thinkers you grow as well.  Better gigs multiply.

These friends of mine who are lovely and geniuses... they're no more lovely or genius than others I've known, but circumstances have elevated them to extraordinary fame and fortune; genius alone is credited.

We live in a weird society.

Right.  I have seen and heard many fiddlers and pit musicians that simply do not have the underlying conservatory approach training and technique and still manage to produce wonderful tone and possess great musicianship.  

Unfortunately, I do not have the formal training that I desire so I am waiting for the wisdom and experience to kick in. :D

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  • 2 weeks later...

These instruments are so difficult to better understand, if not the music, musicality and musicianship, that the process is starting to confuse me. Like any trend, we observe the tail- end of the cycle. 

Mostly, the "DGD" pattern has been where I have practiced on the violin. And I am grateful for a primary teacher ( who stayed with a not so understanding student ) for that. After adding to violins I have wanted/ desired/ acquired, for purpose of tonal understanding, I have migrated from "traditional" Strad outlines ( not graduations ) to other patterns. The violin DGD pattern has offered me more expressiveness and tonal variations to the g- string and certainly more control on the e- string, and again, generalize on what is written here. Very few of the public want to hear a solo viola ( when attending a program ) though I think it to be an important voice. Here in the US, Professor Ma has done the virtuous task of introducing an a very outspoken instrument to more affluent children. 

Currently, a modified Strad pattern violin is what I play from an Italian ( Italian heritage ) maker but due to the pandemic, and find it easy and glorious to play, it is time to try another maker.

There is intimacy in warmth, via closeness in the DGD pattern, blah blah blah. The technical players, more often flashy, require clarity ( Strad pattern- huge generalization. ) 

Is there a swing towards the brighter tonal range is general? 

And that brighter range has purposely not been defined, which I apologize for... 

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Just now, GoPractice said:

These instruments are so difficult to better understand, if not the music, musicality and musicianship, that the process is starting to confuse me. Like any trend, we observe the tail- end of the cycle. 

Mostly, the "DGD" pattern has been where I have practiced on the violin. And I am grateful for a primary teacher ( who stayed with a not so understanding student ) for that. After adding to violins have wanted/ desired/ acquired, for purpose of tonal understanding, I have migrated from "traditional" Strad outlines ( not graduations ) to other patterns. The violin DGD pattern has offered me more expressiveness and tonal variations to the g- string and certainly more control on the e- string, and again, generalize on what is written here. Very few of the public want to hear a solo viola ( when attending a program ) though I think it to be an important voice. Here in the US, Professor Ma has done the virtuous task of introducing an a very outspoken instrument to more affluent children. 

Currently, a modified Strad pattern violin is what I play from an Italian ( Italian heritage ) maker but due to the pandemic, and find it easy and glorious to play, it is time to try another maker.

There is intimacy in warmth, via closeness in the DGD pattern, blah blah blah. The technical players, more often flashy, require clarity ( Strad pattern- huge generalization. ) 

Is there a swing towards the brighter tonal range is general? 

And that brighter range has purposely not been defined, which I apologize for... 

 

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11 hours ago, GoPractice said:

( Strad pattern- huge generalization. )

Is there a swing towards the brighter tonal range is general?

My current favourite violin is an 1809 instrument by London maker Charles Harris who is slightly notable as one of the few English who adopted (and modified in certain ways, in my hands not all of them beneficial) the "long Strad" model. Actual Long Strads have the reputation of having a deeper and richer tone than golden period models and in Harris's case I'd concur with that. I gather Shaham and Kavakos used to play long Strads; I don't know who does currently. I wish more soloists were brave enough to swing the other way.

I'm afraid what you say about solo viola is also  probably true - include me in with "the public".  In string chamber groups there seems to be a division between those violists who want to blend in with the violins at the top and those who want to stand out fruitily at the bottom. I'm wholly with the latter faction; pace Walton and others, if it was "designed" at all the viola was never intended to be played above the treble clef stave.

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