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crystal

Experienced violinists: How can I improve my "mousy" tone?

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I saw my teacher yesterday for a lesson. It's been quite sometime since I've gotten with her...she's been sick alot over the past yearand when she is going through a round of chemo, she's not up to giving her lessons.

Anyways, she thinks my intonation is terrific. I'm very good at that part and my hand position is good also. But she said that I/we needed to work on getting a good, strong intonation. She said my tone often sounds timid and mousy. Small and on the weak side. I am aware that I need to definitely be using more of the bow and not just the middle 3rd which I have been prone to do and that is something that I am working on already. This should be a good start to improving the tone issue.

Is there any other tips out there that could move me from "mousey" to "mighty"?

It's not the violin. I have had the violin for 6 months and have heard fine people play it. I know it has the guts.

I am sure that a large part of it is that I am not confident about what I'm playing, so I don't "dig" into it. But the other question I have is how can you tell when "digging in" has crossed over to obnoxious? And, when does digging in stop being "sweet" sounding? Can you have a strong, but sweet tone?

Lots of questions here, but this is a crucial step in my learning. I'll listen and consider any advice offered.

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Let the bow rest on the strings. make sure your right hand is turned slightly away(pronated). You may be actually supporting the bow with your right arm. play rythmic open strings and listen. think "fat" laugh.gif

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This might sound like basic stuff, but it's the stuff I've been working on with my teacher the past few weeks, and I've been playing for almost 8 years!

First, move the bow closer to the bridge. Duh, you're thinking, but until I stopped and watched myself in the mirror, I never realized how far the bow tends to stray from where you started it.

Second, look at your bowhold. Which finger do you feel in your right hand doing the most work~ making the strongest connection? It should be the middle finger or ring finger. Make sure to feel the bow on the string and really PULL the sound.

There are plenty more, but I'm tired and I can't think of any at the moment. Maybe someone else can offer better advice. Good luck!

~Julia~

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The tone is obnoxious, when it sounds obnoxious to you! smile.gif

Some instruments require digging in to sound. Some don't. You will have to experiment to find out whether or not yours likes this. (Note that this is separate from whether or not the instrument CAN take digging in -- i.e., whether or not it can sustain heavy bowing pressure without the sound breaking up or becoming harsh.)

Some players like to dig in. Others don't. This is part of matching the player to the instrument! You should still be able to produce a sufficiently powerful tone even if you don't dig in, though -- if your instrument does not demand digging in, in order to sound. (The "silvery" Milstein tone seems to be produced by using lots of bow, without digging in.)

Make sure you are bowing at the middle sounding point between bridge and fingerboard. Suzuki calls this the "Kreisler Highway". Don't let the bow unconsciously slip towards the fingerboard. Make sure that you are pulling the bow straight.

A Russian hold will get you the most power, at the cost of a little bit of flexibility. The hair is flat and the forearm is rotated to maximize the weight of the arm upon the strings, and the index finger can be used to regulate the pressure. The hair of the bow is kept quite loose.

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Fiddlefaddle and Lydia, could you please explain to Crystal (and others) the difference in your suggested bow holds? Am I right in saying that Fiddlefaddle suggests a 'Franco-Belgian' pronated hold and Lydia suggest a 'flat' Russian hold? crazy.gif

Lydia: It appears to me that with a Russian hold a lot of the weight of your arm is transmitted through the index finger when going for a 'big' tone. Is that the case, and are other holds the same, or do other fingers play more part with them?

Thanks, Max

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Flesch describes this very well in his Art of Violin Playing, so I'm just going to quote him. (I have combined a couple of parts of the same section of text, below.) Obviously, there are variants on the bow-holds described below, and there's also Galamian's variant, which post-dates Flesch and is a combination of Franco-Belgian and Russian.

We can distinguish between three types of bow-hold:

1. The older (German) bow-hold. The index finger presses onto the stick with its underside (palmar surface), approximately at the joint nearest the fingertip. The position of the other fingers is determined by this, and the thumb lies across from the middle finger. All fingers are pressed against each other, and the tension of the bow hair is moderate. The forearm is held in a horizontal position, akin to playing the piano.

2. The newer (Franco-Belgian) bow hold. The index finger presses down on the stick in a somewhat sidways manner, the bow touching the finger near the lower (proximal) end of the middle section of the finger, which is thus pushed considerably forward in the direction of the tip of the bow. There is a space between the index and middle finger. The thumb is across from the middle finger. Hair tension is strong and the bow is considerably inclined. Slight inward rotation of the forarm from the elbow joint, of approximately 25 degrees.

3. The newest Russian bow hold. The index finger exerts a sideways pressure on the stick at the middle joint. The finger also somewhat encircles the stick with the help of the tip section. There is only a small space between the index and middle finger. The index finger takes over guidance of the bow, and the little finger touches the stick only when playing in the lower part of the bow. Hair tension is slight, and the bow is flat rather than inclined. Strong rotation of the forearm, of approximately 45 degrees.

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Lydia's posts, as usual, say it all.

The point of the old Russian bowgrip isn't to use force to lean into the bow with your finger.

It is to provide the best flat-hair 90-degree angle between bow hair and violin string.

Do NOT use pressure in the old Russian bowgrip - keep the right wrist straight and DRAW the bow. Also flare your right elbow so that the arm is nearly parallel to the floor.

Allow the violin to speak out.

You won't get a "crunchier" or "thicker" sound, but you will project better because your violinist enunciation is better.

Across an entire room of a cacophonous rehearsal, this bowgrip will allow your fluted piannissimos to be recognizeable (depending on what you play).

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The REAL answer to the "mousy" tone:

Try to CREATE and FEEL music, and do what you can to make that music blossom.

I don't know in your case, but usually this requires complete technical retooling from the ground up.

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I wasn't advocating a specific bow grip. I was making a recommendation based on the Crystal's description of a thin tone. I have often observed beginning fiddlers, actually not letting the bow rest fully on the string let alone adding some weight of the arm. I think it comes from a tendency to lift the bow between strings and to control volume. This is the simplest and most common way of producing a thin "mousy " tone. Kato Havas says that the bow grip is determined by the shape and size of an individual's hand.

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My tone was earned through daily "tonalization" a term used in the Suzuki literature. It's basically you play a slow arpeggio. If you concentrate on each note as an individual you might find what you seek. Don't be afraid of bow pressure either. Experiment a lot, then when you find what you want do as Huang says and completely "retool." Don't ever again play with the mousy tone once you know how not to play with the mousy tone. If you don't mind spending a bit of money, or maybe you already own them, buy the suzuki books. It's good filler literature anyway.

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Crystal, I was wondering about two things. One is your strings. I know you got new ones recently that you love. If I remember right, I think that the kind you are using are strings that Andrew found not to have the strength that he likes, anyway on his instruments. (I can't find that post right now, so I may be all mixed up on this.)

Anyway, I keep reading on this bb that, what you hear when you play, vs. what others hear is not the same thing. Have you heard anyone else play your fiddle with the new strings? Just a thought. I know you love those strings, and I don't know a thing about them, so don't take offense.

My other thought is about phrasing, or lack of phrasing. Do you know how you are doing with phrasing?

Part of this thought, I don't know how to explain, so maybe someone else will read this and be able to put my thoughts into words better than I can.

There is this thing that maybe has to do with phrasing, that also has to do with driving the tune, or rhythm. I don't know, it's kind of like the heartbeat of the music. I just know the difference between having it or not, is the difference between a tune sounding very dead, or very driving and alive. I know how to do it, but I can't explain it.

Anyone out there know what I'm trying to say? Help!!!!

P.S. I just read what HKV wrote about "creating and feeling". Maybe that is part of what I'm trying to say. Kind of like the difference between someone reading the words off a page, with no expression in their voice, vs. someone that reads with a lot of expression in his/her voice. You need to "interpret" the music...maybe that is what I'm trying to say????

You need to be able to not only read and play the music technically, but also be able to breath life into it.

[This message has been edited by Yankee Fiddler (edited 10-06-2000).]

[This message has been edited by Yankee Fiddler (edited 10-06-2000).]

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Crystal,

I just rethought what I wrote, and want you to know I was searching for words, and gave some extreme examples, but I hope you don't think I'm saying you don't have any expression when you play, like the person reading without expression.

Anyway, I suddenly see the light! I have the solution to your problem. Your instructor gave you some good information about things that you need to change. But, now you need to talk to the instructor, and pin-point exactly what she thinks is the cause of the problems. Who better to tell you that, than her? We could all guess here until the cows come home, but we have not heard you play, and have no idea if you need bowing help, or whatever.

Ask your instructor what you need to do to correct this problem.

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Crystal,

I used to chide a student for using only $25 worth of his $100 bow, telling him how much money he couls have saved by just buying the length of bow he seemed to need,

By your own words you have admitted having this problem. It takes a lot of discipline to relearn to play long rapid bows instead of "mousy" ones - especially when you want to bring out the sound. The bow must move fast enough to pull the string as far to one side as possible before the wave (in the string) comes back to the sounding point and dislodges it from the bow hair and starts the process again. Added pressure (to the degree your instrument can tolerate without growling) will also add volume, although it can limit the overtone spectrum more. Also bowing near the bridge (again to the degree your violin and strings can tolerate) will require (and tolerate) greater bow pressure and generate more sound and a balance of more high-frequency overtones.

All this kinds of things allow you to both increase the amount of sound and its character, to add color to the music you make.

One warning- It ain't easy (especially in the heat of "battle") until it becomes habit and the way you play-always! Then again, you can look at it like the grasshopper and ant story of Aesop. If you spend the "year" now to develop the discipline you can enjoy the results for the next 50 (or so); whereas if you just have fun this year - and for the next 50, you will wakeup someday and realize how easy it would have been to do when you were young, what you can no longer hope to do.

Andy

[This message has been edited by Andrew Victor (edited 10-06-2000).]

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Yankee:

Absolutely no offense taken! I know what expression is and I do play with that as much as my abilities will allow me to do right now. The violin isn't the first instrument that I've ever played. I played clarinet for 8 years, fronted a band as the lead singer and played guitar for 5 years (bar band - 6 nights a week), worked in a studio doing back-up vocals for other artists, I've cut national commercials for Chevy and Dominos, (I've never said any of this stuff before, so I'm not trying to brag and throw it around). I have been singing since I was born, in one choir or another. I totally understand and agree with you about breathing life into the music. I am still working hard to accomplish this better on the violin but I am still limited by my abilities as a violin/fiddle player.

The problem with the tone stems from my bowing I'm fairly sure. Not enough pressure, afraid of using the whole bow, etc. I need to get more agressive with it but that comes with confidence doesn't it? At least I'm hoping that it will. Another problem that I thought of is I have been using this old, very thin sounding bow and today, just for fun, I switched to a new bow that I had purchased earlier in the summer. I haven't been using it because it has such a depth to it, picking up more overtones from the strings, and it's just plain louder in general. In trying to focus on intonation and sounding good, I guess I haven't liked the way the loudness and depth from the new bow sound under my ear. Too much for me to handle. But today, I played with it and it took a bit of getting used to but I stuck with it. It is definitely louder and "broader" in picking up the overtones. That should help me some. This other old bow that I was considering just doesn't have near the guts that this new bow has. I think I've been interpreting the loud bow and the "bad" bow because of all that it picks up and contributes to my notes. It's just a tad bit scratchy under the ear and I have just assumed that the old bow was better because it was quieter and never scratchy. Does this make any sense to anyone?

The strings that you are referring to are John Pearse strings. Yes, I like them alot, I have tried several others out, and my teacher has played my violin with these strings on and it sounds fantastic. Like I said before, I am sure that the problem is just me.

Today I am working on keeping my bow flat across the strings instead of slightly tilted inward, and also using the WHOLE bow instead of just the middle 3rd, which I do out of habit. I will keep working diligently on improving and I will conquer it!!!!

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Wow, Crystal, I'm impressed!!! Tell us which commercials to watch to hear your singing. That's neat!

Yes, the bow can make a lot of difference. I just heard the most amazing thing at a local music store recently. A fellow was in, trying out violins. He was using a bow he uses when he teaches, and he sounded wonderful, and I was mesmerized. Then the store owner asked him to play the same violin with his better bow (valued at $3,000 they said).

The difference in the sound? It was like sitting in a totally dark room, and suddenly someone turns on a bright light. As wonderful as he sounded before, he sounded better with his good bow than I could even dream was possible.

Anyway, I don't have anything near a $3,000 bow, and I don't think you do either, but they all sound different. Sounds like you need to stick with your old bow.

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crystal

my teacher constantly tells me that I would sound--- 1000%---- better if I used more bow

i had the opportunity to play for another teacher who basically said that my tone was "tentative".

the thing that really helped however was when the second teacher actually put his hand on mine as I was bowing the open strings. he added the pressure to the point where it should be and made me draw the sound out and the sound that came out of my violin was wonderful. i didn't know it coud sound so beautiful and i could feel it.

now i have to admit, i am still working on this but i know what it feels like when i get it right and i am getting right more often.

perhaps your teacher or someone else since your teacher is ill, could assist you (physically) to get that tone.

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Thank you all. Maybe someday I'll get to have an expensive instrument and bow. As much as I think it would be nice however, I also think that people who can really play well can make even a cheap instrument and bow sound terrific. So since I don't have the money anyways, I'll keep telling myself that.

Sil: "Tentative" is a good word for what I was trying to say about my tone. Sounds like we're in a similar situation with technique. I'll keep trying to use more bow and press harder. We'll get there!

Yankee: I haven't done that kind of singing work in a few years now. Those commercials are no longer airing. The chevy commercial was a "Heartbeat of America" commercial. Those were the days when I was younger, thinner, and life was much more glamorous. Now I'm just a mother, housewife, and struggling fiddler! Strange, but, I've never been happier!

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Crystal: I know what you mean when you say that more aggressive bowing comes with confidence! I too tend to be a "tentative" player, especially with new pieces I'm just learning the notes for. However, it goes both ways - if you bow more assertively, you'll gain confidence faster. Kind of a body-language thing, like when you go into a job interview or something, you're supposed to "stand up straight and keep your chin up" etc. even though you want to disappear between the floorboards. It does work, I've improved my confidence by just doing those big bows regardless.

Thanks

Laurel

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As usual, I'm going to advocate son file: do long sustained tones, frog to tip for as long as you can per bow keeping a *perfectly* constant tone quality and dynamic. In your case, it should get you beyond the middle-third state of mind.

Retooling could help more than you think: in my past 3 lessons with a new teacher, I've increased the flexibility of my right knuckles and wrist, and I think my tone sounds much, much better as a result. I think I reached a plateu with son file because a) my basic bow technique only allowed so much, and :) I stopped doing son file daily.

Lymond's advice is great: many ignore the value of the tonalization excercises. They're excercises just for tone, so naturally they should develop it. Also, slow practice is great for intonation and tone because you're forced to listen and make a sound you can stand to listen to.

Keep your whole bow arm like a relaxed, supple set of springs (to quote Galamian), draw a straight bow (imperative), and learn the relationships between bow speed, bow pressure/weight, and the sounding point (bow placement on string between fingerboard and bridge).

Kreutzer #1 is a tone excercise, and I think #2 uses the idea that a good bow arm helps tone (flexibility). Don't start with Kreutzer #1 right away; there are tone excercises in most standard etude books, and you can always start with the Suzuki tonalizations (gotta start somewhere).

And never give up.

-V

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I think the technical aspects of getting a tone are well covered here. Once you have that down you need to get a FEEL for what pulling atone out of the intrument is like. The images that were taught to me I still use to this day and they are very effective for me. Try these or experiement until you come up with your own.

1. The feel is like pulling taffy - a very smooth and even resistence to the movement of the bow. The resistence is caused by the friction between the bow and string. Do not over use rosin, stickiness is not what you are looking for.

2. Visuallize the string as vibrating in a spinning motion (which it does). The trick is to enhance the spinning without interfering. The means you need to keep things moving evenly and use a finely refined touch in the bow hand.

3. Use gravity rather than strength. Feel the arm and hand sink into the string through their weight.

Experiment. No music, just you, your ears and your instrument. Tonalize, long whole bows, nothing fancy - you will eventually find the right combination of bow speed and pressure (weight) and develop that feel. Do it until you have found YOUR sound and it is habit. ALSO, NO FEAR!

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"Get into the string" by letting your arm weight do more of the work. (That's the idea but now you need to figure out how to do it! smile.gif )

If you absolutely, totally drop your arm onto the string it will actually be too much for it, so you can get a whole lot more tone simply by letting a little more of it's weight go to use.

Obviously it takes time to make your brain figure out just what is "happening" in the process, but one good way to help it is to raise your elbow higher than it is, and to keep your arm closer to yourself (which also keeps it away from playing above the fingerbaord).

Good luck.

Rachel

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Nice post Dr. S! I couldn't agree more. But I didn't have the "feel" to "pull" the tone out until I played tonalization for years... now my tone is my most valuable asset (it's the one thing that keeps me ahead of those who practice more).

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Dear Crystal, Please take a look at Ivan Galamian's 'Principles of Violin Playing and Teaching', pp. 102-104, especially his discussion of the 'roule' excercise, which he inherited from his French teacher Lucien Capet. As a tool for gradual and unforced development of powerful sound this excercise is the most efficient of them all. Yet, in order to succeed, you will need another prerequisite - a sincere desire!

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For good examples of how to get an unmousy tone, DON'T listen to modern violinists.

Listen to Baroque violinists, who get tone the way the violin was meant to produce it.

But try to hear past their musicianship - Baroque violinists tend to play way too fast, spoiling the after-dinner pulse of the music.

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HKV has it in for modern violinists doesn't he! Actually many modern violinist understand very well how to get a nice tone. Perhaps 'their' tone is not the one that HKV likes but that doesn't make it bad (am I being PC here?). I agree to some extent that the playing of many moderns becomes syrupy and choked in a sea of large tones and lush vibrato rather than these things being tools used in a large array of 'effects' used to make music in a tasteful way.

So HKV, you like the baroque sound but not the tempos, however the fast tempos are also the way this music was meant to be performed, to the best opinion of those who have spent their lives studying this (as an example, the overture to Handel's Messiah is played at about 1/2 tempo in a modern performance). At least you like the sound - the quickest way to get me to change the radio station is for them to put on a baroque ensemble performing baroque music in a baroque style. It was interesting the first few times, now it is just plain annoying - MY OPINION ONLY.

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