- Rachael Ridge
How to Create a Good Sound on the Violin
Beginning violinists often struggle with making a good tone on the violin. The bow can feel like an awkward extension of your hand that you don’t know how to use effectively.
When not used or practiced properly, your tone can sound scratchy, airy, or crunchy which can be frustrating when you practice. There are many factors that go into producing a good tone and it can take time to develop the body awareness necessary to create a master sound.
However, there are several factors that you can address right now to help you lay the foundations you need to make a good sound on the violin. Here are some things to look out for as you troubleshoot your own practice.
First, I’d like to address the often overlooked culprit, the left hand. Yes, The left hand can be responsible for some of the awful sounds you hear coming from your violin! If the fingers of your left hand are not pressing the string all the way down, they will create a whistle type tone that sounds screechy or airy.
Your left hand can also contribute to poor sound by not having good coordination or organization when crossing strings. This will cause extra sounds that you might hear when you're playing.
There are obviously more factors on the right side of your body, as it is the main component when producing sound. Here are some common technique problems that students struggle with.
1. The fingers of the right hand have many jobs, one of which is to act like shock absorbers for the bow. In order to do this well, the fingers need to be flexible and curled so they can absorb any of the bouncing the bow might do to produce a smooth sound. If you have any tension in the right hand or any part of your arm, even all the way up to your back and shoulder, this will cause awkward movements and extra sounds. Tension in your upper arm can also cause issues when changing strings or in keeping a straight bow. 2. Hand in hand with tension are locked joints. Many times I’ll see students with locked finger joints in their bow hold (thumb and pinky tend to be the main culprits). I also see students using a locked elbow which prevents them from utilizing the whole bow.
3. And, if you’re not using enough bow, that can also contribute to poor tone and lack of a full sound. Some students tend to try to control the bad sounds they hear by playing with less and less bow. This can actually have the opposite effect! You need to use a decent amount of bow in order to create strong vibrations and good sound production. Also, typically as the student tries to use less bow, they are also tensing up causing more problems in the process. 4. Another factor that can contribute to poor sound is whether you are using weight to pull the sound out of the violin, or trying to force sound out with pressure. If you aren’t using weight, you may tend to lift the bow off the string unnecessarily or not create a full sound. Now, I know that these words “weight” and “pressure” can be confusing for students. Try this exercise with me. Place the bow on the A or D string of the violin at the balance point of the bow. Now, using a mirror, make sure your fingers are placed in a proper bow hold. Next, I want you to relax your right arm completely until you feel the weight of your arm literally hanging from the bow. Go ahead and pull the bow across the string. Don’t be afraid of making an ugly sound! Chances are, you made a very rough, raw sound on your violin. That is good!! This is the core of good tone.
Now it’s just experimenting with the speed of the bow, amount of bow you use, and how much weight you use to create a good tone.
Here are some other ways to practice for good bow control, body awareness, and tone quality. 1. Play long tones on an open string. Pay attention to your body as you do this and go through the common problems listed above. 2. Use a mirror for visual cues as you play. 3. Record yourself and watch to see what you are doing that you may not be noticing. 4. Bow exercises to build finger strength and flexibility. 5. Place straws in the f holes of your violin to act as guide posts when you play.
Creating a good sound on the violin can be one of the most challenging aspects of learning the violin, but these strategies will get you on the right path to violin tone success! And know that I am over here on the sidelines cheering you on!
If you want to learn more, check out my free beginner training here.