Perfecting your sound is one of the most important actions one could practice. Whether you’ve already overcome the technical difficulties of the piece you are playing or you’re trying to improve your overall sound quality on scales and studies, it is important not to neglect this aspect of your playing.
Practicing sound is not like practicing for a performance. In performance we always think forward into the future and only monitor what we just played. Our focus when practicing sound should be on the “now”. I discuss further the technique of practicing sound in the post the Beam of Light. In this post I like to share how I analyze mistakes and imperfections in the sound.
I divide the sound to three stages, which I call ‘head’, ‘body’ and ‘tail’. The ‘head’ is the moment my sound begins, i.e. when the bow touches the string. The ‘body’ is when the bow moves across the string, and the ‘tail’ represents the way I end the note. Different techniques have different requirements. For example, a fast spiccato is all ‘head’, the Martele’ bowstroke technique is partly about being able to stop the note at the end of it, while a slow high pitched note which ends the piece is very much ‘body’ and ‘tail’.
When I detect a mistake in the sound (using the Beam of Light technique), I define it under one of the three stages and thus understand what I should physically do to correct it.
For example: a scratch at the ‘head’ of the note indicates a problem in the approach and in the touch phase of the bow to the string. To correct this problem, you may want to alter the way you begin the note by changing the way you start (from the air or from the string). This can include: the amount of bow, the relation between speed and weight, the amount of bow hair in contact with the string or several other possibilities.
Note that starting a note from the air or from the string are two different techniques, each with its own timing in approaching the string and each with its own pros and cons. Some violin pedagogy prefers one over the other, but I suggest you master both.
If you detect a sound mistake in the ‘body’ part, you should check if your bow is straight, if you are controlling the movement of the stroke the entire way through, if the weight you apply on the stick correlates to the speed and the changing of the bow flexibility, etc.
A ‘tail’ problem is usually about bow control. You need to master not only your approach to the string but how you end a note and whether you decide to stay on the string or whether or not you need to lift the bow.
There are also mistakes in vibrato such as: overuse or underuse, unevenness either in the ‘body’ of a note or changing it for different fingers, too tight or nervous vibrato, and uncontrolled delayed vibrato. To keep it simple, most vibrato mistakes derive from holding on to the finger too tight, holding the neck of the violin too hard, and leaving too many fingers down on the string (such as when playing chords).
Recording yourself is a very good way of assessing your sound, and applying the Beam of Light as a practice method will help you clear your sound from these very common mistakes.
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Eyal Kless is the founder and violinist of Israel Haydn Quartet. He teaches in the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music in Tel Aviv University and conducts many seminars and master classes all over the world. For more information about Eyal’s concerts, teaching schedule, including “The Bach Project” please visit www.eyalkless.com