HOW TO IMPROVE TONE ON STRING INSTRUMENTS

Tone production is mysterious to many players. In fact, it is a linear problem easily solved.

First, if you are not happy with your sound, recognize that you have a HABIT which works your bow for you. As long as you depend on your HABIT to produce tone, you will never improve. So the question becomes: How can you free yourself from the prison of your HABIT?

It begins and ends by doing exercises which your HABIT cannot recognize. In a movie called “The Guitar”, a young woman, diagnosed with terminal fast-acting cancer, locks herself away in an expensive apartment and teaches herself to play bass guitar with instructional videos. She never leaves the apartment. She had a six month lease because she had been given four months to live.

Eight months later, she is out of money and evicted. She feels well and goes back to her Doctor, who declares her cancer free. “What did you change?” the doctor asks. “Everything,” replies the guitarist.

The theory is that the cancer left because it could no longer recognize its host body.

And so it goes with technique. When your HABIT cannot recognize its host, then it will set you free. Here are exercises: 1. Hold the bow up and let it slide gently down, propelled only by gravity. You are not walking your fingers on the stick, but developing exquisite sensitivity in the release of your fingers and your sense of touch. 2. Touch the ceiling, the floor, the walls, with the tip of your bow. Take a giant step to reach the wall, if necessary. Hold the bow in your habitual bow hand but forget about trying to play the violin. Simply notice how your shoulder, elbow, wrist and fingers respond to your gentle lunges. 3. Sit down and put the bow on your lap. Gently lift the frog with your bowhand, letting the tip rest on your other leg. Then, gently let the bow slip out of your fingers onto your lap (Another exercise to develop tactile sensitivity, without trying to play well). 4. Practice See Saw Swing exercises, which easily transfer attention from one hemisphere of the brain to the other. Do not try to play well. 5. When playing, search for the BEAD (the spot on the string, the bite with the hair, the speed of the bow). Every time you change notes on a stringed instrument, the weight of the string changes, which demands adjusting the BEAD.

All of these exercises are METATECHNICAL (above technique) in the sense that if you perform them faithfully, your HABIT won’t recognize what’s happening. These exercises free you from the prison of HABIT and create the possibility of developing HEURISTICS. A HEURISTIC is a mental shortcut, a set of directions that can be given in the blink of an eye. To search for the BEAD is an heuristic. To lighten your grip on the stick: a HEURISTIC. To stroke as if you were touching the ceiling! To go to the edge of dropping the stick. To prevent yourself from stiffening at the critical moment of play. Heuristics all.

Be sure to use your ear to monitor results.

I realize that these directions are not mainstream, but I hope that you realize that I believe in you, and I know that if you perform these exercises faithfully, there is virtually a 100% chance that you will quickly purify and strengthen your tone.

BTW: this blog is merely an introduction, designed to get you going. I will follow up with more data. You can read about all of it in Metatechnical Systems, by Michael Alexander Strauss.

Published by Michael Alexander Strauss

Professional violist and teacher. Creator of See Saw Swings and Bowing Magic.

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