tone production

Tone Production – the Heart and Soul of Violin

My daughter loves music of all kinds. I suppose it is inevitable in our family of musicians. She learned to play the violin from an early age, graduated from the Suzuki Institute in Japan and went on to become a fine player and teacher. We share a love and an appreciation of great violin music and violinists. Unlike me, she also has great taste and knowledge about good non-classical musicians, so when she recommends a particular concert or musician, I know we are in for a real treat.

John-Hammond-01-150x150She urged us to go and see legendary blues singer-guitarist John Hammond, appearing at a local wine bar on his way to a big music festival. Amazingly, in spite of playing guitar and enjoying the blues from my university folk music days, I’d never heard of him. Yes, ahem, classical violin can be all-absorbing.

Allie and I arrived early to get good seats in the small venue, not knowing when he was due to come on. Prior to the main act we heard several supporting musicians and some of them were very good. In fact one was so good that I said to Allie, “Is this John Hammond?” “Don’t know,” she gestured, “Could be.” My question was answered definitively a little later when John came on stage. All doubts vanished instantly as he sang and played with every fibre of his being, at ten times the volume of all the previous musicians! The microphone, amplifier and speakers were simply superfluous. The audience in the wine bar was stunned into rapturous appreciation, overwhelmed by the blast of great music emanating from this extraordinary musician.

Later as Allie and I left to go home, our conversation turned to the biggest distinguishing characteristics of the really good musicians in virtually every genre: Powerful Projection. Commanding Presence. Compelling Conviction. We recalled similar experiences at concerts of international violinists. They all had an enormous sound. And not just big in volume, big in heart and soul.

Here’s a little of JH on Youtube. Mind you, it’s no substitute for seeing him live.

And here’s Maxim Vengerov’s violin version with a bit of fun.

Tone, Tone, Tone

At the Suzuki Institute in Japan, tone – the quality of sound – was one of Suzuki’s long-standing obsessions. “I only teach tone,” he said constantly, and intrinsic to his teaching about tone quality was volume. His oft-repeated joke to us was, “Please say after me: My tone is too small.” When we said these words back to him, he laughed and replied, “Yes, I think so.



The ability to produce and project a big sound was fundamental to Suzuki’s teaching about tone. I use an analogy with running to help explain to students why it is so important to study it: A fast runner has the ability to run slowly, but a slow runner cannot run quickly. In other words if you can play loudly, you’re also able to play softly when needed, but the reverse isn’t true.

Six Key Factors in Tone Production

  1. Resonance
  2. Weight
  3. Bow Speed
  4. Proximity to the Bridge
  5. Projection
  6. Heart and Soul

1. How to Teach Resonance

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How To Teach Aunt Rhody

This simple folk song is the perfect piece for working on longer bows with smooth legato connections and for learning about musical phrases.Violin Player


As a general principle of teaching and learning, isolating and working with a single skill brings about the best results. This works especially well if a section or technique appears difficult to play, or if one particular aspect of playing needs improvement. If a part within in a piece is hard to play, first identify the actual skill. Is it a string crossing? An unusual stretch? A tricky shift? Which notes does it occur on?

Design a short circular exercise to practise the bare essential skill, e.g. playing on an open string if a rhythm needs correcting (Witches Dance), or playing an awkward slurred run with separate bows (Gossec Gavotte last section).

Aunt Rhody is a great piece for working on tone production, so with this principle in mind, ask students to play the rhythm of the piece on open A string with the recording – before learning the notes. Focus on a pure resonant sound, with relaxed straight bows in the good tone zone near the bridge. Teach students to start from the lower bow marker, using longer bows – almost to the tip – on the longer notes (crotchets/quarter notes).

In this piece, shorter notes (quavers/eighth notes) are played in the upper quarter of the bow, but don’t get too pedantic about exact bow divisions. Keep the student’s focus on good tone and shape.

Bow strokes for Aunt Rhody

Bow strokes for Aunt Rhody

Left Hand

The fingering is relatively easy, using the same range of notes as Twinkle and Lightly Row. Check that 1st finger is kept down on B in bar 2 whilst playing C# and 2nd is kept down in bars 5 and 7 whilst playing D.

The easy fingering makes it possible to listen carefully to each note. Are they exactly in tune? Even very young players can learn to place fingers accurately without requiring adjustment. Laugh in a friendly way when they play a note slightly out of tune and they will enjoy the joke – and play it accurately next time.  Read More →

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