I remember sitting in my car with a violinist friend of mine, listening to Anne Sophie Mutter playing Massenet’s Meditation from Thais.
Both my friend and I had played that piece a zillion times…but we sat listening in wonder. We played all the right notes. We played all the right rhythms. We followed all the dynamics, used vibrato, and we were fairly advanced players. Why didn’t we sound that good? What secret “ingredient” were we missing (aside from the obvious fact that Mutter plays on a superior instrument)?
It opened up a long discussion, and an even longer quest in my life to uncover that secret.
The answer is simple. The difference is in her tone production. But it’s easier said than done.
There are numerous components to tone production, some of them so subtle that they are difficult to describe or teach…it’s almost as if you must intuitively discover these subtleties on your own as you explore the world of tone production. These subtleties exist in the colle’ motion of the bow hand, in the vibrato of the left hand, and in the articulation of our left hand fingers.
Some descriptive words I’ve heard teachers use to try to get students to produce these qualities are, “more like a greasy steak, not bean soup”, “fatter!”, “warmer”, “not so hard with the fingers,” “too soggy,” “try to be inside the sound.”
And more often than not, the student nods their head, and continues to play with the same sound as before. These are difficult concepts to grasp.
The best way to grasp these subtleties is to listen to the masters. Listen attentively. On a GREAT stereo. Don’t just hear the notes. Listen to the stuff between the notes. Listen for the grease, the fat, the warmth, the steak. You will eventually have a very good concept of what good violin sound is, and you will begin to emulate and discover the subtleties that make the difference between an advanced violinist and a master.
In the meantime, since this takes time to develop a concept of good violin sound, you can work on the obvious components of tone production: Bow Weight, Bow Speed, and Bow Placement, in addition to learning to play with a straight bow.
I have published a series of awesome videos (if I do say so myself) on tone production. They are free and will give you LOTS of food for thought when approaching your tone development! Take a look right here!