Tips to Overcome Upper String Problems, Part 2

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In the last post about this topic, we discussed various problems violinist and violists face when learning or perfecting basic technical issues: Producing a smooth, steady, consistent tone, getting a clear, pure tone quality when fingering pitches, changing between strings without accidentally playing another string, playing double stops successfully, especially when fingering notes, and producing basic hand and arm vibrato. Now we will look into more complicated, advanced problems and technical issues to overcome and master!

Triple and Quadruple Stops: These are probably the closest thing to playing a chord on string instruments—and they can be quite difficult! They will work like double stops, but you won’t be able to play all 3 or 4 strings at the exact same time. You will have to divide them up: play the first two lower strings together, then the remaining string(s) afterwards in close succession, almost like a “rolled chord” on piano. Again, careful attention to the height of your bowing elbow to obtain the exact level needed to play two strings together is crucial! Also, when crossing to the other string(s), release the strong pressure you had for the first two strings, as to avoid any unwanted “scratches” in the sound.

Nuances in Vibrato: When a professional performer or even advanced string student uses vibrato, they will adjust their vibrato almost constantly to add to the mood and flavor of the piece they are performing. For instance, if a section is increasing in intensity, the vibrato can become more intense by increasing the speed of oscillation. This is basically achieved in the same way a student begins to go from a slow vibrato to a normal speed of oscillation, but with greater speed. A slower, more somber piece will have slower vibrato, naturally. The amplitude, or distance the hand or arm slides down, is also a major factor. Try experimenting first on a long tone, but be careful not to go too far with the amplitude, or you will be more than a half step lower than your intended note, which will give the impression that your intonation is flat! Greater amplitude in vibrato is usually paired with more dramatic Romantic-era pieces. Shorter amplitude is best with Classical-era pieces. An important note is that vibrato should be sparsely called upon for Baroque-era pieces, as it was used mainly as ornamentation that was referred to as “tremolo.” Both speed and amplitude of vibrato can be combined in different ways and changed gradually, based on the moment or section of music, but remember: its purpose is to enhance the mood, not be the main focus!

Bowing Articulations: There are many different articulations that can be produced on string instruments, beyond detaché, staccato, and legato. Louré, or portato, is very similar to hooked bowing, in which notes are slightly detached in the same bow direction. The small spaces between notes are achieved by lightly leaning the index finger into the bow stick. It should resemble “pulses” in the sound. Collé (“glued”) is almost like pizzicato (plucking the string), except we pinch the string with the bow by applying pressure with forefinger and lifting the bow slightly off the string. Martelé (“hammered”) is a strong, harsh accent that is achieved by building pressure on the resting bow by leaning the hand into the bow, and releasing it suddenly and freely with the movement of the bow. The next few are special “groups” of bowings. The first is categorized by the location of where a performer bows. Sul tasto is bowed near or slightly on the fingerboard, while ponticello is bowed near the bridge. Both are executed with light, fast bowing, flat bow hair, in the upper half of the bow. Then there is a group of bowings that bounce of the string. The slowest is spiccato, which is achieved by loosening the thumb’s grip and letting the bow naturally bounce off the string, with a more U-shaped motion. A faster bounce-stroke that is freer is sautillé, which is quite similar to tremolo (rapid bowing back and forth). Its motion originates on the string with a very relaxed wrist, which alternates the bow direction quickly and lightly. Ricochet is the fastest of the three and is a series of bounces all in one bow direction. All three can be adjusted in the same ways. Faster bounces are produced by playing above middle of bow or letting the bow bounce lower, slower by playing closer to the balance point and bouncing higher; sautillé bounces can only be adjusted by the pressure that is applied by the index finger: the more pressure, the higher the bounces. Tone quality is affected by how much bow hair one uses. Full hair contact equals shorter, drier bounces, while less hair equates to more mellow, rounded longer tones.
Violin and viola are wonderful instruments to play, and once you begin to get comfortable with all of these techniques, a new world of pleasurable musicianship will open up to you. Enjoy!

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