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Getting a nice tone out of the viola – with C string emphasis
Topic Rating: 4.7 Topic Rating: 4.7 Topic Rating: 4.7 Topic Rating: 4.7 Topic Rating: 4.7 Topic Rating: 4.7 (3 votes) 
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wtw
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January 1, 2022 - 6:56 am
Member Since: January 13, 2019
Forum Posts: 19
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Hello,

After like 6 years I'm still struggling with my viola sound quality, especially :
- on the C string
- in higher positions (mostly C and G strings).

I don't think there is any easy answer to this, I'm aware that it's all related to bowing and awfully complicated. But I'd like to get in this topic a list of helpful resources related to this issue. Meaning by that : anything you found helpful, or anything you think might be helpful. In any format : web link, an excerpt from a book, a video, a remark/useful comparison from a teacher, an exercise, … The idea is to have a list of tips, and have people try, pick and choose what works for them.

For practical purposes I'd like to keep it viola-oriented. Actually I'm not totally sure about that. The same sort of difficulties are likely to arise with cello (maybe worse), but… Well, feel free to add anything that applies to viola even if it's not the string instrument it's written for (maybe clearly emphasizing what applies only to the other instrument, if needed).

So here goes what I came across up to now :

1) A Quora discussion, How can I get a good and rich sound on the C string of the viola?

2) Andy Tan Violin & Viola Studio, How to improve sound quality

Mostly general tips here, for both instruments. One distinction:

Violin strings have relatively low mass and the bow could begin moving at a faster speed. Viola strings are thicker and has higher mass, the bow needs to start slower with more weight. This is specially noticeable on the C-string.

3) From violinist.com, Switching to Viola: The String, your "Road" to Great Sound!

 

I'll possibly add quotes of relevant parts when I have time (and if I have the rights to edit this post).


Another issue is that I have actually no idea how it's supposed to sound under the player's ear.
Do experienced players hear the same gorgeous thing, when playing, as what we hear listening to a CD track?
Plus I hate bow noise, is there a way to get rid of it? is it normal to have more bow noise with the C string/in higher positions, or not at all?

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Mouse
January 1, 2022 - 11:05 am
Member Since: July 8, 2021
Forum Posts: 219
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Love this. You beat me to,it. I have been wanting to start an index for solely viola references. I am awaiting a new chinrest because I switched how I hold my viola, so I have been concentrating on my cello. I think keeping cello separate from viola is,the way to go. There are differences.

@wtw Did you see my cello index in the learning to play cello?

Cello Lesson Index

Would you like something like that in the Learning to Play Viola?

Thumbs up.

The Bumble Bee Flies

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JohnG
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January 2, 2022 - 11:58 am
Member Since: April 15, 2021
Forum Posts: 45
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@wtw - Great and timely thread as I've been wondering about the tonal difference of the C string. I think I need to some personal recording to determine the difference between what I hear when I am playing and what others hear from a distance. It seems to be significant.

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Mouse
January 2, 2022 - 12:51 pm
Member Since: July 8, 2021
Forum Posts: 219
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@JohnG Would it make a difference if you had the recording device on the other side of the room, the distance someone else might be sitting? Would that give you a more accurate sound?

The Bumble Bee Flies

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Mouse
January 2, 2022 - 1:03 pm
Member Since: July 8, 2021
Forum Posts: 219
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I am referencing cello here, because some of the issues are the same, I believe. 

I have issues with the C and G on both the viola and cello. I think the main issue is the thickness of the string. I seem to recall that my cello instructor said that for the C, to play closer to the bridge. When playing closer to the bridge I then have to figure out the pressure and speed that works. The G string is not as much of an issue until I shift to 4th (that happens to be the position I am working on). The higher I shift on the cello, the closer I am to play towards the bridge on any string, also. I think that has to do with the curvature of the strings. The higher registers are flatter in curve? 

I have not tried these instructions on the viola, but I am thinking, maybe.

I also think the issue is just that they are more awkward to bow on both viola and cello.

I have been playing with bow pressure and position of the bow in relation to the bridge the last few days when I started learning 4th position in my cello and it makes a big difference. I just have not found the good match of speed and pressure in relation to the closeness to the bridge. I have been trying to be more aware of the string I am playing and its properties, for lack of a better word.

But, even the open C string sounds bad. Again, I think that because of the nature of the string, it needs for “force” when bowing that string. I read something about that somewhere. I am thinking that it might be the same for viola. 

I am waiting for my new chinrest before I play my viola, so I can’t test my thinking right now. 

The Bumble Bee Flies

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JohnG
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January 2, 2022 - 1:15 pm
Member Since: April 15, 2021
Forum Posts: 45
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Mouse said
@JohnG Would it make a difference if you had the recording device on the other side of the room, the distance someone else might be sitting? Would that give you a more accurate sound? 

Probably, my current recording distance is generally about 5 to 6 feet, which may be enough to test this out. Will need to make a testing video of different strings, volume, etc. and then attempt to correlate to what I think heard while playing.

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Mouse
January 2, 2022 - 1:22 pm
Member Since: July 8, 2021
Forum Posts: 219
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Your links are wonderful, @wtw!

I think what you hear as you are playing is not what an audience or anyone who does not have the instrument under their ear. Try recording the instrument from a distance and then listen to the sound quality. 

I mentioned this in my reply to JohnG above. 

It has been mentioned that you really can’t play an instrument for sound quality when purchasing. Someone else plays it and you listen from a distance. This is because that you, as the player, have that instrument so close to your ears that you are  hearing the things that others do not hear, the scratchiness, etc. Those sounds don’t travel that far. You play the instrument when deciding to play, for comfort and your ability to play it. 

I had the cellist, violist/violinist play the instruments, after I narrowed them down to two. I sat on the sofa in the studio and they played a distance away. Sure the playing was better, but the bow sounds on the string are not heard from a distance. Even when it is heard, it is not as bad as it is to your own ears. I think if heard from a distance, then it is a bowing issue, or rosin issue? That is my theory. I may not have explained my thinking clearly. 

I am going to see what information I can find. It might be a couple days. I think the better sound quality we get, whether the intonation is correct or not, the easier it is to play. 

Love this topic, by the way.

The Bumble Bee Flies

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Mouse
January 2, 2022 - 1:24 pm
Member Since: July 8, 2021
Forum Posts: 219
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@JohnG I meant to give your reply 5 stars. My chunky thumb did not cooperate and you ended out with four. You did give a 5 star reply, to my thinking! 

The Bumble Bee Flies

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