Growing up, tone was a constant concern of my teachers with my playing. It seemed that I could play in tune, find resonance (using the ringing tones of my violin), maintain left hand and right hand posture, have enough rosin my bow and still not produce a rich, chocolatey, deep sound. The lack of depth was obvious in my performances of repertoire such as Chorus, Humoresque, and La Folia, but my surfacey playing was present, but masked in all pieces.
My ear was prejudiced. I enjoyed the whispy, sweet timbre that didn’t require much effort. The “sweet” tone, was produced by four misuses of the bow. Bow contact (too close to the fingerboard). Bow weight (not enough). Bow tilt (stick rolling away from the bridge). Bow distribution (too much time at tip, not enough at frog). In lessons focused on producing deep tone, I shied away from the crunch, the overtones, the weight, and the sort of hiss required to play close to the bridge. Despite the time and tactics forfeited in a lesson to correct my tone (or my ear), I was not emotionally set or trusting enough to invest the effort at home in practice.
Within the first couple of lessons at UT, my professor made it very clear that her (and my) priority would be the cultivation of rich sound on the instrument. I was able to play in tune, in tempo, and from memory, but my value as a performer lacked boldness and convincing breadth. We would establish a standard depth, richness, roundness to my tone, only later layering characters over it to express musical ideas.
The key was the consistency in the practice room required to train my ears and hands to work to something beyond my comfort zone. I developed a morning routine (30 minutes blocked off to begin my practice day), that was designed to remind me what to listen for and what actions were necessary for quality tone. While I work through each of the following exercises, I keep my eyes glued to my bow. I evaluate bow use, and make sure my strokes are working to the advantage of my sound production. (Bow close to bridge, heavy and relaxed wrist/arm/elbow/shoulder, stick over hair, whole bows).
Yost Tone Builder (an extended tonalization). Broken chords across all four strings. I play the system in different parts of the bow, with different strokes, at different speeds. The priority is to let my violin ring.
Scale. One three-octave key system each day. First stopping on ringing tones, then playing the system (various strokes and alternating speeds) up to tempo.
Arpeggios. One key system each day. First stopping on ringing tones, then playing all seven arpeggios up to tempo.
Sevcik Shifting. One exercise each week, building up the tempo each morning. Focus on relaxed and effortless shifs while maintaing rich sound.
Sevcik Double Stops. One exercise each week, building up the tempo each morning. Focus on relaxed and effortless intonation while maintaing rich sound on two strings.
Review. Solo Bach or Suzuki repertoire. Staying mindful of tone, but in the context of a piece.
This routine at the beginning of each day prepares me for a forensic evaluation then of my working pieces. Though I now (very proudly) play with a richer tone, and contact point seems to be a resolved issue, there are passages that pull me back into my old habits. I pinpoint those sections, and practice with the principles of good tone, until I can play with rich intentions without having to consciously remind myself.
Tone building will always be a work in progress, but an established morning routine to remind me what to listen for has made all the difference!