William Fitzpatrick - violin expert

How to develop a Tonal Palette

Basic concepts to develop sound production and tone

In this video, Prof. Fitzpatrick introduces the concept of "tonal palette" which is based on sound production and the elements of tone. For example: do you know that your violin sound can change according to where you place your bow on the strings?

Released on September 3, 2014

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hi, and welcome to virtualsheetmusic.com's Meet the Expert. My name is William Fitzpatrick, and I am the Temianka Professor of Violin at the Hall- Musco Conservatory of Music, which is located on the campus of Chapman University in Orange, California. I am as well Director of MusiShare in Irvine, California. So, for this video, I thought we could talk about sound production, the elements of tone, and developing a tonal palette. So, what exactly do these terms mean? Well, sound is a vibration. Tone is a quality, a character of sound. Tonal palette, well, that's the range or variety of tonal or instrumental color that we use in a musical piece. OK, let's start.

To produce sound on a violin, you simply can either pluck the string, which will make that vibration happen. It vibrates the bridge, which vibrates the table, vibrates...you know the ritual. Or, you can use your bow and press the string. Both of these manners of producing sound, obviously, work, and they are at our disposition as violinists. So, to work on tone, we need to explore the elements of tone production. There are three of them. One is point of contact, the other is speed, and the other, or the last one, is pressure, or I prefer weight. So let's look. Point of contact. That's where the bow touches the string, between the bridge and the finger board. Speed. Well, speed is how slow or how fast your bow is going. And finally, pressure, weight. Pressure - I really prefer weight, it's how much of that weight is in the string to produce the sound. Oh, and finally, the bow must always be parallel to the bridge to produce a clear sound. Now, it's manipulating these three elements that's going to help us to create a tonal palette. For example, if I want to play piano, I will move my bow towards the finger board. If I want to play mezzo forte, I'll move it to the middle, and if I want to play forte, I am close to the bridge. Here we go: piano, mezzo forte, forte! Now, obviously, if I wanted to play mezzo forte, say, and I'm using too much weight, it will sound like... [violin screeches]

So, weight and point of contact are connected. Ooh, and if I use that much weight with that point of contact, and a speed that's too fast, it produces maybe something that's not as clear as that one. Maybe the other one has a place, too, in our tonal palette. So, let's look at some possibilities here. For example, if I were playing Mendelssohn's Concerto in E Minor, and I were playing the second theme, would I want a point of contact which was close to the bridge? Let's see. Maybe that's not quite the character of a quality of tone that I want to produce. What about in the middle? That's got a lot of good points. What about near the finger board? So, which one, which part of that palette was the correct one? That depends on you and your decision on what the character is like for that passage. Let's try another one. Let's try Sarasate's Zigeunerweisen.

What if I were to play it like the Mendelssohn, close to the finger board? Hmm, I'm not sure that's really the character I would assign to that. Let's see...what about further, closer. It gets better. Why not even closer to the bridge. Now, that gives it a real gritty quality. So we have a range of possibilities that we can use to describe the character of the piece that we're trying to play. What about Sibelius? Let's see, but first off, do we start up bow, or do we start down? Well, just for me, let's start down. Where am I going to put my bow, am I going to put it here, here, here? Let's see, why don't I try in the middle, and I'll use a slower bow speed. Yeah, that's sort of icy. What about, ooh, if I wanted to make it even more icy? What about closer to the bridge, less weight, slower bow speed? I wonder would happen if I did that closer to the finger board? Well, how do we make the decision?

You have to decide what character you think that passage should be. You have to make that decision first, then we can explore the possibilities of point of contact, speed, and weight that will bring that passage to life. In other words, we're developing our tonal palette. Well, I don't know if we solved any problems or if we came to any real conclusions, but that, I think, gives you an idea of that world of tonal palette that we're talking about. Well, that's it for this video. If you have a comment, or question, or a special request, please feel free to post them. See you next time.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Toni Caldwell-Hall on September 26, 2014 @4:49 pm PST
Compelling teaching!
William on September 26, 2014 @10:57 pm PST
Thank you!!!
Eugenie van Zyl (surname pronounced as 'funsal'e - South African) * VSM MEMBER * on September 11, 2014 @7:46 am PST
I so very much enjoy listening to you! We are so very blessed with virtualsheetmusic.com and iPads in our living room! You are bringing the violin lesson right to our front step - It is now for us to do something about it. Thank you for the challenge each time!
William on September 11, 2014 @10:53 am PST
Thank you for listening! And as well thank you for acknowledging and accepting the challenges!
Lois Owsley * VSM MEMBER * on September 10, 2014 @4:47 am PST
Great explanation! Thanks for sharing.
William on September 10, 2014 @9:23 am PST
My pleasure!
Annette Brower on September 3, 2014 @11:47 am PST
William on September 10, 2014 @9:23 am PST
Thank you!
Soli Studios Music on September 3, 2014 @10:35 am PST
Would you please talk about approaching Bach on violin? Anything Bach for violin; solo or concerti, etc.!

William on September 10, 2014 @9:22 am PST
Have put it on my todo list!!!
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