Search This Blog

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Practice Tip: Building Tone with Open Strings

I think Dr. Suzuki hit on a brilliant idea when he suggested that we practice tonalizing on our open strings. I would like to share my experience with you on this matter.

For those readers who are unfamiliar with the term "tonalization," and apparently my spell checker is unfamiliar with the word, Dr. Suzuki coined this word to describe what we instrumentalists do in comparison to the vocalization that vocalists do. Just as singers work to produce good quality tone and volume, so too can we instrumentalists.

Tone is a broad topic, but we do not need to discuss what tone is in order to understand how best to produce it. Dr. Suzuki suggested plucking the open strings and listening to the resonance of the pitch and then recreating the "ringing" sound with the bow playing the same pitch. There is something special about the resonance of our open strings. There is a brightness, a clarity, and a lingering and shimmering vibration in the air. The open strings sparkle and emit an extra "umph" in their sound.

When I am working with a student to build a stronger tone, I ask the student to play open strings as much as possible. For example, when playing notes on the D string, I might ask a student to play the open D string as strongly as possible about 6-8 times before playing the D string passage. Similarly, I will ask for repeated A strings or E strings. I notice that once a student has played an open string numerous times with the aim of making the string vibrate back and forth as widely as possible with as slow a bow as possible, the student then works to make the passage live up to the tone level set by the resonating open strings. I also think there is a kinesthetic value to this exercise, as students learn how to "feel" the pitch as well as hear the pitch with all its resonant overtones. I find that playing this open string exercise on the G string is quite lovely; the vibrations I produce resemble the same variations used in meditation chants, which help to stimulate the internal organs.

I have a simple tune that I like to use for this purpose, called "Lullaby." Originally I found this little song in David Tasgal's "Family Violin Method" and used it as an open string song in my PreTwinkler classes. My students loved it so much, the song has become a regular feature in my classes. One young student even went so far as to secure Mr. Tasgal's permission to record the song onto his mother's folk song CD.

Mr. Tasgal has graciously given me permission to print the music for this cute little tune. I myself use this tune to get focused for a practice session or to test out the resonance in a new performance hall. I can feel my back muscles relax as I play the song and concentrate on getting the most resonance from each open string. I play the song through two times; the first time I start the piece with a down bow, and the second time I reverse the bowing by starting with an up bow. My young students like it so much, they spend a great deal of time and effort to learn to play the song. I notice that my students have to expend a lot of concentration and focus energy to change the strings correctly and to use longer, slower bows. For a young PreTwinkler student to spend the time and effort to achieve this ability is a tribute to Mr. Tasgal's composition. My students enjoy this tune.

I have printed out a copy done on Finale, because it was easier for me to put it on my blog in this manner.

The only way I could figure out how to add an audio recording to the blog was to make a "video" of the song while playing it on my computer. If anyone knows how to embed an audio player on blogger, please contact me. Meanwhile, here is the recording I made:

Mr. Tasgal has gone on to publish a new series, "Strings Fun and Easy." I have not yet had a chance to look through those books, but I will write out my experience once I have looked through them. You can learn more about Mr. Tasgal and his new series at: The previous series, "Family Violin Method" can be found at:, although Mr. Tasgal is encouraging newcomers to try out the new series.

Have fun playing those open strings this week. And if you have not changed your strings in a while, or your students are playing with dull, lifeless strings, buy new ones! You will enjoy playing this song with bright, shiny, new resonating strings!


  1. Thank you for sharing this. I love the tune and your ideas on practicing tonalization through it. It will be beneficial to my students!
    I have used David Tasgal's pieces as suplemental material for my classes and my students are having lots of fun with them!I will need to check his new series myself.

    Maria Stefanova

  2. Embedding music player on blogger: not as easy as it should be, but here are some instructions:


    1. Thanks for the information! I will look into this!

  3. Thanks, Maria! We also enjoy playing David's other songs: "Blast Off" and "Duck Song." We nicknamed "Blast Off" as the Rocky Song because it reminded us of Rocky Balboa on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum. We created a dance step for "Duck Song." In the rests we turn one of our feet out, then in. In the second half of the song, we switch to the other foot. At the end during the big rests, we swivel our hips back and forth to the beat while we sashay to the side. Very funny! The kids are pretty intense about getting the dance step just right. It is difficult to dance and play at the same time.