Clean Playing

Being able to play cleanly

Being able to play cleanly is an important aspect of violin playing. There are two main categories in playing cleanly; one is the cleanliness in left hand action, and the other is the movement of the bow arm.

Playing cleanly with the Left hand

When thinking about playing cleanly with the left hand, there are several elements we can think of.

Let's talk about each of them.

Cleanliness of the intonation

This is basically about playing in the center of the pitch. When you play a note in the center of the pitch, it resonates more by creating clear overtone series.

There is a center of the pitch on every note. Some notes are easier to find while others are more difficult; for example, finding a center of the pitch on a G♭ is more difficult than a G♮.

To find the center of the pitch, start with G, D, A or E. It's apparent when these notes are in tune because the open strings will vibrate with the note you are playing. When you think you are playing in tune, wriggle around the pitch a tiny bit to see if you can hear a difference in the richness of the resonance in your tone. When the resonance becomes the richest that is the center of the pitch.

Cleanliness of the finger action

This is about tapping on the fingerboard when the finger comes down, and lifting the finger up with energy.

What is difficult about these actions is that they need to be executed with your hand completely relaxed. In other words you don't do this by using muscles and getting tight gripping the neck of the instrument. You put down the finger by the weight of your finger, and feeling the gravity. When you lift your finger up it is as if you touched something really hot and your finger just jumps up. Also, we need to practice it so eventually the fingers do not come down or lift up excessively far from the fingerboard.

Cleanliness in shifting

The first thing to think about in shifting is that your hand and fingers are relaxed when the shifting occurs. Otherwise the shifting becomes jerky and most likely you will hear a slide between the notes.

There are times when we do not have to shift even when the interval is more than a 4th. See if you can stretch your hand and fingers so you can reach the intervals instead of shifting. If you can reach it will be cleaner because there is no shifting involved.

There are many more details we need to go into when it comes to shifting. We will discuss them in another article.

Playing cleanly with the bow arm

For the right hand and arm, these are what we should keep in mind.

Cleanliness in tone production

There is much to be discussed on the topic of tone production, and it deserves a separate article of its own. Briefly speaking, we need to listen carefully to make sure the tone is not rough, dirty, or unrefined.

When we draw a bow there are certain things we need to adjust.

We have to constantly monitor and adjust the balance between all of these elements in our bow strokes.

Cleanliness in string crossing

String crossing needs to be smooth. Assuming that you are crossing between the two adjacent strings, keep the bow as close as you can to both of the strings you intend to cross, and move your bow to the next string just enough for a string crossing. You want to cross strings without moving your bow much from one string to another. Otherwise the string crossing may end up sounding bumpy.

Another thing to keep in mind for a clean string crossing is the movement of your elbow. There are many occasions when you don't have to move your elbow up and down to get to the next string. Use the wrist instead for a smaller and more efficient string crossings.

Cleanliness in changing the direction of the bow

Changing the direction of the bow at the tip is easier than at the frog because the bow feels much lighter at the tip. On the other hand, you have to pay close attention to the amount of the weight you use when changing the bow at the frog. Make sure your bow hold is such that you can manage the weight at the frog. I have written a few articles about what to keep in mind regarding the bow hold. Please read them if you are interested.

Bow changes will be smoother both at the frog and the tip when your bow hand and fingers are relaxed and ready to move. Your arm initiates a bow change, and then your wrist and fingers should react accordingly. It is a chain reaction starting from your arm and ending at the fingers.

Cleanliness in biting the string

"Start from the string!" That's the core of this topic. Biting a string when you start playing a note makes it to 'pop', which creates extra enunciation on your note.

If we want to bite cleanly we need to learn how to start playing from the string. In order to have a clean bite, the bow needs to catch and pull on a string before it starts moving either direction. Even when the bow is coming from the air, you still have to catch the string at the moment when the bow lands on the string before you start playing.

Coordination between the right and left

We also have to be sure that our bow arm and left hand are moving in sync when changing notes. This becomes more apparent when we play fast passages. Then you throw in string crossings, and it becomes even worse.

Be on the lookout, and if you catch yourself being out of sync between the right and left hands, slow down and come up with a practice method to solve the problem. If you are interested, please read the article I wrote about several ways to practice fast and tricky passages.