Lots of violinists find it difficult to get a beautiful sound when playing on the E-string.
A good bowing technique, bowing straight, making clear string changes, choosing the right E-string and keeping your strings clean will prevent weird sounds of your E-string.
In this video and article I’ll explain all about making a beautiful sound on your E-string.
What is it? Is my elbow down too far? Is the weight in my hand wrong? Certainly it can make embarrassing sounds and I change position on the A string to avoid the E if it happens in practice.
There are 5 things that cause those strange sounds coming from your E string. The problem you experience, can be caused by one or several of them.
Some causes are in your playing technique and some causes are in the material you use.
Whether your E string is whistling, squeaking or scratching (or something else) the causes are most of the times the same.
1) Develop a good bowing technique
You need to have a good balance in speed, pressure, amount of bow hair, place on the bow.
The E string throws everything that is wrong with your bowing technique right in your face. You need to be more precise with your bowing technique than on other strings.
For example: when my bowing speed is too slow versus the pressure of the bow on the string, the E string will scratch. When I do the same, but I use less pressure (or weight!) or more bowing speed (or both), the E string makes a normal sound.
Another example: when you bow at the frog and you use all the hair, the E string becomes scratchy very quickly. When you do this and the bowing speed is a little too low and the pressure is a little to high, the E string will squeak.
The solution to play around with using a little less hair by tilting the bow, making sure that you use enough bowing speed, making sure you don’t use too much pressure and match this to the part of the bow you are using.
Kaari writes her elbow might be down too far. On the E string your elbow will be down more than on the other strings. Your upper arm is almost all the way down touching your body. It’s hard to have your elbow too low on the E string. However, when you use a lot of arm weight in your bow, the E string might scratch anyway. When that happens, the cause of the problem is not the position of your elbow, but too much weight.
2) Bow straight
With lots of students the cause of a squeaking E string is that they don’t bow exactly straight and that the bow ‘wanders’ over the string back and forth.
The E string will whistle when you don’t bow straight, listen to (and watch) the demonstration in the video to hear and see the difference.
3) Make clear string changes
There shouldn’t be sounds in between the string change. You should change strings clearly and confidently.
You can practice the clarity of your string changes by practicing the string changes with stops. Bow, stop, change string, bow etc. Your fingers, bowing and string change should all be synchronized.
When you are playing chords including the E string, make sure that you get a good response from both strings and that you don’t just touch the E string slightly with your bow. Otherwise the E string will whistle.
These are the three most common playing technique causes for a whistling, scratching or squeaking E string. In most cases it’s the technique, but it some cases it’s the material you are using and the strange sounds are really not your fault. In that case adjusting your playing technique will not help. Here are some causes that are in the material you are using and there solutions.
4) Choose the right type of string
High tension strings whistle more likely than low tension strings.
Tips for violin E-strings with a beautiful sound
Warchal Amber E strings have a lower tension than most E strings. Besides that they have a very innovative design. They solved the squeak, scratch and whistle problems with lots of my violin students and violin shop customers.
Personally I use the soft no 1 E-string by Pirastro. If your E-string sounds too bright and whistles quickly or makes other sounds it shouldn’t make, choose the Warchal Amber E-string.
5) Clean your strings after playing
When you use too much rosin and you don’t clean your strings with a clean dry cloth every time you play, this can cause strange sounds when playing.
You will have a grinding sound, because there is (too much) rosin on your bow and on your strings. The solution is to clean your strings with a micro fibre cleaning cloth and to use a little less rosin when you are rosining your bow or rosin your bow less often. The response of your E string will improve and it will whistle, squeak or scratch less or not anymore.
In rare cases, the cause can be in the set up of your violin. A luthier can optimize the response of your E strings for example by moving the soundpost slightly.
When you are struggling with a whistling, squeaking or scratching E string, follow the playing technique tips above, buy a new E string and keep it clean.
In 99% of the cases this will be the solution to your problem.
Please always be aware that violins are ‘living’ instruments that respond to humidity and temperature.
A combination of the two can affect the response of your instrument. We string players just have to accept it sometimes and sometimes you will hear a squeak that you can’t prevent. It happens to the best.
Is this useful to you? Do you have tips to share on this topic? Please let me know in the comments below!
PS: Do you have questions or struggles on violin or viola playing? Post a comment below or send an e-mail to email@example.com and I might dedicate a Violin Lounge TV episode to answering your question!