I'm having a few problems with a forced, nasal, thin sound when I play on the A string around 4th and 5th position. My teacher tells me that I need to relax, but this doesn't seem to help. I 'd really appreciate any tips.
Pat White replies: Here is an exercise I share with my students: You need to learn to 'channel' your strength properly, because one does need strength and force to play well, yet one also has to be relaxed, which may seem like a contradiction. It is difficult to find the balance between the two.
First, think of your shoulders and back as the "power source." With the index finger of your left hand, trace a line from the shoulder of your bow arm down through the inside (left side closest to the body, but on the top) of the arm to the inside of the hand and straight to the index finger. I like to have my students summon to their memory that car commercial which shows a ball-bearing running smoothly along the outer lines of the car. That line you just traced is the 'line of power'. The power of your back and shoulders travels through your arm to your first finger. So, think of your arm as a 'pipeline'. A pipeline can get clogged, right? What clogs the pipeline of the arm? Tension. If there is tension in your arm, the power cannot get through.
Now, here comes the exercise part: Once the line of power has been established, you should have the first finger feeling quite firm on the bow grip. This is your 'point of contact'. With the bow in mid-string, press so that the stick actually comes down and touches the hair. That takes pressure, and you need to channel that pressure down the 'line of power.'
While the stick is pressed to the hair, relax your arm and try these three tests:
1. Can you roll your shoulders in a relaxed, complete revolution --- with the stick still pressed and the bow not wobbling?
2. Can you lift and lower your elbow, as if you are flying --- with the stick still pressed and the bow not wobbling?
3. Can you remove fingers 2,3, & 4 from the bow, leaving only thumb and index, and wave with fingers 2,3, &4?
With the stick still pressed and the bow not wobbling? IF YES, then you are correctly channeling the power. IF NO, then keep at it until the answer changes to YES!