Tone, a Voice Comes from the Heart to the Strings

By Dr. Fangye Sun

I am honored and thankful to receive the MASTA Professional Development Grant in  2021. Being a member of MASTA, there are many opportunities and much support provided to string educators and students to develop and engage new ideas and projects. MASTA grants are among those. I have always wanted to learn more in depth about Dr. Shinichi Suzuki’s philosophy and method since the beginning of my teaching career. With the support of the MASTA Professional Development Grant, I am able to make that dream come true. After attending a  couple of Suzuki teachers training workshops, I find that there are many aspects and principles of  the Suzuki method that resonate with other well-known violin pedagogies. Tone production is  one of the examples.  

Everything starts with a sound. Either it is a sound that we hear in our daily life like a pin  drop or a siren soaring, or it is a musical tone produced by an instrument or human voice. Tone  serves purpose and carries function. Musical tone pleases the ear, touches the heart, and makes an impact in people’s long lasting memory. While the physical production of a tone comes from the string’s vibration on a violin, the violinist is the unique entity to give this wooden sound box a soul, a voice, a meaning, and the unlimited power to reach the audience. The conversion of this process is almost a chemical reaction in music making. It requires mastering the violin skills and building the bond with the violin through our ear, touch, mind, and heart. It is an intricate and delicate journey to learn to hear different shades, textures, colors, and densities of tone. Thus, it is so crucial to introduce “Ear training” surrounding tone at a child’s early age. Dr. Suzuki’s tonalization exercises nurtures young ears to be acquainted with quality tone from a very early age. As a result, making a beautiful tone is not secondary to producing a note. A beautiful tone is natural, joyous, and desirable for young ears to attain.  

A beautiful singing voice is every violinist’s desire. We are gifted with four unique  strings with unique color and texture. While bow technique is the artistic side of violin playing, it requires control of bow weight, bow speed, sounding point, and amount of bow hair. With these  four ingredients, the potential for producing vast layers and colors of tone is beyond countable.  However, these mechanical parts of sound making on a violin are only relevant to the good  craftsmanship part of music making. Only if the violinist really connects their heart and self in  this sound making process will they provide that special power of delivering beauty, personality,  energy, and personal communication to the audience.  

Our nature of seeking beauty is a human instinct. Here in tonalization, I believe that self satisfaction plays an important role in making this journey successful and enjoyable for young  children. Beauty of a tone comes from the open and resonant ringing of the violin. To a violinist’s  touch, the bow hand must feel free and easy to make a sound speak on the string. It does not take much physical effort to reach this goal, but what must remain is that neutral and relaxed feeling in our body and arms. Implementing this idea to young children as they solidify their initial foundation of playing the violin, the tonalization and playing with a resonant tone will be imprinted in their system. Furthermore, the intricate ear training to find a “ringing tone” or maximum overtones that Dr. Suzuki implemented in the tonalization is a genius way to help  young ears identify the subtle difference in sounds. I found that this serves many benefits in  students’ future study. One aspect is to grow sensitive ears for intonation and double stops. Later  this ability will help students understand how sound travels and master the ability to project their  tone in different performance spaces.  

In short, as we look into the development of the top concert violinists in this century, an  early start with a great education is a common step that led to their success. Many skills of a  great violinist are already imprinted in her/his body at a young age. Good training done at an  early age is a milestone to enable your body to do what your mind wants and express how your  heart feels. Dr. Suzuki’s philosophy to me, in many aspects, truly plants crucial steps starting  from day 1 of a child’s violin journey. Tonalization is only one aspect of this entire method but  is the most essential step to help a child connect to the violin. As a child grows, that connection  with the violin only becomes stronger if a beautiful sound is produced. It is truly a treat when  you hear young violinists demonstrating a great connection to their violin and playing with a  natural singing voice and a joyful spirit, which echoes Dr. Suzuki’s quote: “beautiful tone,  beautiful heart.” 

Dr. Fangye Sun  
Assistant Professor of Violin  
Central Michigan University