Sound Quality

Published on 26 June 2024 at 22:08


Some time ago, I was coaching my daughter as she practiced her clarinet for her upcoming musical events. I asked her to play the exercises she practiced in different moods or characters. She repeated the phrase in the minor key to sound tragic, happy, sad, and energetic. We experimented with this idea for about ten minutes. She managed to achieve the desired mood and employed creativity in the process. She had to vary the dynamic levels or how the pitches were played, meaning staccato or legato.

Given that the exercise was in the minor key, it was challenging to play it cheerfully. In addition to paying attention to the above, she also had to listen to differentiate the timbre and listen carefully to the quality of sound she was producing. What does quality mean when it comes to making a sound? Quality refers to the sound being healthy, whole, and focused, whether loud or soft.

Sounds can take on different personalities, unhealthy sounds, full and vibrant, mellow tones, sad ones, happy and energetic. This is different from the sharp or flat pitch, loud or soft. In string playing, for example, your tones should be smooth, and there should be no breaks or scratches. To achieve that, one major essential factor is to listen to one's sound produced for each note. Passive listening does not work very well. It is like when I first started driving. When I had to make turns, the traffic was overwhelming, and I could not see if cars were coming. After one of my relatives helped me and told me to look carefully, I calmed down and looked attentively. That solved the problem.

Listening alone will only be enough if the player tries to control the sound and adorn it with the quality desired. Can you maintain the quality of your sound? Absolutely! What about the circumstances you find yourself in as your performance venue? That means the acoustics in your practice room or the concert hall. The latter may or may not be in your favor. The former depends on how well you listen to yourself. After all, should you not take care of your sound quality, the whole objective of creating your music is about listening.

This aspect of making music fascinates me. I love the timbre that caresses my ear, as the quality of the sound a musician puts out there plays a vital role in expressing the true intent of the music. This topic is very close to my heart. The quality you bring on stage will stand out when you have taken the time to experiment with your sound. In cello playing, your sound is centralized in how you use your bow. Each instrument has its focal point in controlling its sound quality. Whatever medium one uses to produce music should always aim to make the highest sound quality possible.
Listen intently and pay attention to the sound that's coming out. When you listen closely, you can adjust your sound. Don't just produce sounds and be satisfied with them; you can adjust the quality.

Even in loudness, when producing fff triple forte sounds, you need to think about your tone. To demonstrate loudness, one must not bang on the piano or sound like they are screaming unless required by the composer. You want the listener to enjoy hearing your sound. The performer should maintain sound quality even when they wish to demonstrate power and strength. Power is not synonymous with the noise you can make on your instrument. It must still be controlled and well-mannered. Therefore, in the practice room, time should be spent on sound. It does not matter which instrument the performer plays as the techniques might differ, but the idea is the same or remains the same. Quality, along with the intonation of the pitch being introduced, is one of the aspects that need to be a priority for a musician. I have seen many instances when this gets to be ignored.

The tone quality differs from player to player; therefore, each musician has a unique sound quality, and I would like to compare it to the writer's voice. In a musician's s case, this quality can set them apart.

Therefore, one major factor in this matter lies in how the performer listens to what they are playing. The performer must actively produce sound instead of creating and passively producing sounds. The quality of sound can be controlled as the player pays attention.

How do you ensure that you are paying attention to your tone quality? Please share in the comments below.

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