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April 5, 2015

Obtaining The Best Possible Tone

One of the most important principles the Suzuki method addresses, is the emphasis it places on beautiful tone production. Right from the very start, the Suzuki student is introduced to the concept of “Tonalization”. These exercises provide the opportunity to conscientiously focus on the various elements which contribute to producing a beautiful tone. Elements such as even tone and even volume, consistent timbre, smoothness of phrasing, legato phrasing, shape and smoothness of the nail, correct posture and position of the arm, hand and fingers and much more. The “Tonalization” exercises can even become a true workshop on exploring the tonal possibilities of the guitar where the student and teacher can work on perfecting the use of dynamics, vibrato, timbre variations, staccato, learning to eliminate string buzz and other non musical sounds such as fingers squeaks and nails clicks.
There have been many debates and many schools of thought through the centuries over what constitutes a beautiful tone on the guitar. There are so many variables to take into consideration. The concept of beautiful tone may even vary from passage to passage, piece to piece or from style to style.
I would like to make a list of a few general considerations for obtaining the best possible tone from one’s guitar:

  • Ensure that the student’s nail is the proper shape and length.
  • To shape the nail, use a rough nail file. Never use a clipper or scissors.
  • The nail should be as smooth as possible. Use the finest sandpaper possible starting with 1500 grit, progressing to 2000 grit and finally using micro mesh (up to 12000 grit) to buffer nails.
  • File and buffer nails on both the left hand side and the right hand side as well as under the nail and on top of the nail.
  • Teach the student to control the finger attack so as to consistently strike the string with the desired contact point of the nail.
  • Aim for a balanced and consistent tone with each individual finger.
  • Aim for a balanced and consistent volume with each individual finger.
  • Aim to produce a similar and homogeneous sound whether playing free stroke or rest stroke.
  • Avoid string buzz by placing the left hand fingers as close to the fret as possible.
  • Avoid finger squeaks by carefully lifting the fingers before making a position change.
  • Avoid nail click by touching the string with the finger tip before touching it with the nail.
  • Use expressive devices such as varying the timbre by playing at different positions along the length of the string (ponticello, sound hole, twelth fret) as appropriate to the musical style and interpretation.
  • Strive to develop a warm and expressive vibrato.
  • Pay constant attention to the correct posture, arm, hand and finger position.
  • Change strings when they are worn, scratched, or dull sounding.
  • If possible, invest in a good quality instrument.
  • Playing in a room with good acoustics will enhance the beauty of the tone.

Finally, it is important to listens to as many players with outstandingly beautiful tone as possible so as to educate the student’s inner ear as to what exceptional guitar tone should sound like.

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