I've only been learning a little over a week. What I've noticed is that when I try to play notes closer to the body of the violin (a B note on the E string) this often sounds whispery or raspy. What causes this? At first I thought I wasn't pressing the string hard enough but adding more pressure doesn't seem to change the sound too much. The only other thought I have is that I might be focusing so much on finding the note that I start to bow diagonally and that's causing the odd sound. Any advice?
The B on the E string is played (in first position) with the 4th finger (pinky). Using that finger is very difficult for many of us due to the extra stretching required to reach the notes. Not sure what method or materials you're using to learn violin, but the method books I've seen don't usually start 4th finger until the player has acquired good skills at using the first three fingers.
There are specific exercises for the 4th finger. Alternatively, if you've only been playing for about a week, maybe you can just save the 4th finger notes for later, after you're more comfortable with notes using the first three fingers.
As Fidelestre said, 4th finger is generally learned later on but everyone is different. When you start playing higher on the E string it's super important that you're bowing confidently. If you don't the note tends to be scratchy. One of the pieces I'm working on requires me to go up pretty high on the E string and if I'm not bowing confidently the notes go from nice sounding to really scratchy.
By bowing confidently I mean that I have enough pressure and speed for the dynamic I'm in, and that I'm also using the whole bow. Bowing straight is important, but that's something that will eventually just click in place so long as you're working at it.
Hope this helps!
And here are some more specific ideas for 4th finger exercises:
- If you use a method book, see what it suggests. For example, see pp. 32-34 of Suzuki book 1 (Revised edition) for Exercises for 4th finger, Perpetual Motion (piece #9), and Finger Exercises No. 1. In the Muller Rusch String Method Book 1 for violin, see Lessons 24 and 25 for various 4th finger exercises and pieces. I have played Perpetual Motion over and over and over to help with 4th finger. I still play either Perpetual Motion or one of the two next Suzuki pieces every day specifically to work on 4th finger.
- Try playing scales using 4th finger going up and the open string going down. Repeat over and over, for the A, D, and G major scales (one octave, starting on the open string). Also try going up the first five notes of the scale, and then repeatedly alternating between the 3rd and 4th finger notes (the 4th and 5th notes of the scale). I do scales every day to work on 4th finger.
- Choose a well known tune (or portion of a tune) that uses just the first five notes of the major scale, and play it on a single string. Repeat for each string. Possible tunes include Lightly Row and the first part of Aura Lee (Love me Tender), but there are other tunes as well. This exercise provides some interesting variety from playing scales and non-melodic exercises. By choosing a well-known melody, you can more easily identify when your intonation is off.
Some people take to 4th finger more easily than others, and it seems to often be more difficult for those with smaller hands relative to the size of the violin. I have been working on various 4th finger exercises at least since last July, and the 4th finger sound is still weak compared to the open string note. I use a 7/8 violin, but I still have to stretch a lot to reach the 4th finger notes. But I've noticed that some people (often those with larger hands) can play the 4th finger notes with good sound much earlier in their violin-learning journeys.