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Why new Instrument sounds better after play??


Mudoe

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Yup. There's no help from the official science types, but most makers think it's just the instrument "loosening up". It could be just things settling in to place, but if you stop playing it long enough you'll lose the gain you're hearing, so the loosening up idea seems more likely. Or perhaps it's a bit of each....

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No help from the makers either....... why should one expect "loosening up" to mean anything? The science types cannot help because it is a difficult question that has serious problems even from the beginning of its formulation. The maker types know even less than the science types. What is really going on is that the makers blush less when they give meaningless answers than do the science types.

Actually, I do think that instruments change with usage. I also have some ideas of where one might look for some answers or what kind of experiments one might do. But first one needs some ways for the musician to provide input in the way of description. (So that experiments can get some quantification of the nature of "tone")

There is also the fact that one learns to hear and also to control what is there. And I suppose one should include a kind of feedback between hearing and bowing.

The question that was asked is the perennial BIG question. Or one of two or three of the most difficult ones. First, you musician types need to get together and try to help quantify "tone". Some cocky types will say, "I know it when I hear it ..." Well, fine, but it does not help to answer the question.

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Being a cocky type and saying it's just the player developing his relationship with the violin doesn't cut it either, John. :-) Haven't you ever seen your own instruments after a year? I'll be surprised if you can tell me you don't hear a difference.

I've said this before, but I'll say it again: the problem with science types is if they can't measure something with their extremely crude acoustical tools they say it isn't there. It's like asking a blind man about color. They teach a lot of nice things in college, but apparently recognizing your limits isn't one of them, from what I see many acousticians saying. :-)

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Now now, I'm a player, and could qualify as a science type too since I have a degree in Geo-Physics. (you are right about some science types - the ones with no imagination, "if I can't measure it it doesn't exist" Yeah, but what are you trying to measure?? )

What I have noticed picking up an old violin not played in a long time (20 yrs) is that the tone starts out sounding like the instrument is muted. I had a teacher way back referred to the process as "opening up" and that feels like the proper description to me also.

I admit I have never played a new violin so I am not certian how much different the process is in that case. I would ask - do they always sound "better" or is it only just different?

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A played in violin will have a more focused sound, you will feel it very "smart" under the bow and the volume will be greater.

But playing in will not cure some problems very commom in violins such as unbalanced sound, bad sound in upper positions (mainly in the G and D strings), a flat sound that you can't shape, etc.

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Dont have to wait 20years.

My violin was at rest for a while and I started playing it again and it came unglued at parts right when it started sounding good. So I had it fixed and it sounded again a bit muffled and then a couple of days later really opened up nicely.

There is a lot to this, from my experience most of it happens within the first week of playing and then it only gets better from there.

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I have a friend who bought a Strad that hadn't been played in a number of years. At first it sounded very harsh and the notes were not clean at all--lots of stuff that wasn't music. When I next heard him, about three months later, the violin was very smooth--all of the nasty stuff was gone. He later said most of it happened in the first three months, quicker at the start, then slowing down. Initially it was two steps forward, one back (he was talking about playing for four or five hours a day, and then picking it up the next day). After three months, though, it was still improving. And it doesn't like to be left for more than a couple of days unplayed, or it starts sneaking backwards, he says.

In my violins what I've noticed is they become smoother (you could perceive that as darker, because there's a lot of high frequency noise that gets lost), and more responsive, with the notes popping out more definitively. I can' make some of this happen in just five minutes by playing parallel fifth scales as hard as I can with a cello bow.

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Funny you mention about the parallel fith. I find when I grind hard with double stops , fiths and thirds, the sound improved much faster. Then settles and becomes very nice and round with much get and go when called upon, but much much more responsive and sentsitive the the slightest nuance asked.

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In my personal experience the change in a rarely played instrument was overall.

It's sort of an increase in depth and resonance for the entire instrument. Actually, I just got a new soundpost and bridge fitted and the process feels similar, at the start I could hear and feel very little change in the violin, now 3-4 weeks later, it's like a whole different instrument with better overall response and tone.

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First of all I agree 100% that violins change with time. And usually for the "Better." I play, and as a player I feel this is so.. They become more "free" "open" and they sometimes develop more "body." The real question is what are these things, really, and how can they be measured and recorded. Also, it likely is true that each of these descriptions are a combination of different things that have to be separated. How to do this?

My commment was not about whether or not this phenomenon exists. I was simply saying that the points are too ill-described to ask meaningful questions which can lead to experiments. Your saying "loosening up" is what I have experienced with my instruments after they have been played. So of course, I agree that they do something that can be described this way.....

But.. Saying they loosen up is almost a tautology. The real question is "what does this mean.?" What is going on, why do people perceive it this way, etc and so on until you are blue in the face.

My comment was not a science-type comment. It was more a suggestion about what would constitute a scientific conclusion. That is, I have an interest in the philosophy of science too.

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You are quite correct to say that the acoustical tools are very crude. I think your perception about science types has been spoiled by a lot of bad science.

The Eigenmode model was pursued forever by naive scientists. This model works well in wind instruments where the vibrating medium is homogeneous air. Obviously, it is pushed a lot when the moving structure is made of a weird material and also pre-stressed. The Eigenmode solution of a vibrating body is just the Lagrangian physics that is 200 years old. It says true things. But it may not say ALL things. That is because the structure and it's materials are so complicated that many approximations are made. The baby is often thrown out with the bathwater in such a situation.

Still, if everyone perceives similar things, then it is something likely to be "out there." It is not a metaphysical situation, it is real hard-core physics. But it turns out that the physics is extreamly subtle. Solving problems means getting good models which ignore the unimportant..... or at least the things of secondary importance. After first-order things are understood, one can look for more subtle second-order things. This is just what REAL scientists do. I am not a person of sufficient intellect to do this kind of thing. But I have enormous admiration for those who can.

Admitted: You were right to criticise crude tools and measurments. You would have made an even more correct statement if you had included "extreamly crude models and ideas" along with the crude tools. Yes, you are correct in what you said.... (and I agree with you

All the more reason to look for better models and ideas. In other words, the best science is the science with the best questions, not the best answers. That is what I meant above. The questions have to be formulated in a way that makes them approachable. That is, if one is curious in a scientific way. And I am. Wish I were independently wealthy so that I could work on this kind of thing.

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Thanks, but not for "backing me up." Michael's last statement puts down "acousticians." The real acousticians are not involved much with violins. They work with SONAR and shock waves in materials. They do a lot of stuff that is very narrowly defined. Of course, as a geo-scientist you know that shock waves (and their reflections) are a means for probing the internal structure of the earth. That is your "bag" and I am certain you could say a lot about it.

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Here is a question that may be of interest: The Strad that had been unplayed for a number of years...... was it strung up during that latent period? Another posting mentioned an old violin that was unused for a long time.

A violin is prestressed, and everyone implicitly agrees that this is important. (geometry of the angle of the strings over the bridge, the downbearing force of the strings and also the compression of the body due to the string tension of course.)

So the question is, was the Strad subjected to a large increase in stresses when the person started to play it again? If so, why is this significant, if indeed it is? That to me is a very important question, especially given the weierd structure of wood. Recall that wood grows in a way to hold up a heavy tree. So the nature of the cell walls and their properties might be an interesting thing to know about.

If you believe that wood was treated some way, that might be something concerning cell-walls or even the filling of open structures with incompressible materials. (Just a guess of course) I agree with you that the main things of interest are likely to be the intrinsic properties of the materials, not the geometry of the violin. If it were geometry, some of the copies would have gotten "lucky" and sounded great. Perhaps a large fraction.

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I have my own theory as to why a violin "opens up" after playing.

When the violin is glued together, it is almost imposible to avoid some tension in the wood. Anytime a rib or lining or plate is clamped into position, there will be some tension imparted to the wood. This tension, I believe, has a negative effect on tone. The violin will sound muted and harsh because the working parts are not as free to vibrate. Time and playing vibration "softens" this tension and improves the sound. An old violin that has the string tension let down for a long time may also relax in such a way that when the strings are brought back to tune, the vibrating parts need to be "softened" again by the vibration of playing and the normal tension of a tuned instrument. Does that make any sense?

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One science type, one of Carline Hutchins' associates, whose name I am blanking on, proved the phenomenon by setting aside some violins while having others played, then subjecting both groups to blind or double-blind listening and playing tests before and after. Human listeners were used as "sensors" and judges. As I understand it, the unequivocal result was that playing improved the violins.

I think this scientific amateur musician type can describe the phenomenon. It differs from one violin to another, but there are generally certain frequencies that are initially muted. A couple of examples from my limited experience: One new violin severely lacked brightness and richness. After being played for a couple of years it had much stronger high frequencies and middle frequencies that added greatly to the richness and charm of the sound. According to the owner, the E string opened up one day and began to give a "fat" sound, i. e., with great power, yet rich in low and middle frequencies so as not to sound piercing and harsh. Another violin was thin and tinny after remaining strung but unplayed. After a couple of days the low and middle frequencies became much stronger. Other violins, usually cheap trade instruments, show little or no change.

The ear is good at judging a mixture of frequencies but poor at remembering the results and at quantifying the impedance or gain at any frequency. If I can easily and unequivocally hear the changes over a long time, I have no doubt that scientific instruments could detect and quantify the changes. If adequate resources and skill were devoted to the problem, I am confident that the changes could be traced to certain modes of vibration, and perhaps the mechanism could be determined. After all, if a violin is opening up, it must be vibrating more freely at certain frequencies.

However, the answer to that question may not tell you much about how to build a great instrument. Understanding an instrument is a hard scientific problem because the wood is irreproducible and ever changing, and because achieving the desired sound is a matter of art and aesthetics, not science.

With care and adequate resources, sonic properties of instruments could be measured well, but most scientific efforts have been backyard efforts done with tinker toys, and usually without access to fine instruments and experienced luthiers. In addition, much of the effort so far has been somewhat nonproductive and conducted on isolated plates because they were easier to study than assembled instruments. There has been very little work on exactly what charming aspect of certain notes is caused by what violin body motions--a very hard problem indeed. There have been some recent, reasonably well-funded private efforts to quantify the properties of fine instruments, but most of the results are proprietary. There has been almost no well-funded research that is also publicly funded. The scientific/artistic problem is not only difficult, but few public resources are available for scientific study. In my opinion, you can't really blame either the scientists or the luthiers for lack of resources.

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I have noticed that when first strung up, a violin may sound good at first or else a bit covered or with some other negative property. Just sitting under tension for a day or two seems to make a big difference.

I think you are right that certain stresses are not good for sound. The question for me is, why should this be? Any linear physical model will say that the stresses should not make any difference to the modes of vibration in any way.

This means that tone is likely to be understood only in termns of complicated non-linear effects. What goes on would then be very difficult to guess. A mathematical model would also be a big problem.

An interesting non-linear phenomenon was suggested to me in about 1973, by Nigogosian. I went away and saw him again in about six months. (I was in Chicago and visited NYC periodically to see my brother) I told Nigo my final explanation. I still think it is right. In fact, it is the first thing any physics person should think of. He scoffed, blew me off and said "Physics may be good for building houses, but not violins." I liked Nigo, but have to say that his response was typical of a craftsman with no sense of mechanics.

I can set out this interesting problem if there is an interest. It will take a bit of time and I am not interested in spitting into the wind.

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I will present the situation as Nigo did to me. See how it strikes you and then in a day or so I will say what my conclusion was and why I think it makes sense.

Nigo said that he noticed something peculiar about a Strad. If he increased the neck angle (increasing the downbearing bridge force) it was necessary to loosen the strings slightly to keep the same pitches of the open strings. I assume he had a method to measure the string tensions. In any case, take that as a given. Also, this situation assumed no change in the string length.

The first impression of an explanation is likely to be correct but for the wrong reason. Nigo claimed that he had asked scientists from Bell labs and all sorts of guys and everyone said it should not happen etc etc.

Nigo said it happened only with a Strad. I say it would happen with any violin, but would be much more noticeable on a violin of light construction. So, that is the story. In order to explain it to him, I had a neat way to draw a diagram which described an effective string length and some other things. He was not prepared to listen.

The situation is one of the simplest examples of a non-linear system. When described, I think you will appreciate it. It may remind you of other things that may be of interest.

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OK. I'm not thinking that through at this instant, but maybe you can then connect the dots as to why with a higher neck pitch the player perceives lower tension, whereas lower neck pitch is perceived as higher tension. I suspect I know, but I'd be interested in your take on it. And I'm betting that Nigo was wrong about lessening the tension on the strings--I think he just *thought* he was, because he *perceived* the lesser tension I mention above, which I'm going to maintain is not real--only perceived.

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