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Mark_W

Better violins harder to play?

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I'm down to two violins that I play regularly. One is my old Maggini copy--very easy to play, rich, plenty of volume. The other is an old Bohemian that used to belong to a MUCH better player. This violin is harder to play. Lighter bow pressures and a much faster, more precise stroke are absolutely required to get tone production. I don't enjoy it as much, but OTHERS have noticed the difference right away and commented on it--"Hm, sounds like your tone is improving."

I've even recorded a bit with both of these violins and noticed no great difference. Has anyone else had this "can't tell anything under the ear" experience when trading up to a better instrument?

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Haven't noticed the phenomenon you speak of, but what I have noticed that while tone often is better on more expensive/better instruments, they are not as forgiving when it comes to intonation among other things.

Somebody once told me that to keep the same technical and tonal beauty "as the violinist's violin gets better, so must the violinist"

He didn't sound quite so philisophical when he said it. It was more matter of fact.

DigiMark

P.S. We have the same initials: MW smile.gif

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Actually, most recording equipment (including the finest gear available) lose so much of the violin's voice that the better instruments don't always show their superiority when recorded.

Yeah, people really do notice when you upgrade your instrument.

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Part of the ideal upgrade aim is definitely not to move to an instrument that is harder to play - how can you sound better? The tome quality of the instrument (within reason) is only a part of the total effect one gets when playing an instrument. I chose my current instrument over one that had a larger richer sound - not that there was anything wrong with the sound of the one I selected, but I played this instrument so much better, that the net result was much more pleasing for both the player and audience. I still receive comments on the instruments sound everytime I play it in public.

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If you 'upgrade' to a 'better' instrument, and (after practice) you don't SOUND 'better', then it's not 'better'. Sounds like a no-brainer to me!

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Most players equate "easier" with "better", all other things equal, because a violin that's easier to play lets the player concentrate on and improve other things. In this case, one might say the violins are less than perfect, but in different directions.

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Ease of playing doesn't always come with better instruments, although genuine difficulty should not be part of the package. I've tried some good instruments (a Maggini, and a Seraphin that I still salivate over) that were a walk in the park. My own best instrument is easy to play in tune and speaks quickly, but must be played carefully. My wife (who is a super violist) can't seem to make it work for her, and prefers an instrument she can really lean into.

At the extreme top end, I've tried a Strad and a Guarneri (filius Andreae) that produced great sound IF you got in the groove and didn't screw up. They were unforgiving of even small lapses in concentration.

Ferraris vs. Volvos.

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I must agree with DigiMark's -- and Stephen's -- response here.

A better violin is inherently more responsive. It may seem "difficult" to play at first because you really can get away with a lot less. I mean, the instrument is going to broadcast every move you make, which is not necessarily true with a more muted but forgiving student violin.

I remember when I first acquired a really fine violin. It was not a pretty scene: my intonation was awful and my tone color was "psychadelic." But after a few days of learning to be absolutely precise -- paying careful attention to my intonation and bowing and bow pressure, etc., the fiddle and I got to formally know each other, and I can express myself much more fully. In getting a better violin, I became a better player.

So, as I said, I agree with DigiMark and Stephen here, and I disagree with Fubbi2, who should not have been quite so hasty with that little "no-brainer" comment.

[This message has been edited by Sebastian (edited 07-29-2000).]

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I have a friend who used to be a DeLay assistant who can't stand Stradivari violins and can only play Guarneris.

Nowadays, I get the same basic tone from virtually any violin because my precision-based technique is set.

It's just a matter of dressing up that tone with projection, sweetness, and ease of play.

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It's also the setup.

I'm finding out that I like my violins set up a certain way - and that I can't function when they're not.

This is most apparent when playing things like Paganini's "God Saves the King" variations or Ernst's "Erlking".

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If I can find a $1000 instrument that is physically easy to play it pains me to think that I could not do similarly with a $10,000 or $100,000 instrument. Are you really talking about physically being more difficult to play? As long as the setup is as you prefer, why should it be difficult? I can understand the mistake/projection problem, but then that's not that the violin's hard to play...it's your own intonation suddenly being announced.

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A high-end instrument is not necessarily easy to play: Paganini's "Il Cannone", for instance, is reportedly a very difficult instrument to play, despite being one of the great instruments of the ages.

"Easy to play", to me, equates to *physical effort* needed to draw a tone from the instrument. It indicates to me the gross-motor movements that produce tones of varying qualities. "Responsive", to me, means how the instrument reacts to fine-grade adjustments. This is a crude distinction and not an entirely clean one, of course. If an instrument is easy to play, you will feel it immediately; an instrument's responsiveness requires testing out a couple of things (how easy it is to change dynamics, etc.) before this becomes clear.

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My old violins and bows simply don't tolerate muscle-bowed abuse.

I keep my bridges cut as low as possible and my bows tightened only to minimal tension.

I laugh when I see modern violinists banging fruitlessly on my gear - they tighten up my bows until arrows fly from them, vibrate as if they were in ventricular fibrillation, and play their "nothing" scales and chords when a simple "Twinkle" would show the resonance of the violin better.

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Ok. Then I suppose one should keep this in mind when looking to upgrade to a better instrument. But if you're used to playing a cheaper instrument and look to get a better (perhaps harder to play?) violin, then I suppose you make sure the setup is as you like and then listen to better players play it before you purchase? Otherwise, how can you tell a violin that is "choked up" from one that you just physically are unaccustomed to drawing a good tone from? Forgive my ignorance.

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CJ,

You experiment. You start by determining if you like the general quality of the tone, and then if you do, how the instrument likes to be played. You experiment with contact points, differing amounts of pressure, width and speed of vibrato, etc.

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