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What makes a violin "project"?


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I "rescued" an old violin I found while on vacation in Nova Scotia last Summer; it's an anonymous old Strad copy (at least 100 years old by its known history, probably somewhat more), possibly English according to the shop that did the work on it, that was a cheap trade fiddle, judging by the scribed-on "purfling" and very wide-grained board on the top (the back has a nice tight flame, and the scroll seems well-carved; it's fully blocked and lined inside).

It had obviously been played a lot at some point, which gave me some optimism that it might be a decent-sounding instrument. After a new soundpost, bridge, chinrest, and strings, and gluing some minor cracks on the top, it turns out to be a fun instrument to play; it has a fairly muted, quiet sound under the chin but responds quite well and is easy to play, and it's very light. Today a friend played it while I listened, and I was very surprised to realize that it projects really well; it has much more volume at a distance than I heard while playing it! I'm wondering what characteristics cause this; it's something my much-better benchmade contemporary Strad copy doesn't have (even though the 2 instruments are pretty similar in configuration). I've played one other violin, a 17th century Dutch instrument, that had this same trait, more extreme than this one, but it doesn't seem to have anything in common with mine, except possibly light weight. Any ideas?

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It depends a lot on the strength of the various harmonic components of the notes. Since different aspects of this originate from different places on the violin, the things that carry don't necessarily radiate off the part of the top next to your ear, so being loud under your ear doesn't mean anything. Also, since it has to do with the specific harmonic ranges which are loud, it doesn't have much to do with the way the violin sounds alone, either--it's how it meshes with other instruments that determines real carrying power. So, in summary: loud under ear: meaningless. Loud alone in hall: meaningless. Loud in hall, at a distance, against other instruments: meaningful.

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This issue has always bugged me since it's hard to judge an instrument under your ear. So in that case, when one is shopping for a solo instrument. He needs to have the instrument played in favor by somebody (say in a solo orchestra rehearsal ) to evaluate it? Or play it and have a reliable honest friend to judge it? Or is there a smarter way to audition instruments?

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I'll just add a tidbit to Michael's comments. I think there are various words used to describe this, 'projection' is one, 'focus' another, I've heard it referred to as 'sizzle' too. Acoustically, when the instrument is quiet under the ear it often is caused by the fact that when two adjacent areas are vibrating, the air sloshes back and forth between them, never gets pushed outward. The player hears 'loud' but the third row is cupping it's ear.

Some violins produce more high frequency sounds-these instruments can often cut through everything, much the same way a beeper can be heard over the orchestra. Too much high frequency is grating

In my opinion an instrument that projects well alone is a positive sign. But, as Michael suggests, it's not enough. How well a strong instrument will sound in ensemble, has more to do with the accompanying instruments. A bright sounding violin will often be buried under a piano's sound, where a darker instrument will stand out, because of the contrast. Same basic idea with an orchestra, the instrument should have a distinctive sound, it should have a very active and highly directional vibrato effect, this is what characterizes a virtuoso solo instrument. IMHO

Oded Kishony

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