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Carrying pwer: Violin-viola contrast


Janito
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Last night I had the opportunity to hear Julian Rachlin playing the Liebig Strad 1704 and an 'unknown' viola (not fat, but longish looking).

From relatively high up in a small auditorium, I could hear distinctly the violin from PPP to FFF. On the other hand, the viola did not carry well - could just distinguish the stuff above FF.

Got me tinking - size isn't everything.

Let's assume that Racklin would not use a lemon of a viola.

Why the difference?

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- size isn't everything.

Are you saying, for example, that the violin has a higher harmonic range than the viola for the G string?

In the speaker world, tweeters are smaller than midrange. Which has better projection?

Although I haven't seen many viola response plots, I would assume they sacrifice some higher harmonics in order to get better low-end performance.

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SF - The violin was clearly audible during G string PPs. Are you saying, for example, that the violin has a higher harmonic range than the viola for the G string?

Shoot--mostly dead links where I was pointing. Here's one, though, about what you hear the best:

http://www.webervst.com/fm.htm

Also Search "singer's formant"

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Formant#Singers.27_formant

The orchestra has a hole around 3KHz, right where singer's formant appears, where your hearing is most acute, and where carrying violins have a lot of output. Violas generally aren't as strong in this range (not always, though).

More: http://www.josephshore.com/a_right_to_sing.htm His chart of the orchestral output is not the one I've seen before, but it makes the same point.

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Last night I had the opportunity to hear Julian Rachlin playing the Liebig Strad 1704 and an 'unknown' viola (not fat, but longish looking).

From relatively high up in a small auditorium, I could hear distinctly the violin from PPP to FFF. On the other hand, the viola did not carry well - could just distinguish the stuff above FF.

Got me tinking - size isn't everything.

Let's assume that Racklin would not use a lemon of a viola.

Why the difference?

Very complicated issue, but in one aspect, size does count. Recording engineers know, for example, that the output of a contrabass is about 3db greater than the output of a violin. Three db is not a great difference at the ear, but it takes twice the acoustic power to achieve it. The difference is due to the contrabass' greater radiating area. By that measure, and it by far is not the only measure, a viola ought to be slightly louder than a violin because it is slightly bigger.

But -aha!-we get into the question of the size of the instrument in relation to the range of notes it is called on to produce. The viola should ideally be between 19 and 20 inches in size, but most violas are smaller than that. So a 16" viola loses some of it's potential power advantage because of its less-than-optimal radiating surface (and its less-than-optimal air volume in a smaller corpus).

But -aha!- most of this loss occurs in the lowest notes because low notes like larger radiating surfaces and enclosures (think woofers and tweeters to get a grip on this). But -more ahas!- the smaller radiating surfaces suit the higher range better, so the viola gains back some of the loss of its gain in size. This is probably why the viola can hang on in large ensembles. The upper registers do contain some cutting power, despite the many comments we hear to the contrary.

Or, for a more prosaic approach, Racklin simply could have been having a bad night, or you might have been seated in an area of cancellation at the frequencies in question. :)

--Bob

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JM - please explain further

An acoustic mismatch between string harmonics and corpus [proportions]. Presumably, we're talking about a Cremona-designed Viola where this mismatch is common.

Personally, I think maximal dBs may be overrated when it comes to carrying power. It's not how LOUD a cannon sounds that matters per se, but how precisely its cannonball travels through air.

Jim

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I would assume they sacrifice some higher harmonics in order to get better low-end performance.

That's what struck me...what is the point of 'better' low-end performance if it cannot be heard.

In bygone days, viola-like instruments would have been played in small venues, so there carrying power would be less problematic.

----------------------

And thanks for the other responses.

ps Rachlin was on great form (on the violin)!!

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i have to go now,

but the orchestra having a hole around 3 k i BS,

dont forget there's about 30 violins in an orchestra,

unles you assume they're all bad and have a dropoff around 1k,i dont see any hole.

plus watch some spectrograms from orchestra music,do you see any holes?

also, singer's formant dont make you Pavaroti (insert emoticon)

i'll come back later to this

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i have to go now,

but the orchestra having a hole around 3 k i BS

You're starting to write like Zulu--have you two been hitting the bottle together again tonight?

I'm just quoting a whole variety of different sources I've read on the subject, and they seem to agree--not always identically, since some claim more of a hole, some a steady drop off. But they're pretty much in agreement. You're taking on the world here, not me. And you're taking on the whole opera/voice training world, too, because that's the principle they operate on.

Sure, there are violins in an orchestra, but many of them don't put out those frequencies at especially high levels (this I know because I have measured them). Also, as well as being adjusted into a violin, these frequencies can be brought out by playing style--I can sit in front of a computer and do it for you if you like--and I know that this style of playing is not how section players customarily need to or even should play, but soloists do. Plus, how often is the soloist forced to compete with a full-blast violin section? Never, if the conductor is doing his job. There's more to it than just grabbing a spectrum from a random orchestral recording and calling BS. So maybe we do need you to amplify.

Another link: http://www.iar-80.com/page19.html

About half way down: "So here we had a spectral picture of the whole orchestra in full cry: a flat plateau up to 2000 Hz, followed by a valley for the giant region above 2000 Hz all the way up to 20,000 Hz."

If you understand how an instrument's harmonic output works, it's physically impossible to maintain the same sound level at pitch of the various harmonics goes up. At the level we're talking about we're dealing almost exclusively with the harmonics of various instruments which are absolutely lower in volume than the fundamentals they are playing. As a group, the overall graph MUST decline, because the fundamentals of all of those instruments are grouped over on the left, unless you have a team of piccolos an fifes in the background playing their highest notes (the zone we're talking about is way up at the far right on the piano keyboard, where no instruments actually sound fundamentals). (another link: https://kb.osu.edu/dspace/bitstream/1811/45...on_Williams.pdf )

The instrument with a peak in its response in the prime hearing zone wins. This is used in tuning sound reinforcement/public address systems for maximum reach and legibility, for instance.

More geeking:

http://www.acoustics.asn.au/conference_pro...5/papers/72.pdf

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...what is the point of 'better' low-end performance if it cannot be heard.

Another sacrifice: low end power for the ability to play it like a violin (instead of vertically). I think it would have to have a body length of 20" or so to really work well in its frequency range.

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Whilst the relationship to the orchestra (small string) is relevant to tonal perceptions across whole performances, my initial comments relate primarily to a comparison of the 2 instruments when the same soloist was playing alone.

BTW - I was amazed how well the pizzicato from a single double bass carried. Does this contradict some of the comments posted?

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BTW - I was amazed how well the pizzicato from a single double bass carried. Does this contradict some of the comments posted?

because there's no instrument can produce the same frequency range as the basses? you can say there's another hole in that range where only the biggest instrument in the orchestra (except percussions maybe) can reach...

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Maybe this figure may add something to the debate? These are long time average spectra of scales played on some violins and two violas from a performance where they put the emphasis on comparing quartet instruments. I was not there myself but I have heard and analyzed the recordings. I do not know exactly where the performers sat in relation to the recorder, but would assume they sat as they regularly do in that quartet. The recorder was at some 6m distance or so and I belive a little to the right.

The violins are the first and second violins of a quartet, a contemporary set and their regular set with two Strad violins and a contemporary viola.

It seems quite clear that the violins are louder in the region beyond the lows where the viola is stronger.

I do not think that a bigger instrument will make a stronger sound. More mass is to be moved in the bigger instruments, and the surface mass also tend to be higher, thus the vibrations in the plates are doomed to be weaker. That effect will be larger than the effect of getting larger surfaces. And the surface does not help much when the radiation takes part below the fcritical frequency. There are combinedd reonance effects that make up for that in the bowed instruments (and guitars).

The tension in the strings as well as the length matter to the sound strength too, so a direct comparison is not straightforward. A double bass with violin strings would not be much to listen to. So the strings do compensate somewhat. Obviously not enough for the violas to overpower the violins in this example.

post-25136-1271581310.jpg

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To my ears higher frequencies do project better. I can hear the difference in violins and as mentioned above in guitars.

Body size does affect projection also. When you're going from a 20 inch viola to a 16 inch viola that's a 20 percent reduction. This projection difference is quite pronounced in accoustic guitars also.

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The competition was betwen a Strad violin an a viola about wich we have no information. In general violins will offer a much better dynamic range than a viola, and although the G string may be an issue with violins it is not as problematic as the viola C string. Hence, in general, a violin will sound better than a viola. But depending on the viola and on the player the viola can project as good as violin, I think, mainy in a quartet.

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Last night I had the opportunity to hear Julian Rachlin playing the Liebig Strad 1704 and an 'unknown' viola (not fat, but longish looking).

From relatively high up in a small auditorium, I could hear distinctly the violin from PPP to FFF. On the other hand, the viola did not carry well - could just distinguish the stuff above FF.

Got me tinking - size isn't everything.

Let's assume that Racklin would not use a lemon of a viola.

Why the difference?

The violins usually sit to the left in a quartet while the viola sit to the right. The violins thus get an advantage over the viola in directing its hogh frequency energy out into the auditorium, probably somewhat upwards. While the viola will radiate its higher frequencies away from the audience. Maybe these directivity effects might play a role as well, not only the properties of the instruments.

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The gunboat cannons firing near the military base 30 miles North of here carry quite well to our house. It's very low frequency.

Power matters.

In a way, both Violin and Viola project many cannonballs of varying size & weight representing all their generated frequencies.

The "goal" for both Violin and Viola is to project ALL the pleasant music to Janito's ears [in the balcony] - including the higher frequency spectrum.

A power-guy's logic would dictate building a bigger boombox [larger Viola?] to "power" those higher frequencies a further distance. Some modern Violas

are substantially larger than early-Cremona Violas. The power-guys have been proven wrong [for high frequency spectrum].

Maybe the Cremonese made a simple scaling-factor error for Viola which readily explains its projection difference with Violin.

Jim

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A power-guy's logic would dictate building a bigger boombox [larger Viola?] to "power" those higher frequencies a further distance.

That would be a misguided power guy. Bigger is better for low frequencies, not high (recall earler reference to tweeter vs. midrange). A bigger viola would be better for carrying power at the low frequencies, but not necessarily for projection of the highs. There is a distinction between size and power; more power into a tweeter will carry better (unless it burns out).

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That would be a misguided power guy. Bigger is better for low frequencies, not high (recall earler reference to tweeter vs. midrange). A bigger viola would be better for carrying power at the low frequencies, but not necessarily for projection of the highs. There is a distinction between size and power; more power into a tweeter will carry better (unless it burns out).

Well that's kinda the catch-22. There is no discrete midrange & tweeter in these acoustic instruments. One corpus does all!

Maybe some view "carrying power" as AM [where high dBs are viewed as omnipotent] while FM is the reality. In an FM-world, what's limiting a Viola's

higher frequencies from projecting? It should be even easier with Viola given it's place on the music scale relative to Violin.

Jim

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