Quadibloc

How Do You Make a Violin More Responsive, More Expressive?

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4 hours ago, Michael Darnton said:

A cellist in the Cleveland Orchestra taught me a trick: play open strings in one long bow stroke from a couple of inches up above the board to down near the bridge.

This is a very useful clue.

At first, when I read it, I wondered why this would cause any changes, doesn't the bow always produce the same sawtooth wave?

But it took me a few seconds to remember something. From the basic physics of making sound from a string. Pluck the string in the exact middle between the two points where it is held, and you will excite only odd harmonics.

So moving the point where the string is bowed very definitely will change the mix of overtones in what touches the bridge.

And how can that possibly fail to change the quality of sound coming out of the violin?

One way is if the violin had such a frequency response curve that you never get to hear any overtones.

Why, this could even explain the "modern makers" curve of Dünnwald: perhaps some modern makers, instead of trying to sound as Cremonese as they can, are willing, at the cost of a little harshness to the sound, to let even more of the high frequencies through in order to further accentuate this all-important characteristic of the violin! (Previously, I thought those extra highs were there just to let the violin project better, and I was less approving of that motive.)

 

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MD if a shop vac sounded good for 30 sec., I'd want to hear it for 30 min.  The problem is it sounds bad from the start.  Better than a weed eater though.  Shop vac is better termed noise than maximum complexity.  Noise is simple, not appealing complex.

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I chuckled when I read the shop vac analogy. A good friend of mine was describing a particularly hard to listen to vocalist as such: "She has a voice akin to a chainsaw cutting through sheet metal."

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But it also depends what you Need your instrument for. In the orchestra, you don't Need the amount of Colours, you might want to have at your disposal soloistically, and when you are low on time to practise, you want those fast notes to somehow sound acceptably. Also, it really depends on the repertoire you Play, some repertoire requires more extremes than other. So depending on the circumstances, an instrument that can't sound badly can really be an asset.

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I have already found on YouTube one video that touches on this but only on the most basic level. For beginners, it was recommended to bow halfway between the fingerboard and the bridge. Too close to the bridge, it sounds scratchy. Too close to the fingerboard, it sounds softer and weaker.

Aside, therefore, from harmonics, probably a major component of this is simply that the closer the bow is to the bridge, the greater the proportion of the force it applies to the strings is transmitted to the bridge.

Edited by Quadibloc
Additional point

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Hi Quadiblock,

your question is quite interesting, particularly the second part : expressiveness. 

I am now living many years with violins but really discovered expressiveness only in the last year as an important dimension of violins. The time before I focused on many other properties and thought, expressiveness would be a challenge only for the player. I would not have considered it as a "static" factor of a violin. Now I do so ( to a certain extent ).

Something similar was told by Henryk Szering many years ago. He owned some violins, also a fine Jean Bauer. And he was asked, what would be the difference between his fine contemporay violins and some other ones and his Guarneri-del-Gesú. He answered : My Guarneri is always singing ! 

If it has something to do with the "bridge hill" or "singers formant", so appreciated by you ?  I don´t have any idea. I am afraid, expressiveness will not easly be catched by acoustical research. 

 

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4 hours ago, Quadibloc said:

This is a very useful clue.

At first, when I read it, I wondered why this would cause any changes, doesn't the bow always produce the same sawtooth wave?

But it took me a few seconds to remember something. From the basic physics of making sound from a string. Pluck the string in the exact middle between the two points where it is held, and you will excite only odd harmonics.

So moving the point where the string is bowed very definitely will change the mix of overtones in what touches the bridge.

And how can that possibly fail to change the quality of sound coming out of the violin?

One way is if the violin had such a frequency response curve that you never get to hear any overtones.

Why, this could even explain the "modern makers" curve of Dünnwald: perhaps some modern makers, instead of trying to sound as Cremonese as they can, are willing, at the cost of a little harshness to the sound, to let even more of the high frequencies through in order to further accentuate this all-important characteristic of the violin! (Previously, I thought those extra highs were there just to let the violin project better, and I was less approving of that motive.)

 

Do you play the violin, even a little?

Things behave as they do even if you don't see the reasons.  And in this case, there are more reasons than just the one you identified. There's a pretty strong analogy to bowing near the bridge and singing close to a mic.  Pull away and the character changes.

But my main point is that playing experience is the only way to understand, either your own direct experience, or learning from the playing experience of others.  Best is probably a balance of both kinds of learning.    

If you don't connect yourself into this reality of playing violins, it's much like a blind person discussing vision.   Similarly, many other things about violin making become much clearer by actually making a violin. 

 

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1 hour ago, Danube Fiddler said:

Hi Quadiblock,

your question is quite interesting, particularly the second part : expressiveness. 

>  I don´t have any idea. I am afraid, expressiveness will not easly be catched by acoustical research.

 

It takes many many years for players to develop their own personal expressiveness.  Likewise it will take researchers many many years to determine how these players express themselves. If it was easy none of this would be any fun. 

 

 

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On 7/1/2018 at 9:33 PM, Don Noon said:

Maybe we need an "armchair punditry" forum for this kind of thing.  I'm here to either find useful tips from the folks who have a lot more experience than I do, or share what I think I know that might help other makers.  We have been through all of these circular discussions many times, which in the end are only opinions anyway.  

Initially, I was surprised by this; after all, I did ask a question: when you make a violin, what is it you pay attention to for the purpose of ensuring that it responds well to the performer when he or she wishes to express different voices from the instrument?

However, I did also ask a second question - and in that other question the tired old chestnut of comparing modern makers to Stradivari was involved. And, for good reason, you are tired of seeing the name of Stradivari thrown up every time someone talks about violins.

Please be patient with me. I lack the personal experience to know if the reputation of Stradivari is a myth or not. I understand that if it is a myth, it has pernicious effects on the acceptance of violins from modern makers, and so I ask questions which I hope will lead to information that will give me a solid basis on which to assess that question.

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12 minutes ago, Quadibloc said:

 

Please be patient with me. I lack the personal experience to know if the reputation of Stradivari is a myth or not. I understand that if it is a myth, it has pernicious effects on the acceptance of violins from modern makers, and so I ask questions which I hope will lead to information that will give me a solid basis on which to assess that question.

This is not an intellectual problem, it's a problem of perception and you won't solve it here. Even with mountains of personal experience you may still not be closer to a solution because in the end it's your perception which is the deciding factor. You may be a wonderful musician and indifferent to fine tonal differences. Plenty of those. In your case, it's going to be a very long learning curve because you don't know what to listen to and there is a long list of things one listens to in order to figure out if a violin is good or bad while ( !) trying to remove the player factor from the equation. It helps a lot if you know the score in detail and it helps even more if you could play the piece. I very much doubt you can tell if a Steinway has one action or the other or if Szeryng plays his DG or his Strad. Both exercises are pretty trivial, by the way. To my mind your only options are to either trust our top soloists for the past 200 or so years or all the well intended people who claim there isn't much of a difference. If any. There is another very remote option, you practice 10-12 hours /day for the next 10 or so years with the help of an expert teacher by the time you can play one of the easy concertos, like Bruch, things will be clear one way or another.

The reputation of Stradivari has no pernicious effects on the acceptance of violins from modern makers. Quite the contrary, it greatly helped modern makers - on who's shoulders do you think they climbed in order to ask $30k for $500 in materials and two weeks of relaxed work ? Remove the Strad myth and a violin becomes a $150 utilitarian object. Which is what it actually is for most intents and purposes. But not for all.

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3 hours ago, Quadibloc said:

Please be patient with me. I lack the personal experience to know if the reputation of Stradivari is a myth or not. ...

There is a new article (available online) in The Strad where Vengerov basically says he buys the idea that Stradivarius 'knew something no one else knows'. (Apparently Antonio did not even tell his sons.) Vengerov says that all the 50 or so Strads he tried were radically different. If you believe Vengerov--Szyering of course was less excited about Strads (although he had special affection for his late and odd-looking del Gesu)--anyone looking for the secret of Stradivarius, is looking for a secret which made all his violins very different from one another.

On the question of learning, instead of asking questions (though I do too...) try picking up a violin or two, pluck the strings, make it sound. Of course steer clear of the worst instruments. Mr. Darnton is obviously right to spell out that speaking literally, not all violins can sound great. As well as handling violins, and hearing them live, I suggest commissioning a violin from a patient maker. And maybe commission a bow, bearing in mind that this changes the sound too. It is such fun buying instruments, and good to support this cottage industry if at all possible. I see it as putting something back, as well as acquiring something beautiful.

 

 

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There is such a large elephant in the room.

We are ALL susceptible to suggestion.

If we strongly desire the best - and are told repeatedly by our peers that "X" is the best - we will believe it IS the best - especially if it is a good product to begin with.

Then - of course the market (the experts) must support the suggestion, reinforcing the belief, etc.

In short - in this scenario it is easy to believe what we want to believe.

It will take the differing opinion of a growing village to change this mindset.

Example:

1. Millenials don't necessarily WANT to learn how to drive or own a car. So? Who will be supporting that industry?

2. Millenials don't necessarily want to be tied down and own a house. What will happen to the housing market?

 

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The questioning title of this thread was pretty much ignored. If you have an instrument that needs to be improved, where do you start? I tackle the tightness of the soundpost for starters. Next, I check the nut, then the bridge making sure they are cut correctly. If these are OK,I ask myself about its construction such as weights and anything "different" done in making it. At this point there is little room for improving it.

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I am sure that I have said many times before that all of my response issues went away when I learned to arch properly, and that for me this meant developing a holistic (by this I mean that the whole arching is unified by a single mathematical formula, which leads to some interesting and observable structural consistencies; I think that part is important!) strategy based on curtate cycloids, deriving the various aspects of what I do from good Cremonese violins.

With that, it's not necessary to make light violins to have responsive ones (and simply making with less wood causes all sorts of other problems that I don't have to deal with now). Now I have made violins as thick as 7.0/3.5mm in the back and 4.0mm in the top that are open sounding and fast, and really pop with minimal input. So that's fixed, for me.

Yes, if you're working on something that's finished and not your own, a good setup is about the only option you have for every problem you face. .  . or removing weight somewhere, if regraduation is appropriate, to remove inertia and then declaring the violin is now magically "tuned".

The issue of variable complexity has been a much harder problem, but from reading this thread and tallying the responses, I gather that there are quite a large proportion of posters here who variously don't care about this, believe it's the violinist's problem, think good violins are a myth, didn't understand the question, or consider the characteristic undesirable and prefer a monochromatic instrument as long as the monochrome is a "good" one. So maybe this isn't the venue for that discussion. Too bad.

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5 hours ago, Michael Darnton said:

I am sure that I have said many times before that all of my response issues went away when I learned to arch properly, and that for me this meant developing a holistic (by this I mean that the whole arching is unified by a single mathematical formula, which leads to some interesting and observable structural consistencies; I think that part is important!) strategy based on curtate cycloids, deriving the various aspects of what I do from good Cremonese violins.

With that, it's not necessary to make light violins to have responsive ones (and simply making with less wood causes all sorts of other problems that I don't have to deal with now). Now I have made violins as thick as 7.0/3.5mm in the back and 4.0mm in the top that are open sounding and fast, and really pop with minimal input. So that's fixed, for me.

Yes, if you're working on something that's finished and not your own, a good setup is about the only option you have for every problem you face. .  . or removing weight somewhere, if regraduation is appropriate, to remove inertia and then declaring the violin is now magically "tuned".

The issue of variable complexity has been a much harder problem, but from reading this thread and tallying the responses, I gather that there are quite a large proportion of posters here who variously don't care about this, believe it's the violinist's problem, think good violins are a myth, didn't understand the question, or consider the characteristic undesirable and prefer a monochromatic instrument as long as the monochrome is a "good" one. So maybe this isn't the venue for that discussion. Too bad.

The difference between my high-grade and pleasing Mirecourt workshop instrument (1930s) and my two better, recent master-made instruments in respect of variety of sound and 'responsiveness' to player input is inescapable. The maker of the latter has not told me his views, though I suspect they would not have been any more informative than some of the above responses. That does not mean he does not care. He might have said that since the violins were close copies (though still identifiably his work) of a DG with fairly thick plates (the '1745') and one of the 1713 Strads, so far as he had succeeded in copying, with the assitance of plaster casts as well as pictures, they stood a good chance of turning out well as a package. In a sense, that is all one needs in a violin as far as I can see as an amateur fiddler and a customer? Of course, the geometrical approach to arching is interesting.

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When I started thinking about arching this way, my first attempt was to copy. The second was to copy, but attempt to correct. Third, I used geometry to recompute, as a means of correction. Finally, I started looking at the general trends of masses of similar instruments, trying to understand the source concepts and make a source rendition rather than a copy. Each approach was an improvement, but I think the geometrical approach was better in that when I started doing that I became more aware of the nuances of what I was copying that I had previously ignored. But any of those methods were better than what I had previously been doing by eye.

I really only want to hint this, but the confirmation of a holistic component to the whole arch was  a big deal to me, and the best evidence of this was not my own discovery but was something pointed out to me by one of my summer workshop participants.

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MD, could you give a youtube example of what you mean by monochromatic and bad?  I know of an example or two that I would call monochromantic and good,  to me Nate with his usual instrument is in that category.  To me it's like consistent pleasing sound...not so much like a shop vac.

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I guess I've said this before, so here goes: I can only take three minutes of Christian Tetzlaff through headphones. I start out by thinking "that's not a bad violin", which is not a bad start, then after a couple of minutes my ears are wondering if the sound will ever change. By three minutes, I'm sick of hearing the same sound over and over again. 

 

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On 7/1/2018 at 8:02 PM, Quadibloc said:

1.  I am only an interested layperson.

2.  Up to now, what I have been doing, even if it did not seem that way, was trying to learn in my own poor, fumbling way. 

3.  An example of a wrong question would be: "How would I go about making a violin that sounds as good as a Stradivarius?" - that would produce all kinds of answers, I would have no idea which of them to believe.

4.  but if you do not understand how I am thinking, you will not know what information I am really looking for)

5.  The violins of Antonio Stradivari have been praised for the beauty of their tone, and for how well they project. However, other makers of violins, both classical and modern, have been able to approach or even exceed his violins in those respects; I can mention Domenico Montagnana and Jacob Stainer for sweetness of tone, and Joseph Guarneri del Gesu for projection - but I don't have to resort to referring to makers whose violins go for high prices at auction. Many modern makers also achieve similar heights in these traits.

6.  On the other hand, at least some concert soloists, when speaking of Stradivarius violins, single out a third trait for praise, and they often appear to claim that this virtue is Stradivari's unique point of excellence.

7.  Any violin, even the cheapest student violin, will make different sounds when bowed, or plucked, or when the strings are struck with the wooden part of the bow.

8.  But a Stradivarius, they say, has a deep reservoir of tonal resources waiting for the dedicated performer who takes the time and effort to learn how to bring them out.

9.  Expressiveness is a very basic virtue of the violin, so I would presume that any violin that is of good quality has it to a degree. To have that trait par excellence, presumably a Stradivarius violin not only has several different "voices", but it has several different very good voices.

So here is/are my question(s):

This expressiveness, this versatility:

1a  - is it something that modern violin makers consciously strive for, in general?

2a  - are modern makers doing well enough in general at this that this characteristic of the violin gives no more substance to the "Stradivarius myth" than tone and projection?

3a  - are any modern makers particularly noted for the expressiveness/versatility of their violins?

4a  - what design features of a violin should be emphasized, or what design techniques should be utilized, to improve the expressiveness/versatility of a violin?

1.  Can you define layperson as it would describe you?  That sounds like you're sitting in a shop somewhere just starting out learning the trade weather it be rehairing bows or front desk work.

2.  I spent close to two years lurking before I made a first post or comment.

3.   Pick an easy Strad plan like a 1720 or 21 low archer and don't stop making that plan until you have run out of options on how to capture the Stradivari spirit.  Don't do what I did and just pick different random plans and ideas just to make something.  That takes too long to learn what's right or what can be right.

4.   Not a sink or swim situation though, just a learn to crawl before walk ideal.

5.   There's enough in this paragraph to start five or six different topics.    I guess if it's written you won't forget it, right? 

6.  More than likely the fiddle just hits a pinnacle of it's timbre and just stays there with interesting sound and then player finds out there's just a little bit more in the tank tone enhancement wise vs just remaining a mundane player.  I mean really, what else could it be other than one holding a mini goldmine in their hands?

7.  You could check out Fiddlermans fiddles, the Met museum Amati's and other playable pieces of art or JB's violin repair videos or West Country violins sound clips for more diversity of sound.  You know, sound is subjective.  

8.  Refer back to #6.

9.  Probably true but if all I had was a $100.00 fiddle to work with I'd express those pieces of glued together wood until I'm satisfied that's all I'm gonna get out of this tone and power wise.  Might get lucky and find a sleeper.

1a  Depends on their mood.  I'd think make the thing playable first then go from there.  This would be a situation where half-hearted determination will not be better than no effort at all.

2a  Matching a Strad tone could take years after the build is complete.  The idea is to try to get close at the beginning, if one wants to go that route, and chase Stradivari with successive builds.

3a   I'm willing to bet several from the old Newark school [England] are known for what you're searching for.

4a  I remember Mr. Mendenhall mentioning a slightly wider c bout area can be a major difference.  Most definetly one would want to get his/her arching heights and lengths in the right for starters.  Gotta know your wood too.  Good accessories, good bridge wood will help.  I'm a believer in getting the neck and fingerboard as right as possible for good playability and sound enhancement/detraction, if needed.

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I listened to some of his S&P on youtube just now to refresh my memory, and to me the sound isn't special to begin with and I want to hear it change into something more interesting.  With Sony mdr-7506 headphones, typical broadcast monitoring headphones.

Here's an example of what I consider monochromantic and good, and it would be interesting to me how you react.  Change the youtube url to read /watch?v=0UCftRz9aF0 , or search for "Berliner Philharmoniker Violin Master Class R. Strauss, Don Juan".  I'd just put the link in but I don't want to booger the thread with embedded video :)  What do you think of that sound, please?  Speaking of the student.

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9 minutes ago, Bill Merkel said:

 I'd just put the link in but I don't want to booger the thread with embedded video :)  What do you think of that sound, please? 

you can turn off the preview and leave it as a simple link like this (click Display as a link instead)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0UCftRz9aF0

 

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OK, I can pull out the same headphones, too. . . . Yeah, by 1:00 I had enough. On the overall, phrases like the few fast notes at 1:30 are just all scratch to me, hardly any real note, which is something I can't take for very long, anyway. Also notice how at 0:58 each successive double stop sounds exactly like the one on either side. There's nothing unique about each pair----like a synthesizer, not a violin.

Related: I have had people test violins by playing the same note on neighboring strings and listening to see that they sound the same. As one distinguished player said to me "I have that note here already; why would I want the same note there? I want all the possible choices I can have!" Speaking of synthesizers: I had someone reject an instrument after only playing a slide up each string: "I could never own something like this! Each note is different!" The musician with me just shrugged and we packed and left. 

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Funny, I hear it differently.  The teacher demo at 3:09 of her 1:30 is even rougher, very in the character of the piece.  Her 0:58 might improve with more attention but it's independent of the sound to me.

Here's a Heifetz recording that to me tends toward good monochromatic.  There's a much clearer version of this that I can't find that includes some warming up at the beginning.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EbX3frq3Qyo

 

Re: notes sounding different on different strings, I was once told that one mark of a good fiddle (and good strings too)  is that they are similar...4th finger A should sound like open string, and sometimes B on the A will sound nice and clear while  the same note on the D sounds stuffy.  I think it is way easier as a player to make them sound different than to make them sound the same, if they don't want to!    I'm not competitive about my ideas; just like to learn and find useful things.

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I do know there are a lot of sides to this. For instance American orchestral practice promotes a style of playing I think is relatively monochromatic and predictable, though I doubt the practitioners of it see that. I have a friend who plays very expressively who got close to a lot of major orchestra jobs and was accepted as a temp in several, but couldn't ever land a job, for several years. Then she went to Europe and got a concertmistress position in her very first audition. Me, I loved her tone, but also know some people who would have dismissively said she had none, since she couldn't crank the orchestral afterburners. So there's that, and that's a major position in the violin world--American orchestra drone who makes every note in every position sound exactly like the 20 people around him sound, and needs a violin that does that. But those aren't the people I want to listen to recreationally as soloists.

I believe, but other's would know, that this represents a real difference between American and European style. The problem, if it is one, is the training of this style to musicians because it's necessary for a job, then extrapolating that this is the best style for solo or quartet sounds. And this may be why most of my listening is to violinists from 50 or more years ago.

The problem I have with the masterclass at :58 is that I know where this lack of separation and clarity in notes comes from. Sure, a great violinist can do those things on a tin can,  but a great violin does separation and clarity on its own, for almost everyone. Then the question is, would you rather give 20% of that moment's attention to babying your way through this on a tin can, or is it better to have those brain cells and technique directed towards musicality? That's a rhetorical question.

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