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Why some violins "carry" better than others

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30 minutes ago, sospiri said:

I don't see anything in them that thousand of luthiers around the world aren't doing.

All violins are made pretty much the same... spruce, maple, carved, glued... including Strads and Guarneris played by top soloists.  The construction differences are not obvious, but some of us hear (and I guess measure as well, as Marty referenced) significant differences.  Certain modern makers seem to have a knack of winning blind tone tests, too.  However, if you think everything sounds about the same, then none of this matters.

I tend to think that the performance differences are real, and want to understand the not-so-obvious reasons why that might be.

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I'd think that part of what people will one day figure out is what calls your ear, or brain, to the sound of a particular violin over another, or over an orchestra full of loud instruments. Players control a lot of that with articulation, but people have talked about projection as cutting through the orchestral sound for a long, long time, and there's probably something to that. Producing a sound that somehow our ears can easily latch onto.

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My take, as a player, is that the player make the sound. I don't have any credentials to make statements, so you may read my comments with a pinch of salt.

Many of my peers, as well as young players, often play with strong bow grip. I experimented with different way to hold the bow, slight changes in finger placement will change the quality of sound. More so with the finger strength when holding the bow. Menuhin once said one should hold the bow as if one is picking up a newborn bird.

My finding is that with very light bow hold, and with the right finger placement, I was able to draw a strong sound that sounded clear at a distance. Strong grip will disturb the overtones in a way, while not enough to sound bad, but hurt the "carrying ability" - ultimately suppressing the overtones. However, such playing is seductive, player will hear huge sound coming out from the instrument, and to certain extent, intonation became easier and more forgiving. 

Another aspect on carrying power is about the singer's formant, I've heard a soprano overwhelming a grand piano (who probably didn't realize what's happening) and filling up the stage, when I listen at the back of the hall. I've been trying to mimic that by changing how I bow, with very positive results. Coincidentally, strong bow grip will tend to suppress what I call the "rich and ringing" region of the spectrum, it'll just take away that sound that fill up the ears.

Also, when an instrument is played in a way where overtones vibrate smoothly, for a long period of time, the instrument will eventually develop stronger overtones that will carry. A few observations I gathered over the years:

1) a new Cremonese made violin, didn't sound very lively or ringing at first, eventually rings better after playing on it for a while. This violin had been played previously by other player for a short period of time before returning onto the shelf.

2) 3 violins from same (another) living cremonese maker, 2 belongs to my friend and he had it for few years, and I have 1 my own for few years too. Mine sounded very different from his, while both of his violins sounded very similar. Interestingly, he also just acquired an older (newly restored) violin, that also sounded similar albeit better in response. I can almost feel his playing in the violin.

And a few more similar observations.

We often hear the violin doesn't make the player. And we also hear some violins better suited to certain players. We will never sound like Heifetz by just playing on his del gesu. I believe the instrument alone doesn't make "carrying power" complete without putting the player into the equation.

EDIT: with rare exceptions from the above remarks, I've heard a fantastic soloist played twice in the same hall with same orchestra, but one with Strad, and one with modern. The Strad just had the special sound it almost sounded as if he's playing right in front of me. The modern just didn't have that...

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On ‎12‎/‎10‎/‎2019 at 6:46 PM, JohnCockburn said:

"Carl Stross" would have loved this thread. I wonder what happened to him?

He got into an argument he couldn't win about how violins should be valued in price according to their tone, as if that could be objectively measured???

It didn't go well. Now the same people who argued that the market doesn't work that way are trying to convince me that although it doesn't work for tone, it does work for projection.

On ‎12‎/‎11‎/‎2019 at 3:46 PM, martin swan said:

No this is direct relevant experience. 

And we aren't here to give you what you want, we're here to offer what we have - it's up to you to take it on or not.

Please try to be less reductive in your arguments then.

23 hours ago, Marty Kasprzyk said:

Claudia Fritz has shown a 94% correlation between a large group listener ratings of projection in music halls with dB loudness as measured with a sound meter.

Joseph Curtin said there was a 2.5dB difference between the violins with the least and most power.

 

Physical attributes can be measured objectively.  People just have trouble believing the results.

The auditorium has many resonant peaks, which may enhance or detract from each instruments' tone and projection.

23 hours ago, David Burgess said:

Please try to open your eyes.

Don has undertaken many experiments which I, and many other career fiddle-makers could never afford to do.

I listen a lot, play a lot and think a lot about all of this. Y'all are kinda missing the point anyways. I'm saying that there are thousand of luthiers making huge number of instrument who are lowly paid but making fantastic instruments. You're saying that there is an exclusive club of craftsmen who can carve something better sounding. I don't believe this, I believe that they spend more time making more attractive looking instruments which they can keep in service for the player.

The Chinese musical instrument Revolution has happened. It's 30 years old. It was beautiful and peaceful revolution. Embrace it. It doesn't detract from your market, it probably enhances it because now any student can have a wonderfully made instrument for the first time in history and some of them will be your future clients.

Even Comrade Stross can't deny these facts.

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23 hours ago, Don Noon said:

All violins are made pretty much the same... spruce, maple, carved, glued... including Strads and Guarneris played by top soloists.  The construction differences are not obvious, but some of us hear (and I guess measure as well, as Marty referenced) significant differences.  Certain modern makers seem to have a knack of winning blind tone tests, too.  However, if you think everything sounds about the same, then none of this matters.

I tend to think that the performance differences are real, and want to understand the not-so-obvious reasons why that might be.

I think a skilled luthier feels the point where to stop carving. I wonder if Curtin's explanations miss the point that maybe Stradivari made the bellies so thin because it helped make that judgement more precise and so he could actually work faster doing it this way?

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21 minutes ago, sospiri said:

>

The auditorium has many resonant peaks, which may enhance or detract from each instruments' tone and projection.

>

Its well known that some music halls are better than others.  I suppose it's possible to have a bad hall make a poorly projecting instrument project well.  But I don't think that would be better projection than a good instrument in a good hall.  I'm unable to guess which is better:  a bad instrument in a good hall or a a good instrument in a bad hall.

If you skip the hall and played the instruments outside, where there are no resonance peaks,  the louder instruments will still probably sound louder.

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12 hours ago, Casey Jefferson said:

 

EDIT: with rare exceptions from the above remarks, I've heard a fantastic soloist played twice in the same hall with same orchestra, but one with Strad, and one with modern. The Strad just had the special sound it almost sounded as if he's playing right in front of me. The modern just didn't have that...

Perhaps I could share a recent experience and that might help to clarify the issue and eliminate some red herrings.

I recently met with a very good soloist at the Philharmonie in Berlin, the home of the Berlin Philharmonic and probably one of the best concert halls in the world. The task at hand was to choose between two violins, both made by the same maker and both from this maker's best period, made within 2 years of each other.

Aside from the player and myself, there were two other people present, one a trusted friend and the other an excellent violinist who had the trust of the player. They were both sitting in the body of the hall, one in the middle and the other in the back row.

I brought one of these violins with me, the other had been on loan to the player for a few months, and it was throughly familiar to them. This violin had had a lot of "playing in" whereas the instrument I brought has been out of action for a long time. In fact it had been played for about 2 minutes in the last couple of years.

The player was centre stage, and at first I was sitting on the side of the stage. I had previously sold a bow to this player, and I knew them to be rigorous and methodical - we had gone through a similar process, though with the bows the whole thing was done blind.

From the side of the stage, the difference between violin A and violin B was very striking . Violin A was lovely, absolutely nothing wrong with it, but violin B had significantly better articulacy, audibility, what I would call "presence". Having some skin in the game, and doubting my ears and my objectivity, I thought I should go and sit in the middle of the hall. The player worked methodically between the two instruments, playing the same excerpts in the same way with the same bow, saying nothing, just taking it in. 

From the middle of the hall the effect was even more striking. The violins sounded remarkably similar, but with violin B I felt the sound was between my eyes, pin-sharp and with every nuance audible. 

At some point the other violinist came and played, and the player went and sat at the back of the hall.

We did this for about an hour and a half without any discussion, and then everyone got together to discuss.

The verdict was unanimous - violin B had "more",  and for all of us the feeling was the same. From any seat in the hall it felt like we were close to it whereas violin A was out of focus. Our relationship with the music was completely different, and as soon as violin B was played, we were involved in all the nuances - the playing just felt more involving, more dynamic, more expressive.

So from this little anecdote we can eliminate the effects of the hall, the player, and the bow. It was undeniable that even amongst the greatest and most revered violins in the world, some project better than others, even dramatically so.

We could also discount the notion of great violins necessarily needing years of habituation or playing in. The violin that had been in cold storage was immediately more responsive and awake than the violin that the player had been using regularly on a concert stage.

If you ask me what the elements of great projection are, I believe that you need 3 things. The first is volume, just good old dBs. The second is some ability to radiate that volume in all directions - not sure how that works, but the second player noted that this violin didn't resonate much under the chin. Very little energy seemed to go into making one's chin vibrate! The third element is high frequency content - not the bridge hill stuff around 3kHz which makes violins sound nasty, but the frequencies we tweak to make instruments poke out of a stereo image - probably 7-9kHz. 

I was in the very back of Wells Cathedral for the Messiah last weekend - the sound was abysmal, a distant mush. But one thing arrived instantly and with great clarity - sibilance. Every "s" was in my face, everything else was mud.

I think it's a mistake to think of projection as one thing - obviously players can project to varying degrees, but there are also several components in the instrument.

FInal point, for a soloist, this is pretty much the only thing that matters, the confidence that someone far away from you in a concert hall has the greatest possible chance of becoming emotionally involved in the performance which you have put so much effort and study into delivering ...

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7 minutes ago, Marty Kasprzyk said:

Its well known that some music halls are better than others.  I suppose it's possible to have a bad hall make a poorly projecting instrument project well.  But I don't think that would be better projection than a good instrument in a good hall.  I'm unable to guess which is better:  a bad instrument in a good hall or a a good instrument in a bad hall.

If you skip the hall and played the instruments outside, where there are no resonance peaks,  the louder instruments will still probably sound louder.

How far away are those Coyotes you hear at night?

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28 minutes ago, sospiri said:

Well Hallelujah, violin B wins in that hall on that day.

That was me being less reductive in my arguments. But I'm not surprised to find you sneering ... it seems you don't have much tolerance for the world in which these things matter.

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8 minutes ago, martin swan said:

That was me being less reductive in my arguments. But I'm not surprised to find you sneering ... it seems you don't have much tolerance for the world in which these things matter.

Thanks for the longer post, Martin.  A very useful anecdote, with plenty of detail.  :)

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57 minutes ago, martin swan said:

If you ask me what the elements of great projection are, I believe that you need 3 things. The first is volume, just good old dBs.

Which should be easily measurable. But according to a post above, when this is done, there is only a 2.5dB difference between the most and least projecting instrument in the test. This would only account for a very small difference in perceived volume.

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1 hour ago, martin swan said:

not sure how that works, but the second player noted that this violin didn't resonate much under the chin.

I think this is an interesting observation. I've always thought that violins that "feel" dead under the chin are actually projecting better.

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11 minutes ago, JohnCockburn said:

Which should be easily measurable. But according to a post above, when this is done, there is only a 2.5dB difference between the most and least projecting instrument in the test. This would only account for a very small difference in perceived volume.

Actually I don't think so - you could add 2.5dB at about 7-8 kHz and make an immense difference to perceived volume.

Probably to get a handle on this you would have to break up the frequency range into quite small segments and look at it on that level. 

 

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5 minutes ago, martin swan said:

Actually I don't think so - you could add 2.5dB at about 7-8 kHz and make an immense difference to perceived volume.

Probably to get a handle on this you would have to break up the frequency range into quite small segments and look at it on that level. 

 

Maybe, but as far as I'm aware the Curtin measurement wasn't frequency specific?

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On 12/10/2019 at 8:46 PM, JohnCockburn said:

"Carl Stross" would have loved this thread. I wonder what happened to him?

I see you miss me.

1. My posts must be approved by the moderator - that means it can take up to two days to show and then they're buried somewhere on the previous pages. Makes posting a waste of time. I chat by email with people I am interested in discussing things with, anyway.

2. The Pegbox seems to be mostly about what sort of violin is this instead of how violins work. I have no interest in the first one.

3. Martin Swan complained my posts are too long. I was explaining why violin necks break off at the block - a very non-trivial thing and my long post irritated some. I apologized and deleted it.

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13 minutes ago, JohnCockburn said:

Maybe, but as far as I'm aware the Curtin measurement wasn't frequency specific?

No you're right, and I think that's the problem with it. You could register an overall difference of 2.5dB between two violins, and yet one could have a great deal more carrying power than the other.

For example, the 2 violins I talked about above were both more or less as loud in general terms, but one had a lot more energy where it counts.

By the by, most of the data I see for violins has a built-in cutoff around 7 kHz, which is a bit crazy. Even if you suffer from high frequency hearing loss, the more there is going on just above that the better.

 

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14 minutes ago, Carl Stross said:

I see you miss me.

1. My posts must be approved by the moderator - that means it can take up to two days to show and then they're buried somewhere on the previous pages. Makes posting a waste of time. I chat by email with people I am interested in discussing things with, anyway.

2. The Pegbox seems to be mostly about what sort of violin is this instead of how violins work. I have no interest in the first one.

3. Martin Swan complained my posts are too long. I was explaining why violin necks break off at the block - a very non-trivial thing and my long post irritated some. I apologized and deleted it.

Hi Carl, long time no row!

I may have complained that your tirades were too long (to be frank I don't remember that), but I have nothing against long posts per se ... on the subject of tone and projection I always found your insights very interesting if a bit dogmatic and authoritarian in tone.

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2 hours ago, sospiri said:

1. He got into an argument he couldn't win about how violins should be valued in price according to their tone, as if that could be objectively measured???

It didn't go well. Now the same people who argued that the market doesn't work that way are trying to convince me that although it doesn't work for tone, it does work for projection.

Please try to be less reductive in your arguments then.

The auditorium has many resonant peaks, which may enhance or detract from each instruments' tone and projection.

2. I listen a lot, play a lot and think a lot about all of this. Y'all are kinda missing the point anyways.

3. I'm saying that there are thousand of luthiers making huge number of instrument who are lowly paid but making fantastic instruments. You're saying that there is an exclusive club of craftsmen who can carve something better sounding. I don't believe this, I believe that they spend more time making more attractive looking instruments which they can keep in service for the player.

The Chinese musical instrument Revolution has happened. It's 30 years old. It was beautiful and peaceful revolution. Embrace it. It doesn't detract from your market, it probably enhances it because now any student can have a wonderfully made instrument for the first time in history and some of them will be your future clients.

4. Even Comrade Stross can't deny these facts.

1. No, he did not. Are you confusing me with Danube Fidler ??? ( Or something like that...) . And some categories of violins are priced according to their tone. 

2. I believe you. I don't understand what is the exact point we are all missing. You'll remember you promised me a recording of one of your  linseed oil treated violins. Still waiting and I am pretty sure you got that microphone by now.

3. You need to change fantastic into good. Lots and lots of luthiers make perfectly usable, good instruments. Some make excellent instruments. I haven't heard a fantastic one yet.

4. Comrade Stross does not deny it. But you should drop the "wonderfully made". They're good, some might be even excellent. That's about it. I've seen some superb Chinese instruments which were made in the 50s though. 

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We don't currently have a goos way to measure how much of the sound volume is 'signal' versus how much is 'noise'.   I beleive it happens that a violin that throws a little more energy into higher frequencies sounds that are either not the signal, or are distortions from the signal made somewhat less coherent from being distorted, such instrument will sound loud under the ear, but not carry so well.

Instruments that put more energy in high frequency, but have a better portion of the energy in coherent musical signal will have good carry and sound loud up close.

But instruments with a good portion of energy in coherent signal, but balance more toward lower partials however are likely to carry well, but not be so loud up close.

I don't think we have a good way to measure these things, but that is my working hypothesis.

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56 minutes ago, JohnCockburn said:

Which should be easily measurable. But according to a post above, when this is done, there is only a 2.5dB difference between the most and least projecting instrument in the test. This would only account for a very small difference in perceived volume.

Reading this, it seems as if 2.5dB wouldn't be considered a big difference between two instruments - just curious, but what would be?

By my quick estimation this would equate to the most powerful having ~180% the power of least powerful, which seems pretty significant to me. I guess I am missing something?

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20 minutes ago, martin swan said:

Hi Carl, long time no row!

I may have complained that your tirades were too long (to be frank I don't remember that), but I have nothing against long posts per se ... on the subject of tone and projection I always found your insights very interesting if a bit dogmatic and authoritarian in tone.

You are absolutely right. Do accept my apologies.

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4 hours ago, martin swan said:

you could add 2.5dB at about 7-8 kHz and make an immense difference to perceived volume.

I know my ears aren't all that great at this frequency range, but I tried boosting this range by 6 dB in the middle of a solo violin recording, and couldn't hear the difference.  So I tried 12 dB, and it sounded like fingernails on a chalkboard.

IMO the frequencies that matter (to my ears, anyway) are below that range.

You could give a big boost to these extremely high frequencies by taking off as much mass as possible from the top of the bridge, and then wedging the gaps at the kidneys.  Fingernails on a chalkboard again.

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53 minutes ago, notsodeepblue said:

Reading this, it seems as if 2.5dB wouldn't be considered a big difference between two instruments - just curious, but what would be?

By my quick estimation this would equate to the most powerful having ~180% the power of least powerful, which seems pretty significant to me. I guess I am missing something?

2.5dB is  about 180% more power but about 119% more loudness, which is what we perceive. Also, the relationship between loudness and sound pressure levels varies with frequency. It's complicated.

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