Sign in to follow this  
kayjay

Vocabulary of tone descriptions?

Recommended Posts

Greetings - 

1 - Does anyone have suggestions or resources learning the vocabulary to describe violin tones/sounds? Eg, what do brash, sweet, warm, mellow sound like in relation to each other.

2 - How much subjectivity is involved in describing a tone? Eg, is a given tone likely to be described as "sweet" by most listeners, or might half of them say sweet and the other half say warm (or some other similar descriptor).

I'm guessing this is a highly complex and nuanced topic. (I also appreciate this may involve decades of experience listening and making). But on a starting level,  I am specifically wondering what resources may be available to learn a basic vocabulary to assign to tones I hear and understand the differences. Is it absurd to have a digital recordings of a bunch of tones with their associated descriptors, side by side for comparison?

(Wasn't sure whether to post here or on the fingerboard!)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, donbarzino said:

Michael Darnton has written an excellent essay on this subject.

http://www.darntonviolins.com/violinmagazine/book/UnderstandingTone.pdf

This is brilliant.

I have always told my students that descriptions of sound are meaningless, because listener has no frame of reference for what you are describing. This article, which I will keep an refer to frequently, goes along way towards Addressing that problem. Thank you very much for sharing it.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, PhilipKT said:

This is brilliant.

I have always told my students that descriptions of sound are meaningless, because listener has no frame of reference for what you are describing. This article, which I will keep an refer to frequently, goes along way towards Addressing that problem. Thank you very much for sharing it.

It is brilliant, Dig that glossary! My 1 to 10 score seems so naive now, with 1 being a yowling cat, 5 being a caterwauling cat, and 10 being a full-on cat fight on top of the neighbor's fence.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

What you need now is validation - someone to test a load of guinea pigs (makers, players, listeners etc, separately grouped if you can find enough of them) to see whether their tonal assessments of various violins agree at all. You may find they agree well on some parameters, poorly on others which can therefore be discarded. Also many of the parameters are likely to be strongly correlated with one another, like "brightness" and "brilliance". Identifying these will enable the questionnaire to be collapsed to a manageable length. There's a PhD in it for someone.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I am trying to get better at hearing/describing the different tonal qualities of instruments, so I find this to be a very interesting discussion. Thank you donbarzino for sharing the paper from Michael. It would be helpful for me (and maybe others) to be able to listen to some examples of the qualities Michael describes to make sure “nasal” (as an example) means the same for me as it does for others.

I am therefore wondering whether some of the more experienced players, makers, and connoisseurs here on the forum would be willing to post examples of recordings (freely accessible on the web) that they find to be good “learning examples”. https://brobstviolinshop.com could maybe be a source since they have many recordings for their instruments from the same player and we can all listen to the same thing. Or maybe youtube? Are there examples that showcase a strong “nasal” quality, very uneven sound across the different strings, a very harsh sound (maybe vs a very smooth one), a lack of clarify etc. 

A bit short of a PhD thesis but maybe helpful anyways…

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks, all, for the comments. If I were to rewrite that article, there are a few things I'd change, of course. One thing I've noticed is that not all players will use the same word to describe a sound, but they usually will come up with a word I haven't heard before, rather than "misuse" a word I've heard used for something else. That's not invariable. Usually the outliers are new terms, though, and that's useful in adding to the vocabulary. In a general way, I think that the players who "misuse" words do it consistently and have a fundamental communication problem that extends beyond instrument adjustment, so you need to learn their own quirky language, and then you're in.

There's a third category which is more interesting. An example is the word "response". I initially ran into it as a description of a string that's hard to start at low volume. A good example is when you see cellists flick the C string with a left hand finger when they attack with the bow, which is a sign that their C string lacks response. Or the buzzing of the violin section at the beginning of Sibelius, which needs response and clarity as opposed to scratching. This is usually a low string, low volume issue on any instrument.

Then I became aware that players also used the word "response" with regard to high pressure, fast playing, often on the higher strings, and in that context, my own audible clue is the lack of notes popping out like pearls when they're played fast--what I call "separation" in the article. So when someone says their violin lacks response, depending on what they were playing when they said that, I might either ask them to play softly and lightly on the lowest string OR play fast and hard--their fastest loud slurred scale on one of the two upper strings, for instance, to demonstrate the problem, and ask if they agree with what I hear. This kind of legitimate dual-purpose vocabulary is actually scarce, in my experience.

Of all the words I've heard players use, "sweet" is the one with the least consensus as to what it means, in my experience, though many mean a sound with a lot of higher partials below the nasty zone and maybe less core. But not the same as "bright" in that it's less harsh than that and more complex.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks much.  I wish there were more translations of acoustical measurements into player's language.

What does the term "core" mean to you?  

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Core......Yeah, that's a hard one. I have heard it stated by non-tech-minded players as a strong fundamental, but I think that this is wrong---that would just be a more dark, character-free (that is, tubby) sound than we usually like, I think, and none of that definition of core at all from the first position notes on the G string, since they have virtually no fundamental.

I'm inclined at this point to *speculate* that it has more to do with solid output from the first six harmonics, in a particular pattern: it might even have more to do with higher output in the second, third, maybe fourth, harmonics than the first or the later ones. That is, a rising spectral curve, then falling. I reiterate: that's a guess. I'm playing trumpet these days, and that's the definition of a good trumpet sound in the lower registers. And with trumpet, a strong fundamental means a lousy, tubby tone that no one wants. Trumpet is interesting because you can easily make these sounds and see what they look like in FFT.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
11 hours ago, matesic said:

What you need now is validation - someone to test a load of guinea pigs (makers, players, listeners etc, separately grouped if you can find enough of them) to see whether their tonal assessments of various violins agree at all. You may find they agree well on some parameters, poorly on others which can therefore be discarded. Also many of the parameters are likely to be strongly correlated with one another, like "brightness" and "brilliance". Identifying these will enable the questionnaire to be collapsed to a manageable length. There's a PhD in it for someone.

The need for some reference was crucial. For me, it was the LP. Fortunately, I lived a long bus ride away from a record store. I could simultaneously read a record review and make a purchase. Also I could make some bargain bin purchases with dimes and found Korla Pandid ( sp? ) and lesser artists.

My father having acquired and exported strange gear like Paragons and Macintosh overseas had modest gear at home. But because I played the most records, the purchase of Shure and Pickering cartridges were my job. It's still strange to think what my parents were thinking when they allowed me to purchase a LP Custom ( Gibson ) and Shure V15 cartridges with the money earned as a pre-teen. My father wanted me to purchase something acoustic, but most including the 335s with the larger lower bouts were too big. My father said he'd give me a few extra hundred if I bought a L5. 

Validation is a great word. Because of the need to sell gear, there were many publications that reviewed that products being sold. Stereo Review and Audio were magazines as well as the un-named British record review publications ( arriving months behind their publish dates ) that did descriptive classical LP reviews.

I purchased LPs because my sight reading was very bad. I did not know how certain concertos sounded, so the LP was a necessary crutch. When the teacher caught on, Hindemith and Martinu made it on to the stand. Fortunately, in the youth orchestra, there were a few other kids who listened to records and I was introduced to Yes, Pink Floyd and other interesting music. I new of Les Paul and Mary Ford, Chet Atkins, Paul Desmond, but progressive rock was new. At the time a $6 usd ( how many mowed yards?) Perlman LP was played probably 100 times ( each side, ) easily in the first week. It was not clear how much damage a needle does to the groove, as we know now, but while reading the sociology text, some record was playing.  

More to your point, it is considerably easier to access information now, but due to the amount of attention it takes, a considerable amount time is likely necessary to study or observe any piece of music. CDs make play back more easier while utube makes it easier to see playing what we are hearing. Certainly we do not want to increase the load here at MN, but twenty years ago, I hosted listening parties as there are reading clubs now. A dad or mom could get away for an evening, have a glass of wine and snacks, while listening to something most people were interested in. With help, Mahler and Brahms was easier to listen to and learn from? At the end of the party, the stragglers were better understanding themselves.

Food can be a point of fitting to words to taste. Everybody eats. Maybe we can agree on somethings in that arena.

If we share ideas of how things are heard, than that agreement might move some forward. There is another thread about where the word "fine" is being defined. The word might be coded, because auction talk defines it as expensive. A fine wine is not something most of us would open. At a trendy restaurant pushing bottles of time to 3x their value, it's taking those inexperienced into buying an experience.

Agreed that Professor Darnton's articles are meaningful. For those who read the link, we are closer to meeting or merging ideas. Some usage, like Bright vs Brilliant, might express courtesy or show more value than the other. And words and their meanings change. Dude, your Sartory is BAD! When playing someone's instrument, the choice of words might be important if you might want to be invited to play it again or anyone instrument. If you call Chi Mei's collection crap, don't expect to be invited back. It also takes time to affirm what it is that one hears.

Starting and working with generalizations might be the best for most of us. There are regional differences and biases. Be mindful. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
24 minutes ago, Michael Darnton said:

Core......Yeah, that's a hard one. I have heard it stated by non-tech-minded players as a strong fundamental, but I think that this is wrong---that would just be a more dark, character-free (that is, tubby) sound than we usually like, I think, and none of that definition of core at all from the first position notes on the G string, since they have virtually no fundamental.

 

Agreed. From my experiments, I have found that what most violinists describe as "core" is sourced more up in the 3 to 6 kilohertz region. Enhancing the 270ish region does little more than making a violin "tubby".

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

GoPractice, I think recordings are a poor source for understanding violin sound. To me, recorded violins don't resemble the real thing other than superficially, and many of the things I listen for in adjusting and that are available to live audiences are simply absent on recordings. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, GoPractice said:

The need for some reference was crucial. For me, it was the LP. Fortunately, I lived a long bus ride away from a record store. I could simultaneously read a record review and make a purchase. Also I could make some bargain bin purchases with dimes and found Korla Pandid ( sp? ) and lesser artists.

My father having acquired and exported strange gear like Paragons and Macintosh overseas had modest gear at home. But because I played the most records, the purchase of Shure and Pickering cartridges were my job. It's still strange to think what my parents were thinking when they allowed me to purchase a LP Custom ( Gibson ) and Shure V15 cartridges with the money earned as a pre-teen. My father wanted me to purchase something acoustic, but most including the 335s with the larger lower bouts were too big. My father said he'd give me a few extra hundred if I bought a L5. 

Validation is a great word. Because of the need to sell gear, there were many publications that reviewed that products being sold. Stereo Review and Audio were magazines as well as the un-named British record review publications ( arriving months behind their publish dates ) that did descriptive classical LP reviews.

I purchased LPs because my sight reading was very bad. I did not know how certain concertos sounded, so the LP was a necessary crutch. When the teacher caught on, Hindemith and Martinu made it on to the stand. Fortunately, in the youth orchestra, there were a few other kids who listened to records and I was introduced to Yes, Pink Floyd and other interesting music. I new of Les Paul and Mary Ford, Chet Atkins, Paul Desmond, but progressive rock was new. At the time a $6 usd ( how many mowed yards?) Perlman LP was played probably 100 times ( each side, ) easily in the first week. It was not clear how much damage a needle does to the groove, as we know now, but while reading the sociology text, some record was playing.  

More to your point, it is considerably easier to access information now, but due to the amount of attention it takes, a considerable amount time is likely necessary to study or observe any piece of music. CDs make play back more easier while utube makes it easier to see playing what we are hearing. Certainly we do not want to increase the load here at MN, but twenty years ago, I hosted listening parties as there are reading clubs now. A dad or mom could get away for an evening, have a glass of wine and snacks, while listening to something most people were interested in. With help, Mahler and Brahms was easier to listen to and learn from? At the end of the party, the stragglers were better understanding themselves.

Food can be a point of fitting to words to taste. Everybody eats. Maybe we can agree on somethings in that arena.

If we share ideas of how things are heard, than that agreement might move some forward. There is another thread about where the word "fine" is being defined. The word might be coded, because auction talk defines it as expensive. A fine wine is not something most of us would open. At a trendy restaurant pushing bottles of time to 3x their value, it's taking those inexperienced into buying an experience.

Agreed that Professor Darnton's articles are meaningful. For those who read the link, we are closer to meeting or merging ideas. Some usage, like Bright vs Brilliant, might express courtesy or show more value than the other. And words and their meanings change. Dude, your Sartory is BAD! When playing someone's instrument, the choice of words might be important if you might want to be invited to play it again or anyone instrument. If you call Chi Mei's collection crap, don't expect to be invited back. It also takes time to affirm what it is that one hears.

Starting and working with generalizations might be the best for most of us. There are regional differences and biases. Be mindful. 

Thanks for sharing what must have been a very rewarding life. You are a really good writer. But from the perspective of one who is still working, and one who values time and skill more than wordiness, would you consider shortening your  posts?

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
7 hours ago, Michael Darnton said:

Thanks, all, for the comments. If I were to rewrite that article, there are a few things I'd change, of course. One thing I've noticed is that not all players will use the same word to describe a sound, but they usually will come up with a word I haven't heard before, rather than "misuse" a word I've heard used for something else. That's not invariable. Usually the outliers are new terms, though, and that's useful in adding to the vocabulary. In a general way, I think that the players who "misuse" words do it consistently and have a fundamental communication problem that extends beyond instrument adjustment, so you need to learn their own quirky language, and then you're in.

There's a third category which is more interesting. An example is the word "response". I initially ran into it as a description of a string that's hard to start at low volume. A good example is when you see cellists flick the C string with a left hand finger when they attack with the bow, which is a sign that their C string lacks response. Or the buzzing of the violin section at the beginning of Sibelius, which needs response and clarity as opposed to scratching. This is usually a low string, low volume issue on any instrument.

Then I became aware that players also used the word "response" with regard to high pressure, fast playing, often on the higher strings, and in that context, my own audible clue is the lack of notes popping out like pearls when they're played fast--what I call "separation" in the article. So when someone says their violin lacks response, depending on what they were playing when they said that, I might either ask them to play softly and lightly on the lowest string OR play fast and hard--their fastest loud slurred scale on one of the two upper strings, for instance, to demonstrate the problem, and ask if they agree with what I hear. This kind of legitimate dual-purpose vocabulary is actually scarce, in my experience.

Of all the words I've heard players use, "sweet" is the one with the least consensus as to what it means, in my experience, though many mean a sound with a lot of higher partials below the nasty zone and maybe less core. But not the same as "bright" in that it's less harsh than that and more complex.

Thank you, Michael. So much packed into this and your article it’s amazing

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, David Burgess said:

Thanks for sharing what must have been a very rewarding life. You are a really good writer. But from the perspective of one who is still working, and one who values time and skill more than wordiness, would you consider shortening your  posts?

 

And I love this. With the respect obvious, you still gotta talk shit :D

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
12 hours ago, Christopher Jacoby said:

And I love this. With the respect obvious, you still gotta talk shit :D

Jacoby, haven't you and I talked sh**  back and forth a lot more than once? :lol:

Glad we can both get a kick out of it.

My respect is extended to you as well. :)

However, next time I see you, you might be due for an azz-kickin', if the staff at the old folks home don't restrain me. :P

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I know many of you will remember Will L. He was a Becker ambassador (having been a professional dealer of many fine instruments and a professional violinist for his whole career) and in one of the many conversations based loosely around this topic now being discussed here he described the "magic" well in this older thread. It's something the violinist knows and feels, and then the listener can sense it too, both by the violinist's body language and presumably also by what we can hear. Anyway, this is an intetesting old thread in general. I certainly miss Will Logan and his wonderful posts. I know this is a slightly different topic, but I think the idea of "deaf-testing" is very interesting to find that "magic" Michael Darnton mentioned, visually.

 

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Wait, wait, I'm still stuck on testing the load of guinea pigs! I mean, is it a little guinea pig orchestra with miniature instruments? Do the viola playing guinea pigs complain bitterly about the first violin?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
18 minutes ago, not telling said:

I know many of you will remember Will L. He was a Becker ambassador (having been a professional dealer of many fine instruments and a professional violinist for his whole career) and in one of the many conversations based loosely around this topic now being discussed here he described the "magic" well in this older thread. It's something the violinist knows and feels, and then the listener can sense it too, both by the violinist's body language and presumably also by what we can hear. Anyway, this is an intetesting old thread in general. I certainly miss Will Logan and his wonderful posts. I know this is a slightly different topic, but I think the idea of "deaf-testing" is very interesting to find that "magic" Michael Darnton mentioned, visually.

 

 

 

That's a good thread. Watching the player and reading his difficulties is an important part of the adjustment process. I remember watching a violin trial demonstration once where the player was playing the same passage on four different violins, in different orders. On one of the passages, every time she got to one violin she played the last measure or two, which was high on the E string, four times. When I saw that, I knew that something there was bothering her on that violin, and she was trying to find an approach that would make it work. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
10 hours ago, Marty Kasprzyk said:

What does the term "core" mean to you?  

Maybe an acronym for "Chinese Or Rumanian Exports"?  :ph34r:

On 5/5/2020 at 9:52 AM, kayjay said:

2 - How much subjectivity is involved in describing a tone? Eg, is a given tone likely to be described as "sweet" by most listeners, or might half of them say sweet and the other half say warm (or some other similar descriptor).

While many terms may not have much consensus,  most players and listeners seem to agree when they use "crappy", or some synonym.  :huh::lol: 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
4 hours ago, Fossil Ledges said:

Wait, wait, I'm still stuck on testing the load of guinea pigs! I mean, is it a little guinea pig orchestra with miniature instruments? Do the viola playing guinea pigs complain bitterly about the first violin?

I'm not an expert so this won't be a great explanation but what I'm suggesting is the same as the process of validation that a personality inventory has to undergo to obtain general acceptance.

If "brightness" is to be a useful descriptor of a violin's tone, then there has to be general (or at least statistically significant) agreement amongst the rodents that such-and-such a violin scores highly on the the "brightness" scale. When a lot of terms are tested, scores on some may be highly correlated; their information is redundant so you don't need to test them all. By statistical analysis you may find that there are a limited number of "factors" (umbrella terms) that describe most of the variance in the data, so it would be scientifically valid to say a certain violin scores 4.3+1.1 on factor A, 2.2+0.7 on factor B etc and you have a tool for objectively comparing every instrument's tone, albeit based on subjective data.

In personality inventories problems can arise when you start giving names to those factors. After testing a lot of criminals, Hans Eysenck identified a factor in their personality scores that he named "psychoticity". Unfortunately then it was found that artists also score highly on the same factor...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
10 hours ago, Michael Darnton said:

GoPractice, I think recordings are a poor source for understanding violin sound. To me, recorded violins don't resemble the real thing other than superficially, and many of the things I listen for in adjusting and that are available to live audiences are simply absent on recordings. 

I think that is also true. And appreciate your reminding me.  

But when one is young and with a limited world view and funds... I was taken to heard live music several times a week, but no one expressed observations about sound. Expression was limited to the actual critique of performances. With access to the internet, which is an assumption, information is available to develop a base of knowledge. I would do things differently now. 

Perhaps I gave the wrong impression. It was important to find a place where sound could be studied. Bright, harsh, deep, tubby. relaxed, tight. edgy, vague, shimmery, What did those words mean? Reading magazines and listening to LPs was the option. Locating old reviews and comparing what they hear now, assuming they are listening to the same source. can be a reference point. Karajan did have 3 Beethoven cycles. Listen to the reviewed edition.

Media is surprisingly inexpensive while hearing instruments in the raw is surprisingly dear for most. You and I hear line instruments perhaps most of the day. That's a benefit ( or curse ) of the position. The thoughts of a subjective impression by a reputable writer is there to be agreed upon, while an appreciation of a fine ( fill in the blank ) in the owners house can not be shared in the same way.  

"...and many of the things I listen for in adjusting and that are available to live audiences are simply absent on recordings." And perhaps absent past row R? It depends on the hall, but i am not certain that we catch all the the available details do the size of out current halls. I am grateful that you mention "superficially" as at least there are some similarities. As when recording guitars, what most people experience on recordings have very little to do with the blindingly loud tones produced in a limited space. The artist casually comments in interviews they used a ( Shure ) sm57 or sm58 on whatever cabinet, leaving our the fact most people can not reproduce the SPLs necessary to make those mics saturate. 

Perhaps listening to source material that is repeatable can be a foundation for developing a language to describe real instruments. 

My linking of the article to my own experience may have been misleading. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
6 hours ago, matesic said:

I'm not an expert so this won't be a great explanation but what I'm suggesting is the same as the process of validation that a personality inventory has to undergo to obtain general acceptance.

If "brightness" is to be a useful descriptor of a violin's tone, then there has to be general (or at least statistically significant) agreement amongst the rodents that such-and-such a violin scores highly on the the "brightness" scale. When a lot of terms are tested, scores on some may be highly correlated; their information is redundant so you don't need to test them all. By statistical analysis you may find that there are a limited number of "factors" (umbrella terms) that describe most of the variance in the data, so it would be scientifically valid to say a certain violin scores 4.3+1.1 on factor A, 2.2+0.7 on factor B etc and you have a tool for objectively comparing every instrument's tone, albeit based on subjective data.

In personality inventories problems can arise when you start giving names to those factors. After testing a lot of criminals, Hans Eysenck identified a factor in their personality scores that he named "psychoticity". Unfortunately then it was found that artists also score highly on the same factor...

Now there is some interesting reading!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest
This topic is now closed to further replies.
Sign in to follow this  

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.