What do you learn in Violin School?


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Hello everyone having served a five year apprenticeship as a Carpenter/Cabinet Maker.  I have now become interested in violin making I purchased several books and proceeded to make a violin. Because of my training and highly developed hand skills I had no difficulty in constructing a violin. As I am about to start violin number 10,  I began thinking  would I gain anything  from three year’s in violin making school? Thank you all in advance G

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So your "training and highly developed hand skills" have helped you build 10 violins! Has anybody reputable taken a look at your violins, and critiqued them? If not, you should have that done, and it may give you the answer to your question.

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Good point Doug I have had them played by professional violinists who remarked how well they sounded. However being hungry for more knowledge I was considering if I’d gain more by attending school. 

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You know how to sharpen and understand the value of flatness. I'd say get your work looked at by as many prominent makers as possible, note their observations well, understand that there will be contradictions between the advice of some and others, and meditate on what you've learned. Your next instruments will be better still.

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Thank you ShadowStrad as well as learning to construct instruments I did wonder if  tuning and graduation techniques would be on the syllabus. But I’m guessing this is something you learn after making meany violins. Having made nine instruments each one having different arching and graduations I’m Starting to get a little understanding of this. So i think I’ll forget school as I imagined attending school would give you access to “trade secrets “ not available to the man in the street. This may still be the case but I’m happy to continue  as I am. Thank you for your response G 

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6 hours ago, Marty Kasprzyk said:

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A bit bitchy Marty. I never suggested violin school was no damm good. Having trained to make furniture which included veneering and inlay work, constructing curved staircases and matching handrails etc etc. So turning my hand to violin making was not a huge step. The fact is it’s not difficult to make a violin. However how do you make a great sounding violin that would stand up to a Stradivarius or Guarneri? Meany years and a great number of instruments later you may achieve it. SO to get back to my original question WOULD I benefit from a three year course at violin school seeing as I can produce a good looking instrument for me it’s another piece of furniture. If you make a violin shaped object IT will sound like a violin, NOT a great sounding violin but a violin nevertheless. I have no interest in restoration work. Finally IF violin school only gives you the skill sett to produce instruments, I already have the skills. So I would imagine I would not gain a great deal. If you can work with wood to a high standard then you can turn your hand to other things. I would guess Stradivarius could produce quality furniture if he had been asked. Also I’m NOT belittling violin makers just for the record we all share the same hand skills just apply them to different shaped objects. This turned out a bit of a rant but i hope I have got my point across.

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Well I didn't study violin making but I studied a degree in Musical instruments at university which covered everything from acoustics to musicology with a large amount of workshop time for instrument making (mainly plucked strings). I had previously studied manufacturing engineering and had some experience in metal working and model making. My degree was not the greatest course in all honesty, but I learnt a lot about the history of music, acoustics, instrument design etc which I didn't know about before. It also helped me to get a job in the music tech industry working on keyboard prototypes / manufacturing. When I look back, I actually learnt more about instrument making itself from my peers on the course rather than the lecturers, but the other modules on the course were invaluable for helping me to understand how musical instruments work. I'm still learning now, but I'm grateful for the passion for musical instruments that the course gave me and I'm grateful for the friends and fellow makers I met along the way.

If a course can give you those benefits then it may be worth while, if it can't then I suggest talking to and befriending other makers and sharing your passion and learning from eachother.

I work with luthiers every day in my current job and I am constantly asking questions and discussing elements of instrument construction / design with them. It really is wonderful.

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5 hours ago, PhilipKT said:

I would love to see photos of your violins. Which part is hardest? I’m guessing either getting the graduations just right, or getting the varnish the right color.

I think getting the graduations right is one of the key stages to producing a great violin, and I think that takes a long time to develop. Regarding varnish I purchase the oil varnish. I have made spirit varnish and use various dyes to achieve the colour I desire. But test the varnish on scraps of wood first. 

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2 hours ago, GerardM said:

A bit bitchy Marty. I never suggested violin school was no damm good. Having trained to make furniture which included veneering and inlay work, constructing curved staircases and matching handrails etc etc. So turning my hand to violin making was not a huge step. The fact is it’s not difficult to make a violin. However how do you make a great sounding violin that would stand up to a Stradivarius or Guarneri? Meany years and a great number of instruments later you may achieve it. SO to get back to my original question WOULD I benefit from a three year course at violin school seeing as I can produce a good looking instrument for me it’s another piece of furniture. If you make a violin shaped object IT will sound like a violin, NOT a great sounding violin but a violin nevertheless. I have no interest in restoration work. Finally IF violin school only gives you the skill sett to produce instruments, I already have the skills. So I would imagine I would not gain a great deal. If you can work with wood to a high standard then you can turn your hand to other things. I would guess Stradivarius could produce quality furniture if he had been asked. Also I’m NOT belittling violin makers just for the record we all share the same hand skills just apply them to different shaped objects. This turned out a bit of a rant but i hope I have got my point across.

Nice rant. :)  This has been an interesting thread for me. I'm in my second career and retirement (again) is getting reasonably close. I started down the violin making path around 2012 and have made half as many instruments as yourself. Going to VM school has always sounded attractive to me (I like school). Some professional makers have seen my work and have asked "if you can do this why go to school? you'll just be wasting your time".  However, in life I have learned that the more you know, the more you are able to learn from the same lesson. I don't know if I'll go to VM school when I retire, but it is an interesting proposition to consider.

Cheers,

Jim

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In a violin-making school, one learns infinity faster and better that on ones own. The exercise of working every day with a dozen or more people of roughly your age, with all sorts of different backgrounds is a great discipline, since one has constant comparison. Sitting alone at home in your shed, imagining that you're gods gift to violin-making is a bad idea, since you will be hauled back down to earth sooner or later. To the OP question, I also learnt to speak German when I was there, but I don’t suppose that was what he was asking.

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3 hours ago, GerardM said:

A bit bitchy Marty. I never suggested violin school was no damm good. Having trained to make furniture which included veneering and inlay work, constructing curved staircases and matching handrails etc etc. So turning my hand to violin making was not a huge step. The fact is it’s not difficult to make a violin. However how do you make a great sounding violin that would stand up to a Stradivarius or Guarneri? Meany years and a great number of instruments later you may achieve it. SO to get back to my original question WOULD I benefit from a three year course at violin school seeing as I can produce a good looking instrument for me it’s another piece of furniture. If you make a violin shaped object IT will sound like a violin, NOT a great sounding violin but a violin nevertheless. I have no interest in restoration work. Finally IF violin school only gives you the skill sett to produce instruments, I already have the skills. So I would imagine I would not gain a great deal. If you can work with wood to a high standard then you can turn your hand to other things. I would guess Stradivarius could produce quality furniture if he had been asked. Also I’m NOT belittling violin makers just for the record we all share the same hand skills just apply them to different shaped objects. This turned out a bit of a rant but i hope I have got my point across.

I asked earlier if you had your violins evaluated or critiqued by a reputable person. You replied that you had professional violinists say that they sounded nice. That's not what I meant! Have you had a reputable violin maker critique your instruments? I too can make very nice furniture, but I wouldn't dream of calling myself a violin maker. We still haven't seen any pictures of your violins. If you don't value the opinions that you're getting here, why stay?

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Definitely don’t think I’m gods gift. But certainly working everyday with like minded people reminds me of my apprenticeship days at college making furniture. As I said in a previous post we have the same skills just making different  shaped objects from wood. Only difference is one of those objects has to vibrate correctly to be judged good. 

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In some ways your story reminds me of the evolution of American violin making.

Americans who were highly skilled at woodworking were making attractive well-constructed violins back in the 19th century but most of these violins were not good as musical instruments because their makers had no experience with seeing, studying, and handling fine Italian violins. In other words, their wood-working skills were great; their knowledge of what makes a fine violin was not.

It wasn't until European soloists and musicians began concert tours in America with their great Italian instruments that needed mainainence and repairs that American makers began to see how great violins worked. Plus some of the great "American makers" from around the turn of the century were highly-skilled European makers who immigrated to the Unted States bringing their knowledge and experience with them. Their American apprentices learned from them.

So it does take more than just great woodworking skills to reproducibly make great violins.

Nowadays, modern technology provides a plethora of previously unimaginable data and information about great violins. For example, 19th and 20th century makers did not have access to high definition photographs and CT scans of great violins as makers have today. Whether or not this kind of technology is an adequate substitute for old fashioned hands-on experience studying fine violins is a question that I cannot answer.

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 Thanks GeorgeH you have understood the point I was trying to make. Experienced hands don’t necessarily make a top sounding violin, so would attending a violin school give you these skills. I am inclined to think it’s a bit like when I finished my apprenticeship, in theory I have everything I need to make things from wood. But it’s only after several years honing these skills that you improve. A bit like when you pass your driving test, it’s only more driving that gives you the experience to become a better driver.

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It seems you could possibly be underestimateing the importance of spending the first years in the craft in a peer group who monitor your every movement, sometimes even quite aggressively. For the same reason, once one has finished violin-making school, it is best to work in a shop with a high minimum standard, where one get screamed at should one ever not be up to scratch for even a second.

In such an environment, you would get rude remarks about “brick shit-houses”, and with any luck, someone would explain to you about how to fashion a violin corner (to start with)

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12 hours ago, not telling said:

Apprenticeship. With the right partnership that would be better than school, by far.

Most makers in a small shop can't afford to pay an apprentice who actually will slow them down for the first year or so while they have to supervise the apprentice on every task. If the OP is a well trained cabinetmaker however he probably would be of some help right from the start so in his case apprenticeship could be a real option.

The first thing which has to be learned is tool use then how to see and only after those skills are  acquired do the subtleties of arching, graduation and style start to matter. 

I learned by apprenticeship in a shop large enough that I could first be set at menial  tasks such as thicknessing ribs for the whole shop which made it worth while to train me and like the OP I had some years of wood working behind me. After my apprenticeship as a violin maker I went on to work in a restoration shop where everyone else except the boss had learned in a school. What I found was that their background in problem solving, history and knowledge of the violin business was far greater than mine but they had not yet gotten fluent with their tools or developed any kind of style in their instruments.

I am sure Gerard would learn a great deal in school but as I said apprenticeship is a more viable option for him than it might be for other beginners.

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