Describing Violin SoundInstruments: A consensus would be helpful.
From James Dew
Please forgive this neophyte and thank you!!
From Allan SpeersI think violin tone should always be described in human terms, such as:
Posted on January 15, 2008 at 07:04 AM
From LUIS CLAUDIO MANFIOIt will depend a bit of who is playing...
Posted on January 15, 2008 at 12:10 PM
From al kui remember michael darnton once provided a list of very descriptive terms he uses on another site. good stuff. is md here to quote himself once more or did someone save that list?
Posted on January 15, 2008 at 12:24 PM
ps. allan, i have seen your list in description of players but not sound:)
From Michael DarntonAl, Probably you mean this this list, which was generated by audiophiles. It's the best set of descriptions I've seen, even though it differs from what violinists say. The source is here: http://www.faqs.org/faqs/AudioFAQ/part2/
Posted on January 15, 2008 at 01:12 PM
Airy: Spacious. Open. Instruments sound like they are surrounded by a large reflective space full of air. Good reproduction of high-frequency reflections. High-frequency response extends to 15 or 20 kHz.
Bassy: Emphasized low frequencies below about 200 Hz.
Chesty: The vocalist sounds like their chest is too big. A bump in the low-frequency response around 125 to 250 Hz.
Dark: Opposite of bright. Weak high frequencies.
Edgy: Too much high frequencies. Trebly. Harmonics are too strong relative to the fundamentals. Distorted, having unwanted harmonics that add an edge or raspiness.
Fat: See Full and Warm. Or, spatially diffuse - a sound is panned to one channel, delayed, and then the delayed sound is panned to the other channel. Or, slightly distorted with analog tape distortion or tube distortion.
Gentle: Opposite of edgy. The harmonics - highs and upper mids - are not exaggerated, or may even be weak.
Hard: Too much upper midrange, usually around 3 kHz. Or, good transient response, as if the sound is hitting you hard.
Mellow: Reduced high frequencies, not edgy.
Nasal: Honky, a bump in the response around 600 Hz.
Piercing: Strident, hard on the ears, screechy. Having sharp, narrow peaks in the response around 3 to 10 kHz.
Rich: See Full. Also, having euphonic distortion made of even-order harmonics.
Sibilant: "Essy" Exaggerated "s" and "sh" sounds in singing, caused by a rise in the response around 6 to 10 kHz.
Telephone-like: See Tinny.
Veiled: Like a silk veil is over the speakers. Slight noise or distortion or slightly weak high frequencies. Not transparent.
Warm: Good bass, adequate low frequencies, adequate fundamentals relative to harmonics. Not thin. Also excessive bass or midbass. Also, pleasantly spacious, with adequate reverberation at low frequencies. Also see Rich, Round. Warm highs means sweet highs.
From Jim W. Miller"...this this list, which was generated by audiophiles."
Posted on January 15, 2008 at 02:00 PM
"...Veiled: Like a silk veil is over the speakers..."
In Stereophile there was at least one reviewer who could even tell you the exact number of veils :) Or at least get you to the approximate number.
From al ku"Dark: Opposite of bright. Weak high frequencies"
Posted on January 15, 2008 at 02:05 PM
lol, that is a cop out!
what is a dark sounding violin sounding like? any clips?
From Oliver SteinerAllan Speers wrote: "I think violin tone should always be described in human terms, such as: Arrogant, Bodacious, Shy, Demure ....."
Posted on January 15, 2008 at 04:46 PM
I agree with the need to give thought to the emotional effects, such as those you list. However I think it is important to be aware that none of these is a description of sound. Rather these adjectives describe how a person might feel as a result of hearing a particular sound. This distinction is, in my view, crucial. A music lover doesn't necessarily need to describe sound; he may dwell in the world of feeling and remain there. However, a musician needs to know both how he wants the listener to feel, and what he wants to *hear* that (he hopes) will ellicit this feeling. If a conductor says to his orchestra that he wants a celebratory sound, that's OK with me, provided that the conductor understands that he told the orchestra nothing at all about sound,,,,What he said was: "Make a sound that makes me feel like I'm celebrating"! That, in itself may get the result he desires. But if it doesn't, and he is a good musician, he will not blame the orchestra for not making him feel celebratory! Rather he will know his craft well enough to actually talk about the qualities in the *sound* that he wants to hear. He will use words such as "accented, forte, accellerate the beat"; words like those on Michael Darnton's list, which are words which describe sound, rather than describe how he feels when he hears a certain sound. A musician needs to think clearly and speak clearly about both feeling and hearing.
From Mara GeretyDoes anybody else sometimes hear sound as colors? It happens to me with enough regularity that I think I might have mild synaesthesia. It's neat, but sometimes it makes me look rather strange: last semester in my aural skills class, the teacher was getting us to distinguish between the IV and ii6 chords, and I mused aloud "Yeah, the ii6 is a little...bluer...."
Posted on January 15, 2008 at 04:50 PM
From Sue BechlerInteresting question, to which there is no answer, of course. Like describing wine, or complex foods. There is a certain vocabulary, but the words themselves mean something different to each speaker, based on their taste & experience. Sue
Posted on January 15, 2008 at 06:25 PM
From al kumr steiner that is another great post on the distinction...
Posted on January 15, 2008 at 06:19 PM
do you suggest a teacher should enlighten by the "celebratory" remark more or stay with emphasizing "forte..", in the violinist language? it seems that the former allows the student to be more creative in finding the right feel and the latter more mechanical...
i heard that ms delay did not demonstrate much during teaching (true or not i'm not sure), how does her teaching go along with the gist of your post i wonder? thanks!
From Oliver SteinerAl Ku wrote: "i heard that ms delay did not demonstrate much during teaching (true or not i'm not sure), how does her teaching go along with the gist of your post i wonder?
Posted on January 15, 2008 at 07:16 PM
She demonstrated specific points, usually about the mechanics. She might play a shift between two notes over several times, to show what qualities in the movement helped the precision and reliability of the shift. In contrast, Mr. Gingold used demonstrations to thrill you and touch your emotions with gorgeous playing, so you would want to rush home and practice the phrase.
Miss DeLay "didn't like hocus-pocus.", by which she meant telling a student to play a phrase "like you are weaving a tapestry", and then sending him home to practice. She felt that one needs to know what he wants to hear and how to produce it, as well as what he feels and wants the audience to feel. In that sense, I think my earlier post in this thread reflects my study with her. When a teacher tells a student, in essence, to "Make me feel like I'm celebrating", and then blames the student for not getting the desired result, rather than the teacher re-framing the request in the form of ear training or mechanical analysis, I don't think: "bad student", I think: "bad teacher"! I got that from Miss DeLay.
From al kunow i understand better, thank you!
Posted on January 15, 2008 at 07:50 PM
From Allan SpeersOliver,
Posted on January 15, 2008 at 08:38 PM
I was making a joke. ( ! )
Although, as an audio professional, I can tell you that actual descriptive terms fall very short of accuracy. I could, for instance, give completely different interpretations of 80% of Michael's list, even though I applaud his efforts for its scope. Recording engineers & producers often use terms like "brown" and "zippy" or "alive" instead of talking frequencies, because a frequency boost of XXX db @ XXX hertz will have completely different effects on different instruments, and in different musical contexts.
As for violins, one cannot even use a term like "balanced" with accuracy, since one could then say "balanced in relation to WHAT? Balanced for Bach, Paganini, or chamber playing?
Dark? Never was there a more nebulous term. Same goes for "bright" - Is that too much HF, or not enough LF? The great violins don't have much above 6K or so, so how can any good violin be described as bright?
Funny thing: I've spent an incredible amount of time over the last two years recording all manner of violins, carefully analizing their tone, response, etc, trying to determin not what is "best," but at least what I personally like. I have a very good idea at this point, I can hear that "perfect" sound in my head, but I absolutely cannot describe it to you in a few simple words. There just are no words in the English language that apply. Perhaps if I wrote several paragraphs, I might be able to convey the basic principles, but I think you'd literally have to be a recording engineer to fully understand. It's like how Eskimos have around 27 different names for snow...
Some terms I DO like:
Responsive - Large amount of volume & timbral range on tap.
Throaty - that classic GDG sound, as opposed to the typically smoother Strad sound.
Smooth - See above.
Thin / fat - kind of obvious.
Woody / glassy - polar oppositse, but hard to explain.
Tubby - I like Michael's definition
After that, it's the wild wild west. I still consider my favorite violin to be somewhat bodacious. Lots of fun to play, but can often be embarrassing in front of a crowd.
-or maybe that's just my playing skills. (g)
From David BurgessI like it, Allan.
Posted on January 16, 2008 at 12:35 AM
"Mr. Luthier, could you adjust my violin to sound "sensible", but with a touch of "comedy" for balance?" ;)
From Bilbo PrattleThis is an utterly ridiculous thread.
Posted on January 16, 2008 at 01:21 AM
From Allan SpeersWorks for me. (g)
Posted on January 16, 2008 at 04:02 AM
From James DewMr. Speers,
Posted on January 16, 2008 at 05:29 AM
Thank you very much. I am now convinced that I can not explain to a luthier the sound I want, i.e. that "perfect" sound that exists in my head.
From David BurgessJames, it sounds like you're still searching for answers, so I'll take a stab at it.
Posted on January 16, 2008 at 11:04 AM
Listen to some recorded violin music and play with the treble and bass controls. For most people, a "dark" sound is what you might get from turning up the bass a bit and turning down the treble. A "bright" sound might be the opposite.
Allan has already described some of the challenges. Is "bright" too much high frequency, or not enough low frequency? I especially like, "It's like how Eskimos have around 27 different names for snow..."
Lots of times we need to learn a players vocabulary as we adjust a violin, by making a change, and then asking the player to describe the change so we can begin to relate their description to what we hear. This is a big part of Rene Morel's adjustment routine. If terms were standardized, it would be so much easier!
I think one good way to communicate sound to a luthier or anyone else is to bring in a comparison fiddle as an example, as in, "I want my violin to sound like this" or "I want my violin to have more of this" or "this fiddle has a quality I hate. Make mine sound as far away from this as possible".
So now let me use some adjectives to describe the difference between the music of Bach and Telemann. (grin)
From Jim W. MillerYou have dark like turning the bass up and the treble down, and you have dark like the sound that comes from the bottom of a still pond at midnight :)
Posted on January 16, 2008 at 02:34 PM
From James DewMr. Burgess,
Posted on January 16, 2008 at 02:33 PM
As a recent discoverer of Violinist.com I have come to appreciate the comprehensive value of your postings. Your above messsage is but another example. Thank you so very much for all of your assistance.
From Allan Speersquote: "You have dark like turning the bass up and the treble down, and you have dark like the sound that comes from the bottom of a still pond at midnight :)"
Posted on January 16, 2008 at 11:23 PM
And then, Jim, there's dark like the heart of a serial killer.
-Such violins should always be kept in the hands of concertmasters. -as close to the conductor as possible. (g)
From Jim W. MillerAnd dark like buying Calculus for Dummies without working through Algebra for Dummies first.
Posted on January 16, 2008 at 11:36 PM
From Oliver SteinerWhen one plays with a graphic equalizer, it's interesting to hear how boosting either of two frequencies, both of which might be called "bass", has a completely different effect. In listening to a male voice, boosting a band centered on 200 Hz sounds to me like cloudy and boomy bass, whereas boosting 100 Hz sounds more Basso in character, but without the boomy and cloudy sound. Boosting one high frequency makes the E string sound sweet...but another high frequency boosted makes the E string sound strident. Any violinist who has the opportunity to try out a graphic equalizer while listening to a violin recording, would soon appreciate that a word like "bright" might mean either of two opposite things!
Posted on January 16, 2008 at 11:28 PM
From David BurgessYes, start playing with narrow ranges, like on a 30 band graphic equalizer or an FFT filter, and you discover all kinds of strange things!
Posted on January 17, 2008 at 12:38 AM
From James DewMessrs. Speers, Miller, Steiner & Burgess:
Posted on January 17, 2008 at 02:47 AM
My Mother said to learn something new every day.
From Jim W. MillerI've been to a couple of violin recitals where the sound was beyond sound. One was a local guy, who'd done well in the Tchaikovsky competition. I don't know how to explain really but it was like listening to a welder. It was like sparks were flying out of his contact point. It was about half visual, but of course you couldn't really see sparks.
Posted on January 17, 2008 at 03:30 AM
Another strong impression was from a guy just picking up a violin from a shop I was visiting. He had that beautiful steely sound. You know what I mean if you know the sound. After that, that was an ideal violin sound I tried to hold in my head.
From Allan SpeersThere's another important quality to consider, and I'm not sure what you'd call it:
Posted on January 17, 2008 at 10:47 AM
Some violins, regardless of their overall tonal spectrum, just SING. the sound flows, like liquid. I'm sure anyone who's played a fine fiddle knows what I mean.
Lesser violins, again no matter what their tonal spectrum, can be gruff, choppy, obstinate. (there I go again. "Mr. luthier, can you adjust my fiddle to be more cooperative?...")
I suspect this has something to do with sustain, but I'm not sure. I don't even really understand what "sustain" means on a violin. I have heard that too MUCH sustain on a violin is a bad thing.
Perhaps David Burgess could elaborate on the fluidity thing.
From Emily Grossman(Perhaps David Burgess could give me one of his violins so I could describe its tone.)
Posted on January 17, 2008 at 09:16 AM
From larry feldman
Posted on November 7, 2009 at 10:47 PM
here are some personal observations on violin sound, no matter what adjectives apply--
1. Choice of strings and bridge is crucial. Last night I took an "unbalanced" 1919 Heberlein which was strung up with a flat bridge and steel strings, and set it up with new Dominance strings and a standard classical bridge arc , and strung it up to pitch and played it with a well rosined nice bow and VIOLA - it sounds like $10,000 violin. Each string sounds like the other, double stops somehow are more in tune than I'm used to, and spiccato is effortless. Of course, I wouldn't want to play Sally Goodin on it.
2. Sound post placement - there is no right or wrong - and get a sound post tool. Move it around a bit until you hit the sweet spot. Don't do it yourself on an expensive violin.
3. A good bow is just as important to sound as a good violin. Spend a few bucks and try one that is weighted just right, and you will hear the difference.
4. Breath while you play, practice in a mirror, and try playing while leaning against a door post to free up your back and loosen your shoulders.
5. Violins sound better without shoulder rests, if you can hack it.
6. A fiddle is any violin under $500.00
7. My bowing is smoother after I have exercised with bands or light weights.
8. Electric Violins don't have to sound good acoustically, and accoustic violins don't have to sound good electrically. Different instruments.
9. Nobody sounds good on a 5 string violin. Who needs a half assed viola anyway.
From David Blackmon
Posted on November 8, 2009 at 03:24 PM
"9. Nobody sounds good on a 5 string violin. Who needs a half assed viola anyway"
I beg to differ with you.......I would say Casey Driessen, Darol Anger, Brittany Haas, and others that play well designed 5-string violins sound great to me, and a lot of other people too !!
From Amy Jean
Posted on November 8, 2009 at 05:48 PM
For me dark would mean ominous or painful. I like playing ominous pieces but not all the time. I also love to play mellow pieces and bright pieces to liven up the mood=)
From Roland Garrison
Posted on March 18, 2011 at 06:50 PM
I had a 5 string I sold, but would consider buying back; opurely for the sound. It sounded wonderful, but the neck was too narrow for me with 5 strings. I sold it to a friend, and she loves it. It didn't sound so much 'dark' as 'moody'. It had subdued mid-high sound, but there was a point 1round 650 Hz where it started geting clear and crisp. Not sure how it did that combination, but I loved it.
From Hendrik Hak
Posted on March 20, 2011 at 05:30 PM
Another word sometimes used is "reedy". It may be related to what Allan calls "throaty" but I think have heard reedy in Strads also. Maybe people mean a reedy sound when they talk about "typical old Italian sound" . There probably isn't such a thing as the "typical old Italian" sound? Would excessive reedy sound be called "nasal" by some or is that unrelated?
Follow Violinist.com's coverage of ASTA 2015 from Salt Lake City!
Please consider supporting Violinist.com by becoming a sponsor, and reaching our dedicated community of violin professionals, students and fans!