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Emily Grossman


October 4, 2009 at 10:35 AM

Most people will tell you to ignore the voices in your head.  Most, but not the violinist.

Jonathan rosined his bow as I explained to him the function of the minor third in the major triad.  "--No, let me make it more simple.  'So-Mi' sounds like a cuckoo bird.  Coo-coo, Coo-coo."  I sang the notes over and over as he joined in.  We made a few nice coo-coos together, and then he played "This Old Man", the lesson objective for the day.  The point of it all is, you don't have to build up to the second finger (do-re-mi) to get it in tune if you know what it sounds like when compared to the next string over.  Open A string is the higher note, and the second finger creates the lower note.  Put them together, and you have a minor third. 

I began the next  exercise.  "Okay, now I get to be So, and you get to be Mi.  I play, then you play, then I play, then you play, then both of us play together."  I was hoping that by hearing the interval both melodically and harmonically, it would better pinpoint the exact location of the note in question.  We played:  So.  Mi.  So.  Mi.  Together, together, together...  hold the two pitches for a moment and listen.

"Did you hear that?"  Jonathan asked. 

"Hear what?"

"That voice.  It was a different voice than ours, and it was singing along."

Frowning casually, I asked, "Did it sound like it was coming from your head?"

"Yeah...  kinda."

I shrugged.  "Oh, then it's probably in your head."

Hoping he wouldn't notice my smirk, we played our minor third once more.

"There it is again!"  He halted, cocking his head to one side.  "What is making that sound?"  

(Hmm, should I explain, or just let him think he's gone crazy?)

"I don't know what you're talking about.  Maybe you should get that checked out or something."  I paused, glancing sideways to check his reaction.  Seeing that he was genuinely concerned about the status of his own sanity, I gave in.  "Okay okay, let me explain.  What you're hearing is called a Tartini tone." 

Tartini tones are the byproduct of two notes, created by either the sum of the sound waves or the difference of the two.  They can only occur when each pitch is vibrating at just the right speed.  In this case, the difference between the higher pitch and the lower pitch creates a much lower pitch that hums along.  This tone has been proven to be completely mental; if one pitch played in a left headphone and the other in a right, one would still hear a Tartini tone.  So, since the sound is created in the mind, somewhat like an optical illusion, it  also feels like it is coming from inside one's head.  Many people have been surprised by this phenomenon and believe that they have somehow begun compulsively singing along with their own playing.  But for the seasoned violinist, they are a true sign of good things coming about: it means we are now officially in tune.

"So, really, what you're hearing is a good thing, Jonathan,"  I concluded.

Breathing a sigh of relief, Jonathan wiped his brow and shook his head.  "Whew, I thought maybe the Golliwogs had finally gotten me."

(Is is wrong of me to find such humor at the expense of my students' mental health?)

"Not today, Jonathan"  I laughed.  "At least, not today."  He's a young one yet.  We still have plenty of time to reach crazy. 


From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on October 4, 2009 at 3:14 PM



From Pauline Lerner
Posted on October 4, 2009 at 6:03 PM

I don't think the effect is entirely within your head.  It pervades the space around the two violins.  What you are hearing is "undertones" or overtones produced by playing the minor thread as  a "perfect third."  You won't get this effect from a piano, which is tuned to a well tempered scale.  I just tried playing F# on the D string and then the open string A, back and forth, and I couldn't hear those extra tones.  Then I played those two notes together, and I heard a complex pattern of over and under tones, including the Tartini tones.  When I moved my second finger just a tiny bit, I lost those under and over tones.  The sound is much richer than what you get by alternating between F# and A.  Your student was very good to hear the Tartini tones when you two played alternating pitches.The notes that are perceived but not played constitute something I love about the violin.

From Emily Grossman
Posted on October 4, 2009 at 7:22 PM

He didn't hear them when we played them separately, only when we put them together.  I may be mistaken, but I don't think you can hear them unless they are combined.

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on October 5, 2009 at 6:33 AM

Yes, Emily, that is true, and to me it is always exciting.

From Clif Fiske
Posted on October 5, 2009 at 10:10 PM

Ms Grossman and Ms Lerner, Thank you from the bottom of my heart.  I learn so much in this forum.  Ms Lerner, your site and videos were the first web information I found when I started my love wrestle with the little wooden box.  I am in your debt.  Thank you all again from Texas.  Who would have thought, " tartini notes" way cool.   I will stay tuned, sorry about that.


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