What is a "dark tone"?

December 6, 2006 at 06:29 AM · I read about "dark tone," usually in complimentary articles, and often about gypsy violin playing. My question is, for a given violin and set of strings, how do you produce the "darkest" tone? (I know some violins are described as having a dark tone and so are strings, so I'm interested in getting a dark tone with a given setup).

Replies (23)

December 6, 2006 at 12:31 PM · here is my take: in terms of human voice, i think dan rather's tone is darker than that of peter jennings. tom brokaw is as dark as it is nasal.

December 6, 2006 at 01:30 PM · I guess what you mean by "dark tone" can be produced best on the G and D string and in the higher positions (higher than third). With more bow-pessure and less bow-speed, and closer to the bridge, the tone gets harsh; with more bow-speed and a more supple contact it will become full-bodied and warm. Listen to Paganini's Moses Fantasia or to the opening theme of the third movement of Brahms's second sonata, for example.



December 6, 2006 at 02:41 PM · I've deleted my response to the posting about tv journalists.

I appreciate the responses that deal with violin technique.

December 6, 2006 at 01:34 PM · Hi,You probably need to go violin-hunting. The folks at a violin shop with a collection of good instruments should be able to show you some that sound dark. I often think of this tone as rich or round, and liken it to many violas. My local shop sells a Chinese student violin, some of which have a richer or darker tone. That takes playing on 12 or 15 of 'em to sort out a couple. It can be worth talking to a luthier with a talent for soundpost adjustment. I know one guy who can really balance the tone quality between strings or bring out one range or another just by working the soundpost around. Wire-core strings tend to brighten violins, so you could try synthetic-core strings, and maybe light or mid-gauge. Dominants or D'Addario Pro Arte? There are strands here about string choice to help you with that part. Sue

December 6, 2006 at 01:43 PM · Mr. Sprondel, thank you. This is the kind of information I'm interested in. You've also extended my idea of "dark violin tone" to "dark" passages in musical compositions.

December 6, 2006 at 03:39 PM · "suppose it might be useful to extend the idea of tone to the human voice"

Mr. Fowler, not "suppose", not "might".....it is the whole idea. otherwise, violins should play themselves to themselves.

and, there is a difference between a dark tune vs a dark tone vs a dark chocolate:)

the reference to "tv jounalists" is to share with you my impression of comparative tones.

December 6, 2006 at 07:19 PM · i've always thought of a dark tone as being a tone with more bass frequencies, a little bit on the rougher side of bowing, more into the string, slower bowing, and more audible bow changes at the frog and at the tip. zukerman and hubermann both have that sound (to me). it's a bit more brusque, more masculine, and a little less concerned with the composer's intentions.

one other thing i've noticed with players who have darker tones is that they tend to pinch the string more with their left hand than lighter players (isaac stern is a great example). the idea is to hold the note as firmly as possible with the left, while digging into the string with the bow to elicit a harder sound. in effect, the left hand causes the note to ring, while the bowarm 'squashes' it with heavy bowing. they also tend to leave the left hand holding a note a millisecond longer than a lighter-toned violinist would. in essence the left hand 'drags' through notes and positions while the right hand punches up the note's intensity.

all of this stands in contrast to a lighter toned approach, with more rapid fingerings and finger changes in the left hand, combined with faster bow speeds and more transparent bow changes in the right.

that's how i hear it anyways.

December 7, 2006 at 07:37 AM · Hi! My luthier adjusted the soundpost on my violin, and the tone got "brighter. Before she had had a dark, gipsylike tone on G and D, but a very bright and "flat" tone on A and E. Afterwords she got a subtle, warm and fair voice with a large spectrum of beautiful, longsounding overtones. Now my 300-yearold lady sings like a baroque-organ. So, the tip is to adjust the soundpost, but if it already is adjusted at the optimal place of your violin, I´d suggest you search for a new instrument with more of a viola-tone. Some things are changeable through string-changes, bowing and so on, but only to a certain degree. Maybe a useful tip: look for a violin with a onepiece back.

Good luck!

Jenny Lundholm

December 7, 2006 at 08:16 AM · Or look for a Guarneri model. They tend to be darker and moodier than the Strad models, which to me is more bell-like, lilting and cheerful.

December 7, 2006 at 01:10 PM · Another tip:

Try to tune it according to the barocquetuning, pitch A=415. Most luthiers adjust the soundpost to pitch A= 440, so maybe you have to move the soundpost in case you want to try it out. But that is of course only useful if you play solo most of the time. Most orchestras and pianists would probably not agree to lowering the pitch...;-)

Or, try to find a guitarshaped violin. They generally have a "richer" and "darker" tone than normal violins. It´s probably not a coincidence that Joshua Bells "guitarviolin" was used for the recordings of the soundtrack and violin-doubles of the movie "The Red Violin".

Some barocqueviolinists change the bowhair into black horsehair instead of white. The black horsehair is thicker and more textured. Thus the tone gets darker, but also rougher...

December 7, 2006 at 02:31 PM · As far as I understand it (which may not be very far)... given two notes with the same fundamental frequency, the note with more prominent high overtones will sound brighter, aka more metallic, nasal, brilliant, silvery, etc.

Conversely, the note with more subtle high overtones will sound darker, aka more mellow, chocolate, tubby, warm, rich, muffled, etc.

As far as how to produce a dark sound, in my experience these things help: higher positions on lower strings, slower bow speed, heavier bow arm, slower wider vibrato, using the pads of your LH fingers rather than the tips, bowing closer to the fingerboard, and maybe frowning!

The opposite would help to produce a brighter sound. Of course, it is easy to overdo any of these factors and end up with a ridiculous undesirable sound. Also, I think the vocal connection is profound. Vocal sonority tells us at least as much about a person's mood and opinions as actual spoken words - this ability is hard-wired into our brains. The trick for the musicians (and actors, politicians, and other con men) of the world is to take advantage of our audience's built-in interpretation systems.

December 7, 2006 at 03:12 PM · IMO, Jesse's 3rd paragraph hit it perfectly. I think in terms of balancing, it also depends on phrases before and after also, and making the darkness tasteful in context--but he may have said that too.

December 7, 2006 at 03:40 PM · Hi,

In general, for me, with an instrument that is not too bright, the colour of the sound can be changed to dark, mostly by changing the bow speed. A slower bow speed concentrates the weight and inhibits vibrations, making the sound less brilliant. A least, so it is for me, and all my students.


December 8, 2006 at 01:44 AM · Hi David,

"Dark" and "Bright" refer to qualities of different registers on the violin. To me, "dark" means that the tone of a particular instrument or register in an instrument, has more bass than others. For a "bright" instrument or register, there is more treble. In my opinion "Bright" violins tend to project well and have less color. "Dark" violins tend to have more depth and color, but project less. It's all aboout balance. Also, many violins have "bright" or "dark" qualities in different registers or on different strings.


December 9, 2006 at 06:33 PM · thank you for all the interesting responses. at this point, it seem to me that slower bow, more bow pressure, closer to fingerboard, higher postions on strings will produce a tone in which the fundamental and lower harmonics will predominate.

this tone is typically (metaphorically ?) (synesthetically?) perceived by listeners as a "dark tone."

December 12, 2006 at 05:27 PM · Daniel, I agree. And oddly enough, my darker sounding violin is an extremely dark brown, nearly black (although I believe it's the varnish that gives it that dark color). My tinny one is a bright reddish orange.

I have an easy solution for the noise. I have my violin amped, and turn up the bass to 100% and the treble to about 25%. The result sounds very nice, but it all depends on how the amp is wired...you definitely don't want the "bass boost" effect that adds a static-sound to the bass.

December 13, 2006 at 02:41 AM · Hi Rob,

That's funny but I've had similar experience involving varnish color and timbre of the violin. I wonder if there's some kind of odd coincidence?


December 13, 2006 at 04:40 AM · Do antique violins tend to have a darker tone? I've noticed this on several violins I tried that are about 100 years old (not Italian), but German, French and American. Seems that they have this deep dark G string, booming sound, very smooth and not much edge. Is it something to do with the violin wearing out, losing its high frequency edge. Not having had a chance to play an Italian that old, I would guess that they still retain their ringing brilliance and sharp focus when old.

December 13, 2006 at 05:33 AM · I think the bass bar plays a role as well.

December 13, 2006 at 05:46 AM · Nevermind. I thought you said "dark tan."

December 13, 2006 at 03:36 PM · To get a darker tone on the violin, should you play closer to the fingerboard or closer to the bridge?

Pressure and speed adjusted accordingly. Thanks in advance for relevant responses!

December 13, 2006 at 04:52 PM · A violin is a transducer of sorts. Seems to me that an instrument that, by its construction, favors bass response, wh=ould be the best starting point. Strings make a difference, but an inherently bright instrument may not be the best starting point in a search for dark tone.

December 14, 2006 at 01:11 AM · David, all other things being equal, I think bowing closer to the fingerboard will produce a darker tone. The opposite (sul pont) is, on the other hand, the brightest sound one can produce.

My theory, anyway...

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