Are you a Cruncher?!

July 5, 2007 at 08:50 PM · Just got back from a concert, after being stuck in a hospital for a long, long, time, and what do I see—a bunch of technically sound, even almost perfect, players who, “lay back!” Oh, man! I am just tired of that stuff; just have no use for it. Give me the, Perlman’, Zukerman’, Repin’, Ricci’, Roand’—Crunch! Listened to many versions of Handel/Halvorsen’s Passacaglia lately, and I loved Kennedy’s version of it, and Perlman and Zukerman’s; they Crunched it! Get me the studio guys I use to hang out with in L.A.; they get aftet it and Crunch it! Get me Sara Chang, Repin, Perlman, Zukerman, they get after it. No more girly-men violinists! Crunchers, that’s what we need—Crunchers!

Replies (39)

July 5, 2007 at 09:26 PM · Be encouraged... If I ever learn to pull a straight bow, I'll be a cruncher for sure--it's Emil's fault.

July 5, 2007 at 11:32 PM · I love crunching... but my teachers yell at me and tell me not to :(

July 6, 2007 at 01:26 AM · Greetings,

it`s like eevrything else. If you have the skill not to do it then it`s a tool. if not, it`s incompetence.



July 6, 2007 at 03:29 AM · i love the more aggressive players. Personally, Zukerman is my favorite violinist and I love his huge and powerful sound.

July 6, 2007 at 03:30 AM · yea.. I wouldn't oversimplify it too much. Zukerman favors a certain type of attack in his bow arm, but at the same time, when he plays Mozart and Beethoven, he does what you apparently despise. The man has taste, unlike one of the people in your list of "crunchers".

If the crunching supports some sort of intensity and happens to be there as a sort of spontaneous artifact of performance, it doesn't bother me. However aggressive playing just for the sake of it is overly violinistic and completely destroys music. I see this more and more every day at Encore... all these skilled musicians who want to play everything as impressively and verile as they possible can. 99% of the time it doesn't serve the music, but it seems like 99 of 100 people like violin playing but hate music.

Like someone else said, if you're good enough to choose, then it's an attribute you can use... otherwise it's you being a bad violinist.

July 6, 2007 at 04:12 AM · Yeah. Take Oistrakh for example. What a girl. What a wimp. I mean, what, that "silken" tone and all. Shameful...

July 6, 2007 at 04:20 AM · Come on Pieter, you have to love my list of "Crunchers!"

July 6, 2007 at 06:51 AM · pieter, out of curiosity, who would you say is the "one of the crunchers" from the list that you particularly don't like.

I personally enjoy them all.

July 6, 2007 at 07:17 AM · Yes, how can you not like these Crunchers! So right Patrick! Gotta love the Rosand Crunch! The Zuke Crunch! The Pearl Crunch! The Repin Crunch! Crunch it baby! Just Crunch! Nothin but Crunch!

July 6, 2007 at 10:15 AM · Raymond;

Good to see you back!

The ability to crunch certainly expands the expressive tonal palette. I wonder if the decision to use it might sometimes have to do with equipment? Some fiddles and bows don't do it very well. If one develops their technique on a "non-crunch" violin, that might be a factor.

Another factor might be a tonal palette founded on what the player hears under the ear, which is very different from what an audience hears.

Players who don't have it in their arsenal sound a little "vanilla" to me, especially in a hall.

July 6, 2007 at 11:11 AM · "All cords should be played piano" Y. Yankelevich

"The more you press, the less you get" J. Heifetz

July 6, 2007 at 12:12 PM · I like Midori's G string buzz and rattle.

July 6, 2007 at 12:28 PM · If Zimmermann with his Strad (according your rule) is a girly violinist..well, I'm sorry but I guess you need urgent ears or mental cures!

July 6, 2007 at 01:19 PM · "The more you press, the less you get" J. Heifetz

Odd, coming from the man who was quite a cruncher.

It's not all about pressure's also about bow speed, bowing point on the string, and transitions.

Sound researchers discovered early on that playing with more bow pressure doesn't increase measured volume. Increasing bow speed does.


High pressure combined with a slow bow close to the bridge produces a tone color change which our brain interprets as higher volume. Measured sound pressure (like on recording equipment) has turned out to be an unreliable indicator of perceived loudness.

Raymond, I played a pretty good-crunching Strad earlier this week, so maybe we can't rule them out?

Oh, there's a highly regarded sound adjuster in my area who gets much of the information he needs by my noticing in minute detail how a violin behaves when "crunched". When that seems just right to him, usually everything else has fallen into place, even if the player isn't a cruncher.

July 6, 2007 at 04:57 PM · guess you're feeling better Ray?

good to see you back, showing the usual pluck.

for me, crunching is fine as long as it's clean. i don't particularly care for inadvertent double stops (whistling on a neighboring string), as i hear Kennedy and Kremer sometimes do.

i like perlman's crunching especially on his chords. it's like an explosive pop and then you get a sort of sonorous growl afterwards. for example, check out the youtube video of him and Zuke playing the 1st mvt of Leclair's duo sonata. (by the way i hate the sound quality on 99% of youtube videos) I think he's playing the Soil for that recording and i think Zukerman is playing a darker sounding Guarneri. i'm not saying which i like better but the Soil certainly sounds bigger.

July 6, 2007 at 07:53 PM · I capitulate:

"Take Oistrakh for example. What a girl. What a wimp"

I'm gonna be a wimp too! ;).

July 6, 2007 at 07:57 PM · Wasn't Heiftez's crunch (from the recordings, atleast) from the fact that he demanded that the microphone be stuck very close to the instrument when recording?

And, he didn't have to press very hard because of his use of bow speed to generate sound rather than bow pressure.

correct me if i'm wrong

July 6, 2007 at 07:59 PM · I first read Mr. Burgess' remark about speed, and now Bobby's.... I'm curious--this should be a discussion.

I use alot of speed sometime, which in my mind equates to more work; and, then it's pressure that gets the note out there. Then sometimes its 'seems' reversed: the speed gets the sound out there. The first four plus one notes of Bocherinni for example (sorry I'm a beginner), I've struggled with forever--the first four then going to the a-string. Recently, I started using less bow and more pressure contrasted to the opposite previously. I'm sure God is punishing me because I love that little song. But that's ok--he's jealous of my gardens! ;)...

July 6, 2007 at 10:36 PM · Manny Hurwitz once said he would have loved to have played with a silky tone and fast vibrato, but it just didn't work for him. These people have got jobs to do!

I do love a good Strad sound though - you can get just as close to the line, but the grit has loads more character IMO even if it doesn't project as well.

July 7, 2007 at 04:15 AM · Trying to simplify violin playing into two camps by a type of instrument is in and of itself pretty shortsighted... it's a sonically complex instrument and the amount of variables are almost incalculable.

Zukerman sounds like Zukerman on any Strad, or any violin for that matter. The way his sound is conveyed changes a bit, but it's very much him that you're hearing. Also, the idea that all del Gesus are these anamalistic creatures which grunt and growl is definately untrue. I haven't even been around that many, and I can tell you there's certainly a big difference. Midori's DG is highly refined and to me, quite strad like. It's all about the person playing the instrument. I can guarantee that any great violinist can make a DG sound sweet as pie.

This whole deal of always crunching is not about conviction, but rather about a standardizing of bad teaching. Mediocre players (and teachers) see a few good players doing a certain thing, and then it's turned into the norm. There's nothing worse than an overzealous bad violinist, who thinks they need to play loud and "like a soloist".

I also wouldn't call Repin a "cruncher"... also keep in mind that in many of his recordings he's probably using the Ruby strad. He's a very elegant player and I don't think he's big into crunching.

In fact the biggest crunching Russian is probably Vengerov... he doesn't play a DG.

In the end I think crunching is ugly a lot of the time. I wonder if violinists can suspend their parallel reality for just a moment and actually think like musicians, instead of wanting to play everything brilliantly, with ferocity, the fastest, loudest... I'm tired of hearing the grumblings of a sophisticated lawn mower starting up... hacking (but most of the time wheezing) like a cat with severe bronchitis. If the composer asks for a crunch, make it... if not... don't.

July 7, 2007 at 04:39 AM · Greetings,

very eloqent writing Pieter. I second your opinon that repin is a very refined player. `Where`s the crunch?`



July 7, 2007 at 02:24 PM · Well...In Bach, generally I try to avoid the "crunch" which is why it is hard for me to ever get past the first page in practice. Seriously, though, Bach is a teaching tool in so many ways. FOr me, this was one of the most important. Sensitivity of playing, and learning to do it simultaneously with other techniques going on. Specifically, double stops.

It is true that I have students creat a crunchy sound going very slowly with the bow near the bridge to get rid of a fear of sounding bad. Because in essence that is a type of sound production movement we need in our arsenal. And then we speed the bow up and refine it and that is the sound we need as a sort of reference point. There has to be strength and agression in our bowstroke. But we have to be able to control it.

If a violinist can have a seamless bowchange and also play shostakovich crunches, then I'm convinced.

As for strads and Del Gesu and other violins...well, I wouldn't know. I've got what I've got. :) and that's what we have to work with and make work for us.


July 8, 2007 at 11:42 PM · Funny how so many got upset with what was obviously meant to be “tongue and cheek.” I think he was trying to say he’s tired of “safe” players who care too much about technique at the cost of passion and emotion—my take on it, anyway. And yeah, I like his list of “Crunchers!” I would add Heifetz to the list, however.

As for the two Russian greats: Repin and Vengerov.

I think they are both aggressive players. But Repin seems to put out a much more raw sound, perhaps this has more to do with the fact that I have only heard him on the del Gesu. In any event, I like his playing and his sound much better, but I think both players are great.

I have never thought that Vengerov’s strad matches his playing, just as I do not think Midori’s del Gesu matches her playing. I liked that del Gesu in Ricci’s hands; I thought that was a great match of player and instrument.

And I actually like Perlman better on the tapes I have of him playing a del Gesu. But his strad has a bit more bite than most strads, so I like his sound on the strad as well.

I do think we can generalize about strads and del Gesus, which is what I think Raymond was doing. I do not think it is true of every strad or every del Gesu, however; I agree with Pieter that it is a bit more complex than that.

Many think the difference is the Strad is bright, whereas the del Gesu is dark, and that the del Gesu has a deeper fatter bottom end.

I do not think this is true. To my ear the difference is that the Strad has a general sound, an “airy’ sound, or a very resonate sound, etc, and it is a very pure, smooth, sound, whereas the del Gesu has a very earthy sound, and a gnarl or growl to it, which usually sounds somewhat harsh under the ear. And the del Gesu sound does not really warm up unless you attack it a bit, and play with force and power. And for me this sound under the ear has always been really hard because my natural tendency is to hear the harshness and want to back off to make it cleaner, but this is the opposite of what must be done with a del Gesu-like instrument; it is only when you attack it a bit that the instrument really warms up.

Some think that the del Gesu cuts through orchestras better because it is louder, but actually it is usually not quite as powerful as the strad. But here is the thing, it does not need to be because its sound is much more focused and it is this that enables it to cut through better than the Strad

Now I am speaking in general terms because I have heard a few strads that sound very much like tamed del Gesus, and vice versa.

July 9, 2007 at 04:28 AM · I think the only real reason people think del Gesus "growl" is because they're often played that way and accept the "sticky bow" a lot better.

Again it goes back to teaching... today, there's an aggressiveness (under the more acceptable veil of projection) being taught and for some reason, every kid wants to play on a del Gesu style violin, when almost none have the necessary bow arm to make it work. Most would benefit more from a Strad type violin. Like Mr. Darnton has often remarked, most people want a del Gesu, but really should be using something else.

For every crunchy type player of a del Gesu, I can name you an elegant one who doesn't sound like they're trying to kill someone.

Also, Milstein, Oistrakh, and a whole manner of other players were able to get any kind of sound they wanted out of a violin. Oistrakh definately took risks and sometimes played aggressively, and it came accross beautifully on his Strad.

People just associate bigger, better, louder with del Gesu but it really depends on the player. If you haven't got a big hunk of an arm, you really can't benefit from it (unless you're one of the rare exceptions). Of course you could always use a lot of index finger pressure, but that really doesn't end up sounding very good.

As most of us know, few people can tell you the difference between a del Gesu and a Strad. Maybe Charles Beare and some like him can, but we all know how Zukerman got fooled, and I've also been told by several players who get to handle both types of instruments far more regularly than anyone of us that anyone who says they can consistently distinguish between the two is completely full of it. I tend to agree with them... it's all about the player.

Personally I think Vengerov and his Strad are a beautiful match. They sound great together. I also disagree about Midori. She works incredibly well with her del Gesu. I had 2 lessons with her in November and had a chance to hear her quite up close, and I don't think that just because she doesn't try to scream bloody murder that she shouldn't be using a del Gesu. I think these people know what's best for their own playing, especially considering the options they have, not to mention that they know themselves better than we know them.

July 9, 2007 at 05:43 AM · Pieter, thank you for the points you made. I do not write on here much, but I always enjoy what you write, even when I do not agree with it, which is not often. So I thank you not only for this post, but also for all the others that I have not commented on, but have nevertheless enjoyed.

I guess we have to agree to disagree about Midori and Vengerov, and that’s ok. I see your point about them knowing what is best for them. That is a really strong argument! In fact, so strong that it really puts the burden of proof upon my shoulders, and I doubt I have anything strong enough to meet that burden. Still, I know what my ears, hear.

I also think that an objective view is worth a lot. I would also add that almost everyone I talk to about these two players and how well their style fits their instrument has agreed with me. But that maybe more about the circle of players I hang with than anything else.

Again I surely see your point, and the only way we could really settle this is if they switched to other instruments, and even then we might disagree about their sound with other instruments.

Here is another point to consider with those two players: Midori switched to a del Gesu because of its size (read it in an article about her just a few weeks ago), and there are a lot less good del Gesus out here than strads, so perhaps Vengerov plays a strad because of this reason.

As for what is being taught out there, I really do not know. I know my kids are not being taught to play over aggressively, but I am not in those circles, so I really do not know what is being taught.

And I cannot really tell you what it would take to play a del Gesu well because I have never spent enough time on them. I know I had to dig in a bit, and I know that other violins that have been made to sound like this also required more of a bow arm. So perhaps you are right, perhaps few could actually pull it off.

As for others sounding really great on strads and other instruments—absolutely! But to be honest with you I would have rather heard both Milstein and Oistrakh on a really focused del Gesu. But that is just my thing, nothing more.

As for being able to distinguish between the two: at first I could not do so. But after listening to so many violins in the last two years, and at times listening for the violin “sound” on tapes, rather than just listening to the piece, I think I can tell the difference. But only if the strad is the resonate/general sound that I associate with it, and only if the del Gesu is the focused sound that I associate with that violin. I really would hate to have to distinguish Chang’s del Gesu from Perlman’s strad. That would be really hard for me.

As for other instruments: I am in the modern camp; I really do believe that some of the better violins made today could do well against the best strads and del Gesus. But this is a whole other topic. I guess what I want to say is it would be much harder to distinguish many other fine instruments from each other then it is a del Gesu and a Strad because I think over the years strads and del Gesus have been set up to meet the sound we naturally associate with those instruments. But with a bunch of moderns thrown in, well, it would be a lot harder than just picking out a general sound from a very focused sound.

And I agree with you that it has more to do with the player than anything else. This is for sure. Still, I love Perlman on the del Gesu a lot more than on the Soil, so we must admit that the violin does have something to do with it. I know a while back I did a night of solo work with an orchestra full of L.A. ringers, who play pretty strongly, and I had little problem getting through, mostly because of the ax I was playing. Years ago, when I did not have this ax, I would have struggled to get through. So the instrument does have something to do with it (I doubt if we disagree here).

Ok, well, again thank you for the post! And I look forward to what you and others will write on some of the things now being mentioned in what started as an almost sarcastic thread.

July 9, 2007 at 03:40 PM ·

July 9, 2007 at 05:40 PM · Chung, Szeryng, Francescatti, young Menuhin, Spalding, Elman, non-crunchers all.

July 9, 2007 at 05:54 PM · Would y'all mind pointing us newbies to specific examples of these players and the styles you've mentioned? If you know of recordings available on iTunes (my primary vehicle for purchasing classical music these days, unless someone has a better idea) I would be especially grateful. Thank you. P.S. There are excellent Gil Shaham videos on YouTube and the sound quality was remarkable considering the source.

July 9, 2007 at 06:52 PM · My understanding is that crunching means bearing down intently on a phrase or note for expressiveness that could be achieved with less intensity. I could be wrong--I just took the conversation tongue and cheek because I'm not qualified to hang with the big boys either.

If you watch some players for example, they seem to never really move from a 'generally' fixed posture and bow attack; whereas, some really dig in there with that bow--Menhuin does come to mind come to think of it, as does Milstein playing Partita in E on youtube--at least in my mind...

July 9, 2007 at 10:13 PM · Crunch coming from natural use of energy=okay.

Crunch coming from an artificially induced attack=not so good (especially when it results in coughing fits due to rosin overspray).

July 9, 2007 at 09:41 PM · Hey Raymond what did you smoke?

Who is your dealer?

Probably you have to change him

July 10, 2007 at 03:32 AM · Mike, I see your point, and I will not rule out that some people might have superior hearing. I'm only 22 so maybe when I'm your age I will also be able to hear the difference.

Also, back to Raymond's original point, I think there's a big difference between overly "safe", secure playing (where accuracy and consistent beauty of tone is the priority), and a performer with a superior grasp of the instrument who chooses a, shall I say "aristocratic" performance. This is a player who chooses not to take obvious risks and engage him/herself in a more visceral way, but sort of transcends violin playing itself. It's rare, and for me few people do this. It also only happens with the truly sublime works (and obviously excludes most of the virtuoso repertoire). So, just people you don't see snot and sweat flying everywhere, it doesn't mean that the person is going on autopilot. In fact, I think there's far more rehearsed (aka fake and lame) players who like to "crunch" than people who aim to completely serve the music.

July 10, 2007 at 03:44 AM · Pieter said:

"I think there's far more rehearsed (aka fake and lame) players who like to "crunch" than people who aim to completely serve the music."

Ah to be a beginner and crunch 'everything'..... Hearing that digging in martele others are playing, and trying to mimic it--not a pretty sight, but getting better.

Then, there's the chords in Suzuki 3-7 as this very conversation came up, followed by a simple trill. Yep, still crunching, but not as bad.

I think I'll aspire to watch Milstein and Oistrakh for at least 3 minutes a day. To crunch or not to crunch--Oistrakh will lead the way.

July 10, 2007 at 04:44 PM · Great points in all posts, Pieter.

July 10, 2007 at 04:49 PM · First I shall practice what I preach: serve the music... Thank you Pieter.

But, after listening to "Bach, Partita No. 2, in D Minor, Ciacconna" submitted by Eugene Drucker, contrasted to Heifetz, I think I understand crunching better now. The chords for example at the very beginning.....

July 10, 2007 at 10:57 PM · Albert, you have such a wonderful perspective and spirit about music and the violin. You are so dedicated and humble as well. I'm rooting for you and those daily struggles that may morph but never go away :)


July 11, 2007 at 02:38 AM · Thanks Jennifer--that was very nice.

You said:

"I'm rooting for you and those daily struggles that may morph but never go away :)"

Playing music for 40 years now, it is those who discover violin later in life as a primary instrument I'm rooting for. This is a brutal and humbling instrument for one who has an ear far beyond ability in appreciation.

Still, I shall succeed some day the best I can even if it truly does prove,

I remain,

Mr. Legatomeister

August 11, 2007 at 12:59 PM · Yes Albert, your attitude is wonderful to see! Love it! Cannot get enough of it! I wish I had had the same attitude in my playing days! You really are an inspiration!

August 11, 2007 at 07:15 PM · I'm not quite sure if I know what this discussion is about. If it is on attacks, it is pretty simple there are two schools of thought: starting from the string (catch and release), and letting the bow fall. The catch and release method to me sounds ugly and is the equivalent in sound to a brass player spitting into the valve. This method is more of an orchestra/chamber music thing, although there are groups like the NY Phil that choose not to make this pinch at the beginning of notes.

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