Developing Perfect Pitch...

July 9, 2007 at 06:38 PM · What are your thoughts on perfect pitch? Can it be learned? And has anyone tried the David Lucas Burge ear training Super Course.

Replies (48)

July 9, 2007 at 09:55 PM · Imho there's an aural skills continuum which improves as we improve our ear. In general, I think perfect pitch can be learned, and I think once you have it, you can improve it (like teaching yourself to pick out chords or notes on different instruments or to go faster etc.), but this is kind-of a chicken or the egg question, and I'm sure some people will want to say if you developed perfect pitch, you already had it to begin with.

There are extensive discussions about this in the archives--I think people have mentioned this same method in previous threads.

July 9, 2007 at 09:48 PM · what do you mean with pitch?

..sorry I'm italian!

July 9, 2007 at 09:58 PM · perfect pitch means you're instantly able to name the note being played just by hearing it. often people with perfect pitch have a hard time hearing bad intonation.

July 10, 2007 at 02:02 AM · Paul,

I have heard that individuals with perfect pitch can have this trouble. Do you know why some do and others do not?

July 10, 2007 at 02:20 AM · I'm a perfect pitch person, and I find that I can tell whether notes are in tune or not for most cases. I'm not sure about others, but in my case, I have the notes like internalized (like I can sing notes without any external reference), which may contribute to me knowing what's in or out of tune.

What may contribute to other perfect pitch people's inability to distinguish bad intonation is them forcing a bad intonation to be a note. Like, say someone is intending to play C#, but they're slightly flat. Since it's so close, they might overlook it and just call it C#, even though it's flat.

But that's all speculation. I really don't know much.

I do think, however, that perfect pitch can be developed. If you're around it enough, I think one would start to pick up on it.

Cheers!

July 10, 2007 at 07:37 AM · I'm training it into a couple of students as we speak. I don't think it's where it's at for all of them, but some of them have the inclination, and I want to develop it. I'll let you know how it turns out.

July 10, 2007 at 03:50 PM · WEIRD...now I know why my topic didn't make the boards today...someone was asking about the SAME THING at the SAME TIME! :)

I definitely believe in perfect pitch. I saw an ad (probably the same person you are talking about) several years ago and thought it was nonsense, relating a particular feeling to each pitch.

However, six years ago, I came home with my brand new CD recording of the Honors Orchestra, and was humming the Handel Celebration (probably a simplified middle school version, which was the first song we played on that recording. As I hit play, I realized I had predicted the EXACT key without even trying-- G.

We had only played that song for a couple months...yet I retained the notes in my memory (full orchestra) for a long time.

Since then, I have been able to give the pitch for any note, based on spontaneously thinking about that song. It's very useful for determining what key to do a song in while making arrangements for a vocalist. I was always right within one quarter-tone-- until about a year ago. Now, on average, my starting note on that song comes out a half-tone flat instead of a quarter-tone flat.

I'm not sure what has happened. I've never heard that song in any other key nor played it in another key. My best guess is that my voice is getting slightly lower since I sing a lower bass line than I did in middle school. Therefore, the G pitch doesn't come as naturally anymore. As my voice has gotten lower, so has my guess for pitch...making it imperfect once again.

Maybe I should go by my singing range for a more accurate pitch? It's pretty much an octave from Bb2 to Bb3, and G is definitely pretty high in there.

-----

On the note of hearing notes and naming them, I can do that pretty well if I'm listening to an orchestra. Eb's stand out nicely. HOWEVER-- this only works when I'm listening to an orchestra with a string section properly in tune, as I'm not familiar enough with the variances in timbre between pitch with other instruments.

July 10, 2007 at 04:09 PM · Here is a question I have posed before in this forum, but since the perfect pitch issue has been raised again, I will ask it again. How do those of you out there with perfect pitch react when you go to a period performance/instruments concert or listen to a CD and the tuning is A-415?

July 10, 2007 at 04:47 PM · The first time I had to play in 415, it took the first half of the rehearsal for me to figure out I reeeeally souldn't be playing in half-position in order to hear what I saw on the page. It basically "clicked" after the break and I've been fine since -- including when I had to do a concert in A=430, which to a perfect pitcher is "not a real note." I actually think that relying more on intervalic relationships has improved my intonation beyond what perfect pitch can do. On the violin for example, I may think of a note as "absolute" but it's not the note the violin wants to speak in that context. The goal is resonance, not sounding like a midi file!

July 10, 2007 at 08:32 PM · The stage tuning is often the most horrifying part... I can't count on one hand how often I've been to an Honors performance and the oboe's A was, quite bluntly, wrong. It was never as low as a 415, which is just below Ab, but it still sounds very wrong. Just a little bit off is okay, but wow. And what bugs me even more is when the last sound you hear during the tuning is a wrong note from the brass section. Oh....

The feeling is somewhat similar to that feeling you get when you feel sympathy for the whole orchestra when the percussionist accidentally messes up the end of Mars, Bringer of War-- and tries unsuccessfully to fix it.

As far as hearing the song played out of tune... Actually, I prefer it as Socrates put it, "I should rather my lyre be out harmony with the world than with itself." That is, I don't mind the song being out of tune...as long as every instrument is in tune with it.

When I play with an audiocassette, I spend the first few minutes figuring out how to tune my violin in order to play along. It's often three quarter tones lower, but I've had where I have to tune upward a few steps before (older recordings).

BUT if I see the notes on the page, it REALLY bugs me hearing them at a (slightly) different pitch. I find it hard to sing a whole step lower than written, for instance. Also, when I use Noteworthy Composer, I often transpose the sound playback up or down to match the recording I'm using as a guide, and my brain does an "urrrg...wrong key" thing when I watch the score as it's being played back in the other key.

___

Hearing a string section play is very nice for me, because I can often recognize by the timbre of the note what note is being played. It helps give me a greater appreciation at times, too, for the difficulty of the music. Other times, it's suddenly obvious that the song isn't as hard as it sounds to most people.

___

I checked my "perfect" G again this morning...it's definitely a half step flat now. Too much-- I need to be listening to that Handel Celebration more often again...or find a new song!

July 11, 2007 at 03:13 PM · I have no idea why people are obsessed with perfect pitch. Whenever someone finds out you have perfect pitch, it's like they discovered that you're minor European royalty. And of course, when someone else who has it finds out that you do too, they somehow think there's like this psychic bond between the two of you.

Perfect pitch probably harms me more than anything because things like Fb and other enharmonics make less sense, not to mention chamber music tuning is made more difficult.

I think your time would be far better spent practicing than learning such a party trick. The only time perfect pitch ever helped me was when in ear training class in the atonal dictations and other things like that where I had to give little effort to give perfect. Other than that...

July 11, 2007 at 03:31 PM · Lol Pieter and AMEN!

If you want to improve your pitch memory, have at it. Acquire perfect relative pitch while you're at it.

July 11, 2007 at 03:44 PM · My friend says it drives her near batty--every sound--is recognized and identified pitch wise beyond music. But my, can she play.

July 11, 2007 at 03:51 PM · Pieter - I have heard that for music students at conservatory, it is a big deal. The world there apparently divides into those that have it and those that don't and the latter have to develop a way of compensating.

July 11, 2007 at 04:12 PM · Sounds rather political to me Tom--I bet you are right.

July 11, 2007 at 04:29 PM · Albert - my impression from what I heard is that it is more than political. There are apparently certain courses, probably solfege and maybe theory, that are much easier for those with perfect pitch. Those without have to develop ways of compensating.

July 11, 2007 at 05:12 PM · perfect pitch is annoying. i have friends that have it and they constantly tell me what note the buzzing of a light is.

i dont know if i have perfect pitch. i can remember a note for a long time. i can also tell if someone plays out of tune (unless theyre playing schoenberg)

July 11, 2007 at 09:12 PM · It has helped me in certain situations, and probably hasn't done any great harm. It's not a big deal though, in school or otherwise, and I don't know which of my friends or colleagues has perfect pitch. But I remember very clearly which of them use a shoulder rest! :)

July 11, 2007 at 09:41 PM · Pretty much the only times I ever use it are when I'm trying to figure out (over the phone) what key we need to perform something in in order to suit the vocalist for a wedding prelude, when I'm teaching someone a song (so they don't learn it as "really high" and find out it's actually a low song, and when I'm whistling classical music, because it would be a sin to whistle Tchaikovsky or Holst in the wrong key. On certain days, it's particularly stronger and I can get my violin relatively more in tune than usual without a tuning aid.

Other than that, it's useless to me.

And the buzzing light thing... I don't think of the note that naturally...I'm way slow at recognizing what pitch I'm hearing, but surprisingly accurate most of the time.

I have actually thought about determining the pitch of whirring computers at work before, but I've decided against it. It would be a waste of a perfectly good minute.

Right now the computer next to me is an Eb. There. That took about a minute. Mostly to determine which pitch was dominant.

July 12, 2007 at 08:35 AM · I have perfect pitch. I always have, that I can remember, but apparently when I was young my dad used to make me play my scales on the piano and sing the names of the notes as I played them. I would've been about 3 years old at this stage. I don't remember when my parents worked out that I had perfect pitch, but apparently they called in a local music professor to check out what was going on as I used to name the notes of car horns beeping as we were driving or in the street.

Anyway, to me, naming notes (at A440 give or take a little, as these days I tend to tune to A442) is like saying what colour something is - I don't have to think about it, only if the note is really low or really high (definately at the edges of our hearing and definately not on the piano or in the orchestra).

My problems with PP are - bad intonation really bugs me - I involuntarily wince sometimes - although I don't do this very much while teaching as I think I would probably end up with a tremor with some of my students.

I could never play a transposing instrument (or at least I think I couldn't)

I can only just play an out of tune piano (simple tunes), but I am constantly transposing in my head.

I tried very hard to play baroque violin at A415 and found it so difficult. My brain was so confused. I'd be almost ok if I stayed in one position because I would transpose down in my head (so C Major would sounds as roughly B Major) although it was still difficult. However with shifting, I had to concentrate so much, because I would see the note on the page, shift to it, hear the "wrong note" and wonder if I should shift higher. I remember having a small solo in a Baroque ensemble concert ( I think it was a harpsichord concerto) and having to practise it so that I knew the notes in the "wrong key" whilst playing in the written key. I was so stressed out in the concert and the solo was only four or five lines long. I stopped Baroque performance after that and would love to do it again but only at A440 or A 438.

I watched a program on TV the other day that said 1 in 10,000 people have perfect pitch which seems rare, but when you think about it, it isn't that rare and I think that it would be more frequent in the music world than 1 in 10,000. Probably less than 1 in 1000. So most people on this forum would know at least 1 person if not more with PP.

July 12, 2007 at 11:41 AM · I am a bit confused about perfect pitch vs. relative pitch. When I was young and taking piano lessons, each note had a very obvious flavor or color no matter the octave in which it resided, and each key also had a flavor or color all it's own as well. Now I am much older and have begun playing the violin (not all that long ago, however) and I find that I pay a great deal more attention to the interval than I did before. I still recognize the notes, of course, but the interval now plays a huge role as well, nearly equal to that of the note itself. Maybe this is due to the fact that I have to set the interval (no frets, nor keys to do this for me), but what I am wondering is does any of the above have anything to do with perfect pitch or relative pitch? I would say I am not one with perfect pitch (for one, I struggle to sing in tune). But, what the heck is relative pitch?

And while on this topic, how many of you have heard recordings of Joseph Joachim? I remember when I first listened to my CD of Joseph Joachim playing I thought "Man, this guy's playing way out of tune!" Which was a bit strange considering the stature of the artist. At first I thought it must have had something to do with the recording technology of the day, but I have since come to learn that he used a different scale or intonation. When I listen to him play I still find it to be a bit like rubbing a cat or dog the wrong way, but I am able to listen beyond it and appreciate the music. I find these very early recordings to be so interesting, even though the quality is obviously rather poor.

July 12, 2007 at 01:43 PM · "I remember when I first listened to my CD of Joseph Joachim playing I thought 'Man, this guy's playing way out of tune!'"

Now I don't feel so bad about not being able to play all those breaks...er, cadenzas.

With all this talk about recognizing note names within split seconds, it's making me wonder as well, Chris. I think one of three things is happening:

1) The may be different degrees of PP.

2) Learning disabilities may hinder PP, which would explain why it takes me longer than others to determine the pitch, but can still do it surprisingly accurately.

3) Maybe what I'm experiencing is not perfect pitch, but something else, such as this "relative pitch" that someone brought up.

From Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia that any intelligent or world-hating person can edit:

The term relative pitch may denote:

the distance of a musical note from a set point of reference, e.g. "three octaves above middle C"

a musician's ability to identify the intervals between given tones, regardless of their relation to concert pitch (A = 440 Hz)

the skill used by singers to correctly sing a melody, following musical notation, by pitching each note in the melody according to its distance from the previous note. Alternatively, the same skill which allows someone to hear a melody for the first time and name the notes relative to some known starting pitch.

Unlike absolute pitch (sometimes called "perfect pitch"), relative pitch is quite common among musicians, especially musicians who are used to "playing by ear". Also unlike perfect pitch, relative pitch is common among non-musicians and is quite possible to develop through ear training.[citation needed]

Um...no. I definitely don't have relative pitch. I gotta think a few seconds there, counting half-steps in my head. Fifths are easy as a string player, and octaves are just something every normal human is capable of. But I don't have relative pitch, at least, I don't think it's relative.

Wiki suggests that PP learning is possible, although it's also believed to be a dominant gene. So basically it can be inherited or learned. I'd guess that learned is probably less accurate, since it's usually done at a much later age than these people who name car horn tones at early ages.

As far as my case goes, I can only guess that I played Handel Celebration a few times too many during the couple months I had it.

July 12, 2007 at 10:55 PM · Just to throw it out there, there are people who have perfect pitch only when hearing their own instrument. My parents (flutists), for example, can hear any note on the flute and know what it is. But with other instruments, they're only guessing.

July 13, 2007 at 01:00 AM · With regard to wind instruments, it's very easy for players of that instrument to identify pitches played because of the significant differences in tone quality throughout the different registers.

For example even notes that are right next to one another fingering and tone-hole-wise, like concert G#/Ab and concert G on a Bb Clarinet, are still immediately identifiable to any clarinet player.

It's the same kind of sense that allows string players to notice whether a soloist has decided to finger a middle of the staff B on the A string or up on the D string...there's a strongly noticeable tonal difference.

July 13, 2007 at 02:51 AM · Like I said "pitch continuum."

July 13, 2007 at 03:26 AM · I still think that a lot of people have the potential. So many times, I hear people relay a song they know, and they pick the correct key with no reference point. They just remember songs that way. All they would need to do from there is learn the names of the pitches.

July 13, 2007 at 11:29 AM · Dr Sarah Wilson (Psychology & Physiology), who can be contacted through the Uni of Melbourne, did an extensive research on comparison of pitch recognition by people with perfect vs those with relative pitch. She used various brain scans, published foundings in number of scientific magazines, etc... The bottom line was that there are distinctive differences in brain activities during pitch recognition among participants in those two groups: if I remember correctly, the Perfect pitchers had an very intensive splash of brain activity, but on relatively small area; while the Relative pitchers where processing the incoming signal involving significantly larger area of their brains, partially covering the area activated in Perfect pitchers, but with epicentres of activity all around the place.

There are also interesting foundings in works of prof. Gardner from Harvard Uni - you have to read his publications regarding cognitive development in children...

It seems to me that we all are born with perfect pitch and then most of us just loose it if left unattendant by the time we go to school...

If you wouldn't be able to get in touch with Dr Wilson, then I can try and dig into the mounts of my old papers, because I was one of the participants of her study on the perfect pitch side, plus she was our lecturer for Psychology and Physiology where we discussed some of her theories as well as othere relevent to this topic information.

Also there is another kind of pitch: you can call it "developed Perfect". Professional musicians of high standard most often develop (or re-develop according to my idea of us all being born with it) ability to identify sounds of their primary instrument, but they are bound by the timbre and/or register of their chosen source e.g violinist will not be able to identify sounds of brass or woodwind, and will also struggle with Double bass or cello in the registers below the violin's range.

Hope it helps.

Cheers, Olena.

July 13, 2007 at 02:36 PM · Speaking of songs & perfect pitch, does it bother anyone to hear someone's phone ring, playing the 'ode to joy' theme in c major? I hear popular themes in totally wrong keys and then I lose any respect I had for the phone company....

July 13, 2007 at 02:56 PM · I have a question:

what do you call a person who can't tell you what key your in or even what note it is but can tell if you are in or out of tune even if they have never heard the song before? That's me btw..but I was curious is that just "a good ear" or maybe not even a good ear just what normal musical people have?

July 13, 2007 at 02:59 PM · that's relative pitch.

July 15, 2007 at 06:59 PM · Obsessing about "perfect pitch" (which really should be called "pitch identification" since there are different tuning systems and thus no absolute pitches) is a waste of time. What most musicians should be concerned with is developing perfect rhythm. It's rhythm that gets most people, whether in an audition or simply doing a professional job at a wedding gig.

July 15, 2007 at 10:24 PM · When I told my co-workers I had perfect pitch they told me it was my super power. Of course, I'm not really sure how to apply this super power..... Suggestions?

I can recognize pitch, but if you said to me, "Sing a D", I couldn't do it. Strange? A friend of mine can both recognize pitches and sing them as well. Is that called something else?

July 16, 2007 at 07:02 AM · I hear them best if I pretend I'm playing them, either on the piano or violin. Isn't that funny?

July 16, 2007 at 01:40 PM · Heather - there are cases of people with perfect pitch who are tone deaf and can't sing a note. Perfect pitch just means that you can identify the pitch.

July 16, 2007 at 01:38 PM · My version of "perfect pitch" is a strange one. I can identify pitches on:

- our old piano, tuned at A 435;

- my own violin;

- an oboe (within limits, and preferably a Lorée);

- other violins, whether at A440 or A415.

With other instruments or with pure tones my "ability" does not work.

July 16, 2007 at 09:32 PM · When one of the solfege teachers at my school was in school, he had a horrible ear. Couldn't sing tonic if you played a major triad. He now has perfect pitch, just as good as anybody born with it. Proof right there that it can be learned.

July 16, 2007 at 09:55 PM · Hello:

No one answered this part of Paul's question:

And has anyone tried the David Lucas Burge ear training Super Course?

I'd like to broaden the question: Does anyone know anything about the method?

Mary

July 16, 2007 at 11:36 PM · "Speaking of songs & perfect pitch, does it bother anyone to hear someone's phone ring, playing the 'ode to joy' theme in c major? I hear popular themes in totally wrong keys and then I lose any respect I had for the phone company...."

Catherine, yes! It's got to be a sin to play, sing, hum, or whistle in the wrong key! Why else would perfect pitch matter?

I believe it was the David Burge or whatever his name was, that I saw an ad for a few years ago in a music magazine. I got a good laugh from it, thinking about naïve (<--spelling?) people trying to memorize pitches in a couple of weeks, only to come out hating music or thinking of some weird philosophy that ruins the way they hear things...worse than what we think of when we listen to music as musicians!

Can't say I tried it, though.

I decided to give up on Handel Celebration. From now on, I'll bring in the song from my subconscious and then SHIFT UP A HALF STEP!!! :) :) :)

BTW... I realized that even though my Handel Celebration has gone flat, my 440 hasn't! :)

July 17, 2007 at 04:30 AM · In the real world there is an invaluable sense of adjusting to unexpected conditions. At a concert in Germany our chamber orchestra played the Marcello D minor oboe concerto with an accompaniment scored for strings and harpsichord.

During the second movement all the strings noticed that the oboe was slowly getting sharper and sharper and we all adjusted. Apparently the oboe pitch was slowly going higher and higher due to the weather.

Continuing on with the second movement, the harpsichord was getting to be annoyingly out of tune with the rest of us; he was playing softer and softer, and wondering what to do next. At the beginning of the third movement he had enough sense to stop playing.

The oboist was in top form and the end of the concerto was followed by a standing ovation. The perfect pitch which music theorists have so eloquently expound upon was slowly bent in a northward bound direction.

Ted Kruzich

July 19, 2007 at 12:36 AM · I tried the David Burge home-study version of his "Perfect Pitch" course for about 6 months or so. It didn't seem to have any effect on my pitch recognition. I followed his instructions and practiced daily, but was never able to hear what he described as the qualitative "color" differences between pitches, as opposed to recognizing different intervals.

This was about 20 years ago. I practiced at that time on a guitar. I doubt that trying the exercises on a violin would have been any different.

July 19, 2007 at 01:09 AM · Greetings,

I think in some ways these kinds of systems have got it backwards. If you want to develop your sense of pitch start with your own internal model and then check it against something rtaher than listening to the same thing over and over. This kind of procedure tend sot lead to minimal mentla activity as time goes by. In eseence one is bored.

I have found one the most beneficial kinds of exercises for ear training on the violin are to play daily exercises in which one leaps bizarre intervals on one string on a daily basis. BY doing exercises which force you to pre plan where the finger is going and then checking the result very carefully the ear is kept in good condition,

Cheers,

Buri

July 19, 2007 at 05:37 AM · perfect pitch...

is it really that important? yes, please play in tune. that comes from having a good teacher and him/her pointing out if you are out of tune.

is it learned? i have no idea. all i know is that having perfect pitch is not as great as everyone thinks it is. when i attend my church worship music services. the singing team is comprised mostly of volunteer singers. there is one person who sings about a quarter note FLAT all the TIME. every single freakin' note. it doesnt drive me crazy...it causes me actual physical pain. i cant describe it...but it really is an all over body pain. there have been times where i needed to get up and leave because the pain is so uncomfortable.

for those wanting to achieve 'perfect pitch'...my suggestion would be to practice getting accurate intonation first...then the perfect pitch will hopefully follow.

after i stopped beating myself up about everything that was wrong with my playing and just started enjoying my playing...i improved much much faster and with better results.

stay true to the composer and sprinkle it with light touches of your personality. your listeners will love it!!!

December 10, 2008 at 07:02 PM ·

In the real world there is an invaluable sense of adjusting to unexpected conditions. At a concert in Germany our chamber orchestra played the Marcello D minor oboe concerto with an accompaniment scored for strings and harpsichord.

During the second movement all the strings noticed that the oboe was slowly getting sharper and sharper and we all adjusted. Apparently the oboe pitch was slowly going higher and higher due to the weather.
Continuing on with the second movement, the harpsichord was getting to be annoyingly out of tune with the rest of us; he was playing softer and softer, and wondering what to do next. At the beginning of the third movement the harpsichord player had enough sense to stop playing.

The oboist was in top form and the end of the concerto was followed by a standing ovation. The perfect pitch which music theorists have so eloquently expounded upon was slowly bent in a northward bound direction.
Ted Kruzich

December 11, 2008 at 06:48 PM ·

Hi b.f.

About the pain of hearing notes out of tune, I know exactly what you mean. Listening to it it's like having a musical splinter! In my case as a parent I have to be patient :-)

Siri

December 12, 2008 at 09:12 PM ·

Can perfect pitch actually be learned? I strongly believe it can. I still have to prove it. I developed a practice programn for my students that has , as one of the main goals , developing perfect pitch.  My belief is it will be successfull. However , facts still have to prove theory. I have intensly thought about this. After my program , the students would  be clearly nicely develped, even if they would not achieve perfect pitch.

 

If my theory proves right with time , I will probably write a few works about it later on , to share the procedure with others. \

wish you a good day,

Larisa

December 13, 2008 at 02:22 PM ·

Larisa,

Good luck teaching perfect pitch as I am of the strong opinion it can be taught. As for playing with the out of tune oboe...great story. It is also important to teach the intervals (up and down the scale) so they can adjust to any tone. It will be a musical splinter as someone so poetically described it,  but they will adjust and take the lemon and make lemonaide.

 

December 14, 2008 at 07:44 AM ·

An interesting side note...I read in  either "This is Your Brain on Music"  or "Musicophilia" about the possible reason for perfect pitch...it exists in much higher incidence in people who are native speakers of highly pitch senstive languages (such as Chinese and related languages)...this was determined by a survey of conservatory students - 60% of students who spoke Asian languages had perfect pitch vs. 10% of those who spoke languages from other groups...

December 14, 2008 at 09:45 PM ·

Perfect pitch is an interesting discussion.  I started playing violin at age five, and I have a great sense of relative pitch, and can pretty much identify notes on the violin, I do not have perfect pitch.  However, my two younger sisters do--I attribute this to them having been hearing music from a younger age (they are also instrumentalists) from me!  Also, I would say perfect pitch is very common in the music world--in school I took a class called "atonal sight-singing" in which I was one of only two people in the class without perfect pitch.  It just took a little more effort.  Most of my friends from college have it, and not having it seems like more of a rarity.  Trust me, though, I still am annoyed by people playing out of tune!  One last thought, only one of my students has ever had it so far, and he was the youngest of four violinists in the family.  I think there's got to be something to that.

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