Playing too much in tune...

November 23, 2008 at 07:43 AM ·

So I've just resolved a couple of problems in my left hand.  While this is really wonderful because my intonation is really 'on' now, my violin rings like bloody hell and is LOUD.  Now after I practice my left ear will be ringing (well it always rings a little after I practice, but more than usual - and it always goes away within the hour after practicing) and it actually hurt a little just now.  I don't want to use earplugs, and I sure as hell don't want to go back to playing not in tune, so what can I do?  Besides not practicing, of course.


Replies (24)

November 23, 2008 at 12:55 PM ·

Ah I've had this problem too.

What you can do is either have just one ear plug in the left ear and that will stop the ringing, or you can switch the place where your practicing so you can get a different sound. Well at least that's what worked for me.

November 23, 2008 at 01:43 PM ·

Your problems might be the fault of the instrument or strings.  Experiment with both.  I know of instruments are just "ringy" and "loud" and that is one way to fix it--get a new violin.  Really cheap strings tend to ring a lot, too.

If the instrument isn't the problem, and the strings aren't the issue, then you're left with ear plugs, as Paul suggested.

Please do not sacrifice technique for comfort, if you can avoid it.

Best of luck to you!

November 23, 2008 at 02:35 PM ·

Very true.....listen to Paul.  As a matter of fact, I may need earplugs in my left ear too.

When I practice my Bruch Concerto, I am not letting any note pass being out of tune, so I am really making sure I hear the overtones.  However, after about 30 minutes of slow, in-tune playing, every time I hear overtones, I feel something in my ear vibrating very harshly....and it sometimes hurts.  Kind of feels like a large amount of water in your ear and you can't get it out. 

November 23, 2008 at 04:48 PM ·

This has come up before, possibly in relation to volume? There are a number of things you can do. 1) Have your violin checked to see if there is something off making this happen. 2) Try different strings. 3) Play less loudly. Save your big, full volume for particular passages. 4) Wear foam plugs. 5) Get custom-fitted earplugs with filters that reduce dangerous decibel levels. 6) Work on your playing position so your head doesn't put your left ear in that direct a line to the strings. Sue  

November 23, 2008 at 05:17 PM ·

One thing I'd like to point out which Sue touched on, is change the position of your violin. Or the way your playing. By the way your playing, I mean try with out a shoulder rest, with a shoulder rest, change shoulder rests, play with a cloth, change rosins etc.

I am at fault for my "loudness". I use a rosin that produces much more sound (Andrea Bang, soloist). My strings for my particular violin work very good. I switch out between Pirastro and Evah Pirazzi. The Evah's are loud and open which doesn't help volume, and the Oliv are more refined with beautiful tone.

So there are many ways to alter volume.  Just expirement!

November 23, 2008 at 07:06 PM ·

Chances are that the sound power coming into your left ear is 12 to 18 DB greater than into your right ear (depending on how you, specifically, hold the violin).  Not only can this be painful (to some people and even damaging, as you have noted) but it may actually overdrive your left ear to the extent that you are actually out of tune (especially compared to other instruments you might play with and hear preferentially through your more normally attuned right ear). It's actually a known physical/physiological phenomenon, and is usually more pronounced on high notes.

So there is really an additional reason for using an ear plug only in your left ear. I did this for many years. I did an experiment with the entire violin section of our community orchestra and giving each violinist a wax ear plug for their left ears instantly improved the intonation of the entire sections. The plug should be loosely fitted so it only reduces the sound into the left ear but does not eliminate it (all you want to do is attenuate it about 12 - 18 DB).  Now that my ears have aged another 25 years since that original discovery, I no longer use the ear plug in my left ear, but instead I use an appropriate hearing aid in my right ear when I play (both to balance the ears and to enhance the even-more diminished overtone sensitivity of my right ear.


November 23, 2008 at 08:26 PM ·

Many good suggestions here to consider, and I think you are going to have to do as Paul suggested.... Experiment. Have you had an ear exam lately? I hope you can resolve this issue and play in comfort, suffering for your art is not fun. I would start with different strings that are more comfortable under the ear.  You can always switch to the cello!!!!!!!!    ;-) 

Good luck in your quest.

November 24, 2008 at 12:34 AM ·

When I was playing violin I had this problem.  I don't have it with the Viola so it seems to be assoc ciated with the high pitched notes associated with the E string.  I had musicians plugs made.  The custom plug fits in you ear and you can switch out the middle for 15, 25, 35 dB.  I'd put the 15 dB centre in the Left earplug and only wear this one for practicing.  They aren't cheap but they are worth it and have come in handy when I go to rock concerts now.




November 24, 2008 at 07:31 AM ·

It is said about Mozart that he switched to viola because the sound of violin was too shrill for his sensitive ears. It seems you are in excellent company.

November 24, 2008 at 03:27 PM ·

Ringing in the ear is an alert sign of hearing loss .Surdity said of perception is a destruction of hearing cells . The most delicate cells being those that are related to higher sound,the hearing loss affects first the high frequency. Switching to viola is not a solution because the cause of surdity is sound intensity and duration and since, you have no longer a trouble, you are not aware of a danger. You must absolutely either  limit  your practice time or the   sound intensity f heavy metal mute may be useful as recommanded by Y .Menuhin . The safety thread is less than 8 hours at 75 Db. (Sonor trauma is cumulative  and increases the ageeing process of  the hearing organ )

November 24, 2008 at 03:44 PM ·

Someone in this forum recommended ER high fidelity earplugs. They have smaller sizes too. I bought a pair for my kids and they use it on their left ear when they need to play loudly.  As a parent, I'd rather not take the risk.

November 24, 2008 at 04:02 PM ·

...It happens when the room you are practicing in is to small. Perfectly normal...

November 24, 2008 at 05:37 PM ·

gee, can't win,,,problem with playing out and in tune:)

i have noticed that in winter months, when humidity drops,  my violin sounds "sharper" to my ears.  out of tune, that is:)

November 24, 2008 at 10:23 PM ·


>So there are many ways to alter volume.  Just expirement!

Possibly he best malapropism in history?



November 24, 2008 at 11:56 PM ·

I know, it is a little off topic, but does anyone knows great violin soloists who have suffered by surdity. I don't know if my reasoning is correct but I have always said to myself that is some big names of the violin who play with loud orchestras and 10 hours a day for 50 years are not all deph, I sould be ok as a normal violin student!!!!!

Am I wrong to think this and do you know some famous deaph violinists? 



November 25, 2008 at 11:32 AM ·

I am not aware of deaf    violonist   concertist  but I met several Cellist soloist  that wear auditory prosthesis. Orchestra musicians arethe  most  exposed to deafness especially  the woods  section because of  brasses  proximity.



November 25, 2008 at 11:52 AM ·

Something like this is one of the reasons I started playing viola.  I would find that I hated listening to really high notes (above the second A on the E string or thereabouts), even when other people were playing them.  It would sound like fingernails on a blackboard and give me a headache.  I thought it might have been from playing out of tune, not more in tune, but I just had a hard time figuring out way up there whether the notes were in tune at all.  Now that I'm playing more violin again, maybe I should try the earplugs, thanks!

November 29, 2008 at 01:45 PM ·

what strings do u use? may be just use the dark sounds strings, it can help. i've ever experienced this and then i changed my strings with the dark one, and it worked.

December 11, 2008 at 04:38 PM ·

While this is late, thanks everybody for their responses.  Most if not all of them were put to good use.


And, this is gross, but

I should clean my ears more often.

December 11, 2008 at 06:24 PM ·

Hey Charles,

Playing too much in tune?  Wow, talk about a good problem to have.  Do you also have a problem of making TOO MUCH MONEY.  I only wish that I suffered from those problems. :-) 

I'll make a deal with you.  I'll trade your ringing ears for my poor intonation.


December 11, 2008 at 08:54 PM ·

1. The violinist who does *a large amount* of listening to recordings of the violinists who produce a gorgeous, rich, both brilliant and bassy, easy flowing, airy, ringing tone (such as Milstein) will have built up a beautiful model in his aural memory.  This aural memory is key to developing those wonderful qualities in one's own tone.  The violinist who has this will tend to play the instrument in a manner that  excludes loud (like a loud necktie) irritating sounds.  The ability to produce a tone of real quality is very much dependent on beautiful intonation.  So don't worry about beautiful intonation having any bad consequence whatsoever!!  It is only for the good.  You want the ringing but you don't want the harsh, irritating, loud (like a loud necktie) sound.  

2. Besides immersing yourself in listening to the finest examples, you might find that using gut core strings (*after* you learn to adapt your playing to them, and *after* you have played them vigorously for a couple of days to stretch them out) makes it easier to produce the tone that is truly powerful, rather than loud.

3. Protect your hearing.  Moderate the volume of any earphone listening you do.  I don't think ear plugs are necessary, or should be used, when practicing, but we certainly need them at some other times - for example, I have been at weddings where the entertainer's sound system was cranked up way beyond the threshold of pain.  I tore up a paper napkin and quickly devised some ear protection for myself.  Next time I'll bring ear plugs.

August 31, 2009 at 02:49 PM · I am interested to know...Did anyone suffering from left ear pain find a solution they can share...? Did anyone try using gut strings and found an actual difference? I also suffer from pain in my left ear when i practise...I wanted to raise another possibility- widht of bridge? Maybe this can be altered so as to get a smoother sound on the A and E strings?

September 1, 2009 at 06:47 AM ·

To avoid permanent damage to your ear, get another violin if you can afford it. Loud under the ear is not at all a quality criterion for the carrying power of an instrument (rather the opposite), so don't stick to it because of it's subjective loudness. Most old Italian fiddles but also many more affordable fine high quality violins are soft under your ear. Finally you have to test it in a hall with people you trust and who can also play the intruments for you. Another violin is your ultimate solution. Otherwise you will start playing too high at high positions sooner or later... ;-) Possibly a partial solution: using a practice room with dryer acoustics (which has more than one advantage).

September 1, 2009 at 07:23 PM ·

Observe how you hold your head when you play. Sometimes if I'm concentrating intensely I have a bad habit of tilting my head over too far down and to the left--essentially putting the ear right up next to the top plate, as I listen ever more closely--and that hurts my ear after a while too (it also has the woeful side effect of slightly distorting my perception of the notes and sound I'm actually producing.) That could be part of the problem you're having.

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