comparing female and male violinists

December 30, 2008 at 05:46 AM ·

there is something i've always thought to be somewhat true, listening and watching and playing violin myself, i've always thought the sound coming out of the hands of a male is by far more relaxed, and less tense and strained, as a result, superior. no offense to my own sex, since some of the my favorite violinists are female.

i was watching youtube, jumping between sarah chang, vadim repin, and other popular artists joshua bell and hilary hahn, the people i've been obsessing about since i was a young child. i've noticed that as i get older and begins to pick up the subtle differences between the masters, i really prefer the ease and the "having fun" element in the sound made by a bigger, more muscular body. i guess when anne akiko meyers frowns deeply in passion and she seems extremely tense is indeed moving and displays her great appreciation for what she is doing, but honestly, for me to be entertained and feel relaxed, i'd rather watch heifetz or somebody who seems like they OWNS the violin and has total control over not just the instrument, but themselves. 

anyone else feels this way? perhaps i just hasn't listened to the right female violinsts? i'm a female and i'm majoring in violin, needless to say i feel somewhat at a disavantage, for i'm not sure whether a biological or an innate psychological inferiority. lol. 

Replies (57)

December 30, 2008 at 09:36 AM ·

The only large muscluar violinists I know of are ...Menuhin and Vengerov.  You hear that Ysaye was a big man, but in photos he seems more....squishy =X.   I actually think Vengerov and Menuhin are two of the most tense looking of the male violinists despite their muscluar bodies (maybe their big shoulders make it look like they're shrugging even when they're not?)

In contrast, Heifetz, Milstein, Szeryng, etc. all look very slim and you can see how short they are watching them play next to several conductors (every conductor is taller than them before mounting the podium). 

I think the impression of tension actually has to do with the type of sound and technique popular today.  Ida Haendel has sound that is just....for lack of a better word hyper-manly.  Sayaka Shoji also has an exceptionally warm full sound (I was actually quite surprised when I heard her).  The preferred sound now seems to involve a tight, rather fast, constant vibrato which can sound somewhat tense (to me), but I think that's more of a certain trend coinciding with a large number of female violinsits suddenly becoming popular than it has to do with any physical limitation of the players (before the late 20th century there were...what 2 great female violinsits? Now...Chung, Midori, Hahn, Fischer....the list goes on and on).  Maybe this type of sound sticks out more with smaller hands and/or bonier fingers but Heifetz seems to have fairly bony fingers too so I somehow doubt that's the deciding factor. 

December 30, 2008 at 10:06 AM ·

As far as my personal preferences are concerned it seems female violinists have the edge, at least for soloist repertoire: Anne-Sopie Mutter, Hilary Hahn, Viktoria Mullova, Rachel Podger.

On the other hand my favourite string quartet players are mostly male.

December 30, 2008 at 10:49 AM ·

I think thats a rather sexist remark. The music comes from the soul, it has no sex. In my life ive met both men and women in many fields, both quite able to do the job at hand.


Personally, Im sick of hearing that a man or woman can do a better job at any given task. Its the person that makes the difference,not the gender.


Ive met female boxers that could stomp most men, Its a sad world, in my opinion that such a comparision would even be brought up.


A true musician will hear the music, without wondering if that was a man or woman playing.


December 30, 2008 at 12:02 PM ·

If the original poster is a woman whos cast her lot in life with music, I think it's a perfectly fair question of her to ask.  It's a fact that the female body and the male body are different and while I personally don't think it has any effect on the quality of a violinist's playing it's natural to be curious what other people think. 

December 30, 2008 at 01:07 PM ·

Welcome to, Lilly!

December 30, 2008 at 01:15 PM ·

Rachel Barton Pine..... Her playing is incredibly Powerful! Keep her away from walls, she might knock 'em down!

Male & Female, each share atributes and each have atributes unique only too themselves. Beautiful when they are used to complement each other!



December 30, 2008 at 04:11 PM ·

I think there are differences in playing depending on whether it is a man or a woman, but I don't think it is strength based.  I'm not sure it has anything to do with power because men and women have different wells of strength.  For instance I can imagine a man lifting a 150lb bag of stones but that man would not be a violinist, that's for sure.  A woman on the other hand has the ability to endure 20 hours of labor so who is to say which sex is stronger?  For me the difference is more about one's voice that comes from the violin.  I do tend to think some sounds and colors are either feminine or masculine and I need a feminine sound in some cases but there are many male violinists that are able to capture a unique feminine sound and incorporate it into their playing.  There are many though who cannot and have not and never did and never will. 

In the recent and distant past men have simply had more opportunities to explore their interests while women have only recently started to exercise their rights to conquer the world.  Women are still struggling to find their niche in the world of the arts, composition, culinary, sports, journalism, etc.  Give women a chance and in no time they will be outshining men in these arena as well.  There is no denying though that there are fine women violinists out there, Julia, Midori, Sarah, just to name a couple.  Fine young male artists too like Leonidas, Christian, etc.

December 30, 2008 at 04:24 PM ·

About 15 years ago my local PBS radio station broadcast a program on telling the differerence  between male and female violinists. Listeners were invite to send in their votes by postcard(pre-e-mail). I think I got 6 or 7 out of 10, which was around average.Today`s generation of men and women are physically bigger and stronger. But, this doesn`t make them better violinists. Watching Milstein and Heifetz videos, I`m always struck by their ease of playing and ability to relax physically,while maintaining intensity.

December 30, 2008 at 04:16 PM ·

I notice more a trend or preference toward material on some recordings but the playing sounds fine for each. It is a valid question. If there is a difference it is a cultural one, in my opinion versus an ability issue. If you watch the old Bell Telephone Hour you see men and women and they are very similar. I think it is more how people teach girls in some cases but not all cases.

December 30, 2008 at 04:44 PM ·

Strength has nothing to do with a powerful sound. A major orchestra CM friend of mine likes to demonstrate a very powerful and LOUD sound to students while holding the bow only by the screw with two fingers. Is there a masculine or feminine sound? Probably, but that would have more to do with the player's internal psyche, not strength. If there is a difference in the sound, a big if, then so what. What a boring world this would be if we all sounded the same.

By the way, in a question about the differences, if any, in male vs female sound, any remark would likely be interpreted as sexist so don't even think of bringing up that card.

December 30, 2008 at 04:49 PM ·

My daughter claims that she can tell if it is a man or woman playing violin on the radio or in a recording. She is about 95% right some of the time. I don't think it has anything to do with powerful playing.

For years, I could tell male or female flute players from recordings by how they drew in a breathe. :)

December 30, 2008 at 05:00 PM ·

I always thought the individual interpretive differences were more pronounced than any gender-related characteristics.  But, I am not good at distinguishing based on recordings, except for Mutter.  Usually, if I do not like an interpretation, it is hers, although it is difficult for me to put in words exactly why she seems rub me the wrong way.

December 30, 2008 at 05:16 PM ·

One more idea. Don't you think that some of it has to do with an artists command as a performer versus musical ability in isolation? So a recording artist is not necissarily a great performer. With the barrage of recording Phenoms in the past decades there are more female soloists. Regardless, some people just seem more comfortable in their own skin than others when on stage. In my experience male soloists seem more relaxed on stage. I forget about them and they become a medium for the music they are playing where as I find the females more brittle or stressed on some level although seemingly always more technically perfect. I fear for them as it seems often about technical perfection and it gets spooky to watch such perfection at risk. That ise distracting on some level that is difficult to explain. They don't blend in or something. Maybe it's those clothes or shoes they wear making it difficult to breath. One performer I really like is Rachel Barton. She seems incredibly comfortable in her own skin and seems to have the performing AND recording thing working. Many others are great musicians but it ends up with who you personally have fun watching during a performance I think. On recordings, I can usually tell the difference but enjoy both.

December 30, 2008 at 05:10 PM ·

Playing the violin isn't influenced  by physical features but by emotional. With someone like Anne Sophie Mutter, her sound is way too sweet. With someone like Rachel Barton Pine her sound is too agressive and I don't like it. With someone like Nadja Salerno Sonnenburg her sound is too messy and sparatic.

But then you have artists who have mastered it to keep it clean. Hilary Hahn, Sarah Chang, Joshua Bell, Janine Jansen, Midori.

It doesn't matter about their sex. It's the emotional status of their playing and the way they bring it out through the violin.

If someone wants to play a piece agressively, they'll do so with emotion; it's not like they're going to physically beat the violin. They'll play it with they're heart.  

With someone like ASM like I mentioned, she has a very timid, feminine way of playing. Someone like Pine has an overly agressive way. With artists like Hahn, Chang, Bell, and Jansen, they've found that meeting point of what is acceptable to the audience's ears and what is not. This is why I think they're the most popular and they have such great interpretations. Everyone is looking to find that point of emotion (which is vital in music) and what is not going to muddy up they're playing.

I think this can be applied everywhere. I don't think you can find a child who can play solo Bach amazingly well because they haven't found this point of which I speak and they are playing from a simply technical view.

So it's not about your physical status. It's about your emotional.

These were all my opinions and if you don't agree with them I"m sorry but I'm just stating my stance.

December 30, 2008 at 06:52 PM ·

Paul G- Thanks for your post! I like what you stated about emotion. When I mentioned the stregnth of Pine's playing I also meant it from her playing with confidence and character also! For me, Hahn & Bell seem to read/pick up on their audience and play accordingly. Both find the sweet spot with both violin and bow and meld them in that fits the audience's vibes. I feel that Hahn has better stamina than Bell, from what I've listened too of them she remains more consistant over the course of an hour where Bell seems to be pushing. I don't know really how to say what I hear? Anyway, for what it's worth. Then again Joshua just maybe getting more emotionally charged as time moves on?

December 30, 2008 at 07:15 PM ·

I disagree that this post has anything to do with sexism.  Personally, I prefer male figure skaters over female skaters because I tend to appreciate beauty with great power.  Do I like all the top notch male figure skaters?  No.  Elvis Stoiko (spelling?) of Canada has/had great, great power, but lack of elegance like Kurt Browning of Canada, for example.  I am also a female, like the threader initiator.

December 30, 2008 at 07:25 PM ·

I'm a little confused by the original post.

Lilly, you start out talking about the sound of male or female violinists, but when you give examples it's all about how they look, and what you'd rather see.  So I'm having a hard time telling which aspect you really mean.  (Yes, I know that of course they are connected)

Funny that no one has mentioned the supreme example of  "big guy / having fun / relaxed / big sound" playing:  Perlman.  (Maybe I'm wrong, I didn't read every word of every post)


December 30, 2008 at 07:33 PM ·

So where do Gay's figure in all of this? If you want to define emotion by sex it begins to go on very rocky ground. When I was a student a large percentage of the male student body was homosexual. So whats female and whats male in this argument?

December 30, 2008 at 07:51 PM ·

I won't pick a favorite gender, but I do have an interesting fact

I happen to like female violinists- Hahn, Jansen, Akiko Meyers.

However, one of my best friends named Sarah happens to like Joshua Bell and Maxim Vengerov over the females of the violin world.  

December 30, 2008 at 08:04 PM ·

I will not say that the post is sexist , but I certainly don't think  there is a good reason why a male could play violin better than a female ( as a matter of fact , it isn't only about the violin , in all other fields women can excell just as well as men can - even in physical combat , if a woman has had the proper training) .


More, if you look at the violin and you analyse it , it is not such a physically demanding instrument .It is pretty light , small , the bow is "heavy " enough to allow us to sustain it very well with only two fingers ..So I don't see why the muscle difference between the majority of women and men would be of a too great importance in this sence.

It is true that until the 20th and 21st century , you don't really see names of women violinists , but just as well you don't see great names of women in other fields. We all know why ; because women did not have access to the education that men did , and to the social opportunities that men did. Who knows how many more great female violinists and composers we would have had in the past if times would have been different. Prove is the fact that , since the emancipation of women , you see more and more women on the great stages of the world. Nowadays,many of  the greatest names of the violin world are women .


On the other hand,some people would say that , because by nature women are more emotional than men , this will reflect in their violin playing , and a female's playing would be more expressive , touching, appealing ... This is another theory that in my opinion is denied by the reality . You may see a masive, or tough , man  playing the violin in a very emotional , sweet way .


I think thus , that playing the violin well is not about being a male or a female , but about having talent , will , the right teachers ,the right oppotunities,practicing hard etc...Music is universal , I don't think it knows barriers between sexes , nationalities ,or  races .

December 30, 2008 at 08:25 PM ·

" it isn't only about the violin , in all other fields women can excell just as well as men can - even in physical combat , if a woman has had the proper training"

I agree. I think women can actuallly do better because they don't have the mentality that faults so many men. That's why I always laugh when I see a competetion between a man and a woman and the man before hand walks in with the attitude of "I'm going to win. You have no chance" and the woman has the opposite and she ends up beating the man.

I don't think we want to start a battle of the sexes here so I won't comment anymore lol. But I can tell you that I'll never be a person who thinks they are better than anyone. Not for religion, race, sex, sexuality or anything. My way of thinking is don't judge someone for what they are but who they are... Kind of cheesy I know but that's it. That's why I don't support the groups that I'm surrounded with though. Like the Mormon church, they are against equal rights because of things like Prop 8. So I will never affiliate with them or anything of that sort. I think that is why I'm non-religious. Religion makes people conform and they lose their individuality and own opinons. I won't label myself as an atheist either.

So yes, I'm going to stop my comment here lol.

December 30, 2008 at 08:28 PM ·

i apologize, i might have sounded ignorant since i probably didn't express myself well. i want to state my seemingly offensive suspicion in the original post isn't a presumed inferiority of the female, (i'm not a feminist, but at least i'll try to not stepping on their toes haha) 

the question is, regarding the sound coming out of the violin, is it a personal preference for each violinist? from what i've read, it seems each artists knows what they're doing perfectly well and has somewhat of a grasp on their own sound, so it seems to me the male violinists prefer to play the violin with a controlled (not hindered) passion and overall have fun and be relaxed while performing/recording, and my own sex tends to stress themselves out and the audience, despite their near perfect technique and deep sound that might or might not came from wrestling each note out of the strings?

honestly, i feel a better connection with my music playing in the same manners as chang and meyers, i feel like i'm attributing all the respect and honor to the music, but being abusive my violin. my back shoulders and both arms hurts tho after practicing, i'm sure it doesn't sound pleasant to the audience, so where do i draw the line between devoting my soul, body and mind all into the music and ends up abusing the violin, and take a step back and enjoy what my violin can do?

December 30, 2008 at 09:08 PM ·

Lilly- It could be the adage, "A woman has to be twice as good before she is concidered equal."? Then again, my exwife would say, "Any woman who wants to be a man's equal lacks ambition!" ;)

December 30, 2008 at 09:25 PM ·

Hi Lilly, despite your last post, which seems to have changed some of your original line of thought, you originally indicated "i've always thought the sound coming out of the hands of a male is by far more relaxed, and less tense and strained, as a result, superior".  I think that was an okay thing to suggest - you're only saying what you prefer, and you had reason for it.

As to people suggesting that physical attributes have nothing to do with it, its from the soul, well, I can't agree.  You can see a difference in how men and women move - I can spot a female motorcyclist, surfer, tennis player etc, without being able to see anything other than how they move, or even don't move in the case of the motorcyclists.  Its a difference in posture due to anatomical characteristics, and a difference in lever length and torque from muscle insertions.

Since so much of violin playing is about how the body weight gets transmitted into the strings, and how the left and right arms articulate with each other, and even how the persons posture is transmitted into their arms, how could such a fundamental difference as anatomy NOT have an impact on sound.

Whether male or female can achieve the same technical or emotional status in playing is not the point, the point is that each must be different, and maybe some people detect that difference and develop a preference for one over the other.


December 30, 2008 at 10:33 PM ·

Sharelle- I would have never thought what you pointed out in a million years, thanks for your post!

December 31, 2008 at 02:46 AM ·

"My way of thinking is don't judge someone for what they are but who they are..."

You are so right...!


And ,yes , now I understand the intention of the original poster of this thread was not to observe a certain inferiority in women's playing , but rather a difference from men's approach. Seeing things from this point of view, it does make more sence. Although , again , I think that rather than a result of our gender, our playing is the result of the way our souls -our emotional coverage-interact and respond to music (besides all the other obvious things-practice , talent etc). Who could imagine a Vengerov in a still , stoic ,posture? Or , on the countrary , who could imagine the great Heifetz moving around on the scene with every muscle of his body ?

Than , you do see men playing with an all consuming passion , and women keeping a rather cold , rational approach.

I am guessing , so, that it really is up to the individual and the automatic responce that he/she has to this multitude of sounds and stimuli , that is music...

December 31, 2008 at 03:04 AM ·

"A woman has to be twice as good before she is concidered equal."? Then again, my exwife would say, "Any woman who wants to be a man's equal lacks ambition!" ;)


I think it also goes like this:  "Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good... luckily this is not difficult."

December 31, 2008 at 03:30 AM ·

I recently was attracted to a book titled "Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office."  One chapter confirmed an observation I have made for some time: what I have referred to in my mind as "male sprawl."  Men take up space.  Most are not at all shy about it.  This has a visual impact, one of both power and ease.  Notice men's concert attire versus women's -- it almost seems designed to make one look bigger than he is, especially in the shoulders.  A spaghetti-strap dress, on the other hand, makes narrow shoulders look narrower.  My suspicion was further confirmed by watching several female conductors in beautifully tailored suits that, while streamlined at the waist, nevertheless contained shoulderpads.

I am almost certain that male sprawl contributed to the success of the winner of a recent competition I saw.  In addition to looking older than his years, he took up lots of space onstage and seemed at ease.  He was certainly talented and must have worked at least as hard as the others, but my theory is that it was rather close to call and this may have given him just enough of an edge. 

December 31, 2008 at 05:29 AM ·

Hey Royce, when my early alzheimer's brain finally works out how to get the tube of vegemite and your address in the same room, at the same time, you'll have another Christmas on the way! Late, but not forgotten.  ; - ) 

December 31, 2008 at 06:02 AM · Aw, Better Smetter. One of the things I love about Violin music is that it reflects the soul; the soul of the musician as well as the soul of the soul of the composer. That said, it REFLECTS! Just like everything else in life, there are differences in approach, and the differences is what makes life rich. Life, as well as music would be really boring if everyone did things the same way. There are some characteristics that females tend to excel at, and some that males tend to excel at. Both are part of life, so both are part of what makes music great. So, synopsis: There are differences, which only tend to expand the art, and are not organized by a better and worse. Of course, there are some players better than others, but for style, any style can be well done or not well done.

December 31, 2008 at 08:45 AM ·

ok ok ok i agree it's not a inferiority thing, it's a psychological tendency that leads difference sexes to interpret the music differently, emotionally i guess. women tend to dissolve themselves into the music and i've always thought it was funny how when women play the violin it looks like they are in pain or heartache or something. men sort of take it more logically and less "seriously", it's different, not better or worse. hate to admit this since i'm a girl, but i prefer the sound of a male violinist wayyyy more than the heart wrenching but briliant sound of a female.

despite the personal satisfaction each sex gets from playing the violin their manner, what do you think it's more pleasant to the audience? and i want to ask each of you what style of playing do you prefer to listen to?

December 31, 2008 at 08:48 AM ·

just teasing:    female violinists had it made for years---then,they gave it a try for themselves---and the males stayed home and brought up the children---great idea---let females do the work,men are better at staying home with their offspring......because of peer pressure,tons of females think its inappropriate to care for their children when they could be making a few bucks---all the better for the males---i'd rather care for my children any day  and leave responsibility for monetary procurement to the female whilst i have the commitment of teaching my children the 'ways' of music........

December 31, 2008 at 01:12 PM ·

For me it depends on mood.  There is something about some of Heifetz' recordings that is very masculine in a good way--erotic, even.  I won't go on.  But not everyone sees or hears it the same way.  I was quite disappointed some time in college when a particular young man did not think that a recording of Heifetz playing the Vitali Chaconne was as hot as I thought it was.

And then at other times, I really don't want or need that from a recording anyway.  And the same recording that I lose myself in one day can sometimes irritate me the next.  There are Heifetz recordings that I find masculine in a way that's more irritating, intimidating, and in-your-face than sexy.  Then I find that it helps to listen to Rachel Barton Pine, who sounds to me refreshing and clear, a breath of fresh air--not at all "strained."  

I'm assuming the original poster is, like me, a heterosexual woman.  It would be surprising if we all weren't influenced at some deep level by our sexuality. But obviously we aren't all going to experience male and female violinists the same way, or even the same way at different times.

December 31, 2008 at 01:24 PM ·

Marina- What you posted, that's what I was trying to recall! I heard that years ago when my mom was a single mother working for slave wages, except the slave made more money!

Sharelle- I totaly for got about the tarry tibit! But thanks! I love it in chili! My address is at my profile page here at and I'll reimberse you for postage, if you would like.

Kind Regards,


December 31, 2008 at 01:27 PM ·

Do men & women hear & listen too music diferently? And how a piece is interpreted and why?

December 31, 2008 at 02:10 PM ·

I'm not big on political correctness. So I really mean it when I say that from the time I began lessons to now, I've never felt that males or females were better or worse as musicians or instrumentalists. It all depends on the individual. Two individuals I've long admired are Anne Sophie Mutter and Hilary Hahn. Mutter brings a lot of intensity to her playing, along with a golden tone. I get a feeling of power from her, but not strain or pain. Hahn is certainly not strained at all. She's cool as a cucumber, with a silvery sheen to her playing. Another favorite string player, to go outside the confines of the violin, is the late great cellist, Jacqueline du Pre. I do have varying listening preferences, depending on my mood.

I can accept the generality that without being better or worse, males and females - and even gays and straights - may go about things differently, and bring their entire sensibilities to the musical table. It's no minor detail to be born as a male or a female. That, along with the individual experiences in our lives can certainly be reflected somewhere in  our sound, phrasing, physical approach, and overall interpretations. Our basic psychological types certainly find a place, as well.  Also, culture, ethnicity - who knows? - even Astrology can find a place in the mix! But the great ones get up the mountain, albeit from different directions. Here's another hornets nest: If the above is true, does it justify the Vienna Philharmonic's reluctance to hire women or foreigners on the grounds that they're not necessarily inferior, but different in their sound and phrasing and that they (the V. P.) don't want to mess with their own magic?

If I turn on the radio and it's in the middle of something, I rarely guess the gender of the soloist, though it rarely occurs to me to guess. One factual correction: someone, I believe, listed Menhuin as among 'big muscular guys'. I met him a few times. He was maybe 5'4", and rather lean. It is remarkable, gender aside, how many different physical types manage to get the job done.

December 31, 2008 at 04:03 PM ·

Yeah, that V.P. policy is a hornet's nest.  I think there is validity to the idea of there being a particular sound based on culture, ethnicity, and gender.  But I think that idea can still be true without being particularly important in the grand scheme of things.  Like in my field, there's statistical significance and then there's biological significance.  They aren't always the same.

I think the V.P. would be justified in admitting only European men if they wanted to present themselves in public as a middle-European men's orchestra.  There are plenty of musical groups like this who are excellent musicians--e.g. the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus, the Cleveland Women's Orchestra.  But those groups tend to serve particular (good, valuable) niches and musical purposes that aren't necessarily trying to represent a universal human ideal.  

Where I think the V.P. has gotten into trouble is that they have historically been thought to represent something more like "Western civilization" or the highest pinnacle of "great art" created by humans in musical form--not just their own niche.  And if they have those sorts of ambitions, then they need to include diverse representatives of the human race and focus on quality over ethnicity.


December 31, 2008 at 07:12 PM ·

Here is one for anyone who wants to take the bait. When I was a child, a long time ago, all my music teachers were male. They wore suits, sometimes three piece suits, during the lessons and were very formal teachers. Cuff links, ties, and vests. If they removed their jackets it was kind of a big deal. They did not show me, they taught me and there was absolutely nothing casual about it. My theory teacher wore a dress and makeup and everything to the lessons...very formal.. One guy was from Italy, the other from Hungary. Piano, chorus etc.

Now when I was looking for violin teachers from my children, the majority were women and most taught out of their homes in a very informal way. It was difficult to find the boys a male violin teacher and my only choices were professional players versus the female teachers who were mostly professional teachers. Everyone told me the guy teachers only taught really advanced students but when I called they were really friendly and open to help the boys. All of these guys were pretty formal though but don't wear suits thank goodness. Do you think the high number of female teachers  has made the worm turn in how women and men play? Most people my age remember music teacher that were guys but these days not so much. Many midschool boys drop violin and in my opinion it has been feminized to a large degree by such a high number of female teachers. My boys wanted to drop out too until I found a male teacher for them. Now they associate music with masculine activities. Real men may wear not plaid or however the saying goes, but they do seem to teach and play violin pretty well around here...Happy New Years signing off for 2008....!

December 31, 2008 at 07:37 PM ·

Raphael- I've mentioned du Pre' on a few threads! I prefer her interpretation of Dvorack over Yo Yo Ma's!

I began learning the violin in 1975. All of my teachers were women. It wasn't until college that I had a Male teacher.

I remember what a big deal it was when we saw female orchestra conducters and being in the orchestra that the first women conducted and the auditorium was sold OUT!, OMG just being there at that moment in time! Wow! What a life I have lived!

January 1, 2009 at 01:12 PM ·

My daughter Clara and I were watching the New Year's Concert, by the Vienna Philharmonic, and she was surprised that the orchestra was, but for one exception, all 'boys'. But she said: ' these boys play so beautifully, with such feeling, that they are just like girls.'

January 1, 2009 at 05:51 PM ·

The simple mindset that only a child can have is a great thing to recognize on a subject like this.

January 1, 2009 at 06:09 PM ·

Bart, I seem to remember that I saw at least two "girls" in the Vienna Phil today, a brunette violinist who sat next to the concert master and a blonde violinist or violist somewhere I can't remember now. Then again, memories can be a tricky thing. Did anybody record the broadcast, able and willing to check?

But anyway, yes, women would seem to be hopelessly underrepresented in the Vienna Phil. What's up with those Austrians?

January 1, 2009 at 08:07 PM ·

Benjamin, the violinist next to the concertmaster was definitely a woman. My daughter and I must have missed the other(s). Until 1997, women were not allowed to be members of the Vienna Phil. In 1997, that policy was lifted.

See this link or this or Google for "Vienna Philharmonic male only policy").

January 1, 2009 at 08:15 PM ·

I know of the blonde violinist you speak of. I saw a video of her on YouTube.

January 2, 2009 at 11:25 PM ·

I think there was recently a thread on here about Hilary Hahn and whether or not she is the best violinist of our time.  If I remember correctly, some responses said yes and no, but there were ones that said there is no way in music to determine if one person is ultimately better than another. 


I think it is all relative.

January 4, 2009 at 01:23 PM ·

Joseph Gambala, you pointed it! We can believe what we want but violin is a sport even if it has a great emotional side!  Realistically, in the olympics we do not put the men and women together because they have different ways of moving, different aptitudes...   Studies have proven than women have more natural tension in their body and I have seen with my eyes a study about trills. Men trill faster than women because the signal between the brain and fingers is slightly faster in males. How frustrated was I to see this but think about it, when we were in the stone age (the beginning of humanity), the women were the experts too cook, do many things at the same time during a long period of time, sew, pick berries, cure sick people.  The men needed to move quickly for a short period of time. You know, run after the beast they wanted to kill and stop after (like a sprinter). This is not the definition of power, a big effort in a short time?  They also needed to develop good orientation skills and aggressivity etc.  The point is just to show that the bodies of men and woman have evolved to do different things no more no less.

Now, in violin, I know where the person who post this is comming from. She prefers a completely relaxed and possibly more "wild" sound and in general it is true that men are very good in this and not all men are good equally in this: the more "solidly built' he is, the more this sound.  I have a theory, you can laugh at it and be sure it is not sexist because I am a female myself and thus believe in equality!  The blod flow in the hands, the tempeture of the hands and the "widness" of vibratos are bigger or higher in these men.  Notice that it is the same for women in the sense that the more solidly built women play in a more relax way than the weaker or more delecate ones...   In general you play with much more tension when your hands are cold than hot no?   Here is the point, to have had a male teacher with huge hands and a female teacher that is more solidly built than I and I can attest that their hands are naturally very warm and souple while people like me (long neck, tiny fingers) have always colder hands.  Think about all the men with big hands you know, do they have cold hands? 99% no! I have to warm up for hours what they can warm up in 2 minutes! + when the hand is wider, the overall extension of the hand is bigger no? It is harder for women that have in general narrower hands than men to reach the same extension when they play on the instrument so of course the tension in their hands is bigger! Blod flow have a link with the tempeture of the hands.  When I need to have a blood test, they pick me with a BABY size needle and a nurse told me that it was frequent in girls of little stature because their veines and thus blod flow in the arm and hands is smaller.  Put a tiny finger girl and a huge finger men without glooves in winter (I can also say an average girl and an average boy), you will know fast ennough the one that has the smallest blood flow...   The girl will certainly suffer from the cold the fastest because she has less blood in her hands...   Lastly, in general a relax sound is associate with a big wide and warm vibrato. There again, guess who has the natural advantage for doing these.  The bigger the fingertips, the better for this type of vibrato.  Oh, I forgot something, the gravity is bigger in men's arms because they are heavier so they naturally produce a larger sound without forcing a bit.  It's physics I guess

Well, think what you want but I think the relax sound is easiest to produce when you are a men. Yes, life is unfair, I know! It surely is learnable for a women since some succeded to do this sound too even if this type of sound is less common in girls. (listening objectivly to recordings).

I too love this wonderful relax and yet powerful sound and for this reason was and am always a big fan of Repin, Oistrakh, Perlman and Zuckerman. (that are even solidly built amongst men (big hands, fingers, short neck etc)if I analyse them but it was not this that attracted me, it was the beauty of their playing!)  I only realized after that they had more or less the same "shape".

One day, I notice all my favorite players were men and I wondered why and wanted to find the equivalent (the same kind of playing and articulation) in some women violinists also.  I didn't succed for a while and was very complexed about what I was discovering: boys have natural advantages for this type of sounds...  Fourtunately I one day fell on recordings of Sarah Chang ans she was the one who showed me that a few  women ARE ABLE TO DO THIS SOUND even if it is less frequent. I then fell on Rimma Sushankaya's playing that showed me the same thing so girls, it is not impossible if this type of sound is your favorite. At least, some succeded and I am sure others can too.  (note that I am referring to specific type of sound and do not talk about if the playing is accurate and well executed or soulful etc)

Now I am more than happy to say that my favorite sound type (my ideal because I will never play like this my self lol) is produced by women and men. Yes, is was harder to find the women with this sound but I found some and this is the great thing!

and I want to remember that 90% of the v.commers me included play 90% worst then these women soloists we talk about! So we are all a gang of tense players too! lol


January 4, 2009 at 01:25 PM ·

January 4, 2009 at 11:03 PM ·

Anne - I think it's a sport for some and an art for others.

We're limited by our physical capabilities as individuals and to some extent members of each gender. But I think there are a lot of things we can do even within those limitations.

Now, for intermediate players like me it's more of a sport, because I probably haven't developed my technique to its fullest extent. On the other hand, once I feel I have, and for pieces that I feel I'm sufficiently competent with, I can apply whatever artistic merit or interpretive clarity that I feel like I should.

But even for some professional musicians, like Chang, violin seems to continue to be a sport. If you've heard her Air on G on YouTube, for instance, you can tell that she likes to show off her technical aptitude and finger muscles at every given opportunity regardless of whether it would seem to be appropriate or not. Correct me if there's really a good reason to do fast convulsive vibrato in such a piece, but I think it's more likely that she's just trying to prove a point rather than make music.

It's certainly not a bad thing that some people consider it an art and some consider it a sport. But I personally don't like listening to the excessively sportsman-like competitive performers, and incidentally, I think the gender difference becomes more of an issue when it is thought of as a sport than when it's not.

Of course there's the issue of psychological and emotional differences between the genders, but I think that's a bit of a non-issue since that's more intrinsic to the musician than their physical bodies are; it's not an issue of capability. Guys can be girly if they want to, and girls can be boyish if they choose to be.


January 5, 2009 at 02:17 AM ·

I wonder if it has more to do with size as such rather than gender as such - up to a point. You can't completely separete this, because the average man is somewhat bigger, heavier and has about a third more upper body strength than the average woman. But if you take a very slight man, will he tend to strain a bit, to overcompensate? If you take a woman who is not so slight, will this not be an issue for her? Can we take averages, when there are so many individual variables?

Speaking of size and variables, I believe that (leaving out extremes for this consideration) the intrinsic size if one's hands, and the breadth of one's fingertips particularly have an effect on tone production, in addition to various aspects of our playing technique. If we have an average to relatively large hand (by violin standards) it's a bit easier (with the right approach) to let our own, and the bow's weight come into play to draw out a full sound. Good padding on the fingertips lends itself to a richer vibrato (other things being equal). If some women (and some slight men) are at any disatvantage, it may be particularly in these aspects. Thin fingers, with thin fingertips are probably not the ideal inherent violinistic equipment. It's kind of like voicing a piano. The amount and density of felt on the hammers make a difference to the sound.

Yet one thing is for sure. Look at the ever growing number of women in major orchesteas (in the U.S. at least) who won their auditions from behind a screen (at least in the preliminaries). Is it just that more women are in the field now than men? Or is it, as I heard Lauren Mazaal remark, that more women are just cutting the cheese?



















January 5, 2009 at 03:10 AM ·

Well, coming from just a listener's point of view, not a player at all, I would say that the gender won't matter after all. Ultimately what matters is if the artist has something to say and has expressed that in his/her playing. I find no single player has everything. That is why there have been all those who have studied violin and people like me listen to all the different players and still get touched in various ways after all these years.

January 6, 2009 at 01:11 AM ·

Raphael! I notice very much what you said! I personnally see my violin playing as a double burden, the biggest of all is not learning the technique, it is fighting against my natural non adapted body. There are many fantastic ways or methods to relax the muscles, warm up the hands but when you have a very short time to practice or are in a lesson, you cannot do them and your natural always wants to come back... Many people are afraid to talk about the physiologic aspect. But how can you express yourself when you are not pefrectly "made" for the violin "sport"??? I' m just arriving from a lesson in which I played ok but could have played much better if my hands would not have been freezing all long! I even put them with a hot bag that I had microwaved in the car while going to the lesson. They cooled off after 10 min... wach!  As a "disavantage" person, I am so obsessed (I mean very concerned) about my vibrato. Ironnically, my bests comments after gigs or exams are always on my nice vibratos and powerful sound. I can have horrible comments for scales or sometimes with rythm but have very good ones with these issues.  I think I want so much to prove that it is possible for anyone. But I have to admit that I do anything to warm up on these days and I missed school and did things that I do not normally do thus I played better.  It just anoys me that I always look like if I was preparing for the queen elizabeth contest when it is for only student gigs (because of all my warming tricks and my very kind teacher who knows it and do much efforts to find for me one of the almost unavailable practice rooms while all the other normal students are listening to the gig.) If I don't do that circus, I'm sure I will play awfully!  But, I am sure others are like me and what can I say about this! It's unfair but I think the right attitude is to not hide from this "disavantage" to know it is there and to choose the "I will turn all my weaknesses into strong points" option!  I just hate it when people do not want to admit (the truth) that some people are "disavantage" because it is not politically correct. There is nothing wrong there, I mean the people like me or not inferior and I'm sure it is possible with more work to overcome this in an interesting way one day! As many here say, everyone who tries to play the violin, no matter his or her problems is already so courageous!


January 6, 2009 at 06:09 PM ·

Thanks, Anne-Marie. You brought up a new point in the course of your comments which may be off topic, but is so important. I'm referring to the importance of warming-up before playing any repertoire. Of course there is the issue of literally being warmed-up enough temperature-wise. There too, individuals will vary - perhaps depending on their circulation, among other things. But I'm reffering to warming up on the violin, itself. Prior to an orchestra gig or chamber music reading, I'm often the only string player who warms up prior to practicing any rep. passages that are about to be played. I think that many people may feel embarassed or self-concious about doing basic warm-ups in front of anybody. Untill you get used to doing so, it can be a bit of a naked feeling. But it is so important to get the violin chops open and flexible, so that we can hit the ground running without straining.

I often begin away from the violin with some arm and wrist loosening excersises. Then after tuning (always a good idea!) I do some simple finger excerses, followed by some simple chromatic movements. Then I do some broken thirds with mixed bowings. All of the preceeding is in the 1st position. Then I do more broken thirds up each string, going into high positions. All of the preceeding is done at a very moderate tempo. It is only after that do I proceed to more virtuosic fiddling - not to show off (OK, maybe just a little!) but mainly to extend the warming-up process and at the same time, to test how warmed-up I feel. I highly recommend this sort of procedure - which takes about 5 minutes. And don't worry about what others may think.

January 7, 2009 at 05:37 AM ·

Ah, younger Menuhin always looked much more solid than Heifetz or Milstein to me, (for example, the pictures of him doing Yoga) though that's hardly anything to compare to.  If he was indeed slim that means that there is only one really muscular violinist I can think of. 

I really really don't think there's any difference between men and women in this.  Midori, while her sound isn't very big, does produce a wonderfully round and warm sound.  Her hands, btw, are TINY.  When I touched them my first thought was "Holly ****...they're hardly bigger than the size of my palm".  My last teacher also had very small hands and she produced a very powerful sound.  Part of this I think can be attributed to the story of her first three weeks after becoming Shumsky's student where he supposedly only allowed her to work on sound production and bow changes (I've heard other stories that imply he was really particular about sound production and smooth bow changes).  The other part I think is that if she wanted a wide vibrato she let go of the neck with her index knuckle, which she always told me not to do, and would create a wide vibrato using arm, wrist, and fingers simultaniously and place the flat part of her fingers on the string.  I think this was unconcious since she never told me about doing it and would direct me to always keep the two points of contact (I started with her with a messed up left hand). 

My theory is that the desire to create a beautiful sound drove her to find a solution.  Even if it was concious at one point ("oh, that sounds nice, let's keep doing that") I think the most important thing is an internal drive, a vision of an ideal sound, and a very critical ear.  This doesn't vary from man to women. 

February 20, 2009 at 11:04 PM ·

Men or women, why do they nowadays sound the same?  Is the sound ideal today unisex?  Of course there are exceptions like Mutter, Vengerov, Kremer, but why is no one even trying to sound like Ida Händel (masculine) or Perlman.  Have all violinists been infected with the period playing virus and aiming at a leaner sound?  You don't hear many big fleshy fingers playing nowadays, male or female.  It is not sex and it is sex, because you cannot deny sex, it is part of everyone even violinists.  But it is personality, personal preferences and physical features like hands and fingers.  Be bold and do your own thing to give us more variaton.

February 20, 2009 at 11:51 PM ·

 "You don't hear many big fleshy fingers playing nowadays, male or female. "

Errki, I agree but I think that the young prodigies who become soloists nowadays have to produce much and very fast.  They thus get used to play in one way and it is hard to change this way when they become older.  They probably focus on technical chalenges while elder did it but focused more on sound. Don't forget (if I am not wrong) that heavier playing was in style at a certain time... Maybe you would  call it military if you would do this nowadays.  As for vibratos I will forever be in love with vibratos like Perlman and Oistrakh.  Just a pitty that this wide type seems to be almost exclusive to the big fingers and hands.  Maybe you would like to check a discussion I made here (search for "chubby leads to violin or violin leads to chubby" on the net and you will find it)I did not do it on male vs female but on lean vs chubby violinist doing a parallel between violin and opera.  It's about this wonderful sound (the same you described) that I often happened to find in chubbier violinist. Don't know why? 

I know that these discussions about physionony or body shapes do not make unanimity here because some like me see violin like a sport and thus think that there is an ideal type of body/aptitudes and that the others have to work harder to come very close... while others see it as purely artistic and believe that a dog can play violin if it has a purely artistic soul... (You know what I mean!) 

Your point is interesting!  Also maybe a link with gut strings?




February 21, 2009 at 02:20 PM ·

Anne-Marie, I checked the discussion you mentioned and found the discussion gliding quite a bit off the key issue.  However there were a couple of comments from Buri right to the point.  Oistrach is a good example of the big but relaxed muscle playing.   I wish something of the "romantic" style would come back into violin playing.  The old vinyls sound a bit scratchy.

February 21, 2009 at 10:06 PM ·

Errki, yes, I too think that in this discussion Buri really pointed out well what I was trying to say (some easily misjudged the point of it because they saw it as not ethical or something like that but everyone has the right to say there opinion and the forums are there for this!)  And yes I know what you mean about Oistrakh's playing! 


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