Instrument Volume

February 26, 2009 at 10:10 PM ·

For the past few months I been playing with heavy gauges to get my volume really high. Now I use the thickest gut strings I can get my hands on. But this level of volume still doesn't satisfy me. I know just changing strings is just one factor to get more volume but would getting a luthier to play with the sound post do any better???

Replies (24)

February 26, 2009 at 10:46 PM ·


of course one wnats the optimum set up and it my be that you are not there yet. However, I couldn`t help feelign you might be a little ont he wrong road here.   The violin is not a trumpet and it certainly isn`t good for either the ear of the technique to keep trying to screw more and more sound out of the isntrument past a certain point.   Casals wass very outspoken on this subject and argued that if you have a very strong sense of contrast and articulation within the narrow dynamic range ofa string instrument you will sound louder.

I do have a lot of stduents ask me how to play louder and louder and what characterizes their playign most of the time is they press too much.   I suggest to them that the key to maximizing sound is firts of all perfetc intonation.  That also includes for your instrument which might be slightly differnet to another;).  Then go back to the old standby of the essential factors:  speed,  soundpoint and weight.     There are very few player swho actually get the exact relationship between optimal weight/attack and bow speed most of the time.  It really is a life tiems work and one of the bets exercvise there is for it is the pulsing bow.

Use  awhol bow with mm56 and play one accent at the beginnign fo teh stroke which is then sustained. Move the mm up about ten point and do two pulses within the stoke.  Up the mm and do 4,  then 6 then 8 then ten and so on.  Of course,  as the bow moves rapidly at the beginning of the pulse a little extra weight is required. It is up to you to seek the abs\olute minimu amount.  Oncwe you have that it wil begin to transfer into your playing as just the right amount of weight for bow speed and the amount of volume you are producing will increase markedly.



February 26, 2009 at 11:06 PM ·

A wide dynamic range is a feature of fine instruments. Not only the fff may sound good in all positions and strings but also the ppp and all betwen.

A new set up may help with more volume, but the instrument may project the sound well too.

Sometimes you have lots of volume under the ear but the instrument is not projecting. 

 I received an interesting email from a player that reflects a bit what projection is (his English is not all that good):

"Yesterday we played Marcus – Passion. I was playing viola da gamba solo part. Luis, you made incredibly wonderful viola. I can produce different sound but everyone heard me. Also when I produced big sound I didn’t become deaf and heard all instruments around."


February 26, 2009 at 11:08 PM ·

Yes!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Competent violin makers do move the sound post once a while. Your violin needs regular adjustments of the soud post (a few each year!) to get it's maximum volume all time.  It's important to go regularly to your Luthier for this!  I am always amaze by what they are able to do!  But I repeat, a good violin maker!   Not to try yourself! 

Another thing, maybe it is not your case but many are obsessed with volume and consequently inconsciously get tense. (I noticed this with myself and many told me I was right) When you are angry because you find your sound is too thin and lack volume you begin to force when you play and get tense and it's a normal biological reaction: angry = muscle tension!  This is a bad bad thing to do. But you don't know you are tense. You only realize it when you take a 5 minutes break, close your eyes and concentrate on your body tension and breathing to get calmer.  Then when you take back the instrument, you produce 10 times the volume you did before (naturally your contact point, bow direction must be correct too...)   I don't know you but I know no one in the world who is able to produce a big sound like Oistrakh, Perlman or Sarah Chang while forcing.  Notice that the soloists who make awkward faces and are almost bend in two while forcing the sound out (often dancing all over the place in addition) produce a pretty mediocre volume compared with some of the great masters who didn't move a hair and were totally relaxed like Oistrakh and others.  We often think violin is like fighting or boxing but this is a bad conception.  I prefer to say, if you box with your violin, it will always win.  (Hard for the ego but true!)  Forcing against the strings doesn't work to get volume (I think it has something linked with physics)  Beeing totally totally relaxed and not angry is much more efficient! 

Another thing, are you new to gut?   I think you had obligatos not long ago from a discussion I did?  However, I am new to gut and they do produce more volume but only when the bow direction is perfect and when you are relaxed.  They do not allow anything else and will buzz or sound dull if you are not doing this. When I first try them, I was killed by their apparent lack of power and slow response but it was all my fault. I'm not saying I am perfect but now that I have worked for a few weeks adapting my body and way of playing to them, I love them and they do so much volume. 

But here are just suggestions of what it might be and I think experimentation is the key.  Of course a 50 box violin can not sound (volume) like a 500 and a 500 can not sound like a 5000 + but this is money issues and it is a different thing!

Only my two cents,


February 26, 2009 at 11:32 PM ·

Thank you for all your excellent responses.

Stephen - Right now I think my bowing is really good in producing an excellent volume at fff and ppp on demand. That was the first thing I worked on before moving to heavy gauge strings. I was using a school instrument today and found I produce an almost good tone and volume.

LUIS - That is very interesting how sound under the ear isn't the same as when projecting. I will ask a friend to listen while I play in our next chamber group meeting.

Anne - Yes I had Obligato's Stark on before and then switch to Evah's Stark and back to my orginal setup of Gut strings heavy gauge. My left hand I know is very natural and loose but my bow hand maybe not so much. I'll see if loosening up will help.

Right now I can say I'll easily overpower 3 violinist in my section without any trouble. But I wanna get that extra volume and projection that sings out over the section. Also it would be nice since I'm working on concerto's. I'm gonna see if getting a soundpost readjustment would work and Bridge change since those are the only 2 things that haven't been touched for a year.

February 27, 2009 at 12:31 AM ·


just like people, violins have their own voice...don't ask of it more than it can give. My Millant is very bright and loud , a great orchestral instrument but for lush chamber music or solo passion, many other instruments can surpass her. Note, I said her, female...godess violin

February 27, 2009 at 12:44 AM ·

Getting sound from a fiddle is about balancing three things: Weight of bow on string, Speed of bow on string, and Position of bow on string.

Understanding these three parameters, and how they interact, will help you develop your sound.


February 27, 2009 at 01:31 AM ·

Take care also that in the search of a set up for a big sound (heavy gouge strings, high bridge, long string afterlength, too tight post, etc.) eventually you may choke the instrument....

February 27, 2009 at 07:14 AM ·

I've had experience screwing with several instruments. In my opinion, if the instrument doesn't project, it doesn't project. Period. Yes, you can endlessly twiddle with new bridges, and throw out money on different strings, and even regraduate as I did. But in the end, I'm convinced that while you might notice a marginal difference under the ear, each violin is what it is. Get something else before you drive yourself insane. 

February 27, 2009 at 07:21 AM ·

One thing that I notice is that I can get the violin to under-perform if my left hand fingering is not at it's best. Going to a heavier string may actually make this more of a factor. There is something in how I hold my hand, the level of pressure, etc. that I have to work on; I really notice the difference between the D and G strings, so the angle of my hand relative to the string makes a difference.

This will not make it louder, but may keep you from making it less loud than it would be otherwise.

February 27, 2009 at 12:28 PM ·

Concern yourself more with producing a tone that carries as opposed to one that is just loud.  Volume does not equal projection.  There is a huge difference.  Often times players kill themselves trying to play as loudly as they can, without realizing they're compromising the instrument's vibrating capacity.  They push and push, creating what they perceive to be a great amount of sound.  However,  their tone is dead six feet away--a contradiction to the feedback from under the ear.   

A good general rule is to bow in such a way that the string will continue to vibrate after the hair has left the string.  This allows the violin to vibrate and project as it is designed to do.  Bowing harder and heavier will do the opposite. 

As stated above, intonation is critical to the violin's resonance. 


February 27, 2009 at 01:06 PM ·

I make a distinction between violins that are loud and violins that are powerful. I find often that the violins that do not sound loud under the ear are the ones heard best in the back of the hall. When I attended some acoustics classes at Oberlin a few years ago, we did several listening tests in a large hall, and the results were rather illuminating. When I finish a violin, I look for several things. First, the instrument should speak quickly. Second, it should have an even continuation of tone color across all four strings so that when you cross strings it does not sound like you are jumping from one instrument to another that is completely different. It should possess a wide dynamic range. The ability to play softly is as important as the ability to play with power. If I can succeed in these areas, I don't worry about power as the instruments set up this way will be optimally adjusted and give you all the projection possible. If a player requires even more power, he or she might better look to instruments of the new family.

February 27, 2009 at 01:09 PM ·

Eric makes a good point -- louder at the ear is not necessarily making your sound project. A wise teacher once said, "Think larger, not louder".

You mentioned, Vincent, that you can overpower the other members of your section and you want to produce more sound? As a lifelong orchestral player, and now conductor, I wouldn't want someone in my section who sticks out like that. A major point of orchestral playing is to blend with the section, not rise above it.


February 27, 2009 at 02:06 PM ·

I get annoyed with the modern violinistic concept of playing loud.  A violin is an accoustic instrument, it's not meant to be loud, it is meant to have presence.  We are a small segment of the music community that doesn't use electricity to make our instruments "sound."  I think violinists get too caught up in making a big sound rather than making a beautiful sound.  If your ears want to hear Metallica volume then violin is not the right place to go looking for it.

Here's an experiment.  Get unwound gut strings and learn to appreciate the softness.  Then when you switch back to synthetics it will sound really LOUD to your newly trained ear. 

Kudos with the above poster about players in the orchestra who stick out in the ensemble.  Good players don't do that. 

OP I get a sense that you are trying to outplay the other members of your orchestra.  The urge of competition is good and necessary to excel but trying to play louder is unviolinistic and not a relevant goal for a violinist.  Violins don't have a volume button, they can only be skillfuly persuaded to project.  It's better to draw in your listeners with a beautiful sound rather than a loud sound.  "Loud" and "worth listening to" do not necessarily go hand in hand.

February 27, 2009 at 03:07 PM ·

paging physics geeks,,,

what is the thinking behind the phenom that under certain conditions the violin will sound loud under the ears but does not project?   and vice versa.

February 27, 2009 at 06:47 PM ·

At high school I had to play flute (brass orchestra only). I was clearly the best one because the people were so lazy...   I had my super uncover plate flute that sounded very very powerful.  Even when I played pp, my sound carried over all the section and the teacher was always hearing me. (the others had really cheap student flutes).  The first time, you say wow what an instrument I have...  But it is really annoying because when you do a mistake, the teacher hears it and is always looking at you knowing it was you.  If the parents assist to the practice, they want to kill you because you cover their kids.  I hated to take all the place and became shy to play...   In an orchestra everyone is equal.  In a festival, I saw a string group with a bunch of show off immature kids in it that wanted to be heard over the others, it was HORRIBLE because they were no contrasts and it sounded like a big fight.  The judge notice it of course!  I think solo playing and orchestral is very different!  But I am saying this generally and I am not pointing anyone!


February 27, 2009 at 09:18 PM ·

 al ku wrote: "what is the thinking behind the phenom that under certain conditions the violin will sound loud under the ears but does not project? "

I believe it boils down to a kind of ear training that, from my experience, singers are more likely to have than violinists; but violinists ought to have it as well.  -- That is the ability to discriminate between a sound which is loud (like a loud necktie) and irritating, and one which is rich in overtones and far carrying.  Violinists who haven't yet been sensitized to the difference between the two will be tricked into confusing the irritating tone with the rich, beautiful and far carrying tone.  This confusion of ugly for powerful may result in a bad choice when a violin student purchases an instrument.  I have even encountered teachers who unfortunately, encourage their students to play with an irritating and ugly tone in the belief that it is more powerful!  If every violin student were to take a few voice lessons, there would be a greater number of beautiful sounding and well projecting violinists in the world.

February 27, 2009 at 09:50 PM ·

Re: violinists that can be heard above their sections...

I'm sure all orchestral players can point to times we've experienced a colleague who is obnoxiously loud, or have been the one who is obnoxiously loud ourselves **grin**.  I know of one player just recently who, while being far more accomplished than 90% of us in the section, was dropped simply because he could not control his sound.  No matter where you'd be in the seating rotation he could be heard, with his exceedingly exaggerated collé, portamentos, and plump juicy vibrato... 

At best this is the sign of a fish that is far too big for its pond.  At worst it shows an indifference to orchestral technique, sensitivity, and a lack of respect for the other players and the music itself.


February 28, 2009 at 01:21 AM ·

Once agian thanks for all who reply. I learned many things I didn't know. As of now I'm only participating in my school String ensemble, chamber strings, Symphony. For now my section IMHO is full of slackers and people who play open E's on E flats. Our last concert our teacher told me and another to play louder to make up for the sound since we had 8 violins total but we sound like 4 without a leader. Apparent the section leader is following his stand partner for tempo and he just plays louder since she plays softly.

I know playing in a group your suppose to blend right in but I don't want to blend in with a group that I can't hear let alone play with. I guess I'm sorta rebelling when playing like a soloist. From that day I was basically leading the section since I was the dominant voice. So far no complicants except for when it say's p my instrument says mf. I'm gonna work on bowing, fingering just to see how much projection I can get. Or any advice to stop or continue would be nice.

February 28, 2009 at 01:39 PM ·

You aren't necessarily stuck with low volume, if some things on your violin are wrong and can be fixed. First, the bridge thickness at the bottom can be as thin as 4.2mm, and this will help; also, the afterlength on the G string should be around 55mm. Setting these two things right can help, if they're not. As Oliver notes, the singers formant business has a lot to do with a violin's carrying power, and these bridge and tailpiece adjustments both encourage output in that frequency range. And as Scott said, if adjustments can't bring out what you want, eventually you have to figure it's not there to get.

One reason that a violin can carry more than the player can hear is that not all of the sound comes off the top on bottom of the left side, under the player's close ear ear. Different instruments have different radiation characteristics, and the violinist's left ear may not be in the best place to get the whole effect, depending on the instrument. It's not unusual for a lot of the frequencies in the singers formant range to come off the ribs and the back--areas not near the player's ear.

If you want to pratice bowing specifically for carrying power, as a couple of people mentioned, you can pick up a free copy of Spectrogram software. The interface is a bit arcane, but it's free, so give it a try. Basically, you want to use a computer with a mic, scan input, using the scope 1 display. Put a marker around 3000Hz on the display, and bow to pop up a bump in the gram at that range. Once you learn to recognize the sound you will better understand how to bring it out.

February 28, 2009 at 04:40 PM ·

Everyone above has mentioned very valid and important points. I just wanted to add (from personal experience, of course) that you should always be careful in seeking "the right sound," so much as to prevent yourself from hurting the sound of your instrument. What is loud to you may be obnoxious to others. What's soft and smooth to you may be robust and rich to others. My point is, violinists are at a bit of a disadvantage in being so close to their instrument. What people in the back of an auditorium hear coming from your violin is so surprisingly different than what you hear. 

In addition (and to get to the point of why I'm even posting), constantly trying to pull too much sound out of your violin will in time, be it one day or one year, harshen the sound of your violin. People don't realize how responsible they are for the sound of their instruments! I'd like to make use of the cliche that "it doesn't mater what kind of violin you have, as long as you can get the right sound out of it." That being said, the same thing can be applied on the positive end of the spectrum. If you play well, you will better the sound your instrument makes. When you hear concerts of concert violinists, one of the reasons as to why they (usually) sound so magnificent is because they practice the same way and constantly play WELL on their instruments. This in turn betters the sound of their instruments.

I'd like to "redefine" what I am trying to get across hearing by stressing playing well. I do not mean playing the Brahms concerto perfectly. I mean listening to yourself, seeking the RIGHT sound, and loosening up the way you play. Forgive me if I've said anything that someone doesn't particularly agree with, just wanted to share my opinion of the matter! :)

March 2, 2009 at 01:26 PM ·

thanks mr steiner for making that point on the quality of the tone and the threshold beyond which the tone will suffer despite volume.  that is so true.  even though i am not a musician, i have noted that sometimes even well known performers need to pay attention to that. 

adam made an interesting point, that constant harsh playing may change the tone of the violin?  did i get that right?  it sounds a little metaphysical to me:)

March 2, 2009 at 03:05 PM ·

That the tone and response of a violin is influenced by how it is played is certainly confirmed by my experiences, but also seems quite reasonable.  It was also confirmed in an experiment done by Prof. Jack Fry (UW - Madison).  He measured the output of a violin before and after subjecting it to hours of bombardment with white noise.  He measured an increase in output after the treatment.  I asked him if he had tried a single tone, and did he see an increased output on that specific frequency after treatment.  He said the answer is: "Yes, and Yes."

When I play one of my students' violins, the strings are more stable in pitch and the notes pop out more when, during the week, the violin has been played well in tune, for a good number of hours, and with a full tone.  It seems reasonable to me that wood which has been vigorously vibrated  on certain frequencies will become more flexible in  ways which allow it to respond with freer vibration on those notes and overtones.

March 2, 2009 at 03:35 PM ·


I don't think that the heaviest strings always equal the loudest volume. When I first tried plain gut strings i ordered the super heavy gauge. First I found it lacking in volume but the more I played it, the more powerful it seemed to get (even more then synthetics or metal). Then about a week ago I tried medium plain gut strings and I found it surprisingly more open. It ringed better and i could hear the overtones better. 

March 2, 2009 at 04:18 PM ·

well, here is an observation that could have many other confounding the past 2 weekends we were on the road travelling for golf tournaments and when my kid did her little morning practice in the hotel room, we put on a mute.

this morning, somehow:) i feel that the sound of the violin has opened up a bit when she practiced without the mute at home, haha.  could it be a post mute effect,,,the vibration on the car trunk, or something else?  hmmm.

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