Recently I receive quite a bit of comment saying that I'm too scare to dig into the strings, it sounds like I'm too afraid my bow or my violin will be broken that I'm having my bow floating on the strings.
Then today I tried to play again and ask my friends to listen, this time I give full force to play, to the extent that I feel like I'm crushing every note and constantly giving scratchy attacks, and they liked it so much, saying that it sound much more punchy and clear. Clear? I thought I was playing so brutally that I couldn't even listen clearly if I'm producing a good tone.
Maybe it's because of my violin, or something else?
That's not an uncommon situation. Heifetz left a whole trail of scratches around him when he played concertos. You never heard them from the audience.
Of course, Sarah Chang puts a ton of pressure on her instrument and I can't stand her sound. So do experiment.
As Heifetz said: "The more you press the less you get"
Why don't you record yourself so you can be the judge?
"That's not an uncommon situation. Heifetz left a whole trail of scratches around him when he played concertos. You never heard them from the audience."
The one time I heard Heifetz play backstage, he was beating the crap out of the instrument, and it didn't sound great up close.
Later, out in the audience, it was sublime.
Think about "stage makeup", how it looks up close, and how it appears from the audience.
Any number of times I've heard a violinist complain about the sound of a fiddle under the ear; the sound as heard by others a few feet removed was considerably more pleasant.
I think to some extent it depends on the violin; perhaps sometimes on the violinist. At any rate, whenever looking into taking on another instrument I always like to have an independent auditor, preferably one who can also play, so I can judge the tone independent of the playing of it.
…a musical note is not a single note, but a whole series of notes. A number of higher tones are present as well as the prime tone, these being the harmonics…[the natural harmonics obtained by placing a finger lightly on the string at certain points], plus other higher ones.The associated notes are known as partial tones, and all except the prime tone are described as upper partials. These upper partials are fainter than the prime tone which gives the pitch to the note, but scientists tell us that the quality of the sound is determined by the number and relative intensities of the partials.Applying the bow too far from the bridge diminishes the number of upper partials; applying it too near adds to the number of very high ones, when in extreme cases only upper partials (or harmonics) are heard.
What Mr. Fisher explained correlates well with a problem we run into with many violinists who are in the market for a violin. They sometimes look for a sound, under their ear, which is similar to what they hear from great violins at a concert.
By the time the sound has traveled the distance to reach the listener at a concert, or even traveled the distance to reach the microphone in a recording situation, it has changed significantly in character. If they buy a violin which sounds like this under the ear, it probably won't really produce the sound they have in mind, unless they are playing strictly for their own enjoyment, and don't care about what others hear.
Casey, your friends have provided you with some valuable information. How you move forward with it is up to you. If an instrument requires too much brutality to do the job at a distance, sometimes it's the fiddle. But if they've also visually noticed you playing timidly, your technique would be a good place to start.
Great explanation, Mr. Fischer.
This is a very tricky subject of discussion. On the one hand, the sound heard by an audience member in the 12th row is not the same as is heard by the performer. On the other hand, this should not be used as a rationale for producing sounds that are repugnant to the performer. The performer will ideally produce a performance which is *informed by* experience with playing in various venues, but it must never be less than gorgeous! -- It is similar to an experienced stage actor or public speaker (without amplification) -- He knows not to let two syllables follow one another too quickly lest they be jumbled by the theater reverberation, he uses a good amount of articulation in his consonants and he produces a tone which is rich in overtones, but it is a beautiful tone. I prefer not to use the word scratch in reference to the ZZZH and buzzing heard under the ear in good playing in a large venue. Scratch is a different noise, and its cause is opposite to the desirable noise which I heard Milstein call "the spit attack", Miss DeLay called it the ZZZH sound and Mr. Galamian called it "the sandy sound". This elusive, desirable and (IMHO) lovely noise is the opposite of scratch! It is the breaking of the tone as it straddles the border between normal string vibration and ponticello. This is a sound heard by the violinist, but hardly heard at all by the distant listener. I use the word scratch to refer to the ugly noise which is at the *opposite* end of the spectrum to ponticello. In scratch, the three variables (pressure, bow speed and contact point) go toward heavy, slow and far from bridge), whereas the zzzh sound is produced by the three variables going in the *opposite* direction, just before the tone *breaks* into a ponticello.
Thanks everyone, lots of great inputs!
Stephen - Yup I remember Perlman mentioned that his recording has got lots of aggresive attacks which got loss in a hall. In comparison, I wonder why Sarah Chang's playing has got too much scratchy sound even in a distant, my teacher watched her concert and commented that her sound was pretty rough.
Kristian - But I believe the sound was fine even if I put more pressure on it. And I actually experience it on my current violin, none of my previous violin has this weird phenomenon.
Smiley - No I won't, it's too risky to judge by listening to recording with the reason Burgess mentioned.
Bob - Talking about personal auditor, I do have one friend who always listened to my playing for few years already so he knows my playing well. I met him today, and conducted the same experiment, he said the sound is loud and clear despite I'm "beating the crap" out of my violin. I even asked him to play and try to put as much pressure as he can, and the scratchy sound sounds like it's seperated from the violin's voice, the tone is loud and clear, while the scratchy noise is pretty low that it won't make any impression that my friend is pressing that hard, at all.
Simon - Great elaboration and advices! I'll take all that into account in my futher experiments!
David - Thanks for your informations too! I think big part of it is my violin, it seems to be able to project the sound without those scratchy noise, even if it's played by my friend who's novice in violin playing (very good keyboardist, by the way).
Oliver - Definitely not breaking the sound, it's the ZZZH soung thingy. But when I do chords passages, it seems that the chords are delivered clearly despite I'm hearing the ZZZH sound, it sounds similar to breaking the sound, but not exactly.
No problem if you don't take me up on my suggestion, but I'm wondering if I missed something. I re-read the postings by Burgess and I'm not sure I understand why it is risky to judge the sound from a recording. Would you please clarify if I missed the point?
I recently purchased a new instrument and while trying fiddles, I always recorded them to hear what they sound like from a distance. I even took some to Meyerhoff Symphony hall and played on stage while a friend listened (and recorded) from the back of the hall. From my experience, the recordings were a good representation of the sound from a distance, which I agree, can be different from the sound under ear. I use a Zoom H2 recorder which runs about $200.
At any rate, if you have not recorded yourself, I believe it is a valuable exercise. I have to warn you though, most people find it to be a rude awakening to hear what they actually sound like. I certainly did. I thought I played like Heifetz, then I recorded myself and realized I didn't. :-)
As an instructional tool, self-recording can be a great feedback, and thus a means to highlight areas for improvement in technique and perhaps phrasing. Is the legato smooth? The staccato short and punchy? crescendo sufficient, etc. I think one cannot learn better technique this way, but one can hear the limits of one's technique.
But the question in this thread is "sound". For this a recording is nigh useless. Too many variables, particularly room acoustics and equipment quality. Give me a top player with a decent violin in a hall that creates some reverb, and I can make any recording sound good, to the point the listener cannot discern between a reasonable violin and a great one.
The story I received long ago from sound techies who were present in studio, about Heifetz, is that he dominated the recording sessions, and insisted the mics be placed closer to him than the techies recommended. Due to the limitations of the tech in those days, the sound came through as scratchy and thin. Yet, in the actual concert hall, the sound was lovely (of which I have yet to find a recording). I cannot find a quote, but the rumour was Heifetz wanted his recordings to be as accurate as possible.
Reading the posts above, I surmise then that his concept of accuracy was rooted in what he heard under his ear. So the sound quality of the recordings makes sense to me now. Verrrrrry interesteeenk (re Artie Shaw?) :-)
No doubt Heifetz is one of the very few who had/has the perfect technique to pull off his recording style. At that close distance, everything would be revealed. Amazing confidence and ability.
This has been a great thread.
The recorded sound on Heifetz's Last Recital CD is very fine. This is the Heifetz recording that best coincides with my memory of hearing his glorious tone live at Carnegie Hall. What a great range of emotion is evoked by the great range of tone colors captured in that recording. At one moment the violin is sospirando as if whispering an intimate secret. At another moment it is like a voice on the brink of breaking from extreme emotion. The Last Recital CD is a moving concert experience and a superlative violin lesson.
I appreciate this thread, Ive been pondering this same thought as of late
Smiley - Thanks for your suggestion! As some other members mentioned, violin will sound very different in different venue, and recordings will not able to tell much. On top of that, mic will alter the sound, soundcard (audio interface or AD/DA converter) will alter the sound, and finally, speakers/headphones will also alter the sound. Even the distance you stand from the mic everytime will be different and thus, different sound.
I've heard your recording comparing both your old and your new violin. All I heard was the old one sounded less complex (more monotonous tone) and it sounds like you're having hard time to bring the sound out of the instrument. Other than that, I don't hear much of a difference, they don't sound like they're that much of a difference if talking just the sound quality.
Even if I don't trust my friend, I've had my friend played my violin for me and asked him to put as much pressure as he could, and no, I don't hear the scratchy sound much, in fact, doesn't matter at all.
Last but not least, I've had a habit of recording my violin (with semi professional equipment) as a journal of its sound development, and i eventually gave up because even if I record in the morning and afternoon within the same day, they don't really sound the same at all. On top of that, they're night and day difference when hearing in person vs hearing my own recording when I have other violinist playing my violin.
Ron - I believe he was intended to make the recording sound like what he heard under the ear - nobody would ever got the chance of listening what they play live!
Oliver - I love the video recording of his later age concert where the video was presented with colors as opposed to those regular black and white videos. Wonderful playing and far different from those older recordings! But still I doubt it'll represent the sound heard in person.
Smiley and Casey;
Sorry for being unclear. What I was trying to say is that listening to violin concerts and recordings, and then looking for that same sound under your ear when you play, can lead to some erroneous conclusions.
I've found recording violins to be a very useful tool in getting an idea of how they sound at a distance, by placing the microphone at a distance. It's best if variables can be kept to a minimum. Best results come from having the exact same mic position, player position, and even the same furniture location, in the same room, of course. Comparing instruments which have been recorded in different environments, or with different equipment or settings, starts to get a little shaky. One reason is that violins have a strong interaction with the room acoustics. I've run into some musicians though who still find this useful.... or at least better than nothing.
On room acoustics: I had one customer call me saying, "I'm confused. One violin sounds better in one room, but the other violin sounds better in another room. Am I crazy?" I said, "No, it just means that you're honest and very perceptive." ;-)
I've heard your recording comparing both your old and your new violin. All I heard was the old one sounded less complex (more monotonous tone) and it sounds like you're having hard time to bring the sound out of the instrument.
From my experience, when I compare two fiddles, I generally hear a much bigger difference under ear, than at a distance. I found this to be true for most (not all) fiddles. And this is something I have verified both with recordings and listening to friends playing the fiddles. To me, my new fiddle sounds significantly better under ear than my old one, therefore, I get much more enjoyment playing it. But in the end, the biggest difference is the violinist, not the violin.
Casey Jefferson wrote: "I love the video recording of his later age concert where the video was presented with colors as opposed to those regular black and white videos. "
I love the color video also. There are some nice close-ups of JH's Del Gesu, in which one can clearly see the uncovered gut D and A strings and the blue spiral on white tailpiece end of his gut with winding Tricolore G. The recording to which I referred in my earlier post was made after that one. It was recorded at the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion in Los Angeles. Made in 1972, this was Heifetz's last public recital.
To David Burgess-
So when shoping for a violin the violinist should have another person along to listen so as to give feed back of what the violins are sounding like at various distances away from the violinist?
Smiley - I think that's not uncommon, if the violin was played alone. But it does make a whole lot of difference when playing with other instruments, say, piano being the most common.
What I really like about my violin is that, when playing in a dead and dry room, my violin will sound small compare to even just upright piano. I love playing in the piano showroom (spacious with some nice reverb) at where I teach, when I play with the grand piano my playing will overpower the piano if the pianist isn't playing with much volume. And this isn't just sheer power, my violin seems to be able to travel through any background sound/noise and deliver to the audience loud and clear.
Oliver - Thanks for the information! Was wonder where he performed.
Royce - Although the question was not directed to me, it's always safer to have another violinist to help out so you have opinions from audience, and you'll also get to hear how the violin sounds like at the distance. However, the best solution is to play the violin in concert situation where the violin was not played alone, as what I mentioned above. And this is also what Michael Darnton mention all the time, it won't make a difference if the violin is being auditioned alone, it'll reveal more differences by having at least a piano playing together with the violin.
What you say makes since. And having another violinist along I guess would be a good idea.
Thanks for your explanation on tone production and projection.
"To David Burgess-
So when shoping for a violin the violinist should have another person along to listen so as to give feed back of what the violins are sounding like at various distances away from the violinist?"
It sure wouldn't hurt. A typical progression for a pro player goes something like this:
Player tries a violin. Player tries it with friends, and they compare it with other violins. Same thing happens again, but in a hall, if the player does any solo work, or is just curious. Player tries violin in an actual rehearsal or performance situation.
If all has gone well so far, then they call the maker or dealer and ask, "Can I give you a 1972 Toyota as a down payment, and pay the balance over 10 years? (just kidding) :-)
So THAT'S how to purchase/finance a violin in the upper strato-prices!!!!! Thanks David!
Be sure you choose your friend carefully, though. Get three friends together to play the same violin, and you can see that you will probably get three different sounds. Add you and that's four. :-)
A student should definitely have his/her teacher along.
This is a great subject to discuss, as I have often wondered myself.
What is the minimum distance an audience member must be to hear the sound of a violin totally different than the musician? Would this explain why other members of the sextet dost not hear my violin as loud as I hear my violin? Is there any kind of a solution of the difference of sound a different distances, or is it something that is only there to drive people crazy?
Ryan - In my case, the bow noise doesn't seems to be exist even as close as 6 feets in normal room/living room. In most cases, audiences will be at least 10 feets away so I guess that'll be a minimum range.
Regarding the sextet thing, I think it's pretty normal when playing in ensembles. You'll hear your playing the loudest, while everybody else seems not delivering something enough to make you think why everybody is so quiet, and they can tell you exactly the same experience.
In my experience, I find I have to play as like I'm overpowering everybody else, but in audience perspective it's most probably just nice. However, I've been reading things like Strads can overpower every other player in audience perspective, while the players around the strad might actually having a hard time hearing the strad's playing. Unless you have a strad or del gesu, I guess it doesn't matter much anyway. ;-)
I will play a violin in cello position to get a different perspective on the sound, although from the point of view of my angle to the instrument's top and f-holes, it is far from ideal, but it definitely sounds different than it does under the chin.
I will also (when more ambitious) do a trial with my Ederol recorder mounted across the room and play the same music on several different violins. From the standpoint of perceived loudness and tonal characteristics, what I judge from the recording and what I hear directly in cello position are similar (of course cello vibrato and violin vibrato lend a different quality to the sound).
I will often select a violin to play based on the musical environment. For example for large orchestral pieces, with very high violin-part scoring, I will select the instrument that punches through above the piccolo, at least to my ears, even though it may not be the violin that my cello-position and Ederol-recording tests tell me is the loudest or most penetrating to a listener.
For chamber music, I want to use the instrument that does blends best (for the part(s) I play) with others in the group. For solos I want to use the instrument that (for lack of better wording) engages the whole space of the room; for that you actually have to do trials in the same room and realize that once it is full of people it may sound different anyway.
However, the bottom line for me is that if I don't enjoy the sound under my ear, I'm going to have a hard time playing an instrument. I have a friend who plays an E. Rocca violin in our piano trio, where I am the cellist, and this is a fine instrument with lots of power, but the times I have played it I find it difficult because the sound under the ear seems kind of weak and far away, to me, at least at the frequencies I hear best. But I recall the time, years ago, when I was playing principal second in our orchestra and he was asst. concertmaster (so, right next to me) and I said to him, "Man, that fiddle really kicks butt!" It may be a fiddle that takes just the right kinds of vibrato to bring out its best sound - and it can take a while to figure out how to play it best - I've run across other fiddles like that before. That can take work, and the player has to decide if he/she wants to work that hard. Often it is not digging in at all, but virtuosic bow speed, such as Menuhin used in his prime.
I know I'm not a professionnal but in my limited stage experience, I can tell that my violin seems to sound quite similar against my ear than in the audience. Sometimes, against my ear, it bothers me because it sounds quite powerful (but dark ouf!!!) and the comments I recieve from people (some who know very well violin as well as non musicians) is how lucky I am to have a so powerful (when needed) and beautiful sounding instrument. (my violin always have much more comments than me. hope this is not a bad sign lol) and after people always say, but of course, we know it doesn't play itself alone... and them I receive my comments. played by my non musician mom, it sound awful and by my teacher it sounds like a real guarneri! Maybe I have a little influence then on the sound. I must be somewhere between the two hopfully!). So against my ear as in the audience, it sounds the same (except that I am scared to become death because I'm closer contrarly to them : )
And if I feel it sounds scratchy (I hate it and don't do on purpose), my teacher always tells me, this was too scratchy start over... Never heard that it has to scratch for us but that it is beautiful for the audience??? (But violins are so different from one to another!!!)
In regards to beeing scared of breaking the instrument (as like Casey told), I tell myself that strads and guarneris (the most expensive instruments of all) have even survived to these untamed soloists when they are young and don't realize that they also have to play pp and gently sometimes to make nice contrast! Got the image? lol : ) They are full of scares even if played by the elite players and worth millions of $$...
Put an ear plug in your left ear.
It's not perfect for various reasons, but you do get a small taste of what your violin sounds like when the sound is reflected off a wall or two.
Also your jaw seems to conduct the sound to quite an extent -- you can mitigate it by moving your teeth around.
One of the most enjoyable experiences that I have with my Cuypers is being able to do the equivalent of putting the foot down on the accelerator pedal occasionally and feeling it take off sound wise. I'm still getting to know what he can do so try to be a bit careful so as not to bring undue attention to myself at the back of the 2nds!
I do want to bring up one thing already mentioned in this thread - about playing close to the bridge. I'm finding that it is taking a while to adapt to what bow pressure and speed I need to get a non-scratchy sound near the bridge. But then that's the sound under my ear, and the comments on here make me think that maybe further away the sound is OK. Hmmm, food for thought here.
Rosalind, it@s intersting that people who sat close up to Heifetz said his sound was scratchy but thta it was beautiful in a cocnert hall. Kyung Wha Chung said the same thing about the way Galamian taught her: close up not so good, but in a big hall, Fantastic!
Some excellent posts. I'd like to try to add an idea or two, hopefully w.o. repeating too much of what's already been said.
What's pleasant and what isn't is obviously very subjective. I happen to like a gutsy, biting sound - what Perlman called the "jhhitt" of the Heifetz sound close-up or on many of his recordings. Of course, I wouldn't like it for everything. The gutsty bite that I'd like on say the beginning of the 3rd mvt. of the Tchaikovsky is not what I would want at the start of the Debussy sonata. In any case, digging-in and releasing is a far cry from crushing the sound. We should always have the violin vibrate as freely as we can. Play the violin, not just the string. Indeed play the hall or the room, not just the violin.
I agree that there's a relationship between close-to-the-bridge bow placement and the excitement of upper partials, and in turn to greater projection and presence. However, I also feel that in this regard, flatter hair and a more perpendicular (non-) tilt of the bow play a significant role as well. Other factors relating to greater projection and presence include using more bow in relation to proper speed and weight, as well as sometimes more deliberate, articulating finger action from the left hand, and amplitude of vibrato. All these aspects relate to the 'stage-makeup' idea. There is a relationship between simple loudness and projection. But I feel that the degree of complexity of overtones that an instrument intrinsically has or does not have, makes a big difference, and at a distance may be more abiding. Then there's that real "easy" factor - really good intonation, which helps align all those overtone "ducks in a row".
I like to play on a violin that (among many other things) sounds powerful under the ear as well as projects at a distance, and as most of us know, the two often don't go together. For a distance test it's crucial to bring someone along whose ears you trust. But even by myself, a distance of 2 feet alreadty can start to tell a different story than the usual 2 inches under the ear. So in comparing violins, I will sometimes hold the violin down at about my solar plexus, and aleady I'm hearing a different story. Obviously this position limits what I can play really comfortably to something that stays in a middlle position, such as the string-crossing passage from the last movt. of Vivaldi's "fall". But I still try other things as well. I've also had the experience where violin A projected better 'a cappela', but I could hear myself better in orchestra on vln. B. I've noticed with a number of otherwise fine violins that they are hard to hear in orchestra around the area of the 2nd A on the E string - where a lot of exposed, tricky 1st violin passages occur.
I was lucky in enough in a youth orchestra to be coached by Manny Hurwitz, at that time the leader of the ECO and the Melos Ensemble. He told us a story of just having played a concert, someone came backstage and was talking to him in his dressing room, and asked to play a particular passage again. Manny did, and he said he saw the guys face fall as he did so. He realised that in a small harsh acoustic he was hearing the "extra" sounds that drop off rapidly before they reach the audience.
Unfortunately, the living room in my house is rectangular and not terribly large (24' x 12') and the violin sounds terribly harsh under the ear. I've learned to sort of "translate" to put up with this as I know it sounds o.k. in a larger room or a hall - such as the much larger room in a friend's house where we hold our weekly quartet sessions. If I made a "nice" sound in my room, it just wouldn't project at all.
Yes - I do use a recorder sometimes when I practice. Sounds much better than under the ear, but much more importantly, it's your best critic! Maybe I'm not critical enough when I'm practicing, but what I find is that I know how I want it to sound, what I'm aiming at, and it's far too easy to hear what I want to hear. Until I listen to the recording. Ouch!
Fantastic responses so far! Thanks a million for all the informations!
Keep the ball rolling! ;-)
Last weekend I was visiting my parents in Monument-Colorado Springs, Colorado. Already my violin is pleasing to me to listen too. But when I began playing down stairs in their house I couldn't believe the gorgeous sound! I was totaly blown away!!!!! Seriously, even upstairs in their new kitchen it sounded excellent! Man, I wish it sounded that good here in my apartment!
It just goes to show that where a violin is played can make all the difference in the world! And I'm begining to apreciate why violinist will test out several instruments out where they are going to perform.
Same goes for other instruments! I was taking part in a recording of the Britten Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings. The horn player was the great Ifor James. The last movement is marked for horn - lontano (in the distance). The hall we were in was a rectangular box - but at the far end were the toilets. Ifor vanished into the gents and we heard this wonderful sound issuing. The conductor turned to the leader and asked "Is this serious?" - the leader could only shrug. Yes - we did record it that way, and it sounded absolutely magical. Ifor emerged saying "Great place to sell a horn, that. But never buy one in there"
Great thread. Now I understand why I can practice late at night and get away with it. It sounds very loud to me but doesn't bother anyone else....so far.
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