Can poor bowing technique cause an open E-squeal?

February 22, 2010 at 05:39 PM ·

I tried a very nice violin today and no matter in low or high positions the instrument sounded excellent, whether playing with full force bowing near the bridge or with light fast bowing near the fingerboard.  The instrumented responded well with a satisfying sweet tone when playing near the fingerboard, except for an pleasant harmonic squeal that occurred often on the open E string right after playing D on the A string.    In these cases I was bowing nearer the fingerboard, but not over it. 

Is it possible that poor bowing technique could result in an E-squeal?

Replies (31)

February 22, 2010 at 05:55 PM ·

I don't suppose I can be of any actual help to you on this topic, but I wanted to note that I've been pondering over something similar myself. I could be way off-base here, but I wonder if it has to do with a defective, or "quirky" :) string/string-brand, rather than bowing? After using Evah Pirazzi strings for many years I recently switched my main violin over to Dominants---after which I would often get that squeak you mention in your post. I never, ever, heard it before I switched. I replaced the E string, twice, and still get the sqeak occasionally. I still keep Evahs on my second violin, and that one never squeaks...



February 22, 2010 at 08:22 PM ·

Are you talking about a squealing E or a whistling E?  This probably makes a difference.  I am familiar with whistling E but not squealing E.

February 22, 2010 at 09:03 PM ·

What E string are you using?

February 22, 2010 at 09:47 PM ·

Hi Alison,

I wanted to respond to your comment about switching to Dominant strings.  I use Dominants on my violin but I don't use the Dominant E string because I found that it made that whistling sound you mentioned in your post.  If I may offer a recommendation - try the Gold Label E string.  It has a much better sound and I suspect may be a better quality string.


February 23, 2010 at 01:01 PM ·

Bev, thank you so much! The sound has been driving me crazy, only I wasn't sure what other brand would match up well with the Dominants---overall I like them much better than the Evah's so I didn't want to switch back :)

February 23, 2010 at 02:18 PM ·

That whistling E is one of violin-playing's little mysteries, IMO ;)  There has to be something about one's technique that makes it happen with the brands where it DOES, but I think it's a lot easier to find an E that doesn't whistle on the particular violin and stick with it. Kaplan's non-whistling E string for ex. You know this is a common issue when a company latches on & makes a string that resists the problem. I've also had good luck with Corelli Crystal E's and Suretone E's. Sue

February 23, 2010 at 05:47 PM ·

Poor bowing can cause the hissing squeel. For the E to sound properly it it has to vibrate with what is called Helmholtz motion. That means the bow has to grab the string securely enough to pull it sideways enough so that when the string does slip free a little kink travels down and back along the length of the string.

If, for whatever reason, the string is not adequately "excited" (has energy transferred to it) in this particular manner then other modes of vibration occur and bad sounds happen.

The hiss is the result of rubbing the bow over the string but not adequately gripping. the result is a compression wave that actually travels inside the string or other non-coherent vibrations that do not effectively produce a uniform (and pleasing) sound.

So, touching the string with the side of your finger, rosin too hard, or not enough rosin, non-responsive or false string, old hair, other interfering harmonics from other strings, bowing at an angle to the string, sliding the bow sideways across the string....all these thing can cause the non-Helmholtz vigbrations...............HISSSSSS!! It can drive you quite crazy because once it starts it never seems to quit until perhaps another, better, day.

More than you wanted to know?

February 23, 2010 at 05:57 PM ·

I had the same problem until I switched my Dominant E to a Larsen. The unpleasant open E sound completely disappeared, and everything on the E string sounds much better.

February 24, 2010 at 03:04 AM ·

As Sue Bechler says, a whistling E string is often a mystery.  Sometimes moving the bow to the "sweet spot" helps.  Sometimes changing the angle of attack - usually with right hand closer to the body - helps.  If these don't do it consistently, change E strings, as others have suggested.  I changed from Dominants to Zyex by D'Addarrio  -  no more whistle.

February 24, 2010 at 04:42 AM ·

I noticed the same problem with the E string. My violin shop had me try a string by D'Addarrio. It was made specifically for this problem. I changed it and haven't heard a whistle since.

February 24, 2010 at 11:03 PM ·

 Thanks everyone, I said squeal when whistle probably describes the sound better.  Since the violin was for sale, I am not quite sure what brand of strings were on the instrument.    I will take a good look at my bowing technique, and am still considering the violin (with a new string of course!)  :)

February 25, 2010 at 12:23 AM ·

I've been having some similar E string woes myself; now I have some strings to try.

Does anyone have any other E string suggestions?

February 25, 2010 at 12:53 AM · Wound ones work for me, whether Dominant (or other Thomastik), Helicore or Super Sensitive Red Label.

February 27, 2010 at 05:11 PM ·

Who knows how long it has been for sale, and how old the strings are on it?   I often wonder when I'm trying a violin.  The E-string is already a temperamental string, but I find that as they age, some deteriorate into whistling faster than others.

March 2, 2010 at 05:21 PM ·

 No one has really answered the question:

This is a phenomena of steel strings, regardless of brand. The best solution is to use an aluminum-wound E such as the Dominant #132. I did try the Kaplan string, but for some strange reason it comes with a hateful little ball-end adapter. Unfortunately, wound strings, like all the rest, have shot up in price, though they seem to last much longer than plain steel.

Some may not like the darker sound of the aluminum-wound strings, and will have to compensate with bow technique. Generally, one needs to use more pressure to keep the string from whistling, and this will mean experimentation with speed, contact point, and pressure. It can be done, though.

My compromise has been to use my favorite string, the Gold Spiral steel E, for most playing (such as orchestra where the whistle is seldom an issue , but to switch to a wound string if I really need it. For example, if I had to perform the Bach Chaconne for some reason, I might switch over the wound string.

March 2, 2010 at 05:42 PM ·

 This is really typical of some of the gold plated E strings. Was it gold?

March 3, 2010 at 09:39 PM ·

Scott, with all respect I think I did answer the question. I stated that " Poor bowing can cause the hissing squeel." I tried to explain why this happens in a number of situations including poor bowing.

If I misstated something or you don't agree with what I said please tell me, honestly, because I tell the same things to my students and if I am wrong then I need to change what I teach.


March 4, 2010 at 04:59 AM ·


I don't disagree--your explanation of the compression wave traveling in the string sounded much like a luthier recently told me. I often find, though, that many E strings will squeal no matter what bow technique you use.


March 4, 2010 at 05:09 PM ·

You are absolutely right. Some E's hiss no matter what. I have never been able to find a non-hissing string...and there are several wound ones that never seem to hiss..that I like. Usually the sound is too fuzzy for my fiddle.

March 4, 2010 at 10:30 PM ·

 I'll suggest another factor in addition to violin, string, and technique: the bow. Some may exacerbate the squeal, and some may mitigate it. If you don't like the wound strings, you might try a different bow.

March 5, 2010 at 07:22 PM ·

The open E squealing problem, which I call whistling, is caused by the string vibrating in a torsional (twisting) motion rather than the normal Helmholtz (transverse or sideways) motion. For unwound steel E-strings, the frequency is approximately 4,800 Hz (open E is 660Hz). It is not a compression wave, which is an end-to-end motion.

A plain steel E string has very low damping (damping is how quickly the vibrations die away), so once the string starts to vibrate with a twisting motion, it takes a long time to stop and that interferes with the proper starting of the normal Helmholtz motion. With stopped notes, the soft fingertip will increase the string damping, causing any such motion to die away extremely quickly, so that is why the whistling happens only with an open E string.
Changing the string, or the shape of the string notch in the nut or bridge, or adjusting the violin may be enough to fix the problem in some cases, but all plain (non-wound) E-strings can whistle under the right conditions. Wound E-strings have higher damping and are more whistle resistant. For the most serious cases, I designed the D’Addario Kaplan Solutions non-whistling E-string (KS311W) using both a stranded steel core and a winding to increase the damping even further. We cannot make a loop end for it, so we include a hook fine-tuner adapter (I use it!). This string also has a much sweeter tone than solid steel core E-strings.
There is anecdotal evidence that gold-plated E-strings whistle more easily. If true, it might be due to the smoothness of the gold plating, which reduces torsional damping from the string rubbing against the bridge string notch and nut. But that is speculation.
I’ve heard the world’s best violinists whistle their E-strings. You can alter your bowing technique to prevent the problem, such as using more bow force and slower bow speed, but this is usually musically unacceptable.

March 6, 2010 at 08:03 PM ·

Fan Tao, Thank you so very much for your reply. It is nice to have a definitive answer. I always wondered how a compression wave would get started in a string but that is what I heard was the whistle.

For my sake, how did you find out that the whistle is a twisting vibration?

I would love to see some very high speed video of strings vibrating in various modes.

March 11, 2010 at 02:27 AM ·

The part of the issue I still find puzzling is why playing D in the A string makes whistling on the E more likely?

March 15, 2010 at 03:26 PM ·

In my experience, the bow needs to be already moving to generate a whistle, and that occurs most often crossing over from the A string. The D on the A string is the most common note played before the E, so that may explain why the D makes the whistling more likely. You can also make the E string whistle without playing the A string first by starting the E string with the bow already moving. And up bows can make the E whistle just as well as down bows (but we cross over from A to E less often on the up bow).

There was a paper in the Catgut Acoustical Society Journal by Bruce Stough who did some convincing measurements to show that the whistling open violin E string was vibrating in a torsional mode. I measured the whistling frequency and it was close to the theoretical calculations.

There are several published papers on tuning the violin bridge to affect frequency response and tone and Prof. George Bissinger published a paper based on the study we did at the VSA-Oberlin Acoustics Workshop, but no one has published anything on tuning bridges to eliminate whistling. It does sound like a promising method.

I just posted something about string tensions on my blog at I hope to eventually answer some of the many other questions on strings!
Fan Tao
Director of Research & Development
D'Addario & Company

October 31, 2010 at 03:08 PM ·

A non-whistling phenomenon with the E string which I had on a couple of occasions a while ago is what a luthier friend called "ghosting".  You play the string and nothing happens for a second or two and then the sound you want comes in very suddenly, almost with a bang.     Going on memory, I believe I was using gut-cored Eudoxa A at the time, most probably with an Eudoxa gold E, and I would have been bowing from a fingered note on the A to the open E.  

It seems as if the string was storing up energy in an inaudible non-Helmholtz mode and then flipped suddenly and released that energy to the Helmholtz mode.  Bowing technique perhaps?  I tend to bow between the bridge and halfway to the fingerboard.  Too much rosin?  I don't use much, but even a little might be too much under some circumstances.

Perhaps the solution is to revert to a gut E.

October 31, 2010 at 03:43 PM ·

My e-string starts whistling when there is a rosin build-up. Cleaning with a cloth and some water (or spit )helps. I don't think too much rosin on the bow causes whistling; too little rosin might.

October 31, 2010 at 05:04 PM ·

Playing very near to the bridge on the open E seems to help. A blob of blue tak on the bridge helps a bit too.

October 31, 2010 at 06:01 PM ·

Poor technique can make anything squeal, even the missus.

October 31, 2010 at 07:28 PM ·

I do find when a very pretty girl walks past my window when I'm practising that the E whistles at her.

I've been meaning to have  word with my E string and remind it that we don't work on a building site.

October 31, 2010 at 08:11 PM ·

At this point, I'm convinced that poor bowing technique is to blame for world hunger.  *picks up viola and tries again*

October 31, 2010 at 08:16 PM ·

 Lol Peter.

The only E I've had that never squeals under any circumstance is the titanium orchestral wound e.  It's the more expensive of the two "e's" in that set, available from southwest strings.  Similar to what Scott said, the wound e is definitely superior in terms of not whistling.  I personally really do like the sound of the wound E in titanium vision on my violin.  I wouldn't call it dark.  It can depend on the fiddle, but this was hands down the best E.  I spent $30 on a platinum E (PI) that whistles like the Manhattan Ferry.  An expensive lesson to learn....

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