Listening to the F hole...

April 26, 2011 at 03:58 PM ·

Can't think of a way of writing this without running the danger of getting flattened by the jokes but, what the heck...

Perhaps this is common knowledge - I'm sure many here know it already - but I just learned it for myself.  As suggested by my teacher I've been trying to improve my violin position on my shoulder by adjusting the shoulder rest (please no no-rest discussion, I've tried that its not what I want for now) and the angle of the violin both relative to my shoulders (lateral, round my body) and relative to my left arm (rotational along the violin axis.  This has had an amazing effect on my bowing,

But thats not what this is about.  With my violin further out to the left when I rotate my head a bit so that my ear is beyond the chin rest I can hear the sounds coming out of the F hole.  This was just astonishing - I think (hope) I am hearing something much closer to what a listener will hear without the scratches and whistles that are local noises from the hair/string contact.  Its very nice and really helps me with tone generation - though it may also be not too good for the ear.

What it also made me realize is that thats probably what the great soloists are doing when they tip their heads to one side so taht the cheek is against the chin rest.  I thought they were maybe just bending their necks to avoid muscle strain but no, its listening!!


Replies (26)

April 26, 2011 at 05:37 PM ·

 When I'm playing cello in a ceili band gig I have the mic pointing at the F-hole for that very reason.

April 26, 2011 at 05:48 PM ·

 With the recording of my Diversions for Quintet a (miniature) spot mic was put right inside the double bass (through the f-hole), but in this case it would have been more for the isolation of the sound (with mixing in mind) rather than the actual sound quality itself. 

April 26, 2011 at 07:52 PM ·

Trevor: I'd love to see a cellist try to put thier ear to the F hole while playing:... :)

April 27, 2011 at 04:34 AM ·

When I play in a particular pit orchestra, I use a "Viola-Scope" to hear myself. 

Basically it is a piece of surgical tubing with a pipette on one end that goes down into the F-hole.  On the other end is a rubber (not solid foam) ear-plug with a hole cut into it to take the other end of the tubing.  I can hear myself over the loudest electric guitar, brass instrument 2 feet away, and sound monitors.

I have to be careful to not have the pipette end too deep inside the instrument and take it out when I don't need it or I'll go deaf quickly... 

April 27, 2011 at 10:10 AM ·

Mendy - thats fantastic,  assuming of course that you are not having us on.  Definitely a patentable device - in particular if you add a volume control (tubing constrictor).

Shall we market this? :D 

April 27, 2011 at 01:50 PM ·

So he thought the sound from the bow on the string is closer to what the audience hears?  Because thats what the alternative is. 

If thats the case I beg to differ....

April 27, 2011 at 05:00 PM ·


Really, I do have a "viola-scope".  A bassist that in in my orchestra / pit orchestra and his cellist wife came up with the idea.  He gave me one after I complained about not being able to hear myself in a pit rehearsal.  

April 27, 2011 at 08:33 PM ·

 My 2 cents:  (bear in mind that I'm far far far from being an accomplished player)

You can NEVER hear what the audience is hearing, so why worry about it?  You of course CAN affect the tonal balance that YOU hear, but do you necessarily want it to sound as "full & nice" as possible?  I'm not sure:

With my acoustic violins, I prefer to practice with a mute on, and with my eViolin I prefer to practice un-plugged. The reason is that, when the ratio of string sound - to - body sound is weighted towards "mostly string" I am better able to hear / notice all the little changes in my bowing technique.  (It's harder to sound good.)

This is not just helpful for practicing. When I record, I have learned to roll off a significant amount of low & even mid frequencies. (defeating this EQ when I later mix the tune.)  This helps me control subtle nuances like what lane I'm in, angle of the bow, etc.   

OK, maybe this is partly because I'm still developing my skills, but I would think this applies, to some degree, to all players.  - Just something to consider.

April 27, 2011 at 08:35 PM ·


Some f-hole once told me that I absolutely HAD to use a shoulder rest.  

Luckily, I didn't listen to him.


(somebody had to do it!)

April 27, 2011 at 10:12 PM ·

Why is it that I can't I hear when I close my eyes, or see when I plug my ears?

April 27, 2011 at 11:23 PM ·

No worries, David !

I can't seem to play when I close my mouth.

April 30, 2011 at 05:55 AM ·

The question remains as to whether the sound from the f hole is a better or worse representation of the audience sound.  It should be testable by positioning an array of microphone at various positions around the violin.  I suspect that having the ear right over the bridge is probably the worst place of all - most prone to detect the short-range squeaks from the bow-string contact.

OTOH perhaps I'm trying to delude myself that everyone can't hear them ::D

April 30, 2011 at 06:49 AM ·

 Have a look at what Robert Spear said on this thread, it seems quite relevant; "The cavity can only reinforce the frequency for which it is tuned." 

April 30, 2011 at 07:01 AM ·

 "The cavity can only reinforce the frequency for which it is tuned." 

That's completely false.   The cavity's MAIN reinforcement is the tuned Helmholtz resonance, since that is the lowest & thus loudest perceived frequency.  Also, it and its harmonic multiples will be the strongest, as they will have no (or little) phase cancellations.  

However, any frequency generated by the top and "bouncing around" inside, that has a wavelenght shorter than 1/2 the helmholtz frequncy, will also be supported.   These will all have some amount of phase-cancellation comb filtering, but most will escape the f-holes with some degree of amplitude.

Really good Violin makers are even aware of how the shape of the f-hole EDGES actually effect how the higher frequencies escape.

Rpbert Spear's comment wasn't wrong, but you're taking it completely out of context.

April 30, 2011 at 07:23 AM ·

 OK, thanks for the elaboration, I didn't really imagine from RS's comment that it was just a single frequency, just whether it was, or not, a "lopsided" sound".

April 30, 2011 at 11:23 AM ·

The f-holes radiate sound also from the body resonance modes around 450Hz and 550Hz as well as for some higher resonances. For these body resonance modes Bissinger found that about 50% of the sound was radiated via the f-holes. These modes "breathe" so air is also pushed in and out of the fholes.

The f-hole wings also do vibrate at lots of frequencies from some 1kHz and up. If any direction of the sound should be detectable by the ears, I think the candiadates for that should be above 1kHz. Below that the body and f-holes radiate more or less the same in all directions, so at least theoretically It should not be possible to distinguish between the sound coming from the f-holes and what radiates off the plates.

April 30, 2011 at 11:48 AM ·

Hi, it can help but I would be careful to not over exaggerate. (I'm not telling you do : )  Some soloists nowadays lie on their violin as if it was a pillow for the whole performance.

It seems to be solely acceptable to play with a not straight head nowadays.  It's "cute", it looks more emotional whatever but I don't think it's necesseraly good for the neck and its articulations to do it too often or for too long.  My teacher is also against too much of that. 

Sorry to always take them in example... but if you look at the old masters, the neck posture is generally straighter. Not always... but generally.  And of course, you have Heifetzh, Oistrakh, Milstein, Elman etc who could occasionally tilt their heads for 2-3 seconds to listen carefully to their sound but always always put it back straight very quickly.  They knew it shouldn't be the normal or the usual posture.  Just a temporary one. 


For one thing, with longer necks, it harder to keep one's head straight...  I know something about this since I fought many years to suceed it and also noticed it on videos of players with various neck lenghs.  But, with a good setup, even someone with a long neck should be able to keep the head straight as their "at home" or "normal" position.

But of course, in violin as with eating everything is good in moderation : ) 



April 30, 2011 at 01:55 PM ·

If you want to have a little fun with f holes, sing one of your string pitches into one (D seems to come out the best for me).  You'll get an echo.

April 30, 2011 at 08:56 PM ·

Mine responds best to a C#. Does this make her unusual?

(Sorry Elise, you knew it was going to happen)

April 30, 2011 at 09:17 PM ·

I can't hold back any longer!  I blame you, David!  Mine has a sensitive spot on the G string, but you have to get the fingering right.

April 30, 2011 at 09:21 PM ·

David, if you want to change the internal resonance, John Cadd frequently recommends putting a sponge inside....

April 30, 2011 at 09:40 PM ·

"I blame you, David!"

It's no surprise, we preacher's kids get blamed for everything. ;-)

May 1, 2011 at 06:02 AM ·


[But don't stop...]


May 1, 2011 at 10:22 AM ·

Your question is almost impossible to answer. Low frequencies travel farther then high frequencies, so the farther the audience is away from the violin the warmer the sound.I have recorded the violin with a mic close to the left ear and found the sound to be very warm, a lack of high frequencies,so this could(?) be close to the sound heard from a distance.The thing is that a room will change how low and high frequencies behave.

May 2, 2011 at 07:12 AM ·

But how about the microphone array idea Charles?  Record from multiple points round the violin at the same time and see where the sound is most similar to, say 10 feet away (the closest listener)?  The main question is whether it is better above the bridge or close to the F hole... 

May 2, 2011 at 08:25 AM ·

What did the sound-post say to the bridge?

There is a f-hole spreading rumors.

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