What needs a violin to project

March 1, 2012 at 06:04 AM · I have a question wich appeared during teaching one of my students.

I checked her violin while tuning it (she is just 4 months with me, cant tune herself yet) and I was quite amezed. It is an very responding instrument with good bass, warm and sweet e-string and a not too weak a-string. I didn't have the time to compare it exactly to my violin but I have a general question to those who maybe played on some first class proven violins yet.

My question is, do the best instruments, those who carry in a big hall, sound nice under the ear aswell? Or is an sweet sounding instrument in a small room not likely to carry?

The thing is, I always discovered, that the "better" instruments have something harsh in their sound wich goes away when listened from the distance and played in a certain way. On the other hand there are many very nice and sweet sounding violins who can not be used solistic.

Is this just because they lack this kind of edge? Or is it possible, that there are violins out there, who sound sweet on one hand, with an clear and pure sound while having the power to project over an orchestra or an stainway played ff?

My guess would be, that those instruments may be a few if ever existed and that those coming from some italien region... but hey, we all know that story's, but who really got to play such an instrument once what seemed perfect and somehow schizophrenic, because it combines two qualities, wich are some kind of contrary?

My violin has some very good qualities, but its certainly not perfect. It has a somehow weak a-string and wolfy c' notes, also the g string in upper register has a bit too much surface noise. It can sound quite harsh in small rooms, but I feel its a good concert violin because it has lots of power and a good quality sound but its not perfect all round.

I heard, that the best violins also project a pianississimo in the largest hall. Do they do that with purity and special colour or with that kind of harshness to the sound?

I played some very new violins from good makers and many of them seem to go after some harshness rather than purity (not all of course). But is that really the only option to project? losing the ability of sounding nice from near?

Related to that I think about some videos where soloists demonstrate on their fiddles and you hear the sound from very near. That often sounds quite scratchy. That would speak for the theory, that you need some kind of harshness indeed. For example kavakos Interview and demonstrade some things on his violin: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zwMd-7OZDWI

For those who know the movie "the art of violin". Listen to Gitlis demonstrating (ok its gitlis, he is special anyhow :) but still a stradivari) spring sonata or something.

I would be glad if someone could share some experience of how a really good violin feels. And yes, I know its personal and subjective. But qualities are qualities. What are you looking for soundwise. Please lets not start talking about response, bows, etc. also if its related if not connected to the sound more than expected. Anyway. Best regards to ya

Replies (24)

March 1, 2012 at 09:12 AM · Well, I tried one or two (one especially) sweet violins recently that were lovely under the ear in a small room, but in the end it was not the sound I was looking for.

In the end I chose a slightly difficult fiddle that had a big reverberant sound that needs a bit of taming. (I must have tried 50+ instruments over 18 months).

When I'm standing or sitting near a top player I usually hear lots of things that the audience won't hear in a hall, siting at least 4-8 metres + away from the player.

I hear lots of fiddle payers who are quite good but they often sound a bit muted, and rather indistinct, and I want more bones, guts and blood.

EDIT: I've played on a few old Italians from 2-300 years ago and some of them do sound quite sweet but I get the feeling that they don't project well unless you work hard, and even then they may be found wanting. (Mind you, a Guadanini I tried was powerful enough. And I heard someone on a Gagliano in a quartet recently and she had a huge sound - the E was particularly powerful).

March 1, 2012 at 12:41 PM · It's a general knowledge, evidently (I had no idea until my luthier told me), that when you actually hear the concert hall performance very up close, it sounds very harsh. Because of the reverberating acoustics, the harshness dissipates.

It can also depend on the pitch too. 442Hz sounds far harsher than 440Hz. Another thing to consider is the material of the strings. Silver E sounds far more mellow on my violin than gold E (both Evah). Rosin also changes tone.

March 1, 2012 at 01:40 PM · It does seem that the great instruments (or bows?) have a harshness to them that allows them to project.

Here's a clip of James Ehnes playing. There's more reverberation than with Leonidas Kavakos clip you posted but you can still hear all of the surface noise since it appears to be miked quite close.


March 1, 2012 at 01:57 PM · I don't notice much harshness or surface noise even on headphones, except in the chordal double stop passage that he demonstrates and even then its minimal.

His Marsick Strad has a lovely sound and I recently had a close look at it, noticing how well prerved it is. (Better preserved than I am by a long way ...)

March 1, 2012 at 04:47 PM · Maybe it's me projecting what I want to hear, but it seems like there's a little bit of an edge or hiss to the sound. It's really hard to compare violins on youtube, especially in this case where there's a fair amount of reverberation. So much of what one wants in a violin depends upon the space that one plays in.

March 1, 2012 at 05:44 PM · Interesting... so far. What about Vuillaume violins? They are not that old and they seem to be liked by many todays performers. I think the most old italians have been modernised somehow with new bassbar etc. Does someone know of an old italian wich is in original shape and edgy? A friend of mine plays a Gagliano too and in a small room it doesnt sound that sweet. But in a hall it sounds awesome!!

March 2, 2012 at 04:17 AM · I don't think it's a simple "have this and it'll work" from what I've gathered from reading lots of posts and topics here at v.com and over maestronet.

What I can contribute (or stir the pot!) to this topic is about the violin I'm currently playing on for few years since I owned it. It has a special quality that the nuances can be carried and heard clearly at a distance (not a big concert hall, but some medium sized music instrument showroom). Not a loud violin, in fact, a little muted when listen up close.

It's when playing with another instrument that makes it shine. Very recently there's a performance involved in the same showroom, my friend was playing on soprano sax that's mic'ed along with CD backing music, with 2 PA speakers hooked up. That was some loud music going on, and I sort of played along - without any mic. Surprisingly, my violin can be heard clearly, and a staff commented that he would have expected the violin sound to be drowned by the music, but no, he can hear me clearly (of course, I was playing out more, but no where reaching the limit of what the violin can offer).

I would describe my violin as sweet and smooth sounding, but with vibrant layer of sound hidden, and available easily when I start to push the sound more. It's not a fat and mellow sound violin, not strident and loud either. Pure and smooth is what I would describe it, and may give impression of being lacking in complexity to those who played on vibrant sounding violin. Last but not least, what makes my love my violin so much is that it can give me range of colors from mellow and airy to strident and bold, depends on how I play the violin.

PS: I seldom hear people talking about bow when it comes to sound projection. I recently bought a bow and at a distance it sort of trashed my previous bow in terms of the sound it drawn. Not as fat and sweet sound as the previous bow, but it was much clearer and more presence, every notes can be easily made out, with more power too. I've also heard from my friend who's a very accomplished player, said that years ago he played on an F.X. Tourte bow (pair with and early GDG) for a recording project and he tried it on his own violin and he was floored by the sound it produced despite he was already playing on a fine Voirin - the Tourte literally made the violin sounded like an old italian!

March 2, 2012 at 10:42 AM · Ok so we will start about bows anyway I guess because its a big part of the sound production.

I am the happy owner of an Thomas Gerbeth Bow, wich I ran into while looking for a violin at a violin shop in Hamburg. It is until now the best bow I played so far. But to be honest I havent played some old big names, like Tourte, Viorin, Pecatte etc.

My Gerbeth bow has a lot of qualities wich can help to carry. First it is so well balanced, that you have control over every part of the bow, even the tip feels very stable. Second it adds an edge to the sound and make you play with very clear articulation. Back when I bought it, I compensated with that my old violins lack of projection, with some success. Since a year I pair this bow with my new violin, wich is powerful anyway. I often have to use ear-protection when practicing, because otherwise my left ear feels a bit deaf after playing a fortissimo passage.

What I discover with my violin is, that while it is quite pleasing to play (easy shifts, good response) you can hear every bad string change or bad habit regarding the bow even more than on other fiddles. I once read, that Yehudi Menuhin also states, that a violinist with technical problems should never encounter a good strad or other responsive instrument, because his problems would rather grow than disappar. Simply because a good violin is some kind of an amplifier of your musicianship. While they add their own caracter to your music also.

March 2, 2012 at 11:49 AM · Based on my experience, I don't agree with this harshness thing. James Ehnes has a lovely sound up close. It travels far with the same beauty. That is one of the great things about a great Strad. The quality of the sound travels. With Strads, what you get up close is what you get afar. However, there is a certain quality to the sound involved that is not apparent in natural settings, but gets filtered differently by microphones. Microphones are a filter. Sometimes, on a not so good one, you get some strange things.

Del Gésus are different in that many bow impurities somehow don't travel and they get filtered differently through mics. I don't know why that is.

So, to answer the question, I think that great violins sound good both close and far. The difference is that there is no loss in sound through space.


March 2, 2012 at 04:26 PM · There is also the way we play.

With a more timid pupil, I borrow the violin, go across the room, and play, "sweetly", for myself. Then I play the same music for the pupil, with same phrasing, but with more tone and articulation. Continuing this "public" style, I slowly return near the student, to show how it should sound under the ear.

Another experiment:

I offered to a group of children a a ball of cotton wool to put in their left ears; this lets through a softer and less agressive tone.

Some just played more loudly to compensate, while others, like myself, played in a more forthright manner. They (we) were hearing the violin as if it were further away.

(Let us realize that a good violin, played loudly, produces 70-80dB from a few feet away, but around 100dB just under the ear!! And this for several hours per day!)

March 2, 2012 at 09:47 PM · I would love if there is such a thing like you describe a strad: good in sound from near and same quality in hall.

But I must say, that "good" is a quite general word and i was trieing to identify the kind or the part of the sound wich is more in carrying violins. I agree that harshness is not at all a good factor in violins, maybe its more, that loud/carrying violins tend to sound harsh/loud under the ear but maybe after 3 feets totally fine. It definetely depend on how you play too. I am sure James Ehnes can play for a small room as well for a big hall, but his violin sounds definetily not very timid, closed, or wooden. He has a totally open and quite clean sound. Not agressive but very powerful. On the other hand I am sure that his violin will sound quite harsh under the ear just because it resonates so good. But the "under the ear sound" also depends on the violin and head position as I found out practicing.

I definetily use earplugs (just tissues) for two reasons: first for preventing damage, second to make it possible to get to a really big sound without getting overwhelmed by the fuzzy upper register of sound production. of course you have to know how to play without earplugs also to get a sweet quality to the sound and a nice sounding piano and pianissimo. but earplugs definetely add some dezibel to your playing, wich might be the carying one too ;)

March 12, 2012 at 09:20 PM · According to my experience as a luthier, the soloist violins that are most successful in delivering a full range of expressions (coming from the musician of course) all the way to the back rows of a concert hall, do indeed have a sound that is open, revealing, broad, and with a very high treble bow-sizzle. Not a harsh sound though, but unforgiving when it comes to imperfection in the performance. Think about it: if you're a top notch musician, you don't want the violin to filter out nuances - then all your work would be in vain.

I think it's a very common and very sad misconception that a violin that has a strong fundamental resonance under the ear will make a satisfying sound in a concert hall. I always find these violins utterly unpleasant to hear in a concert situation. Strident from close distances and weak from far away. I think you need lots of high harmonics. That will also give better vibrato definition, and better dynamics.

March 13, 2012 at 09:01 AM · I'm afraid I couldn't agree more!! I've been saying this on other threads - but I think we are in a minority!

March 13, 2012 at 01:11 PM · And of course a perfect setup is crucial if you want to be able to project. Good playability, response and dynamics will make you feel confident when playing, and the audience will feel and hear that.

Strings with a soft, dark tone, like Violino or Obligato will not project as well as Dominant, Warchal Brilliant or Evah.

Practising and evaluating violins with an earplug in your left ear is a great help to hear more of what the audience perceives. Helps with intonation problems too.

And another thing: I think that for most players the quality of expression is a much more important issue than projection...

March 13, 2012 at 01:18 PM · Question is, how many people are soloists playing in Carnegie Hall above a full orchestra? That is always the model used when talking about the violin, its sound, what a student is aiming to do etc.

If you are doing something like a recording studio session, which is going to happen more often for most violinists, then you may need a different type of violin. Something that is warm and mellow under the chin would most likely work better with a close microphone than a loud projecting violin.

March 13, 2012 at 01:18 PM · Don't forget to factor the bow into the equation – some bows project more than others. And then there's that all-important nut at the end of the bow ;)

March 13, 2012 at 07:56 PM · There are many factors than can be considered. There is a violin's inherent projection potential, the violinist's projection in how he plays, the combination of the two, the bow, the strings, the set-up, the playing circumstances, etc.

I have compared 2 violins where one projected better a cappela, according to people listening at a distance, yet I could hear myself better with the other one, playing in the section in orchestra.

Pitch makes a difference, but I strongly doubt that 2 hz - i.e. 442 as opposed to 440 - will make a violin sound "far harsher" - a tad more brilliant, maybe.

There is a difference between harshness and gutsiness, that "jhit" that Perlman described in Heifetz' close-up playing. I like "jhit" and edge.

Some violins do proverbially sound strong under the ear but don't project very well. With others it's the opposite. Still with others it might be both (my favorite) or neither.

I believe that complexity of sound is a factor in projection - that wrap of overtones which will help the violin and player project above an orchestra and into the hall and make the sound not only quite audible, or even basically very nice, but really interesting as well.

There is more than one way for a violin and player to project well. Some will almost seem to hit you (in the audience) right between the eyes; others have more of a surrounding effect.

How one plays makes a big difference in projection, and some will have a better chemistry with one fiddle more than another. Ysaye and Thibauld made an experiment with 2 of Y.'s violins - a Strad and a del Gesu. Each played on both while the other listened at a distance. When Y. played, he projected better on the del Gesu; when T. played, it was the opposite.

James Ehnnes, who plays great on everything, as he demonstrated in the DVD, "Homage", said there at one point that he felt that with a del Gesu, what you hear under the ear is basically what you're going to get, and that in a small room or not great hall, he might prefer a del Gesu. But he said that a Strad tends to play the room, so that if he were in a great hall, he might prefer using a great Strad.

PS On 2 occasions I had the opportunuty to play short concermaster solos in Carnegie Hall, but at the time, was concerned with projection as it related to my way of playing, which worked well, as I was told. On 2 other occasions I was allowed into Carnegie Hall just to compare 2 fiddles as someone listened - a fun, valuable and somewhat spooky experience in that venerable almost empty hall!

March 14, 2012 at 01:50 AM · Last night, in a pub session of instrumental English folk music I tried Adrian Heath's idea of placing a ball of cotton in my left ear. I was agreeably surprised at the result: not only did it remove from my hearing the high-pitched sizzle from my Jay Haid but it enabled me, through my right ear, to hear my playing rather as the other members of the session were hearing it. Furthermore, I was able to hear the playing from the other players more clearly than I was able to without the cotton wool. The instrumental line-up round a long table in the pub was 4 fiddles, 2 concertinas, 2 2-row button accordions, a whistle/recorder, banjo, mandolin, and light percussion.

I'll try the cotton wool idea at my orchestral rehearsal later on today.

Btw, last night's pub session was notable in that we had the members of two eminent US rock bands on a world tour come into the pub on their day off, listen to us (really listen), applaud, buy us drinks, and chat with us afterwards. The bands were "3 Doors Down" and "Seether". Their booking at a big venue in Bristol later on today is sold out.

March 14, 2012 at 02:10 AM · Trevor, my experience as well. I put up a post about it a month or 2 ago, and have been playing with a plug in my left ear most of the time since.

I use an earplug designed for this purpose, it takes about 10 - 12 dB off the entire range. Regular earplugs tend to filter the higher frequencies more than the lower. Find it harder now to play without as the string sizzle has started to bug me and interferes with listening to others. On the other hand I find it a little harder to tune very precisely. Didn't realize how the left ear - over the course of some 50 years - somehow has become better trained than the right.

March 14, 2012 at 02:39 AM · That must have been sweet:) both those bands have some good stuff. Kryptonite especially is one of my fav songs.

March 14, 2012 at 03:50 AM · Frieda - I think what you're asking about can certainly happen. Just why in this or other situations, I'll leave to the violin makers who will hopefully join this discussion.

Different groups - say quartets - may also have different criteria. Some want to sound as homogenous as possible, and work hard to sound almost like one instrument much of the time. I'm thinking of say the Amadeus or Tokyo. Such a group's ideal choices of instruments would often (though not always) be a matched set by one maker - say Stradivari. There, the violin used for first would not necessarily be better, but would fulfil more the soprano role, and tend to have more brightness and edge. The 2nd violin might be darker, mellower, more fulfilling the alto role and serving as a link to the viola. Other quartets have a nore independent approach, stressing the counterpoint more than the harmony, blending where important, but otherwise, each maintaining a clear identity. I'm thinking of the Guarneri. Such a group will often have the members independently choosing what works for them.

March 14, 2012 at 09:52 AM · Two points here, Trevor, be careful how much you block your ears as it might if overdone mean that you end up hearing like a conductor!! (wink)

Frieda - it is often more the capability of the players in being able to project their sound. I often find that first fiddle and cello are pretty loud, but second and viola not nearly projecting enough. Those middle frequencies often need a bit more punch. (This is not always the case of course, and sometimes the second and viola - and cello on occasions - can dominate).

However, it shouldn't necessarily be different in a hall as opposed to a smaller room. In fact some fiddles like mine open up even more in a big space and sound at their best. Of course some small rooms have wierd accoustics and really distort what is going on. That's why a rehearsal in the hall beforehand is essential.

March 14, 2012 at 03:52 PM · Thank you for your posts. There has been a lot of interesting opinions on this issue.

I would love to have my own opinion about the really great instruments, but when I listen to them I cant seperate what is the player and what is the instrument. maybe one time I will get some strad or guarneri in my hands.

As I was a student I had a great teacher (in fact she was very small) she never brought her violin o the lessons because she more liked to demonstrate on the students violin to understand his difficulties if coming from the instrument. Alsways when she grabbed up my violin and demonstrated something she justblow me away with the volume of sound she could produce with my old, quite mellow, violin. In her hand every violin sounded open and powerful. Of course there will be a difference in a hall and with an orchestra since in a small room you can "project" quite easy anyway.

With my new violin I had a somehow disturbing experience regarding quartet playing. I once played some quartets with collegues a vista as a second violinist. Usually my violin is very loud and projecting, but in this circumstances I had problems hearing my self at all! It seemed like the sound of my violin was combining directly with the other voices and I couldnt really listen to my own voice alone anymore. Someone mentioned that in quartetts the middle register needs always some push. Maybe that's what i was experiencing there. First violinist with a powerful violin and also a good cello and projecting viola will make the second violin part a fight for living! ;)

March 15, 2012 at 10:31 PM · Further to my previous post, yesterday in orchestra rehearsal I tried out the cotton bud in the left ear trick. It worked a treat and I'll continue to use it.

Peter, many years ago, when I joined my chamber orchestra as a cellist the principal viola was also the orchestra's Chairman. At that time he was getting so deaf (he was 80-ish) he was wearing one of those old-fashioned on-the-chest hearing aids in order to continue playing. We noticed that when the conductor found it necessary to address the orchestra on a matter – any matter – our beloved Chairman would surreptitiously switch off his hearing aid for the duration of the conductor's discourse and sit there with a beatific expression on his face. The conductor never cottoned on.

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