Are there quiet violins?

June 3, 2012 at 04:28 AM · I'm a beginner, learning to play on a Yamaha SV-150 silent violin. My teacher would like me to get an acoustic violin in order to improve my intonation and ear. I've been looking around at violins at Shar, Southwest Strings, etc and they all generally have comments on how well they project sound. I'm never going to be a concert violinist - I'm doing this for my own enjoyment. Is there a way to setup a violin so that it doesn't necessarily fill a concert hall? I've played with heavy mutes before and didn't enjoy it much. I also would rather not have play with a soft bow all the time in order to keep the volume down. So - are there other options?

Replies (32)

June 3, 2012 at 05:01 AM · Have you tried the heavy rubber mutes ? They sound better than the heavy metal mutes.

I have also heard that stuffing the violin with cotton wool will reduce the sound but I have not tried it and I do not know what effect it would have on the tone.

June 3, 2012 at 06:30 AM · If you take out the sound post it would make it pretty quiet but I would not advise doing so as it may well make the belly sag under the string pressure.

You could try cotton wool in your ears! You don't say why you want a quiet violin, is it for you or to stop it disturbing other people or neighbours?

Or get a baroque fiddle, they are pretty quiet ... (wink)

June 3, 2012 at 06:38 AM · @Peter, I thought taking the sound post out was the quick way to baroque a violin. A lot easier than doing a full conversion.

Cheers Carlo

June 3, 2012 at 06:41 AM · @David. There are plenty of soft violins available at dealers. These are usually the ones that don't shift. It is not normally what people want in a violin.

If it is a sweeter sound you are after an old Amati model, perhaps 18th century English, will fit the bill. These are fairly cheap if you look out for the trade violins made in St Paul's churchyard at that time.

Cheers Carlo

June 3, 2012 at 08:21 AM · "@Peter, I thought taking the sound post out was the quick way to baroque a violin. A lot easier than doing a full conversion.

Cheers Carlo

Trouble is then that you have to play in all the positions and with all those extra notes ... (wink)

June 3, 2012 at 02:32 PM · Would there be some combination of bridge and strings that would result in a softer tone?

June 3, 2012 at 03:05 PM · I have found that a wire mute (like this one), or other "orchestral" type mutes, will reduce the volume of my violin substantially, while still giving good tone.

June 3, 2012 at 03:23 PM · Yes, a new bridge can be configured so that it will knock the volume down a bit. And strings like Obligatos, while they may not actually be quieter, can give that impression from being less brilliant.

June 4, 2012 at 09:39 PM · I thought of patenting a rubber bridge!

Seriously, though, I use two brands of string on agressive instruments: Aricore and Pro Arte. Ask for the low tension versions. A thicker bridge will give slightly muted effect.

New "industrial" violins, even of a good brand, usually sound brash.

June 5, 2012 at 11:20 AM · This thread is completely contrary to my concept of a good fiddle.

June 5, 2012 at 11:42 AM · I second the sliding wire mute. Not only can it be used as a mute, it can also be placed very near the bridge to take away some of the brilliance that might sound harsh under the ear. By moving it different distances from the bridge it works like an acoustic eq.

As an aside, this also works very well when you amplify a violin - it takes off unwanted treble and even seems to boost the lows somehow.

June 5, 2012 at 03:13 PM · Thanks for the replies. I'll give the wire mute a try. I'm told you shouldn't always play with the heavy metal practise mute - is the same said for the wire mute?

June 5, 2012 at 10:37 PM · As someone who's played a silent electric fiddle equipped with low tension strings and a metal practice mute, I can tell you for a fact that that's about as quiet as a fiddle can and will ever get. If that's still too much volume for you, I would suggest picking up the ukulele.

Oh come on now, they're cute!

June 5, 2012 at 10:45 PM · Surely you can find a nice violin with a warm, sweet tone and not a brilliant edgy one. There are lovely violins that are rich and full but might not be ideal concert hall partners. Why not just try them out and see what you like?

If you don't like the power of a violin however, that could be a problem. Even dark and sweet ones should have some richness and power. That's why they are violins!

June 5, 2012 at 10:55 PM · You can have your violin adjusted to be more "intimate" sounding, yet have it still project.. I know a violinist who has his violin adjusted to have a screamy-sounding E string and a very soft G string.

June 6, 2012 at 12:46 PM · I wonder if his teacher is referring to the sympathtic vibrations and the "feeling" you get when when you play in tune on an acoustic violin -- that feeling of depth, instead of hardness, when you play a note that makes one of the open strings ring. I am not sure, but I am guessing that the silent violin does not do that.

Personally, I love that feeling of the violin telling me when I am in tune, and the wood of the violin -- all of that is part of the pleasure of playing...

June 6, 2012 at 12:47 PM · Also: I have heard that Violino strings are the warmest, and roundest sounding strings to tone down a violin, and make it sweeter. I have never used them, but I am very impressed with the Pirastro line. It would sure sound better than a mute...

June 6, 2012 at 12:51 PM · One more thing -- my old violin used to blast under my ear, yet from 10 feet away it was thin sounding. My new violin is much more mellow under the ear, but when my daughter or teacher play it, it is full and round and colorful from 10 feet away. As an adult player of 7 years, I am not going to be a concert violinist (as if!) and I understand what you mean. My violin is perfect for me, yet is is certainly not meek -- but it is on the darker side. You CAN find a balance in a violin -- one that pleases YOU under the ear. (I thought I would go deaf from my old violin -- it was uncomfortable -- new one is amazing).

I sort of hate to think of what it would be like to play with a mute all the time -- that is not really a violin, is it?

June 7, 2012 at 12:08 AM · If your violin blasts under your ear, you might want to protect the ear (Etymotics are good) and let the violin be itself.

I, too, like Violinos--they are sweet (and reasonably priced, too). My elderly violin sings with them.

June 8, 2012 at 04:07 AM · Just buy a regular violin and fill it with low-density silica gel.

June 8, 2012 at 08:19 AM · Two points:

Joking apart, a violin with no sound post does not sound soft, it sounds like a bad radio set, full of wolf-notes!

Pursuing my brilliant idea of a rubber bridge:

I needed to heighten my bridge by half a millimetre, so I stuck two thicknesses of bristol visiting-card under each foot; the tone was a little subdued until I hardened the card with glue. (My bridge now has pretty little white socks!)(No snide remarks, please, Peter..)

So, for the opposite effect, we could try, instead of hard card, a thin layer of cork to absorb some of the tone without completely changing the character of the violin.

June 8, 2012 at 03:24 PM · A mute!

June 8, 2012 at 03:32 PM · I'm not entirely clear about your desire: is it to have less sound under your own ear, or to avoid disturbing others?

If the second, you've gotten lots of good advice (and some--typical for this site, alas--nonsense).

If the former, however, you might consider using an ear plug in your left ear. That helps protect you, and lessens the sound, without distorting pitch or quality, because you acquire those through bone conduction.

I use Etymotics when I practice (hearing damage from too many hours without protection, coupled with too many years in front of brass players in orchestras) but I find it helpful in reducing sound anyway.

June 8, 2012 at 08:58 PM · Thanks for all the ideas! I guess what I'm looking for is a way to soften the sound so when I play in a small room, it doesn't overwhelm nor does it intrude on anyone close by. Think Enya instead of Celine Dion.

June 8, 2012 at 11:53 PM · "(My bridge now has pretty little white socks!)(No snide remarks, please, Peter..)"

Matching your neglige (with an accent) no doubt!!

Sorry, couldn't resist that one!

June 9, 2012 at 12:37 AM · Then probably a wire mute, or a rubber one would suit your needs, after you have moved to gentler strings, like Violinos. But, you know, you probably aren't disturbing anyone...and playing a violin is, ultimately more a public activity than a private one. Very few violinists need to worry about comparison with Celine Dion!

June 10, 2012 at 08:36 PM · Very simple-tape up the F-Holes, maybe.

June 13, 2012 at 03:38 PM · David, I think it's useful to break this down into separate areas and address them individually:

1. Intonation / Accuracy

2. Playing a conventional violin

3. Sound reduction for neighbors and self

Your teacher's justification for (2) is (1), which we take to mean that your teacher wants you to have an instrument which has audible sympathetic vibration. This has its own consequences -- a quiet or quietened violin might have significantly reduced sympathetic vibrations, defeating that purpose.

Intonation is not sufficiently addressed with just sympathetic vibrations on an instrument, so I think you should separate (1) and (2); address (1) specifically with various means, but also address (2) for its own merits. Intonation/accuracy is a big topic for violinists, and I am avoiding the temptation to give specific advice now.

For (3), you could continue with the instrument you have, and try a conventional violin with a different practice mute -- e.g. Artino, which is a rubber/metal hybrid which diminishes the sound significantly, but not as severly as a metal mute. However, you must also remove the mute at times, and play with the full sound of the violin. Doing this before lessons or performances might be sufficient. Perhaps you could find a good time or place to practice in this way which would bother others the least. You might also get by limiting the time you practice at full volume, explaining to others that you are minimizing that time.

You could also address the room and the ear. The ear is easy -- use a musician's ear plug. You can make a difference to the room with more damping material at the walls and plugging gaps at the door, but much of it depends on what you have to work with, and making a lot of improvement is generally hard.

June 14, 2012 at 06:38 PM · Let's see now...a $5 mute...or a $5000 room

...speaking of which...aren't there some kind of sound-dampening panels that you could just hang on the walls...and maybe get some heavy draperies and other sound muffling fabrics/area rugs, etc?

p.s....just found this:

...and this (with photos to give you more ideas):

June 15, 2012 at 01:39 AM · Another way to quieten a violin, but expensive and it certainly needs a luthier to do it, is to have a much shorter bass bar installed. Then the top table won't transmit vibrations from the bridge so much. This procedure should revert the dynamic of the violin to something approaching that of the pre-19th century era. Also change the strings to light gauge plain gut, the bridge to the thicker baroque design, fit a baroque tail piece and you'll be well away with a quiet violin with a sweet, perhaps somewhat thin, sound. Better get a baroque or transitional bow while you're about it to do a proper job.

If all or any of the above is horse feathers, then I'm quite sure I'll be told about it forthwith!

June 18, 2012 at 04:53 PM · I used to play a German factory violin, modeled on an Amati, that was about 150 years old. It was soft, understated in tone, not much projection. It was my first full-size violin, was very beautiful visually (I thought) and it cost about $800. That "soft" sounding attribute finally became a liability to me a few years ago when I had gotten back into playing as an adult and had a few solos in orchestra.

So, I upgraded and got a violin that projects a lot more (and I started wearing an earplug in my left ear when I practice because the difference is quite noticeable). I gave my old violin to my 12-yo daughter as her first full-size instrument. She's played my new one a few times and doesn't like it at all, saying it's "too loud." She likes the softer, understated tone of her violin. So I think at least for now it has a good owner who appreciates it.

But I think the poster above who commented that these violins aren't that popular is correct. I showed my old violin to an appraiser and told him I'd acquired it for $800 back in the late 1970's, and he told me it was worth only about $500 now. I personally much prefer the sound of my new, "louder" one as well. So I think you might be able to get a soft-sounding violin for a pretty reasonable price if you look for an older German factory violin, based on an Amati model.

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