Does the sound of a string affect exam success?

July 6, 2012 at 08:36 AM · I am new to this and don't consider myself a professional in violin playing, so I was wondering:

I don't like the sound of Dominant E's when playing a piece: but I was thinking would an examiner for a grade exam mark you down for the quality of playing on that string - or do you think they would consider that it may be the string itself?

Replies (40)

July 6, 2012 at 03:04 PM · If you don't like the sound of your E string, get a different one. You're already probably compensating for the imbalance in your string set for your violin -- in other words it's affecting your playing. If your tone is not good, judges will not assume that the cause is your equipment.

You can probably search archives and find a dozen discussions just on E strings.

July 6, 2012 at 03:25 PM · Dominant E's are notoriously bad, and not many people use them. E strings are temperamental and inexpensive, so I recommend that you buy several and see which one you like on your violin. The ones that have been known to work with Dominants include but are not limited to:

1. Pirastro Wondertone Gold Label (considered standard setup with Dominants)

2. Jargar Forte

3. Lenzner Goldbrokat

4. Westminster

5. Pirastro Evah Pirazzi/Passione/Wondertone Solo Silvery Steel (They are the same.)

6. Pirastro Oliv Gold Plated (expensive!)

7. Hill

8. Kaplan Golden Spiral Solo

Quinn Violins offers an E string sampler pack that includes several of the above.

July 6, 2012 at 04:40 PM · It drives me crazy when I tell students their violin needs adjusting, or they need to change their strings, or the seam needs to be glued, or the fingerboard needs to be planed. Then when they finally get around to doing it several months later, they wonder why they have been struggling with their playing. I ask them that if they were a carpenter and their saw was dull, would it take them that long to get the saw sharpened.

I advise you to change your e string.

July 6, 2012 at 08:08 PM · @Paul Deck - thank you for answering my question, I will definitely consider getting another one!

@Joyce Lin - thank you! I didn't know the different types that were available, I will take a look at these!

@Bruce Berg - thank you for your reply, though I don't consider the first half of it very professional, the whole point of a teacher IS to advise and encourage his students, having that attitude will only put them down.

July 6, 2012 at 08:40 PM · I seem to be all alone, but I prefer the singing sweetness of the Dominant E; I am used to graduating my bow strokes as I cross the four strings: short-and-heavy on the G, to long-and-light on the E.

But hen I'm not competition-minded; I just love music...

However, for larger halls, I do use a plain steel E, with a soft steel A to match. But my younger pupils cringe...

July 7, 2012 at 01:25 AM · The answer to the original question is no.

July 7, 2012 at 05:35 AM · Personally and professionally speaking I found Bruce's comments perfectly acceptable. Often a pupil needs a big kick up the backside to make things happen and I know I did. There's often a bit too much of the nanny state these days.

July 7, 2012 at 06:12 AM · I agree with Peter. If Bruce were your teacher, you would have had to earn the criticism he vents here. This isn't a studio; it's a forum where people express all sorts of opinions from many points of view.

And Scott is absolutely correct; no one is going to give blame--or credit for that matter--to equipment for your sound. You are the player; you are responsible for the sound. Someone might say, "nice violin!" but you are not going to hear, "bad E string, so sorry."

July 7, 2012 at 01:09 PM · Hi John - thanks. (It's not my birthday by the way ...)

I'm only back as long as I can avoid being told when winking is or is not appropriate, and I can keep out of trouble with the thought police and can avoid recieving lectures on how to conduct myself on a forum. So it may not be for long!

July 7, 2012 at 01:18 PM · You will be graded in an exam and audition on how you sound (and of course play). If your instrument is inferior you will loose marks. It may not be fair, but that is life.

Having said that, the player creates the sound. I would rather hear Perlman on a VSO than a beginner on a Del Gesu.

Cheers Carlo

July 7, 2012 at 03:42 PM · "Original question -No for an exam ,probably, and Yes for an audition ,most likely. "

The answer is still no.

July 7, 2012 at 06:44 PM · Don't put yourself in a position to find out. E strings are cheap, easily available, and take no time to settle in. Failure to take care of such an easily remedied problem might not speak well for your commitment.

July 7, 2012 at 09:52 PM · I adjudicate at a number of solo festivals every year. We certainly try very hard not to let the quality of a student's equipment affect the scoring, but it can be difficult sometimes. Looking across a room at someone's instrument, which we by design never handle, and trying to guess if that really is that violin's loudest volume, for instance, is challenging. I have commented to students about extremely crusty strings or obviously way too little or way too much rosin on the bow, especially with somewhat older soloists who really should know better.

July 8, 2012 at 08:28 AM · Here in the UK orchestral and other auditions will often take into account how good or bad the instrument is, and sometimes even make an allowance if the player is extremely good and the instrument not so good. In orchestral auditions they generally look for a big sound, so an instrument with a smaller sound will maybe let you down.

I don't think examiners are so bothered - they just judge on the ability of the player and how well they are prepared and manage to accomplish the tests.

EDIT: Sorry, I forgot to wink ...

July 8, 2012 at 08:44 AM · as a rule of thumb if you don't sound good on Dominant e string (or other e string), you won't sound good on any e string. assume its not the string, it's you, that way you can make real progress. there are some small aspects that differ between e strings, but generally no one would be able to tell different e strings but you, especially in the hall. it's safe to say that the only thing people hear is how you play.

good luck and best wishes.


July 8, 2012 at 11:02 AM · An ex-colleague was offered a job and the rest of us reckoned it was his violin they really wanted - it did have a huge warm sound!

And at one audition I was given Brahms 4 - the usual 3rd movement (ugh) but also the "big tune" at the end of the slow movement - and I presume that was to see what sort of noise I could produce.

But then that's different - the original question was about exams where I would hope they are listening to the quality of "you" not judging your violin. Obviously, if you're happy with your instrument, you're likely to be more relaxed and play better but I think (hope?) that's the only difference it would make.

July 8, 2012 at 12:22 PM · Thank you everyone for your replies! I do fully understand the answer to my question now! - that it is the way I play that will be assessed and I will definitely change my E string. I am committed :)

July 8, 2012 at 05:12 PM · Hello there, Peter!

You are so lucky: all my present pupils are teenage girls with motivated and supportive parents, and so winking and "kicks up the backside" are definitely "out".

Personally, I prefer the "nanny state", softly-softly approach, since I never know in advance the state of mind of the person recieving my pearls of wisdom. My patience with human failings (especially my own) is limitless.

Really, only two things make me mad: giving students utter rubbish to play (life is too short!), and the Idapsy syndrome!

Radhika, sorry to squat your thread like this but these remarks didn't really warrant a new one.

Yours truly,

The Thought Police..

July 8, 2012 at 07:01 PM · @Adrian Heath: No worries and thank you :) That approach sounds much more encouraging! Every teacher should be like you and as thoughtful!

July 8, 2012 at 09:52 PM · Radhika

Adrian is lovely but I think he is winding me up! (wink) Anyway with all those lovely teenage students he must be having a good time. It's when they get a bit older that they start becoming problematic ... (wink) (So watch out ...)

July 8, 2012 at 11:56 PM · Well in the dim and distant past when I did a bit of teaching one pupil was a lovely girl but didn't practice. So one week when I could tell she hadn't touched the instrument from last week's lesson I threw her out and told her that I wasn't wasting a lesson basically supervising practice she should have done at home and to come back when she had. Strange - she was as good as gold after that! Yes, some of them DO need a bit of a kick for motivation.

July 9, 2012 at 05:27 AM · Adrian, I certainly think a new E-string was in order, especially since they're inexpensive. Did you think that one wasn't necessary because you like Dominant E's?

If a string doesn't sound good, and a new one is inexpensive and easy, why wouldn't you want to go for it?

July 9, 2012 at 06:41 AM · Andrew, I have tried many E-strings. I was not suggesting that the Dominant should suit everyone, but rather that we shouldn't expect all four strings to have the same "feel". Wound Es (Dominant, and certain Pirastros) need a different "touch" from plain steel Es.

Singers have to blend their "head" voice and "chest" voice; so do we violinists. (Oh dear, I forgot Peter is back!)

Malcolm, I too can get stroppy - in a smiling, ironic way - if my students are taking me for a ride. (No comment, Peter,) And yes, it works!

Mr Kurganov, I think I was saying the same as you, but more pleasantly? Beside every high octane future professional are thousands of passionate, sensitive amateurs who deserve just as much consideration..

July 9, 2012 at 08:42 AM · I would love to take you for a ride Adrian, but unfortunately I no longer have a car. (wink)

I know whwere I'm going wrong now, I play the same on all e strings no matter what they are ...

"Singers have to blend their "head" voice and "chest" voice; so do we violinists. (Oh dear, I forgot Peter is back!)"

So with a "head" voice it must be easier to wink!!

"Malcolm, I too can get stroppy - in a smiling, ironic way - if my students are taking me for a ride. (No comment, Peter,) And yes, it works!"

No comment (wink, wink, wink, wink ...)

"Mr Kurganov, I think I was saying the same as you, but more pleasantly? Beside every high octane future professional are thousands of passionate, sensitive amateurs who deserve just as much consideration.. "

I'm passionate and sensitive (and an amateur) too, so I'm deserving your considerestion Adrian ... (wink)

I'm running out of four letter winks ...

P S I was with several musician* friends last night and if you think I'm naughty you should meet them!!

*(Actually they were mostly pianists so not sure about that ...)

July 9, 2012 at 09:57 AM · i didn't mean to be harsh, it is something i would say to a beginner, to myself to jascha heifetz...

it was not attack on anyone's level or an opinion about that. i just meant in a world today that is full of commercialism and the "YOU NEED MY PRODUCT" consumerism, it's healthy to take a critical (and self critical) attitude on these topics. a good teacher for example should do this (if i said something like that, he would just take my violin and play something so beautiful it would be put me to shame :) )

anyways, good luck!

July 9, 2012 at 10:28 AM · Adrian - far be it from me to disagree with you, but I though Daniel's remark was fine - 90% of the sound comes from the player. I frequently sound pretty bad on all the strings but I've learnt to put the blame on myself. The strings are innocent by nature ... (wink)

But I've succumbed and I may buy some different rosin today, even if its just to prove all those rosin worshippers are wrong ... (A very rosined wink).

July 9, 2012 at 11:41 AM · Right, here we go!

O.K. 90% of the effect on the listener may come from the player rather than the fiddle, but if you find that 90% of the tone quality comes from the player then you are not really listening.

I would say 50%! Any bidders?

P.S. I have never paid much attention to different rosins. I once tried double-bass rosin, thinking to get a bigger tone: it was more like grease than rosin!!

July 9, 2012 at 11:48 AM · My teacher always uses a full set of Dominants, and is a professional performer. In my lessons I have never been aware of anything other than an excellent tone from her playing.

July 9, 2012 at 12:11 PM · OK - I will agree it's 80%

(ONLY it will be 90% if you use a flat bow)!!!!!!!

July 9, 2012 at 12:12 PM · I'm thinking of getting Dominants soon - my strings are PI but they are knackered as I've used them for over three months.

July 9, 2012 at 01:26 PM · When a student's violin sounds poor, the first thing I do is try it myself; it's not always the student's fault!

July 9, 2012 at 07:01 PM · Peter, the muscles around your eyes seem to be twitching excessively. Something must be wrong! You should go see a doctor immediately! BTW, if anyone disagrees with me, they should have themselves checked by a doctor too (Do conduct a background check to make sure s/he is not a 'quack'). ;)

Also, I agree that there is nothing wrong about what Bruce said. (Gosh, I'm agreeing with Peter!!! Maybe I should heed my own advice too... ;) )


Thought Police Extraordinaire

July 9, 2012 at 07:15 PM · Does the sound of a string affect exam success?

It can...if it's played out of tune.

I'm sorry! I couldn't help that one! I know many violinists have their favorite brand of string, but this was just too strong to resist.

---Ann Marie

July 9, 2012 at 07:28 PM · I never did get the rosin today - my wife is female and she changed her mind about going into town (the smoke ...) Unusual really. ( I must have her with me to fight off the muggers ...)

So it will have to be tomorrow after the doctor!! I really am going to see the doctor - to get some pills to help me through the menopause ... (No winks left today).

July 10, 2012 at 12:38 AM · I'd go along with 90% of the sound being the player not the instrument or strings. I'm sure that if I'd been able to swap instruments with Oistrakh, he'd still have sounded like Oistrakh on my violin, and unfortunately I'd still have sounded like me on his Strad.

There's a clip somewhere of a pupil complaining to Zukerman that he couldn't make a nice sound because of his instrument - so Zukerman took it from him and made ths HUGE sound on it!

July 10, 2012 at 05:58 AM · there is no 60-40, 70-30

the player and the instrument are on different continuums. so, i would say it's 100-100

July 10, 2012 at 07:17 AM · On the Nupen film of the "Trout" quintet (Perlman, Zukerman, Du prĂ©, Mehta & Barenboim) we see Zukerman trying three different violas at Beare's in London.

Of course, he sounds superb on all three instruments but the tone and articulation are quite distinct; moreover, he spontaneously plays different fragments, corresponding to the character of each viola. He is reacting to each viola differently..

So, I would say 180/20.....[edit] I meant 120/80

P.S.: D.K.,I like your videos: refined, musical phrasing, and you do seem to listen to what you are doing..

July 11, 2012 at 08:30 PM · Actually, I find two categories of player who react very strongly to the character of their instuments, and really listen to them rather than just using them: the weaker player, and then the very best. those in between are too busy striving to be the best!

I find those students who begin to reach this middle ground are the hardest to teach, and professionals in this category are the most stubborn.

I am definitely in the "weak" camp, as I desperately want to please everybody...

July 12, 2012 at 08:23 AM · "I am definitely in the "weak" camp, as I desperately want to please everybody..."

What are doing tonight then, Adrian? (wink)

July 12, 2012 at 03:28 PM · thanks adrian.

the relationship between a player and his/her instrument is an interesting one. The first time I played on a very fine old italian violin for a good amount of time, it truly changed me and opened my mind/ears. After getting over the excitement of what kinds of things are possible on it (and not possible on my own violin) I began to learn from its sound. It's difficult to explain, but when I got back to my own violin, I tried so hard to make it sound like the old italian, and I felt I had some bit of success. If one listens carefully and embodies the sound on such a great instrument, it is possible for it to transform your playing on any instrument. I can say this violin was a great teacher of mine, and if I had several million monopoly money dollars, I would buy it in my dreams :)

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