Which chord unleashes the most intense harmonics?

June 13, 2013 at 06:03 PM · Hello !

I was just wondering, which double-stop or chord in general, unleashes the most intense harmonics on any given violin, from a technical point of view?

*(assuming that this is an ideal violin and does not have any constructional limitations)

Thanks in advance.

Replies (24)

June 13, 2013 at 06:14 PM · One way to get intensity and more harmonics is just to play your double-stop a little out of tune!

June 13, 2013 at 06:44 PM · well, if I had only 5 seconds to test a violin, I would play the major sixth (g on D string/e on A string) with a single, long bow stroke.

June 13, 2013 at 07:00 PM · As with single notes, I think it depends on the individual violin. This is something I've found over and over again in testing different violins from my collection.

June 13, 2013 at 07:00 PM ·

June 13, 2013 at 07:08 PM · Probably whichever chord uses the most open strings. A G major would be a simple one using two open strings, for instance. Fingers damp the strings a bit.

June 13, 2013 at 09:33 PM · All open strings would be an Amin7sus4 I think which is two sus4s put together?

June 14, 2013 at 08:48 AM · Well, this wasn't exactly my point.

Having read this blog entry, I tried to think which double-stop would be one's best bet in order to break in an instrument.

For example, would an octave G (open G string and 3rd finger on D string) be better than a perfect fifth (G-D)? Or a 10th, or a 6th ???

Does any luthier know?

June 14, 2013 at 12:54 PM · just any double stop will produce at least 3 sounds - in that matter, there is no difference among them.

Wide-spread belief in playing-in is based on anecdotal "evidence"; I am not aware of any scientific study that will support Staryk's claims, although I can confirm it from my personal (subjective) experience with one violin only.

We tend to project our personal views, attitudes and emotions on people, animals and objects around us. Violin is no exception.

Although some people are convinced that a violin can be played in, the others claim that it is in fact the player becoming accustomed to the instrument and the bow.

If the later has any validity, it does make sense to practice double stops.

June 14, 2013 at 03:07 PM ·

June 14, 2013 at 04:40 PM · "Does any luthier know?"

George, I don't know if anyone KNOWS, but you could probably get lots of differing opinions. So far, the studies (including my own) are suggesting that violins don't "play in", more than they are suggesting that they do.

That's not to say that violins don't change, or that usage won't influence the change. But right now, it's looking (to me) like vibration from the strings isn't what's causing the change. I'm sure there's much more to be learned about this though.

June 14, 2013 at 07:33 PM · Oh dear - this again! Well, I don't want to repeat myself too much. I've posted quite a lot about this in 2 or 3 other similar threads in the past. But just to summarize, I do strongly believe that playing absolutely does change a violin significantly, though I wouldn't say that it's the only thing that does. With a lot of experience I've found certain changes to be more abiding, which I would attribute to use over time, and other, and different types of change tend to go back and forth within a range, which I would attribute to changes in humidity and temperature. And we can't discount personal hearing mood, etc., hearing the glass as half full or empty. We are dealing with double moving targets - the violin and the player.

There's no substitute for playing a violin for a few hours a day. But if I had only about 5 minutes, I'd play with a comfortable forte and at a very moderate tempo, 2 octave chromatic scales in whole bows up each string, followed by 2 octave diatonic scales up each pair of strings in 3rds, 6ths, - and seconds.

June 15, 2013 at 12:53 AM · ...but the argument is always more than just that playing changes the instrument.

Many seem to suggest that the way it is played specifically improves (or ruins) an instrument and some go so far as to believe the violin "remembers" who has played it (or their playing style) and permanently adapts to that.

June 15, 2013 at 01:12 AM · I believe that, too.

June 15, 2013 at 01:22 AM ·

June 15, 2013 at 01:54 AM · The sand moves into the nodes of a vibrational mode of the wood/glass/whatever it is lying on, but the vibration is not itself in/(being supported) by the sand but by the substrate.

Technically, even in that case the movement of the sand may slightly modify the vibration (making it less encumbered as its mass is distributed to the nodes) but it would be a small transient effect (you get other transient effects at the onset of a vibration anyway) and not permanent...change the vibration and the sand shifts again.

What would the analogy (or difference) be in the wood?

June 15, 2013 at 02:59 PM ·

June 15, 2013 at 10:31 PM · The more I think about it the more complex the whole thing becomes.

A few pointers,

1) Two notes played simultaneously on the violin will produce what are known as difference tones. E.g. two notes a fifth apart will produce a difference tone that is an octave below the lower of the two - this particular difference tone is usually audible and is often utilized by pipe organ builders to save the expense of, or space occupied by, 64-foot pipes when fifths between 32-footers will do an adequate job, even if not quite perfect.

2) However. The fifth between the open G and D on the violin is a special case because the notes G-C on the G string of most violins have very weak or practically non-existent fundamentals, due, I understand, to an inadequate internal air volume to support these freqencies. The fundamental frequency of the open G should be 196Hz, but you're not really hearing that frequency; what you are physically hearing is the much stronger 2nd harmonic G at a frequency of 391Hz. All is not lost, though; the psychoacoustic properties of your hearing system step in and kindly synthesize for you something that you perceive within your brain as a frequency of 196Hz. Psychoacoustics are a godsend to the better designers of small loudspeakers and in-ear 'phones.

3) Every note on the violin has a set of harmonics associated with it. The fundamental frequency of the note is called the 1st harmonic; the other harmonics are derived from the 1st by multiplying it by the integers 2, 3, 4,5, 6, 7 ...

Thus, if you take the open A with a frequency of 440Hz the first few harmonics are,

2nd = 880

3rd = 1320

4th = 1760

5th = 2200

6th = 2640.

7th = 3080

8th = 3520 (top A on the piano)

9th = 3960

10th = 4400

and so on, but harmonics above about 16000Hz are starting to get beyond the hearing range of most people.

4) The tonal quality of a note is defined by the balance of its harmonics - some are strong, and others are weak or non-existent. On the violin, the player can control this balance to some extent by how and where he plays the note. Two simple examples - the A on the D string sounds completely different to the open A even though they are the same note, and a note played close to the bridge (the first lane of the "Kreisler Highway") will sound quite different to the same note played in the fifth lane (i.e. at the end of the fingerboard).

5) A note played will resonate with one or more other strings, especially if open strings. On a good violin these resonances will involve harmonics from two or more strings, even generating difference tones, perhaps strong enough on the best instruments to audibly enrich the tone.

6) There are the many and complex vibration modes of the violin, including such parts as the tailpiece, all of which affect to a greater or lesser extent the tone of the instrument and its response. I'm going no further into these particular waters - they're too deep for me.

7) A bit of icing on the cake. Vibrato enhances the tone and the projection of the violin. Vibrato is the cyclic change of frequency of a note, and when you do this it sets up what are known as sideband frequencies which enrich the tone (acting like extra harmonics). Not only that, but the act of generating these sideband frequencies perforce puts more energy into the note which manifests as more projection.

June 16, 2013 at 01:25 AM · Hi Eugenia,

Here is one thing. If you have an elastic material that admits vibration (stretched string etc), that material is already subject to interior forces that hold it together against gravity, tension and the like. Most vibration of the system is such that the deformation of the material increases these forces only very slightly. At least this is generally assumed in calculating the natural modes that are always talked about. Having said that you can have non-linear waves but is that really the case here? Even then the forces are not necessarily large compared with those in equilibrium.


a difference tone is the non-linear response of our ears to two tones. Does the violin "hear" them too or is it only us?

You always hear about the natural modes. Has anyone actually studied possible non-linear response of violins?


In a quick look I found one paper from a French team (one member affiliated with a place I knew) in which they experimentally study this question of non-linearity in the soundboards of a piano, 2 guitars and a violin.

They confirm that linearity is a very good approximation (as displacement in the soundboard is of order 10-3 times the board thickness) and find experimentally that the non-linearity is less than -20dB (1% of intensity) and as little as -50dB (or 0.001% of intensity).

So it is hard to see how playing can have any effect.

June 16, 2013 at 08:38 AM · Yes, ok, but what happens during years or decades of playing? This 1% accumulates..

June 16, 2013 at 10:42 AM · "This 1% accumulates.."

if 1% accumulates in 1 year it's 0.1% in 2 ys and 0.01 in 3 ys.

Can't find the logic behind it.

And remember, wood is not liquid. If a part of the violin is moved when vibrating, it will move back the same amount like the string itself. What's the result? Zero.

June 16, 2013 at 11:56 AM · So, is it additive or multiplicative accumulation? You've got to be carefully when handling percentages (and other statistical data such as averages, for that matter).

June 16, 2013 at 01:23 PM · Patterns in sand vs wood?

Carleen hutchings describes the resins in the fibres breaking down as we play, and then slowly re-forming when the instrument is at rest. I can't lay my hands on the references, but this would alow us to believe in the tonal memory of wood.

June 16, 2013 at 09:05 PM · "Carleen hutchings describes the resins in the fibres breaking down as we play, and then slowly re-forming when the instrument is at rest."


Good research on fiddlemaking history.

From my end of things, perhaps that element could best be described as a theory she had, which has questionable support from subsequent research.

June 16, 2013 at 10:04 PM · The 1% was misunderstood. The point is that they found that under normal playing the vibrations can be modelled linearly (non-linearity was a factor of ten smaller than the linear deflection or displacement of the wood which is already tiny compared with its thickness) and therefore forces involved in vibration are negligible compared with the forces already on the wood from the string tension, weight etc. So how do such forces matter?

This was a paper from late last year.

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