Question on playing in tune and the effect on violin's overtones

April 23, 2014 at 05:15 PM · I watched an interview with Julia Fischer and I love her as always but she mentioned one thing that intrigued me that she would know if she leaves violin in practice room and somebody picks up her violin and starts playing it out of tune, she'll know because the overtones will change a little but then after a while it's back on when she plays the violin in tune.

Watch the interview at 38:15

Has anyone had experience as what she has before? Is it even that noticeable? I just wonder. (Actually it makes me feel like I have to start playing in tune ALL the time so that my violin get a certain kind of overtones as her violin does. just wonder.)

Replies (55)

April 23, 2014 at 07:21 PM · Isn't any violin played with vibrato played "out of tune" a good deal of the time?

April 24, 2014 at 01:34 PM · I was wondering much the same thing...how do you define 'in tune'? Every note is a note...and the violin doesn't recognize a specific piece of music in a specific key (or anything at all for that matter...lol)_...

April 24, 2014 at 02:13 PM · That's why I don't let anyone just walk in and play my violin when I put it down in my practice room...

You can't change the position of overtones on the strings. It's simple physics.

April 24, 2014 at 02:50 PM · The fact that we:

1 - use vibrato (as David pointed out)

2 - use Pythagorean intonation (most of the time)

Makes this impossible to accept.

And then, there is physics….

:-D

April 24, 2014 at 03:07 PM · A serious testing would be very useful :)

For example: she lets 2 violins in the practice room. One gets played by somebody else, and the other is untouched.

Then, she has to play both violins and say which one was played.

This, ripeated for 5-6 times ....... :)

April 25, 2014 at 12:52 AM · Complete rubbish.

April 25, 2014 at 03:34 AM · I can hear and feel when someone else has played my violin.

I wouldn't go as far as it has to do with intonation, but the violin sure is different.

April 25, 2014 at 05:47 AM · A good friend with a major orchestra lets soloists use her superb violin once in awhile. When she gets it back she says it doesn't sound like her until about a half hour of her playing it.

Another good friend loaned his Guarneri to our Concertmaster for about a month. After he got it back he and I played it and it sounded nothing like it did before. It was now more open and powerful.

I witnessed tests at CBS Labs years ago that proved beyond a doubt that overtones that are so high we can not hear them greatly influence the tone qualities we can hear.

April 25, 2014 at 01:24 PM · They will probably blow up a violin or fire it from a canon !

April 25, 2014 at 01:30 PM · Mythbusters came along, risked excommunication, and proved that the world wasn't flat !!

I heard tell of fiddle teachers who say they can check the quality of a pupil's practice by playing the student's violin at the start of a lesson !

Could the subject of this thread be one of those areas of knowledge not yet sanctioned by "the authorities" ?? An instance of science being slow to to "catch up" and explain everyday experience ?? Are the geeky boffins holding out pending offers of mega-bucks funding ?? Will the powers that be eventually let us believe in ghosts ??

I'm a sceptic, but would like to keep an open mind. Subject closed.

April 25, 2014 at 04:23 PM · A friend of mine who is not only a qualified luthier but is also one of the best Irish fiddlers in the area brought along an old fiddle to an Irish folk session to "play in". It belonged to a customer and hadn't been played for half a century or more, so was in urgent need of restoration, which had only been completed that day. At the session G-- borrowed a CF viola bow from me and for the next two hours worked that fiddle really hard. At the end of the evening the improvement in the tone of that old fiddle and the way it had now opened out was obvious to everybody present.

April 25, 2014 at 04:58 PM · "...the way it had now opened out was obvious to everybody present."

Yes, yet some "scientific" trials have been set up that were reported as denying the reality of "playing in". Remind us, please, David Burgess !

Musical truth is proving even harder to verify than was the existence of the Higgs Boson.

April 25, 2014 at 05:13 PM · Most likely the scientist crowds are a little on the tone deaf side!!!

April 25, 2014 at 05:47 PM · "Remind us, please, David Burgess !"

This Australian study? ("conclusions" are on the last page)

http://www.phys.unsw.edu.au/jw/reprints/IntaViolin.pdf

April 25, 2014 at 06:05 PM · "I heard tell of fiddle teachers who say they can check the quality of a pupil's practice by playing the student's violin at the start of a lesson."

And you fell for that? Probably he was sniffing to see if the rosin dust was fresh.

April 25, 2014 at 06:54 PM · Thanks David...I imagine that's about as scientific as you can get given the subject matter...with predictable results...

I wish I knew what people are hearing, when they're actually hearing something...vs. when they are thinking/wanting to hear something...

April 25, 2014 at 07:59 PM · Its just a bunch of skeptics with tin ears setting out to do studies to prove their tin ear non appraisal of differences is true for everybody, something the people who actually have developed hearing strongly disagree with.

April 25, 2014 at 08:34 PM · ...I'm afraid I'm skeptical of your skeptical response...

April 25, 2014 at 08:51 PM · Lyndon Taylor wrote:

"Its just a bunch of skeptics with tin ears setting out to do studies to prove their tin ear non appraisal of differences is true for everybody, something the people who actually have developed hearing strongly disagree with."

_____________________________

Lyndon, how did you establish that they were skeptics, or that they had tin ears?

April 25, 2014 at 09:32 PM · Judging from statements you've made, I think your tin ear credentials are pretty strong, David!!

April 25, 2014 at 09:43 PM · Lyndon wrote:

"Judging from statements you've made, I think your tin ear credentials are pretty strong, David!!"

____________________________

LOL, that wasn't the question, and I wasn't involved in the test.

But just out of curiosity, what statements of mine?

April 25, 2014 at 10:17 PM · Statements about all the things you don't hear, that many people do hear, like old vs new, unplayed vs played in, etc etc

April 25, 2014 at 10:21 PM · Lydon Taylor wrote:

"Statements about all the things you don't hear, that many people do hear, like old vs new, unplayed vs played in, etc etc"

________________________

In other words, statements from me which you have invented?

April 26, 2014 at 12:08 AM · It seems you're short term memory is defective, is there a reason for that, you've made all kinds of disparaging comments about people saying they heard differences between violins, you do so in this thread, you do it all the time on maestronet, I think in this particular case I would trust Julia Fischer's judgments on sound over yours any day.....

April 26, 2014 at 12:27 AM · Lyndon Taylor wrote:

"It seems you're short term memory is defective, is there a reason for that, you've made all kinds of disparaging comments about people saying they heard differences between violins, you do so in this thread,... "

__________________________

People can easily read what both of us have actually said in this thread, and I'll be quite satisfied with them forming their own conclusions about whose memory is more defective. ;-)

April 26, 2014 at 12:54 AM · David your violin making skills do not make you any more believable or credible, they just give you an inflated sense of your own importance......

April 26, 2014 at 12:55 AM · "all the things you don't hear, that many people do hear, like old vs new, unplayed vs played in, etc etc."

Tell you what -- I'm skeptical yes. And I don't have the training or skill of a Julia Fischer or a David Burgess.

But it does not require much training, if any at all, to recognize unsubstantiated, poorly defined, and ill-articulated claims. Stuff you believe that can never be tested is called faith. Well if Julia Fischer is your God, then by all means believe and worship anything she might say. If she says she can tell whether the last thing you played on your violin, just by playing it herself, was Bach or Balakirev, then it must be true, because her ear is better than yours. Or, alternatively, she might be exaggerating, or delusional, or just plain full of it. Generally speaking, all the skeptic is asking for is a clearly description of what is claimed, and perhaps an suggestion of a mechanism by which a phenomenon might occur. Really, it's not too much to ask.

April 26, 2014 at 01:42 AM · Lyndon wrote:

"David you violin making skills do not make you any more believable or credible, they just give you an inflated sense of your own importance......"

_____________

Oh darn, I've got more to worry about than an inflated sense of impotence?

April 26, 2014 at 01:47 AM · There's actually a perfectly logical explanation for Julia's claim, that violins resonate best at the frequencies they are consistently played over and over again, that violins resonate a given frequency better the more and more it is played, and if someone keeps hitting wrong notes, conceivably, I'm not saying it happens, this delicate relationship could be thrown off. Julia's certainly not the first person who's mentioned this type of thing, it a rather common perception among some very serious players, to the point where many of them won't let any one else play there instruments, at all, because of this perception.

April 26, 2014 at 01:48 AM · ah, Paul Deck is talking sense... Julia Fischer is a violin goddess, and I have faith in her! I've seen her play many times, and she's great, she's got it all. If she says she can tell, I believe she can tell...why would I doubt her??

April 26, 2014 at 04:06 AM · "...perfectly logical explanation for Julia's claim, that violins resonate best at the frequencies they are consistently played over and over again..."

Is that a hypothesis you propose to test? Or has this "fact" already been demonstrated through controlled experimentation and published in a peer-reviewed source?

"if someone keeps hitting wrong notes, conceivably, I'm not saying it happens, this delicate relationship could be thrown off."

You're hedging now, because you know how absurd all of it is. Someone ruins your violin by playing out of tune on it?

"it [is] a rather common perception among some very serious players..."

Really? How many first-level violinists have you asked? Anyway, the number of people who subscribe to a particular superstition lacking an objectively verifiable basis is of no concern to me whatsoever.

April 26, 2014 at 05:03 AM · A little-known truth: - Lyndon Burgess is ONE PERSON.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lyndon_Burgess

Schizo whatsit ? Skeptics, put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Paul Deck wrote :- " Stuff you believe that can never be tested is called faith."

I heard of blind faith, but DEAF faith ? Never.

And, as Scott suggested, no-one can change the frequency ratios of the harmonics within a musical note. That's simple physics. Has playing by someone else not changed the harmonics but altered their relative strengths?

Maybe the phenomena under question need different terminologies and clearer definitions - that's just for starters.

April 26, 2014 at 06:57 AM · An out of tune violin is one easy way a teacher can tell if the student has been practicing or practicing with a without noticing their violin is out of tune (i.e. lower quality practice).

As for the playing in, I have recently played an old violin of my teacher that hasn't been played for a while a few weeks back, and today again. I can say there is definitely a difference in how it sound under my ear after a few weeks of playing in by my teacher. But I don't reckon the characteristic of the violin (i.e. it's voice, whether it's warm or bright) has changed, it just sounds nearer if that make any sense.

April 26, 2014 at 07:30 AM · The ear is pretty much a subjective not really objective tester, the idea that violin phenomena can be isolated and tested, objectively verified or not is the real superstition.

Push comes to shove almost all decisions about violin tone are going to be made by ears, not machines, so to say what some professional violinist hears is all superstition, denies that fact that their ears are the highest arbitrator, at least for decisions they make themselves.

The scientific crowd would like to label all ears deficient and scientific data the final arbitrator, not going to happen.

I haven't heard of any rush of concert goers asking for their money back because they were disappointed in the tone of this or that soloist's Stradivari.

The idea that the soloists aren't mature enough to make their own decisions and need Claudia Fritz to tell them what to play seems more than a little unreasonable.

No matter what you say about all these test there's always some sizable percentage of participants that prefer the Stradivari tone, as long as that stays true, there will be a market for such.

April 26, 2014 at 10:39 AM · Not sure what that was all about, or how it ties in. In the video, Fischer isn't playing a Strad. It's a violin which was made in 2011.

April 26, 2014 at 12:15 PM · Oh, it's subjective, is it? Whatever someone claims as fact must be true if it's subjective. I guess it's better than the usual stuff about being able to feel the hidden vibrations in the universe manifest in the crystalline forms of gemstones.

It's not subjective. Julia Fischer said she could tell if someone else played her violin out of tune. It would seem pretty easy to test whether she can tell if someone had played her violin at all, and whoever you pick for the blind side of the test will have intonation that is not as good as hers.

April 26, 2014 at 02:06 PM · In addition to Paul's observation, it is perhaps useful to state the difference between illusion and delusion. Illusions are typically shared by at least few people, while delusions are attributed to those souls who don's share illusions with the rest of us.

There was an interesting interview with a jazz violin player (forgot her name) in Strings magazine, who had a privilege to use "Il Cannone" Guarneri on one of her concerts. She claimed that the spirit (or personality) of Paganini can still be felt when this violin is played. Now, that is not far from admiration many famous violinist express when they acquire an ex-so-and-so Stradivarius, or Guarneri, but is again a long stretch. We want to believe that there must be an influence of the player on the instrument, especially if the instrument had been used for a long time. While this might be somewhat true to those who (again) believe in play-in process, it is of questionable value for any time frame after, unless and until we all reach some higher levels of consciousness. What is interesting, though, that many scientists have pointed out the impact of the observer or participant on the experiment results. In this particular case, Julia might posses some auditory skills most of us mortals do not, but it could also be a result of her personality and approach to violin playing. It is equally amazing that she claims she is NEVER nervous on stage.

This could all lead to a long-awaited modification of "Goldilocks and the three bears":

Suddenly Papa cried out in his Great Big voice, "Someone has been playing my double-bass!"

Then Mamma cried out in her medium size voice, "Someone has been playing MY cello!"

And Baby Bear cried out in his Tiny Little Voice, "Some has been playing my violin. And all my precious overtones ARE GONE!"

April 26, 2014 at 02:17 PM · ...now I need to know what happened to the viola...

***waits nervously with baited breath***

April 26, 2014 at 02:37 PM · The viola is Golidilocks ... hero or villain, depending on one's perspective.

April 26, 2014 at 03:03 PM · I thought Lyndon was saying that the BELIEF that tone has changed is subjective (because all ratings of tone are subjective). I'd agree. Whether you do a blind test and she does or doesn't recognise if someone did or didn't play the instrument better or worser doesn't matter a rats arse. What's important is that when she KNOWS someone else has played it, it sounds different to her initially. So she says. You going to call her on that, Paul?

April 26, 2014 at 03:36 PM · A player's tone (and tones) will leave an imprint in the wood's cells and resins.

Even the (manual) gearbox of a car will "feel" different, maybe due to a different distribution of lubricants etc. And the wood fibres are even more complicated!

April 26, 2014 at 04:43 PM · What I am saying is the ultimate judge of a violins tone is the ear and the ear is subjective, there is really no way to objectify a subjective phenomenon, hearing violins, to demand scientific type testing for every perceived subjective phenomenon is only valid if the scientific test data is more important than the ears judgement, which it is not IMO

I think its rather rude to mock MS Fischer and call her claims delusional, perhaps you don't have quite the tonal experiences she does, she doesn't have to prove anything, she's just making a subjective judgment of what she perceives, If she were the only one that felt this way perhaps her opinion could be discounted, but she is not alone, quite a few performers have noticed this phenomenon, Maybe you should attend one of MS Fischer's performances and see if her opinions on tone spoil your sonic subjective experience of her music, then maybe you could complain.....

April 26, 2014 at 04:44 PM · Sharelle,

The challenge is in the fact that when a well-known and respected violinist claims something like this, people will listen, and someone will start believing.

The same is with politicians; when in a position of power and influence, their statements are scrutinized because they affect people.

Violin playing is not a science, but problems start when you have someone who claims something incredible, not supported by scientific facts.

Lyndon,

I agree that is entirely possible that current scientific paradigm can not be applied here, but until this is confirmed, this is just a claim of one violin player, nothing more. That is why it remains to be proven as a fact, subjectivity, auditive illusion or delusion. No offence meant.

Adrian comment brings and interesting hypothesis that great antique Italian violins may sound good today at least partially because they have always (or most of the time) been used by top players.

Twilight zone.

April 26, 2014 at 05:19 PM · I'm very aware when someone messes with my 'stuff'.

So let's agree that someone notices if someone else plays their violin - what all could cue them?

1. The violin has moved (you might notice that even if it's a fraction of an inch - but not actually recognize it as movement). Or perhaps there's a bit more/less rosin dust on it. Someone left fingerprints on it? Crumbs? ;)...etc.

2. The violin smells different. It can hang on to someone else's odour for a short time. Again, since we're not all olfactorly aware, we might not recognize this cue as a smell and ascribe it to something else (like an auditory change).

3. The violin is just generally out of tune a bit due to someone else playing it.

Any or all of the above.

No one is arguing that a musician can't notice that someone else played their instrument...but we can come up with many reasons why that might be - outside of the violin itself being capable of a having a memory or having other special powers.

April 26, 2014 at 05:40 PM · "...when she KNOWS someone else has played it, it sounds different to her initially..."

Sorry, but there's enough room for bias there to drive a truck through. If that's her claim, it's simply not credible, except, as I mentioned earlier, as a matter of faith.

"No one is arguing that a musician can't notice that someone else played their instrument..."

I am. I'd like to see that tested. Put a violinist claiming to have this ability in one hotel room, and move his/her violin to another room where it either gets played by someone or just held by that person quietly for five minutes. Then you give it back to the violinist and see if they can guess correctly whether it has been played or not. Repeat for a total of 100 trials and see if the violinist guesses correctly by a statistically significant margin.

April 26, 2014 at 05:44 PM · This is not just a claim of one violinist I have heard this theory several times from multiple sources, anytime you label someone delusional for disagreeing with your opinion, you run the risk that they are actually correct and you're the one that's delusional, and no, bringing up some scientific mumbo jumbo about it has to be proven double blind is no arguement, either its real or it isn't real and perhaps it is real but only a few people can notice it, there really is no effective way to apply the scientific method to a violins tone when all judgments based on tone are subjective, if everyone agrees something sounds good or bad then you may have something objective, but as these "scientific" tests prove over and over no one agrees on anything 100%, because as I pointed out these are subjective judgments, the more people you can convince tonally your judgement is right, the more weight your opinion has, even though it is still subjective.

April 26, 2014 at 05:47 PM · Yep, science is just mumbo jumbo. Either tea leaves tell the future or they don't. And just because you can't see the future in the tea leaves doesn't mean it's not real.

April 26, 2014 at 07:17 PM · I will not argue for or against the the effects of playing in. When I was a fanatical folk musician my guitars always sounded better than other guitars even of the same model. But I was rough and played with abandon and a lot of singers are to gentle with there instruments.

I will admit that I do believe that we leave an impression on all we touch and with instruments I believe that it has to do with which fibers we flex regularly, just as with our own muscles.

I have found this difficult to believe with things like wooden flutes and recorders, but I have known several teachers who did believe we do develop them as we play.

But what I wish to share today is a recent experience that think reflects some elements of this argument.

I recently had a medical situation where I did not want to endanger my UCWV (better violin) so before my surgery I made sure my old Knilling was ready to play. I did not play it, but I had it ready.

My Knilling had been sitting for several months without being played. When I was read to play again I took it out I went to tune it using a Korg TM50.

I could hear that the G was in tune but the TM50 kept telling me it was a D. I pulled out my Korg CA and was pleased to see two tuners side by side one showing a D and the other a G. I pulled out my phone to photograph the event, but by the time I was able to get both LCDs clear in a picture the violin had opened up enough that both tuners displayed a G.

After a couple of days of playing, the violin did open up more and once again sounded as it did before I put it aside.

If I sit too long I also get stiff and it takes a while before I can move like I did before. The older I get the more this effect occurs.

April 27, 2014 at 12:38 AM · "If I sit too long I also get stiff and it takes a while before I can move like I did before. The older I get the more this effect occurs."

I'm finding the exact opposite.

April 27, 2014 at 01:07 PM · In regards to violins that "open up" noticeably after playing them in:

Consider all the many things we humans view subjectively. When you first dip your toe in the water at the local beach, the water feels positively cold. But after getting in for a while, it's all good, "C'mon in, the water's great!"

Did the lake warm up?

Doubtful.

Just something to consider.

Perhaps by the end of they fiddle jam, not only was the violin warmed up, but *ahem*, so was the audience vis a vis a lil ol moonshine or other libations.

April 27, 2014 at 04:28 PM · "From David Burgess

Posted on April 26, 2014 at 10:39 AM

Not sure what that was all about, or how it ties in. In the video, Fischer isn't playing a Strad. It's a violin which was made in 2011."

She has more than one modern instrument.Do you know which one she is playing here?

April 27, 2014 at 04:31 PM · I don't remember which violin it is...but yes, she does mention it in the interview.

April 27, 2014 at 11:20 PM · I know its usually referred to as the violin opening up, which makes us all think of wood cells and such. but isn't more likely to be the strings responding more flexibly to being played? If they've been sitting around just as long as the instrument they are on ...? Just wondering.

April 27, 2014 at 11:33 PM · Hi,

Julia Fischer's modern violin is by Philipp Augustin. To my knowledge, that is the only modern instrument she plays, along with her Guadagnini.

Cheers!

April 28, 2014 at 03:11 AM · Hi Christian, you are right.

I thought I remembered she also had a Greiner

but got that wrong.

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