What is the most important variable in sound production?

April 14, 2015 at 01:25 PM · On the other thread, Paul was asking for opinions on what goes into a player's tone--is it the instrument? the bow? the player?

There's no easy answer. I've heard Pinchas Zukerman refer to his bow arm as his "bank account," meaning that it is his bow arm that produces the wonderful sound that commands high fees. And it's true, a violinist's ability to use/control the bow arm has a lot to do with sound production.

I've had the experience of listening to a student complain about his violin and how he needed a better instrument, after which I handed him my good bow and suddenly his "inadequate" violin sounded quite nice indeed. A quality bow is as important as a quality violin--a bad bow can make even a fine instrument sound muffled, and a good bow can bring the very best out of a violin of modest quality.

In my opinion, the most important variable in a good sound is the violinist, particularly the violinist's ability to control the bow. A great violinist can make even a student outfit sound good. But the better the instrument and bow, the better the violinist can sound. There is a reason why the great soloists and concertmasters play on great instruments. On the other hand, it's counterproductive for a beginner to try to learn how to produce an acceptable sound on a garbage instrument. Beginners need an instrument that is at the very least well set up and playable, preferably one which rewards correct technique with an acceptable sound.

So which is the most important: the violinist, the violin, or the bow? My answer is: Yes.

Replies (96)

April 14, 2015 at 01:30 PM · Zukerman can produce a powerfull, beautifull sound from a cigar box, so I imagine it is the player.

The instrument and bows helps and makes playing easier.

With bad instruments you have to negotiate with notes and strings, that is tiring and plays havoc with your concentration.

April 14, 2015 at 02:09 PM · An intriguing question Mary Ellen!

It's probably something like:

36% - Violinist

32% - Violin

32% - Bow

The violinist gets more weight because they have the ability to respond to feedback -- this is what makes it possible to pick up a student instrument and "work it" to best advantage. Sort of like if a Formula 1 driver would do a lap in a Honda Accord -- they could do it better than a novice, but in the end it's still an Accord.

The violin and bow are equally important in my mind.

April 14, 2015 at 02:39 PM ·

April 14, 2015 at 03:01 PM · If an expert violinist can "make anything sound good" why do they spend so much money for instruments and bows?

Perhaps a more realistic statement is that a pro can make "anything" sound better.

April 14, 2015 at 03:16 PM · The player is the dominant factor, in the sense that it is the player's technique that draws sound out of the tools in hand.

However, the tools can make a huge difference. Student instruments tend to be "forgiving", which is to say that they can be played less precisely but still sound fairly decent. Forgiving, however, also means that there's less sensitivity to nuance.

Precise and immediate feedback from good tools also helps a player develop their technique, which can then be applied in reverse to lesser tools as well.

April 14, 2015 at 04:32 PM · Having the proper setup of the violin is very important. Some of my most successful lessons have been:

1. You need to change your strings. That's why you can't tune properly and the E string squeaks.

2. Your violin needs a sound post adjustment.

3. You can't play in tune because your fingerboard needs planing.

4. Your bow is in desperate need of rehairing.

5. Your problem is that the bridge height is incorrect.

6. You sound lousy because of an open seam.

Get thee to the luthier!

April 14, 2015 at 04:45 PM · The quality of the bow is as least as important as the quality of the violin.

Way back in my early professional days when my (nonmusician) husband and I were newlyweds living in a 2-room apartment, I fell in love with a very expensive French bow. When I broached the subject of taking out a loan in order to buy it, my husband was understandably not receptive to the idea.

Then I did a blind playing test for him--he turned his back, and I played the same passage first with my best bow at the time, a serviceable German bow, and then with the marvelous French bow. Immediately he knew which one was the French bow, could hear the difference, and said, "You have to get this bow."

Never, ever underestimate the importance of the bow in sound production.

Ultimately it is the player but the quality of the tools makes a huge difference.

Edited to add regarding "dragging horsehair over a string:" A question I frequently ask new students is "Which hand do you think has the harder job?" Most of the time, beginners and parents will guess the left hand. Then I point out that every culture in the world that has developed bowed stringed instruments--European, African, Arab, Asian--has assigned the fingering duties to the left hand and the bowing duties to the right. And in every culture, every population of the world, about 85% of people are right-handed. Then I ask my students if they really think that everyone gave the harder job to the weaker hand? The obvious answer is, they didn't. Bowing technique is more complex and in many ways more difficult than left-hand technique.

As a further illustration of my point, I point students to the Youtube video of the Japanese robot-playing violin, which plays impeccably well in tune with a hideous sound. Why? Because it is easier (simpler) to program where to stop the strings than it is to program how to draw sound out of them.

April 14, 2015 at 04:57 PM · Whoever the driver, the Honda Accord mentioned above will just not do the same things as the Formula 1.

Parents present at my lessons notice that:

- their child's violin sound better when I play on it;

- my own violin sound much better still.

A beginner needs a violin with a gratifying sound; an advanced player wants something whill will show up his/her faults - and qualities!

April 14, 2015 at 05:01 PM · A friend of mine told me about her shocking discovery: someone gave her a Tourte bow for a few minutes to try - and here cello had a completely, way better sound, beyond recognition.... and she is, by the way, an amateur player.

In other words, 2 variables (the instrument, and player) were unchanged and there was an instant huge improvement in sound quality.

Never, ever underestimate importance of the stick!

April 14, 2015 at 05:01 PM · When people say that a professional can make anything sound good, what they mean is that the person can make it sound infinitely better than a student can, and probably "good" to the average untrained listener. But they could always make a better instrument sound even better.

The bow is definitely not just horsehair on a stick. I recently had an experience kind of the opposite of Mary Ellen's--I have a clarinetist friend who wanted to mess around with learning violin, so she'd picked up a few bows to try. One was a very low end student bow, less than a hundred dollars. (I didn't know the exact cost of the bow at the time, although of course I could see that it was a student bow.) I picked it up to play and it was the strangest thing: I actually couldn't play anymore. I was trying to play a chipper little reel and the notes just didn't happen. It had been a long time since I had handled a bow like that! I don't think it was capable of responding quickly enough, which completely threw off my ear. I put it down and picked up the next bow, which was also very cheap, but at least playable. It's amazing the difference a bow can make in either direction. It's not just a matter of doing "fancy" bow strokes, either, although different bows will certainly give you drastically varying results in that department as well. A bow will change your entire sound.

So the equipment absolutely is important. On the other hand, I have seen a lot of students blame the gear for issues that are actually coming from them. That mentality is for guitarists, I tell them. :P This problem is even more prevalent amongst adults, who usually have more money than time and would prefer to be able to just buy the solution to their woes. But even the best instrument will never replace hours logged and the experience of playing for many years.

April 14, 2015 at 05:02 PM · Mary Ellen is right -- if I don't feel as much a partner with the bow as the violin, it doesn't work. Further, the bow drastically effects the sound of the violin. This makes the bow hard to choose in that regard -- it has to not only handle and feel great, but has to bring what you want out of the instrument.

Adrian -- no one is suggesting a Honda accord will do F1. The analogy is that a F1 driver would be able to handle an Accord on a track better than a novice, much like a great violinist will be able to maximize the potential of a student instrument.

April 14, 2015 at 05:50 PM · I'm grateful for this thread, the answers strike me as fairly non-controversial (that is to say predictable) except for the issue of the bow. I'm strongly inclined to accept the voice of professional playing and teaching experience, but I have to confess that my inherent scientific curiosity and skepticism are ill-satisfied. I have never read a believable explanation for *why* one bow should produce better *sound* than another. (Playability for tricky strokes is another matter, that could easily arise from variations in the distribution of weight and elasticity along the length of the stick, etc.) Every time I try to contrive a rationale as to why these factors should affect the sound produced for a basic slow detache, I reach the conclusion that I'm just fooling myself. And as for anecdotal side-by-side comparisons -- I certainly do not question anyone's personal observations but I also recognize how hard these comparisons are to do in way that is controlled for other variables.

April 14, 2015 at 05:59 PM · Do you believe it for the violin itself, Paul? I'm certainly no expert in the physics of sound, so this conversation is quickly going out of my depth, but if you believe that things like craftsmanship and materials make a difference to the sound of the violin, I'm not sure why the same wouldn't apply to the bow.

April 14, 2015 at 06:36 PM · Because the violin actually makes the sound ...

April 14, 2015 at 06:48 PM · It makes no sound without the bow. Some bows sound dark and others bright. Some bows have more / less surface noise. Some bows diffuse the sound while others focus it.

My non-musician wife can easily tell the difference between two bows.

April 14, 2015 at 07:07 PM · But when comparing two bows, aren't we comparing the horsehair as much as the stick?

(Assuming we use the same make and quantity of rosin on each)

The weight, balance, and resilience of the stick will make a big difference in faster passages, but I should have thought the hair was feposible for actual tone-quality

April 14, 2015 at 07:13 PM · Again, I'm not disputing that two bows might give a different sound on a violin. I'm only saying that I've never heard a good explanation as to WHY this is, when the bow stick is not itself vibrating audibly.

April 14, 2015 at 07:14 PM · Douglas is right. Without the bow, the violin is just a glorified ukelele! They both make the sound. I hope someone with a better understanding of this than mine can come and explain it in scientific terms. I only know what I have unquestionably observed to be true.

The hair will negatively affect the sound if the quality is poor, but there's really not all that much variety in terms of decent hair. It takes skill to do a good rehair, but that's just basic maintenance. The stick is what really matters.

April 14, 2015 at 07:17 PM · Lydia

You made my day ......

"Precise and immediate feedback from good tools also helps a player develop their technique, which can then be applied in reverse to lesser tools as well."

April 14, 2015 at 07:55 PM · Bow and rehairs (and sometimes even rosin) can make so much difference. Please do not underestimate these factors.

Bows are also like violins in that some are "less forgiving" but can permit more nuance (of course some bows can be hard to control and have little to offer as well.) Many players are surprised when they find an amazing bow that draws a very different tone and is also fun to play with (easier, controlled bounces/ricochet, less trembling, easier attack, etc.)

Ultimately, I do believe the player is the most important factor of all, but to reach the level required to be able to play "any instrument" well requires a good/decent instrument that won't hamper your progress getting there. The most dangerous violins are not those that sound ugly, but those that have faults that may destroy the violinist in the long run (horribly high action, super bad bridges hampering bow technique, etc.- no matter how they sound, these must be fixed or the instrument thrown away-no offense intended.)

So I assume I agree with the premise that all are important, but none more than the player. It's good to have musical tools that won't get in the way of the music and eliminate the possibility of excuses ("it would sound so much better if only I had a...!")

April 14, 2015 at 08:04 PM · Paul wrote:

"Again, I'm not disputing that two bows might give a different sound on a violin. I'm only saying that I've never heard a good explanation as to WHY this is, when the bow stick is not itself vibrating audibly."


String vibration alone is barely audible either. The bow may not vibrate audibly, but the vibration is fed into the string, which feeds into the violin body, which is where most of the amplification takes place.

We still have much to learn about the technical reasons behind different bows producing different sound, but that's a basic outline of where things stand at the moment.

April 14, 2015 at 08:16 PM · I should have thought hair varied somewhat from horse to horse, and from country to country

April 14, 2015 at 08:20 PM · David wrote, "The bow may not vibrate audibly, but the vibration is fed into the string."

How do you know that's actually true? How do we know that the vibrations in the bow stick have anything whatsoever to do with the sound of the violin? That seems like an axiomatic assumption that is being made.

David wrote, "We still have much to learn about the technical reasons behind different bows producing different sound."

What bothers me is that people don't really seem to be interested in learning what those reasons are. They seem often to prefer to rest on conjecture and common folklore. (The same kind of folklore that causes people to assume -- or should I say conclude -- that modern violins are not as good, on balance, as old ones.)

April 14, 2015 at 08:40 PM ·

April 14, 2015 at 08:43 PM · Research is certainly being done on the topic. Speaking only for myself, it's not that I'm not interested. I'm just not very knowledgeable.

I have two bows that I regularly use. One is a Lee Guthrie and the other is a Diamond Coda. Typically, the carbon fiber is my fiddle bow and the Lee Guthrie is my classical bow. I also have two main violins that I use, generally falling into the same categories. One is a hundred-year-old German factory violin that I put a pickup on and use for settings other than a concert hall. The other is my favorite from my husband's collection. But I can assure you that if I switch the bows that I generally use for each violin, I get a different sound out of the violin. I can't tell you why, but it is audible. It is not folklore. I acknowledge the possibility that the difference is something I'm doing, but I don't think so.

April 14, 2015 at 08:57 PM · Yes, I'm sure there is marginal variation in the hair, but what I'm saying is you're not going to have a $50 rehair versus a $40,000 rehair. For the most part, a good rehair is a good rehair. And unless there's something crazy to be done, a rehair will cost the same amount of money for any bow. On the other hand, you can spend as little or as much as you want on a bow, much like a violin.

April 14, 2015 at 09:53 PM · I'm just trying to suggest that horses are as different as people!! Nothing to do with price. And the luthier who sold me my CF "spare" (not haired by him) said folks tend to rehair these ones sooner.

We can only really compare two bows haired at the same time from the same batch.

April 15, 2015 at 12:14 AM · I think people are interested in understanding the violin/bow tonal interaction, but I suspect that scientifically it is not an easy thing to study. (A Google search shows various papers though.)

Speaking for myself, having recently upgraded, the first month or so with the new violin has been a bit of a revelation, despite the high quality of my previous instrument. Small nuances are much more readily apparent (and it is utterly unforgiving), forcing me into playing more precisely, being much more careful with bow distribution, and otherwise exercising more conscious control.

Just two weeks with a better violin resulted in far more progress than I've made in a year or more -- and I'm already a fairly competent player.

April 15, 2015 at 02:36 AM · bows can be incredibly complex- and good ones vibrate a lot, when held loosely and played in tune. I've tried a different bow on my violin, made by the same maker, and it produced a whole different set of overtones than my bow. It sounded like a different violin. Violins are complex and understood by very few, and bows are the same way, but probably even less studied. Certain bows are magic with certain violins!

April 15, 2015 at 06:33 AM · Going on with what Tom said, how exactly does a bow math a violin? And how can you tell? I've heard it often said that a bow and a violin do have to be compatible. Why? And what kind of difference are you looking for exactly?

April 15, 2015 at 07:52 AM · I think that a poor instrument, coupled with being forced to listen to good playing (classical music, preferably solo violin) can lead a student to grow more. Here's an example;

Me. I started on an ebay turd-olin; action was too high, bow was meh, etc, etc... My teacher told me to get a new bow and strings, but I kept the old bridge and nut, and no soundpost adjustment.

So it sounded pretty awful. HOWEVER, I was lucky because I had been forced to listen to classical music from childhood (now I love that stuff), and after I'd hear the beautiful tone of the violins, I'd rush off and try to emulate it; this led to me developing a good bow arm ahead of most of my peers. I learned how to pull good tone out of an instrument! That single factor helped me grow more.

Of course everyone is different... so who knows what effect this would have on someone else.

Pablo Casals's cello, though a Gofriller, was famously in horrid condition, with about half a kilo of matches in it, fraying gut strings, and paper in the pegs, holding them in place. Bernard Greenhouse, I think, tried to play it once, and was shocked at how hard it was to play.

So who knows?

April 15, 2015 at 08:22 AM · I recently passed my cello on to a family member in Belgium whose need for a decent instrument is now more than mine, but I have held on to my excellent German 60-yr old bow because - who knows? Anyway, the recipient of my cello already has a perfectly serviceable CF bow they're happy with.

April 15, 2015 at 09:28 AM · Paul wrote:

"How do you know that's actually true? How do we know that the vibrations in the bow stick have anything whatsoever to do with the sound of the violin? That seems like an axiomatic assumption that is being made."


Some of the information comes from conversations with researchers, like Norman Pickering and Joe Regh, for example. Here's one of the conference presentations they gave on dynamic bow measurements:


April 15, 2015 at 02:39 PM · David, thanks for that reference, I skimmed it (detailed reading later) and noticed that the vibrations (aka "skittering" effects) that they describe are generally in the range of 5-20 Hz (i.e., they are infrasonic). The lower end of that range could affect the playability of the bow. However, these frequencies are too low to have much influence on the sound of the violin (frequencies start at around 200 Hz) coupling between two frequencies decreases as their difference increases. As the authors point out the job the the player is to damp those frequencies anyway. That's not to say that their observations can't *correlate* with other qualities of the bow. As you've pointed out there is a lot we don't know.

There is a local professional violinist that I know, who has a nice collection of bows including a few that he raves about. I'm going to ask him to play my violin for me with several of his bows just so that I can get a first-hand understanding of the phenomenon. I think I really need that before I start designing my controlled experiments. And certainly before I start shopping for bows!

April 15, 2015 at 03:00 PM · David -- Interesting publication. Is there anything else interesting on this topic?

April 15, 2015 at 04:52 PM · Right. While I must boringly insist on differences in bow hair sources, I have tried something else on several tightened bows.

Holding the hair a few inches from the tip, I tap with the surface of a fingernail:

- downwards on the very tip:

- laterally on the middle of the stick.

No conclusions yet, but in both directions the wooden bows ring much more thann the CF ones.

Happy, everyone?

April 15, 2015 at 06:44 PM · Douglas and Paul, how about this?


April 15, 2015 at 08:21 PM · Bunch of articles there, I will definitely have a look. Thanks!

April 15, 2015 at 08:52 PM · Now were're talking!

Don't forget the hair though....

April 15, 2015 at 08:52 PM · Oops!

April 15, 2015 at 10:32 PM · David -- this looks like an excellent article. I will peruse it further.

Adrian -- Good luck with your horsehair tests. I've had bows re-haired at the same place at the same time and they retained their basic individual qualities.

Not saying that there isn't good and bad hair, just that a quality re-hair hasn't changed the innate sound quality of a bow for me.

Maybe you can come up with some hair treatment that will "make all violins sound like a strad" -- there is probably a market waiting to fork over dollars for that :-D

April 16, 2015 at 07:22 AM · Snake Oil for Horshair? Hmm.

Mockery aside, I find my CF bow need re-rosining more often, as my luthier warned me, and rehairing solves the problem.

Here in Paris, where there is a concentration of conservatoires and luthiers, word gets round when one of the "archetiers" has a delivery from Argentina, or the best parts of China, where the horses eat the best grass all the year round..

Back to the stick. While I am now convinced that the stick does indeed vibrate, I still suspect that the differences between bows are due more to their dynamic qualities: weight, balance, stiffness vs elasticity etc.

Changing bows also has a re-awakening aspect.

Even holding my chunky CF bow a little further from the frog can help on my more responsive viola. Then I dig out a violin bow instead..

The dynamic of the initial attack in faster playing, or of swift string changes in chords, affects the succeeding tone.

April 16, 2015 at 10:52 AM ·

April 16, 2015 at 11:28 AM · Does he act like a girl at a Beatles concert?

April 16, 2015 at 12:09 PM · I understand that it must be stallion hair as mares urinate on their tails wich ruins the hair!

April 16, 2015 at 12:14 PM ·

April 16, 2015 at 01:34 PM · The article that David cited above is a peer-reviewed article in an acoustics journal, C. E. Gough, J. Acoust. Soc. Am., 2012, 131, 4152.


I guess I read about 20% of the article (that's about the limit of what I could understand). Gough uses a common engineering method known as finite element analysis which requires software. He ramps up his model in a very systematic manner. The work seems to have been done in a very thoughtful and scholarly way. The paper combines both theoretical treatment and some empirical measurements.

From the summary: "...any direct coupling of the bow vibrations, via the stretched bow hair and bridge to the radiating surfaces of the instrument is very small."

In other place throughout the article Gough suggests strongly that bow vibrational modes seem to have little impact on the sound of the violin. But, that's just one study, and perhaps the case is made for yet more sophisticated analysis and especially empirical studies that are closer to actual violin playing. I'll try to use forward-searching methods to look for articles that cite this paper and see where that leads. But now right now...

April 16, 2015 at 02:18 PM · Paul wrote:

"From the summary: "...any direct coupling of the bow vibrations, via the stretched bow hair and bridge to the radiating surfaces of the instrument is very small.""


While influence from the direct coupling may be very small, when I've spoken with Pickering and Regh, they put much more emphasis on the vibration of the bow altering the slip-stick action between the hair and the string. In other words, while the vibration of the bow may not be fed directly into the instrument in a meaningful way, the vibration of the bow changes the way the string vibrates, and that's what impacts the sound.

I think Pickering was one of the first to look heavily into the slip-stick action when he was a string engineer for D'addario.

For those to whom "slip-stick" is an unfamiliar term, it is used to describe the interaction between the rosined bow hair and the string. When bowing, the hair sticks to the string and pulls it sideways. When the string is pulled far enough, the adhesion of the rosin is no longer sufficient to hold it, so the string snaps back in the other direction, and the cycle starts over again.

That's oversimplified a bit, because there are other factors, including vibration, which are involved in jerking the string loose from the bow hair.

April 16, 2015 at 02:32 PM · Here's a slow motion video of the "slip-stick" action:


At one point, Joseph Regh put together an experimental bow with a small variable-speed electric vibrator attached. I had a chance to play a violin with this bow. At some vibrational speeds, the bow was almost unplayable, feeling like it skated over the string rather than grabbing it. This was interesting, because I think most players have felt how some bows "grab" the string better than others.

April 16, 2015 at 10:06 PM · Pickering.

I used to tell my students, after showing them an un-rosined bow, tha it's the rosin that make the sound, and the bow is only there to keep the rosin in a straight line. Pickering's writings give a vastly more complexe picture: the rosin actually melts very briefly at the point of conact. He also said that bow hair doesn't really wear out, it just gets coated in gunge. (My words.)

April 16, 2015 at 10:46 PM · David, that's a very cool video of the slip-stick phenomenon. It would be really useful to know the time magnification factor.

April 17, 2015 at 09:52 AM · Paul, that video is probably showing slip-stick at the fundamental frequency of the string. There is a kink formed which travels to the other end of the string, is reflected back, and helps kick the string loose from the hair at exactly the right time for the pitch being played. Pretty remarkable!

A graphic on this page shows an exaggerated view of what's really happening:


What neither of these show is that there are other vibrations which can cause mini-slip-sticks in between the major ones. An extreme example is the wolf tone, where so much vibration is being fed back to the string from the body of the instrument, that it destabilizes the slip-stick action so much that it's difficult to maintain a steady tone and pitch.

April 17, 2015 at 05:52 PM · I'm so glad to come across this discussion because I'm going to start the much waited bow hunt in two weeks. I got my brand new violin last year made by an award winner in the US. The bow I use is what I have inherited, not of good quality at all. I've started to realize its limitation for a while. Now that the violin has settled in for a year and a half, I'm excited to try out bows. What this discussion is particularly useful is that I have not put much emphasis on what kind of bow to get but it does make a difference from reading your posts. My friend is bringing back home two bows from a bow maker in NY. Hopefully, these will convince me to pay the big bucks for it.

April 17, 2015 at 06:00 PM · You're within driving distance of NYC. Go there and try LOTS of bows -- potentially dozens of bows. It will be worthwhile. Two is definitely not enough to try.

April 17, 2015 at 06:33 PM · I'm doing it in steps. Her bows are significantly out of my range. I have to see if it is worth the difference to drive to NYC. I'm actually visiting MD this weekend, Lydia. Any shops that you'd recommend?

April 17, 2015 at 06:59 PM · Donald Cohen's shop: http://www.cohenbows.com/

Call ahead to make an appointment. He's a bowmaker, but he also carries a significant number of bows in his shop.

Also try Brobst in Alexandria, Potters/Weavers in Bethesda, and Perrin in Baltimore.

Although I should ask: What's your budget?

April 17, 2015 at 07:00 PM · How much should one pay for a JonPaul Avanti?

April 17, 2015 at 07:13 PM · Under $800. I got mine for about $630.

April 17, 2015 at 07:49 PM · Max between 2k to 3k. My friend is bringing 4k bows home.

April 17, 2015 at 09:36 PM · I paid $750 for my JP Avanti.

April 17, 2015 at 09:42 PM · Would anyone care to comment on the importance of variables that are *not* related to equipment: speed, weight, soundpoint?

I'm pretty happy with my instrument and bow, so I'm trying to see what can be done with them to maximize good tone, and alternate tone with intent. I find that 3 interdependent variables are really confusing - and I was an engineering major who loved math, so you'd think I'd be able to handle that :-)

April 17, 2015 at 10:48 PM · Sobriety would be an important variable not related to equipment.

April 17, 2015 at 11:14 PM · ok, here is specific: speed, weight, pressure, sobriety.

April 18, 2015 at 12:17 PM · How can I see maybe 10 screens on the computer mostly in praise of the bow with almost no mention of rosin which is the crucial interface?

My bows (5) all will respond to rosin type within the personality of the bow.

(I only wish to read about how to maintain best rosin conditions for more than 20 minutes ?)

April 18, 2015 at 01:43 PM · oh, I give up...

Speaking of rosin, why has no one mentioned the type of cloth used to wipe the excess rosin from the strings? Surely that has an important effect on sound production.

April 18, 2015 at 03:05 PM · True rosin residue is in the form of solidified slurry and not subject to dust cloth. Ask your fingernails.

No rosin, no violin. How important is that?

April 18, 2015 at 03:08 PM ·

April 18, 2015 at 05:12 PM · Everything makes a difference -- the OP was asking what is thought to be most important!

Rosin certainly has an effect, but less so than the bow itself.

April 18, 2015 at 05:33 PM · I guess that bows have to be very important being that they can compete with violins for price.

April 18, 2015 at 06:12 PM · I always thought that bows were important because without them you'd be forever stuck with pizz...


April 18, 2015 at 07:12 PM · I have to confess that I do not know what is most important particularly lacking any objective evidence..

Therefore I treat everything as important which has to be a safe choice.


April 19, 2015 at 01:13 AM · Sorry to have worried you John. Actually one of the experiments that you propose is similar to something that I'm planning (muting the bow).

And Darlene, there have been plenty of rosin wars on v.com. the general consensus is that you need a rosin that is very expensive and for which there is a 2 year waiting list, and of which you claim to use only once every few months even if you've got it.

April 20, 2015 at 01:01 AM · John, scroll up. You missed that part of the discussion.

April 20, 2015 at 03:09 AM · It's all about compromises.

You can't buy a violin, rosin and strings that have amazing projection, yet sound good under the ear.

You also can't buy a bow that is very light weight and has an excellent bounce, yet is very stiff for great projection.

The only thing that is great for achieving both is a mic in front of the violin.

How to achieve maximum projection:

-Russian bow hold

-Heavy gauge strings e.g. Evah Pirazzi

-Hard new rosin on fresh(new or newly cleaned) bow hairs

-Heavy, stiff bow, tighten till bow is straight

-playing closer to bridge with a lot a weight and speed into the stick.

April 20, 2015 at 11:17 AM · Just wanted to point out a fallacy in Paul Deck's reasoning presented in his post from April 15, 2015 at 02:39 PM. Because you cannot hear a bow vibrating at 5Hz, say, why would that mean that it does not have impact on the sound? After all the bow is in contact with the string (albeit indirectly through the hair). An analogy would be me plucking the string (pizzicato) once per second. While plucking my finger is vibrating at 1Hz. You can't hear my finger vibrating. But you can sure hear my playing the pizzicato!

April 20, 2015 at 04:28 PM · Jean, the difference is that you can envision a clear mechanism for how your finger influences the sound of your pizzicato. The finger moves the string away from its equilibrium position imparting potential energy to the string, and the string when released vibrates on its own until equilibrium is restored. It's not a resonant vibrational coupling mechanism at all.

Please understand that I'm not ruling out the possibility that the bow stick influences the sound of the violin. My main point is that I cannot envision a mechanism by which it does so.

The kinds of specious rebuttal and outright derision that I continue to get for having admitted some skepticism on this point is the kind of thing that I would normally expect from people defending their religious views.

The vibrations of the bow are very low in magnitude relative to the vibrations of the string or of the body of the violin. But the fact that bow stick vibrations are inaudible is not really the issue. The relevant point is that coupling extremely low magnitude vibrations to extremely high magnitude vibrations generally does not accomplish much. Also, vibrations at 5 Hz do not couple well with vibrations at 440 Hz. To test these two principles, play your violin as loud as you can during the next earthquake and see if it helps. Moreover it was shown (albeit under highly idealized conditions) in the article that was discussed earlier in this thread that the bow stick vibrations do not appear to communicate with the violin vibrations through the hair. Other articles were proposed to me for review, which I will do when I get more time.

Since you seem to enjoy analogies, I will give one back to you. The fuel line in your car is a tube that carries fuel from your gas tank to the carburetor. Therefore the fuel line is an integral part of the propulsion system of your car, and modifications thereto (such as putting a magnet on it) should result in a change in your fuel economy. The reason that's not convincing (at least, I hope it's not) is because you can't envision a clear mechanism by which a magnet on your fuel line would influence fuel economy. (Fuel molecules are not magnetic.) But that didn't stop a lot of people from spending a lot of money on fuel-line magnets and insisting that they helped.


April 29, 2015 at 09:20 PM · hi Paul, sorry I noticed your reply just now. I fully agree that the mechanism cannot involve some kind of sympathetic vibrations. it must be through the hair. but now that I think more about it, since the frequency of the bow vibrations is so low, I also agree with you that a mechanism through the hair is also quite implausible.

April 29, 2015 at 10:03 PM · Karen,

to answer your request for how to handle the three interdependent variables which are the basis of our playing...

don't handle them as three varibale. Keep one a constant. Yoiu can play on the same sp with more or less bow (speed) and adjust the weight accordingly. You can play with the same length of bow of bow and adjust the sp and the weight according ly. Just get a copy of basics and do all the tone production xercises! ;)



April 30, 2015 at 01:39 AM · Buri, thanks for bringing this conversation back from the world of rosin and rosin-wipes and soaps to use on your hand after wiping off rosin and the like...

April 30, 2015 at 09:40 AM · Jean, there are many higher frequencies of vibration in the bow (and the hair), not just the 5 hz that was mentioned. Somewhat like a string, which has a series of higher harmonics vibrating at the same time as the fundamental, the bow has different modes of vibration too.

It's often the lower frequencies which get the most focus in studies, because they tend to be the easiest to observe.

April 30, 2015 at 02:31 PM · Thanks for your reaction David. Under the assumption that the bow wood or hair vibrates at a higher frequency than the frequency by which the string is repeatedly pulled and snaps back, then a mechanism seems plausible, right Paul?

April 30, 2015 at 02:49 PM · Yes, but there is still the problem of the intensity of those higher-frequency vibrations. If you hold your fingernail just near the sound point of the string while you are bowing, which you can do by playing an open string and bracing your thumb against the c-bout, the constant pummeling of the string against your fingernail will be so strong that it might be painful. In contrast, audible-frequency vibrations in the bow are of very low relative magnitude, which by itself is an indication that bow vibrations contribute very little to sound production. However, I cannot quantify that. One possibility that I have indicated previously may be worth consideration is that the changes in tone are actually very small but we notice them because our perception is capable of amplifying the significance of small physical changes. I intend to conduct an experiment in which the bow is muted, and may enlist the help of my acquaintances here for the blind-testing part.

The reason Buri's suggestion to keep one variable constant at a time will work is precisely because it is scientific. That is the underpinning principle of controlled experimentation.

April 30, 2015 at 03:14 PM · This is a subject that has been of interest to me for a number of years. Yet I have really not done any work on it. I'm glad to have found the Gough paper cited in this thread and plan to read the download I just made (it can be had for free!)

I've got enough violins and bows - and more especially enough cellos and bows to know just how significant the instrument/bow match can be to the production of sound (that's a long story I won't tell now).

By considering what most likely is happening to influence the effect of a bow on sound production - it must be that the bow influences the vibration of the hair. If the bow can dampen the hair vibration so that it does not interfere with (stick-slip) regularity of the hair string interaction it will probably be a good bow for a particular instrument. This is most likely related to the acoustic coupling of the hair and stick (acoustic impedance matching) and that is the math problem that most likely needs to be solved.


April 30, 2015 at 03:24 PM · about the bow hair: there are actually suppliers who prefer hair from mares:


April 30, 2015 at 04:06 PM · "Urinated hair" - yes, I was told that by Frank Passa, who had a large bundle of urinated hair hanging from a hook over the kitchen counter of his magnificent Santa Rosa home after he closed his San Francisco shop because of his stroke. That hair did work on the cello bow he rehaired for me.


April 30, 2015 at 04:14 PM · Urine-treated bow hair. Trying to think about how to turn that into a business...

April 30, 2015 at 09:54 PM · Greetings




May 1, 2015 at 12:28 AM · Rosin!

May 1, 2015 at 01:04 AM · Shawn, care to elaborate?

May 2, 2015 at 03:04 AM · Applying the "right" amount of rosin is absolutely crucial in terms of tone production in my opinion. Too much, and you sound way too edgy.

Too little, and you don't get enough volume. Another thing that I personally thing is super important is using a consistent amount of rosin, and if not, experimenting to see what works best for you in particular.

I think this aspect is overlooked by a lot of people. The right amount often depends on preference, and I think in most cases, people just start putting on rosin as a routine, when they feel that it is necessary. This would often lead to very inconsistent practice in tone production, because, you have some high rosin days and some low rosin days. I think this simple process should not be overlooked at all, and should be require some individual experimentation.

Another thing about rosin that tends to affect me is the amount of feedback my instrument gives me. If I start putting a certain amount of rosin, I will start to alter my bow pressure/bow speed, amount of vibrato etc in order to sound a certain way. There is definitely a audible difference in the type of tonal ranges that you hear in your instrument depending on how much rosin you use, and this in turn, makes you adjust accordingly. This adjustment is sometimes a subconscious thing, but anything you apply in practice, no matter how subtle, changes your playing style in the long run. If something as routine like changing the amount of rosin you use has any effect on how you play, then I think that's huge. Just my 2 cents.

May 2, 2015 at 04:27 AM · This seems to me to be simply another way of asking "which factor is most important in playing music". To which the answer would be obvious. Without humans/players, music would not exist, nor would the objects used to make said music. Even without instruments, humans make music with their voices.

Certainly when you take art and human endeavor out of the picture, all three things are equally important to produce certain types of vibrations. But since one cannot simply take humans out of making music(and perceiving it, which is also critical to this discussion), the player is far and away the most important factor.

May 3, 2015 at 06:22 AM · Well, it was a bit of a rhetorical question arising out of a discussion on a different thread. Of course the player is most important. But it has been interesting to see how various posters weight the variables.

May 3, 2015 at 08:32 AM · Yes, the player makes a difference in kind, the instruments a difference in degree.

Different bows bring out different overtones. A matching bow brings out upper partials in particular, or lets them through. Projection, cutting through texture is not just about volume, but those overtones, as is color. Maybe the bow has more to do with damping than resonance. If that's true damping the bow may nullify the damping effect it has on the fiddle.

I'm sure you could do some kind of acoustic spectral analysis and resolve and quantify the heck out of it, but that won't help you qualify it, experience the beauty of the bow.

May 6, 2015 at 01:36 PM · The bow does everything. By that I mean that the bow leads, it delivers the artistry, and it tells the left hand what to do do. NOT the bow itself, but the BOW ARM.

You do not need a bow or fidlle that costs a fortune. BUT you do need a bowing technique that delivers. It's all in the ear. You shape what you hear. (Even if you do have funny shaped ears, like me!)

May 6, 2015 at 02:57 PM · I'm told by a certain authority that Pagganini (who i think was a famous fiddler) thought the bow itself, of no consequence. But I do think his bow arm (and technique) MAY have had some part to play.

But as i was not there on such occasions when he performed I can't say for certain. (I was otherwise engaged on his ****** so I was busy at the time).*

* For further translation and enlargement of this detail refer to my posthumous offering about fiddling after death ... and the shinanagshins of the Pagganini after hours involvements with ...)

If you are confused by all my posts - don't worry. I'm being locked up tomorrow to safeguard the public.

May 7, 2015 at 05:10 AM · The bow hand matters a lot more. That's all I know haha.

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