How should a violin sound below the ear?

June 16, 2016 at 05:03 PM · Hello! I've been experimenting a lot the past days to find a better, more comfortable violin hold. Moving my violin more to the left, to the right, higher, lower, placing the shoulder rest differently ... Now I've found a way to hold the violin that's much more comfortable for me. I'm holding the violin higher than before and a bit more to the left. So far so good.

BUT now the F-hole much is closer to my left ear and it sound super loud!! Also I notice it sounds pretty bad, like scratchy. But when I use an earplug for my left ear, then everything sounds good, nothing scratchy.

Is it normal to hear such a difference in sound with or without the earplug?

And is it OK to keep playing like this or should I go back to a position where I can listen to my violin sound without needing an earplug?

Replies (30)

June 16, 2016 at 05:13 PM · Hi Mariko,

Scratchy, loud sound to your ear is quite normal for violin playing. Use of the proper ear plug is highly recommended for the protection of your hearing. If you want to experiment, record your playing at a distance.

June 16, 2016 at 05:52 PM · Oh what a relieve to read that it is not that strange. :-) I just never before heard it that loud and scratchy due to different positioning of my violin. I'll certainly keep using an ear plug then. Thanks for your answer!

June 16, 2016 at 06:17 PM · There is a consensus (or another violin myth) that a violin has to sound a but scratchy under the ear in order to project well.

June 16, 2016 at 07:26 PM · I agree with Rocky. Your teacher will tell you if you are scratching too much. A fine violinist and teacher that I know tells his students that if they never hear any scratch, that means they are not learning how to play right at the limit of tone production. Enjoy your strong tone! As they say in tennis, grip it and rip it.

June 16, 2016 at 08:14 PM · Ah so it's a good thing then!! Cool! Thanks for your answers. :-)

June 16, 2016 at 10:19 PM · A decent violin produces ca 100 dB under the left ear, apart from the scratchiness. Plug your ear before its's too late! Cotton-wool will do.

June 16, 2016 at 11:23 PM · Use of one of those wax earplugs sold in drugstores for a very few dollars somewhat loosely fit in your left ear will be all you need (I think). This should be able to reduce the sound level in your left ear by about 12 to 18 db so that it matches that in your right ear - you don't want to block the sound completely. It will also make it easier to hear the exact same pitch from your instrument in both ears - because (believe it or not) overdriving your ear can make a pitch seem higher, which can lead to playing flat.

I played with such an ear plug for 15 years starting when I was 50. I also tried it on the entire violin section of an orchestra and it greatly improved their intonation.

After age 65 I found it more useful to leave my left ear unblocked and to amplify certain frequencies to my right ear.* And finally after 80 I started using digital hearing aids in both ears.

Since you have changed the orientation of your violin, be sure that you are still bowing parallel to the bridge - going crooked can make it sound raspier.

* To complete this "biography" let me add that both my ears have failed about equally overall, but at around 1000 Hz my right ear has been worse by 10DB for at least 10 years. Using one of those "$100" mail-order hearing aids in my right ear amplified hearing about 10 db in that small frequency range and made a world of difference to my overall enjoyment of musical sound (including my own). When I was having trouble hearing in conversations, I would use the same aid in my left ear instead and that helped for that. However that aid never really helped enough, as I learned after getting my digital aids last year. These days I play in a chamber orchestra that meets on a weekday morning - so we have lots of gray-haired people, some of whom wear hearing aids that clearly work less well than mine (as I can tell from their problems with speech recognition compared to mine - and for at least one of them with tuning problems).

One thing that hearing problems and their "resolution" with hearing aids teaches you is just how subjective the sound of music (and your own instrument(s)) is.

The OP's original question was "How should a violin sound below the ear?" For me, for the past 68 years the answer to that question has been: "audible!" While I've played in orchestras all those years my number one requirement for the violins I use in those venues has been that I can hear myself. I have also wanted violins I enjoy hearing when I play them alone or in smaller ensembles.


June 17, 2016 at 12:03 AM · If a violin sounds sweet under the ear, it probably sounds dull to the audience.

June 17, 2016 at 01:06 AM · I am so glad to read this discussion. I did not know this and am very relieved! 8^)

June 17, 2016 at 07:00 AM · "How should a violin sound below the ear?"

Roughly the same as it sounds above the ear ...

June 17, 2016 at 07:16 AM · Haha Peter Charles.

June 17, 2016 at 12:56 PM · Peter Charles :-))

That's an interesting story Andy! Didn't know that using an ear plug could improve intonation. And yes, I'm still checking to see if I'm bowing straight but it goes pretty straight (well most of the time) ;-)

June 19, 2016 at 07:41 AM · Check these out:

Personally, I keep the violin as far away from my ear as possible - for aesthetic reasons!

June 19, 2016 at 03:04 PM · That's why conductors have to be deaf ...

Fiddles that sound sweet under the ear probably sound a bit tame once the sound gets out to the audience. But there are probably exceptions.

June 22, 2016 at 08:35 PM · Lots of opinions that "if the violin sounds like this under the ear then it will sound like X to the audience." In my experience it is difficult to make any kind of prediction about sound under the ear vs. sound in the audience. I've tried many dark-sounding (and not scratchy) instruments that sounded bright and clean to the audience. And vice versa.

June 22, 2016 at 09:12 PM · For my first years I wondered how come everyone else sounded better playing my violin than I did.

June 22, 2016 at 09:59 PM · Sound below the ear should be pretty normal. Above the ear, it will be upside down.

June 23, 2016 at 06:08 PM · You should start early with this, ear plug for the left ear.

June 24, 2016 at 02:15 AM · Yes I've been using an ear plug since a couple of days and it's very helpful. And my left ear doesn't feel weird anymore after playing. So the ear plug is an easy solution :-) Much more fun to play like this!

June 24, 2016 at 05:51 AM · Yes, Jenny is right once again!

Most amateur violinists do not have a big enough sound to cause hearing problems - and I've worked in and out of orchestras for 30-40 years and no problems. Only sitting near to a professional fully functioning brass section can sometimes be an issue, especially in an opera house pit.

June 24, 2016 at 09:12 AM · A little counterpoint:

While Mariko may not play loudly enough and long enough to be at risk, it's not at all unusual for violinists to have some hearing loss in the left ear. It happens gradually enough that the onset may not be noticed, without testing.

June 24, 2016 at 09:57 AM · +1 for the earplug. Protect the ear and hear a cleaner sound. I also detect the overtones much clearer due to less interference. And I find I play better since a better perceived output = greater confidence and enjoyment.

June 24, 2016 at 09:22 PM · I wear earplugs whenever I practice, the left ear plug is pushed way in but the right one is only partially stuffed in. My violin is quite loud and i think because I have to use a shoulder rest it brings it up a couple of inches closer to my ear. I am so accustomed to earplugs from thirty five years of daily use i am not even aware of them in my ear canal anymore.

June 26, 2016 at 04:24 PM · Jenny, I decided to be neurotic and wear earplugs after a practice session a few months ago that left my left ear absurdly and painfully sensitive to noise for about 2 weeks. I had been working scales in positions 4 and up for quite a long practice session. A little research into normal decibels levels will show you that even 100 decibels significantly louder than norm. If you cannot hear the tones clearly with (as I got) a 17 decible reduction then perhaps your hearing is already. compromised. After all, a violin that is 100 decibels at the ear is still 83 decibels at the ear with a 17 decibel reduction which is 23 decibels louder than a normal conversation which average around 60 decibels.


June 27, 2016 at 07:30 AM · Jenny is sensible once again.

June 27, 2016 at 08:43 AM · That is good advice. I now take a break several times a session.


June 27, 2016 at 09:19 AM · Several breaks in the session and several glasses of wine ... It often sounds a lot better then! (wink)

June 29, 2016 at 06:44 AM · This whole question about the left ear getting too much in the way of decibel's just highlights the wrong way a lot of players (especially beginners and starters in the first couple of years) HOLD the INSTRUMENT.

You should be looking down the fingerboard to the scroll and the music (nose, scroll) rather than side on with the left ear nearer the sound holes. If correctly held, the two ears are approximately equal distance from the F holes ... (This was what Galamian advised).

Think about it.

June 29, 2016 at 07:27 AM · I like that, Peter: I would have to put the music-stand so high that i would no longer see the misleading antics of the conductor..

June 29, 2016 at 07:49 AM · @Adrian. Never look at a conductor, it just encourages them! For our previous principle conductor they had to widen the doors of the hall we play in, as the conductor couldn't get his head through...

@Peter. What do you mean glasses of wine, with training it can be bottles... BTW I agree with your description of positioning the violin, just not your alcohol intake ;-)

Cheers Carlo

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