Is tone synonymous with projection?

May 9, 2018, 6:02 PM · Courtesy of a 5 month old and a small house, my practicing has been relegated to either a small upstairs bedroom with a 6 foot ceiling, or a non-heated/cooled room added to the existing house in better weather conditions. In both rooms, my main violin drives my ears batty! The instrument requires a bigger space than any room in the house can provide. So, the dilemma: muting seems a sacrilege for the instrument and I really like to practice when I can between feeding and/or changing diapers, etc...

I also have a cheap Chinese Stainer model(ROY). It sounds like a cardboard box with strings. It is possible to find a decent tone without projection? Any models, makers, or should I just suck-it-up and put a mute on it?

Replies (13)

Edited: May 9, 2018, 7:35 PM · To answer your question, No, tone does not equal projection depending on what you mean by tone. Loudness is closer to it, but projection as in the carrying of sound over distance is driven by both loudness and frequency of the sound. A sound rich in overtones is more likely to "project" if only because of the wider sound spectrum that is generated. Arguably the sound heard at a distance isn't the same as closed by, lacking the higher frequency overtones that are more rapidly attenuated , but the lower frequencies are still "tones". A tone that sounds shrilled to the player may sound beautiful and deep to the audience because the high frequencies shrillness doesn’t carry very far, whereas the lower deep sounding frequencies do carry much further. So an instrument that lacks deep sound overtones isn’t likely to project very well. That is why I always smile when a player claims an instrument projects having never listened to it from a distance. The observation makes no sense whatsoever from a players’s perspective other than equating loudness to projection.

You asked “Is it possible to find a decent tone without projection?” I.e. Can I have a rich sound that doesn’t project? I would think that loudness plays a more significant role relatively speaking. A high quality leather mute may be your solution.

May 9, 2018, 7:45 PM · Projection thread!

Play your regular violin. Sit while you are playing under 6 foot ceilings so that you do not damage your bow tip (I did this playing under a seven foot ceiling, twice). Hang blankets from the walls or go to the fabric store and buy some kind of heavy felt to hang from the walls. Wear ear protection if its still too loud. If you can afford it, tear out the drywall in your "practice room" and insert insulation on all walls and a heavy rug on the floor if there is no insulation under the floorboards. Then, just pretend you're a conservatory student relegated to a small practice room. Somehow they deal with it for years at a time, so you can too.

May 9, 2018, 10:26 PM · Tone can equal projection if the tone includes brilliance. However, projection may not be related to what you hear while playing. Especially in a small room.
Dampen the room with rugs and wall hangings. A violin shouldn't be "too loud" for a house or room.
Everyone else in the world, including those with well-projecting violins, practice in small spaces.
May 9, 2018, 10:34 PM · Muting is not a sacrilege. We do what we can with what we have, and some times it is necessary to use a mute. As long as one doesn't practice most of the time with it, I think it is a necessary and useful tool.

+1 for insulating the room. I have a classic library at home. The four walls are covered with books and there is a thick carpet on the floor. When I'm there, my family doesn't even know I'm playing. On the other hand, if the door is not closed or I do it somewhere else... You can hear the shouts of "go the the library!!!".

Edited: May 9, 2018, 10:54 PM · I practice about 3 hours a day at present and often start at 7:30-8:00am - so I use a heavy practice mute until 9:00am to spare the neighbours. All the other suggestions to dampen the room etc are excellent, and I also have a small room which is dampened with blankets duvets etc which I was using it for recording voice narration. It worked very well, just like a professional studio with a reverb time of well under 0.5 second.
May 10, 2018, 4:42 AM · There are numerous violins which have a pleasant tone, but not loudness, and as consequence should be less expensive than the ones with both. At the other end of the scale fall electric violins, which have no tone and no loudness, and are the quietest.

Using a practice mute like an Artino can be some compromise between sound and volume. Protecting your ears and the peace of others cannot be sacrilege, but damaging your ears is. But you'll have to find some means to practice at times with the regular motion of the strings, i.e. no mute, but not necessarily at full volume.

Edited: May 10, 2018, 5:11 AM · Some "tones" project better than others. If you think outside the realm of violins for a moment, lets compare an oboe and a clarinet. The tone composition of an oboe will always "cut through" better than clarinet.

Similar things can be said for violins with a certain tonal makeup. This requires some loudness (in the form of decibel output) as well, but the tonal composition is actually very important.

May 10, 2018, 5:21 AM · To complicate matters, a more general definition of projection is ability to hear at a distance. Loudness certainly helps, but contrast is also a factor, like an asymmetric vibrato.

For example, the loudness of higher frequencies will decay faster over distance than lower frequencies. So an appropriate vibrato while playing high on the E and A strings can make a big difference to the ability of people to hear the note towards the back of a large hall.

I suspect you are battling a problem with loudness in a small room that has little absorption. Occasionally, I practice in the dining room which, although rather large, has all hard surfaces: wooden floor and original plaster walls and ceiling. It can be rather uncomfortable playing loud passages.

My normal practice room is smaller, but has a large curtain at one end and a wall-to-wall rug. It is comfortable in that room regardless of how loudly I play.

Try adding a rug to the floor and larger, folded curtains to one wall.

Edited: May 10, 2018, 5:52 AM · "But you'll have to find some means to practice at times with the regular motion of the strings, i.e. no mute, but not necessarily at full volume."

It does not hurt to practice quietly, at p or pp, as you still get the advantage of familiarity with the notes, fingering etc. It's the sort of way you might practice passages in an orchestral context in the hall, during a tea break. (I know some will belt out the part, but that's not necessary unless there are loads of others doing the same thing!)

May 10, 2018, 6:17 AM · I agree with all the suggestions for insulating the room. Thick rug, fabric wall hangings, furniture that doesn't have hard surfaces (a big soft couch with pillows and blankets, for instance), a desk covered by a tablecloth, etc. And possibly a sound-absorbing panel on the ceiling (hang an acoustic tile or something).

May 10, 2018, 7:26 AM · Just out of curiosity: what kinds of pieces are you trying to practice?
Edited: May 10, 2018, 10:21 AM · 1) Put a rug in the room, ideally with a pad underneath it. That might be enough right there to take the edge off your ears.

2) If you're not already playing mellow strings, you should buy a set. Three low-cost mellow brands that I know about: Warchal Karneol; D'addario Pro Arte; Pirastro Tonica

3) Buy practice mutes of two kinds (also very inexpensive).

The black rubber kind (which covers your bridge) will cut your sound by about 60 percent but you can still hear bow textures relatively well. The metal kind -- stainless steel or brass (brass is my favorite) will dampen your sound around 80 percent but still let you hear clearly.

Obviously you need to practice without a mute a good bit of the time, but muted practicing for some of your routine can be very effective, and you give your sensitive ears a break.

And BTW tone is not the same thing as projection/volume. You can have a violin with dark overtones that also projects very well.

However, in your case, you may be able to lessen the jangling in your ears by changing strings. Strings can make a tremendous difference in a violin's sound color.

May 10, 2018, 1:15 PM · Regarding your own instrument: It's hard to know what results to expect from it without actually trying it out myself in the same locations you're using.

Whatever you're doing, I hope you're using some kind of ear protection. That should spare you the trouble and expense of re-doing the room.

I won't practice or play without earplugs. The practice mute others have suggested may help -- it's your call. The earplugs I currently use are the foam type with a -33 dB factor. These make my playing sound, to me, more like the sound the audience hears. I can adapt well to any acoustical environment with them.

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