Edited: April 12, 2020, 7:08 AM · About a year ago I posted about overtones and how to achieve what kind of sound. From the answers received, it became clear that playing closer to the bridge produces more higher harmonics.

Now I have 2 questions:

1. Since playing closer to the bridge produces more higher harmonics, does this mean bowing near the fingerboard produces more fundamental, or does the level of fundamental more or less stay the same? Furthermore, is a change in the level of fundamental even as audible as a change in upper harmonics? I am assuming not.

2. Why exactly does playing near the bridge produce more higher harmonics as opposed to playing at the fingerboard? Of course I'm sure it has to do with the general setup of the instrument, in particular that the bridge is nearer to the soundpost and is closer to the afterlength. I guess this question could also be rephrased as 'why does bowing right next to your left hand finger create such a horrible sound?'

I do not own a smartphone so I cannot use any spectral analysis software. Look forward to your replies

Replies (7)

April 12, 2020, 9:47 AM · James, from the perspective of classical physics, the "ideal" impulse from the bow would be in resonance with the fundamental. Analogies are usually poor, but here goes. Supposed you have a child on a swingset. Initially it takes a bit of work to bring the child into steady, rhythmic motion (a fundamental frequency determined by the weight of the child and the length of the chains on the seat). But afterward, what you find is that it takes just a tiny push every time around to maintain that motion. However, the tiny push needs to be timed properly otherwise there are disturbances in the regular motion.

There is probably some location on the string (perhaps even in the middle, but I don't know) where some gentle stroke of the bow will maximize the production of the fundamental. Perhaps ideally Maxwell's Demon would optimize the slip-stick motion of the bow to 440 Hz, but we mortals cannot do that, so there is imperfection in the resonance that is modeled as the overtone series. (The string is not infinitely thin, either, so it was a lost cause from the outset.)

From the standpoint of the physicist hoping to employ Maxwell's Demon to maintain perfect resonance of an infinitely thin string, moving the bow toward the bridge just makes things worse -- it's a rougher, more violent attack on the string and is accompanied by more of the "imperfections" -- the overtones that we have come to prize as violinists because we've trained ourselves to appreciate a projecting, sinewy tone.

I hope I didn't butcher the physics too badly there. Carmen is better at this stuff and will hopefully correct me if so.

April 12, 2020, 11:52 AM · I think Paul is on the right track. You can suppress the overtones with a mute on the bridge OR by bowing over the fingerboard or closer to it (helps to know that if you forgot to bring mute and no one will lend you one).
April 12, 2020, 12:14 PM · James;
The bridge is the point where vibration from the string produces the most sound output from the body of the violin. When you bow the string far away from the bridge, about the only thing moving the bridge is the vibration of the string itself.

When the bow is close to the bridge however, there is an additional mechanism coming into play. The bow itself is actually tugging sideways on the bridge cyclically, as it grabs and releases the string.

If you were to pull sideways on a string using equal force, at different points along the length of the string, you would find that pulling near the bridge will move the bridge vastly more than if you were to pull with the same force at the pegbox end of the string.

Edited: April 12, 2020, 12:31 PM · What you want is the optimum point of contact; the spot where your ear tells you that you are getting your best quality sound, the best mix of fundamental, overtones, and white noise. I have read that the spot is about 1/9 of the string length for each different note, which nobody thinks about when they play. That spot also varies with loudness, and the thickness of the string. The equivalent spot is closer to the bridge for the E string, compared to the G string. Two extreme cases: Ponticello is very close to the bridge; you get little fundamental but a lot of overtones and white noise. When the bow is too far from the bridge the hair stops the desired vibrations, it chokes or cracks instead
April 12, 2020, 5:30 PM · Of course, you combine all this with bow angle, pressure, speed, and vibrato to optimize the effect you want.
April 13, 2020, 12:35 AM · James,
Not sure I have anything valuable to add to the above--I'm sure the answer has already been given above.
Scott
April 13, 2020, 1:29 PM · The bow tugs the string to one side during something called the "stick" phase, i.e., the string is stuck to the bow hairs and moves along with it. It "sticks" to the bow hairs.

Eventually, the force in the stretching string exceeds the pull of the bow hairs. The force the bow exerts on the string suddenly decreases and the string snaps rapidly to the opposite direction of the bow. This is the "slip" phase. You can look up static versus dynamic coefficients of friction to see why this is so dramatic.

During the slip phase, you can think of it as an energy wave that travels from the bow to the bridge, and another energy wave that travels towards the nut.

When playing closer to the bridge, the distance the wave has to travel to reach the bridge and then reflect is shorter than when playing near the fingerboard. For the wave traveling towards the nut, the difference in distances is less of an issue. But together this changes the dynamics of how the string tugs on the bridge and this causes a change in timbre.

It is when an energy wave reflects at the bridge that you get an energy impule into the bridge and into the violin body.

Also, as the string slips, it looses energy due to friction to the bow hairs. The energy lost is roughly proportional to the distance along which it slips. This is quite a bit bigger, relatively speaking, when bowing at the fingerboard compared to bowing at the bridge. Again, it causes a timbre change.

Why does one position activate higher harmonics than the other position? I am not really sure. But there isn't much you can do change the effect. Bow speed and pressure have to be balanced at each position so the stick and slip cycle match the frequency of the note being played.

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