I apologize in advance for a question that may be offensive for some.
I am an adult learner who who has struggled with intonation fairly often. My struggles makes me wonder (often enough) what would be the harm in having permanent frets on my violin?
I was quickly shot down by my teacher when I made this suggestion, but I can't help but wonder..why not?
IMO - classical music can be a little rigid and not very open to innovation...especially when it comes to pedagogy for the older learner. This option would help me make a better sound (purely for my own enjoyment)..similarly for frets on a classical guitar...
My violin is a Manby, which was built with frets in it. I think the brand is unique , and they’re most well known in Australia and possibly Ireland, although they were sold all over the world. Made in France early 1900s
The problem with frets is that then you'll actually never be in tune. One of the difficult (but also splendid!) things about violin intonation is that you can move pitches around slightly to be more harmonious with the particular key you're playing in, or with other pitches (in the case of double stops).
What Paul said - and you would also not be able to add vibrato (the stop is fixed) unless you added a tremolo stick as on the guitar. With all the ergonomic problems that would introduce!
First, your question is not offensive. Anyone can choose to get offended by whatever they feel like, so, word of wisdom: don't care about other people feelings, care about what you truly mean and want to say. Your words will be distorted by someone anyways so... nothing you can do there.
"TEMPERAMENT" - that is the word you want to google ("temperament in music"). You will learn about the different scale systems that are used and why our fretless bowed string instruments can play in any of them and why our fixed pitch instruments (such as pianos) cannot. You will learn why it is so difficult for string ensembles to play some harmonies in tune including why notes that seem in tune in melody may seem out of harmony when played as chords.
When I tried to play Mandolin I was surprised how cramped the fingerboard felt, compared to violin. Electric Bass players now have a choice; they are made with or without frets.
Ditto what both of the Pauls above have said, in particular.
It's a bit like the argument about tapes on the fingerboard, except that one plays
Fretted “Viper” electric violins from the Mark Wood violin workshop are different from others because they’re designed with the intention that the player will place their fingers on the frets, and not behind them. The frets are lower than typical frets are, and they are progressively lower still under the treble strings than the bass strings. The frets are intended as tactile positioning guides. I have a fretless Viper, and no experience with fretted models, but their claim is that you can vibrato, glissando and vary the pitch. This is just FYI, because if you’re an acoustic player those frets are unavailable. Such an instrument might be helpful to learn finger placement that could be carried over to your acoustic. Note that Vipers have long wait lists to buy them, and they’re expensive too, so it’s probably not a reasonable near term solution to our OP’s problem.
Back in my (very) far-off classical guitar days I was able to do vibrato as necessary. Doing vibrato behind a fret alters the tension of the string and therefore its pitch. The G string on a guitar is an oddity intonation-wise. It's usually ok in the keys of G, E minor and C, for example, but F# on it in the key of D will sound out of tune. Guitarists who play renaissance music, a lot of which is in D, will often tune their G string down to F# to compensate for this and give better intonation on chords in the key of D. Lutenists and viol (sic) players of the period must have faced the same problem, but the position of a gut fret on a lute or viol can be easily adjusted manually.
Vivaldi Four Seasons on Mandolin with string orchestra (for example as played by Avi Avital) sounds great!
Thanks Trevor, just wanted to write essentially the same.
I think it is a perfectly reasonable idea, for adult beginners or other people who are OK with playing simple tunes and being in tune like a mandolin is in tune. The instrument should not be called a violin, but that's not a problem. Also, note it would sound different from a violin: that we stop the strings with our fingers makes part of the sound. With frets, every note would sound as if it was an open string. But again, many people would be fine with that. So, really, such an instrument does not exist yet?
The main thing to realize that if you do learn with frets you will NOT be on the way to learning to play without them. As mentioned above, the critical aspect of the violin is to position the finger so that you stop the string exactly at the right length to provide the particular note. The critical aspect of a fretted instrument is that you have to stop the string behind the fret. It really doesn't matter where behind the fret as long as the string then vibrates from the fret up.
The teacher seems to mean well.
Phil, if old music appeals to you, you may be happier learning to play the viola da gama, a fretted bowed instrument with a magnificently rich repertoire.
Okay I'm going to jump in here because I made a video on frets. First, i'm not really an advocate but believe everything has its place. I made a video because I had acquired the Fiddle-Fretter stick on frets as an experiment. The stick on chords were fairly cheap and I wondered what it would be like for playing chords on a spare instrument. Also, I had a particularly unusual student. He was in his late 80's, it had been his life dream to learn the violin and he was very determined. He asked if he could make progress so late in life, I said sure. Maybe he wouldn't become a concert violinist but he could certainly play some basic tunes and enjoy it. We started the lessons and he announced that he was left handed! "Was it a problem?" he says... Next lesson he tells me how he had an accident back in the war time where he had shot his hand, leaving his left hand mobility impaired. He was still determined but really not getting anywhere. There were some other problems too and eventually he stopped coming for lessons. I don't know what happened to him but his dream of playing the violin never came to fruition. After this I wondered if indeed the frets would have been a good idea for somebody like him. So, I tried them as an experiment...
Christopher's violin clearly has nearly flat frets, compared to those on guitar or mandolin, and the usual condemnations are invalid in this case.
I wouldn't say nearly flat - it's been a while but I would say they were only slightly flatter than my mandolins. I'm sure most properly fretted violins are on the low side. However, there are other videos that state the same thing as regards to glissandos etc. with fully fitted frets. It may take a lighter pressure by all accounts. (I just tried bowing my mandolin - it works!). To say it's invalid is only valid if you have tried it and not just guessed at.
Edit: This is really a question for the OP - as perhaps he has not considered tapes or stickers yet.
Frets are more tactile than stickers. The frets I reviewed are stick-on and can be easily removed.
I've read that "when you have frets, you must just put your finger behind". That's not true at all, you should not put it "anywhere as long as it's behind". When you have frets, the best, most efficient way of playing is putting your finger just behind the fret.
Hi Phil, your question opened an interesting discourse. I'm an adult learner too and I understand your struggle with intonation.
You can vibrato, but it's guitar vibrato. Violin vibrato and guitar vibrato are not the same thing. Guitar vibrato is elegant but far less intense than violin vibrato, which can enrich the sound greatly with the FM sidebands. There were violins with frets - they were called viols.
I disagree Gordon. Guitar vibrato is a side to side movement. Check my video to see how it sounds.
I play guitar. I know how it sounds.
I am a complete noobie at the violin, so take what I say with a grain of salt, but I agree with Christopher above. I bought the fiddle fretters for like $30 and I love them. It’s really not all that different than having a sticker with the notes underneath as you learn, but instead of having to look, there’s some tactile feedback. You 100% definitely can play out of tune with them (and as a beginner I often do) but I’m learning where the notes are so much faster than before - you really do still have to train your ear to hear if you’re hitting the exact right note (so I play with a tuner, close my eyes and test myself), but this gives you a general sense of where your finger needs to be. They also take a lot of the frustration out of learning, I love how much more motivated I am to practice every night. I go back and forth between my violin that has them on and the one that doesn’t, and I really don’t think they’re making me reliant on them either. I think when people say things like you can’t vibrato or that you can place your finger anywhere behind the fret and the note will be in tune, I don’t know if they realize that these things barely come up a millimeter or two off the fingerboard. Anyhoo, I guess you can buy an electric violin that has permanent frets, but I’d highly recommend the (removable) fiddle fretters... speaking as an adult total beginner learning purely for pleasure :)
Trevor and Gordon have referred to it, but you, Phil may have missed it. 16th Century Elizabethan string music was played on viols, which had frets. As the violin became popular, use of the higher pitched viols became much rarer (Purcell's birthday ode for Queen Anne includes the phrase "Strike the viol", but the upper strings he scored for are violins), but you might still be able to get hold of one if you need a high pitched bowed instrument with frets. The viola da gamba, referred to above by Bill Carinius, lasted a lot longer (e.g., Bach used it), but it is played vertically and held on the knees, hence its name. In the UK, the cello only started replacing viols when Giacobbe Cervetto started popularising it in the 1730s (His descendent, Josef Jozsik owns portraits of him and of his son, James).
There are a lot of misconceptions about fretted violins posted here.
I don’t even think tapes are a good idea, I am a beginner as well by the way, but for me if you get used to having markers were to place your fingers, and the string goes out of tune you will struggle to compensate, your ears will never develop. I was Shocked when I first started to learn violin, that after thirty years of playing guitar professionally and semi professionally , I couldn’t really tell if a note was sharp or flat, by that I mean just a couple of cents out, quite humbling really, my ears are after a year and a half starting to improve though. For what it’s worth in my opinion the only thing that I would add to a violin are geared pegs for tuning, I just can not understand why they are no more widely used, apart from the price. I would love to have them on my violin but can’t afford them. I can tune the violin but it’s a real pain with wooden pegs, I think if Stradivari had access to them he would have used them
Gordon. I'm guessing you haven't tried frets on a violin? I found they responded differently to how you stop a string on a guitar and violin vibrato worked the same way. I can't speak for every fret type as I just tried the stick on ones but I did try it for myself rather than have an opinion based on how I think it would be. I'm not trying to push frets and as far as I'm concerned it's a take it or leave it thing with a small, specialized place in the world for them. However, I find it frustrating when people put in their two cents when they haven't actually tried them.