I get tired when playing higher tension strings

Edited: December 25, 2020, 6:22 PM · So I've been experimenting with different strings. Lately I've been using Peter Infeld with Gold Label, I really like their sound and feel under the fingers, but I found that I get less relaxed when playing and also (probably as a consequence) physically tired. Switching back to Dominants makes it all a lot easier.

Can this mean that I don't know how to play on relatively high tension strings? Maybe it takes time to get used to, or is this only related to my violin?
Too bad if I "can't" use strings which the sound I quite like.
I used Dominants from age 7 to 21 and Obligatos from 22 to 28, which are relatively low tension.

Replies (18)

December 25, 2020, 7:16 PM · So is the the string tension really that much higher that it's wearing out your hands? Or is there something else?
December 25, 2020, 7:46 PM · If you like PI, try using PI with aluminum d and an optima brass plates medium 26 e. They feel almost the same tension as dominants. If you're feeling tired, then you should have the string heights at the end of fingerboard, nut height, fingerboard scoop checked by a luthier. Too much scoop of the fingerboard will tire out the hand in any position.
Edited: December 25, 2020, 9:11 PM · David, are you referring to left hand or right hand? I assume you are talking about bowing - I know what you mean. PI strings are noticeably higher tension than Dominant (especially if using the PI silver D and the Dom alum D). For bowing at an equivalent contact point, you'll need more weight, which might cause you to instinctively tighten all your bow hand and arm muscles.

1. Bow PI strings farther away from the bridge than Dominants (now you know why so many soloists that bow close the bridge like Hilary Hahn use Dominants - not to say PIs aren't popular too)
2. Use more weight in a relaxed way to bow the PIs in your favorite spot (focus on relaxing finger and hand muscles and focus on pronation and arm and wrist position to have natural relaxed weight)
3. Lower the tension of your setup, like reducing bridge height or switching to the PI aluminum D
4. Or just use Dominants. If you like the PI silver D sound check out the silver Dominant D, it might help bridge the gap in sound that you hear (although personally I love the sound of Dominants - to me PIs are more focused sounding, Dominants a bit more rich and sweet).

Edited: December 25, 2020, 10:05 PM · Paul, it's not the hands, it's my entire muscles involved in playing

My string height is 5.6mm on G and 4mm on E.

John, yes it's what you describe. With PIs it's harder to play Piano with clarity, everything needs more pressure, left hand but mostly bow.
I also prefer the richness of Dominants, but PIs give more "bass" to G and D, giving them the type of sound that I want despite not being as rich. If only I could increase the bass of Dominant G and D, it would be ideal. Maybe using a higher tension E could do it, I should try.

December 25, 2020, 9:47 PM · The bridge curve can be lowered or new lower heart bridge can be cut, as low as 4.5-5mm on g, and 3-3.5mm on e if there is room without buzzing, and neck projection will help it. It will also change the sound, and a discussion should be had with the luthier doing the work. Definitely lowering string height will help your tiredness, along with the previous string recommendation.
Edited: December 26, 2020, 7:11 AM · Thomas, I need to travel by plane to go to a luthier, until this virus situation calms down I won't be visiting him. After I come back I would be forced to a 6 days quarantine that would make me miss work. When I do, I will be getting a new bridge, slightly shorter, also because mine is slightly bent on the E-string edge.
But I don't think that little difference will have a considerable effect on the bow pressure needed, it may only make it easier for the left hand, which isn't the bigger problem.

Be alert that the tensions shown here:


aren't all quite accurate. For example it shows PIs being lower tension than EP Golds, but if you check the official information on Thomastik and Pirastro's official websites, the PIs are higher tension than the EP Golds.

Edited: December 25, 2020, 11:52 PM · Hello David, you are correct about that website. I think that chart was created before the manufacturers listed string tension on their websites. Some of it is inaccurate.

You are less correct about the affect bridge height has on the response of your violin. Just as the string tension difference between sets is objectively slight (say around 5% in this case) a similar change in bridge height creates very real differences in the pressure strings exert on the violin itself. The fingerboard/neck angle should match the best bridge height for the violin, not the opposite. This is all a bit complicated, and I understand that you have a rather remote location so changing strings is a much more viable way of manipulating the response. It is likely that lowering the bridge would allow you to have better response. However, violins are complicated, and other factors (especially soundpost, as well as string length and afterlength) can make a difference as well. A good luthier should know what to do.

When I first tried my new (antique) violin, it had been "sleeping" for quite a while without setup. My luthier cut the bridge slightly on the high side in order to try the violin out first, leaving room for it do be shaved down later. Doing so made a very noticeable change - it was very hard to play at first.

Also, consider that you can mix and match strings. For example, Ray Chen uses a PI G string with a Dominant light gauge silver D and Dominant regular A.

December 26, 2020, 1:15 AM · The pi set with aluminum d is 10.3 g, 9.9 d aluminum, 12.1 a, and with the optima e, its very likely 17.6, which puts the tension at 49.9 lbs. I've done a lot of these calculations, and the Evah golds are a few lbs tenser, evah regular even more.

Another nice sweet sounding and robust alternative is the weich evah g d a with the platinum e, which works wonderfully on a lot of different instruments, and is lower tension. Mixing in one medium g d or a with the weich balance works depending on the instrument.

Both of these combinations allow for less strain for bowing and lefthand pressing, although you probably know when any string set dies out and loses their strong elasticity, you may find yourself getting tired again.

December 26, 2020, 1:55 AM ·
My luthier cut the bridge slightly on the high side...

This is what my luthier did for me and I gradually shaved it down to a height which is comfortable for me. My strings are now G=3.5mm, E=2mm. This measurement is taken at the end of the fingerboard under the string. Unless you are taking the measurements from somewhere else then it seems your bridge is very high, or maybe I have a very short fingerboard.

December 26, 2020, 5:28 AM · I have a second, lower bridge for my viola, in case I "need" to use steel-cored strings.
But in any case, it is not always necessary to press right dow to the fingerboard.
Edited: December 26, 2020, 7:39 AM · Considering this information, my bridge should be almost on point

Henry, how do you shave it down keeping the exact curve?

December 26, 2020, 7:24 AM · David,
Edgar Russ needs to read his post and fix it so it makes sense.
Edited: December 26, 2020, 7:42 AM · Are you saying that those measures aren't good?
In different countries people tend to use different height.
December 26, 2020, 7:58 AM · "Henry, how do you shave it down keeping the exact curve?"

Draw a pencil line 1mm under the edge marking the string placements, then file down with strokes from centre to corner (to avoid "catching" the grain of the wood).

December 26, 2020, 8:10 AM · David,

I'm just saying that this section leaves me puzzled at what he is getting at:

"Science is helping us and we all know more about the acoustics of bowed string instruments. That’s why we know that a “low bridge” and therefore a string which is less angled over the bridge, increases the sound properties. It is very common among musicians as well as violinmakers thast they believe that a higher bridge increases the sound quality.

of every instrument since the bridge is less kept in one position and can vibrate free in all direction. While if the ridge is rather high a more angel bridge is vibating more only up and down and therefore"

Edited: December 26, 2020, 8:38 AM · David, pay attention to the end of the video, after 3 minute 30 seconds. This is what we are talking about. The English text on the web page is a bit mangled unfortunately, but I believe what he is saying is that many violinists and makers believe that a higher bridge increases sound and response (in other words, increasing the down force exerted on the bridge) while he believes that usually a lower bridge will have that effect (in his opinion, it allows the bridge to vibrate more freely).

Below is my attempt at explaining some elements of violin setup:

There are two issues with regards to heights:
1. String height off the fingerboard (affects left hand feeling)
2. String angle over the bridge (which affects the pressure on the top of the violin and thus response - the more angled the string over the bridge, the more weight exerted). A "standard" is 158 degrees, but violins often never sound their best exactly in spec.

I am talking about (possibly, again a luthier who examines your instrument will know way more than a person who hasn't seen nor heard your instrument) increasing #2, which will help free up the sound and response (as noted in the video you linked to).

The string angle is affected by the height of the bridge and the angle of the neck (as well as the saddle, affecting the tailpiece height). If you lower the bridge height and keep other things equal, then you'll have a larger string angle with less down force exerted on the violin top and hopefully a freer sound and easier response (at the cost of possibly power and ability to dig in, although it sounds to me like you want to dig in less).

If you decrease (or increase) the height of the bridge and #1 (height of the string over the fingerboard) is out of you favored range, the neck can be reset, correcting #1 (string height over fingerboard). So #1 can be adjusted if you have discovered your preferred #2 and this makes your #1 change too much.

As I mentioned before, adjusting the nut and saddle can also affect #2 (without changing bridge height). Also shaving the bridge, soundpost adjustment can affect the sound without adjusting either #2 or #1 ... there's a lot of things that can be tried. I suggest waiting until times are better and explaining what you desire with the response to your luthier - he should know what to do.

In my case, my luthier noted that reducing bridge height was non-reversible (you can always reduce the height further, but not increase it without cutting a new bridge). So, we tried everything besides reducing bridge height first, which enhanced the sound a bit, but not enough. Then I suggested we move on to reducing the bridge height, and he agreed. The effect was exactly what we had intended. He suggested I try it for a while and then decide if I want to try reducing it even more.

Edited: December 26, 2020, 3:57 PM · Pressing the string down onto the fingerboard all the time is bound to be tiring for the fingers, especially when using high tension strings. About the only times you actually need to press the string into contact with the fingerboard are when playing pizzicato, playing stopped harmonics, and when playing a trill on a stopped note (and perhaps not always then). At other times you are using unnecessary energy in pressing the string onto the finger board.
If you avoid pressing the strings down onto the fingerboard you will find that your fingers, and whole hand, feel, and actually are, more relaxed and agile. Trills with the pinkie will be easier, for example.
There's a lot more to this – posture and hold in particular.
December 26, 2020, 7:14 PM ·
Henry, how do you shave it down keeping the exact curve?

Another way is to make a template of the original curve. Don't forget the width of the top of the bridge will increase so needs to be tapered to the correct measurement. I shaved mine down incrementally so that each time the location of the string slots where retained, then just needed to be a little deeper to hold the string. Then I would test for perhaps and few days or more each new height and decide to shave further or not. Eventually arrived at the optimum string heights, they are comparatively very low, but I still don't press the strings all the way down to the fingerboard. Also consider the shape and depth of the string slots, which should be rounded with minimal depth, especially for the G string which would be half the width of the string. Lubricate the slots well with a soft pencil lead.

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