Violin designed to reduce sound level at your left ear

November 5, 2017, 4:10 PM · I asked this question earlier, but it is buried under a hearing loss thread.

Could you make a violin with the f holes moved to reduce left ear sound level without ruining the sound for listeners? To the far end of the top plate? To the far end ribs? To the bottom plate? Would this actually reduce the sound at your left ear? It would change the stiffness of the top plate. And you would need a way to set the soundpost. I have no expertise to try this. It might be very helpful to a lot of people.

Any speculation or interest?

Replies (23)

November 5, 2017, 7:26 PM · The ff holes are positioned where they are for critically important engineering reasons. They allow the top to move as it needs to. Move them and it won't be a violin anymore. If it's too loud for you, get musician's earplugs.
Edited: November 5, 2017, 9:32 PM · Musician's earplugs do not solve the problem. They reduce the sound from my violin, but also from my band. I need to hear my band to play with them effectively.
Edited: November 6, 2017, 12:22 AM · What happens when you block the offending f hole?
November 6, 2017, 12:47 AM · Theoretically, restricting air flow through the f holes should change the air resonance at 300 Hz (open-string D) - for which the ear is not that sensitive - but should not affect the higher-frequency wood vibrations so much. Unless you use a tightly fitting rubber plug.
November 6, 2017, 1:00 AM · Closing an f hole would change the resonant frequency of the body. I assume that you need to keep the same area of the opening. But the location of the f hole should not change the resonant frequency, except by changing the flex of the plates. I don't know how this would change the sound level at your left ear - maybe not at all.
November 6, 2017, 1:07 AM · You can play an electric violin, and use IEMs (in-ear-monitors) that provide sound isolation and control over what you are hearing.
November 6, 2017, 8:27 AM · Cary,
I've read that the left ear needs hearing protection. The right ear is protected by the viscous mass of the brain. Sound energy levels on the right side of the head are reported to be 'not dangerous'.

Have you tried an Etymotic earplug in the left ear to cut the dB level, but retain the frequency spectrum, and no earplug in the right ear, so you hear the band naturally. I do that.

Gene's suggestion to go all electric is also a good way to proceed.

November 6, 2017, 8:57 AM · Gene - I have switched to a hollow body (but no f holes) electric violin. It is loud enough that I don't need a monitor and has been a big improvement so far. But I often play at places where I don't need amplification and I would much prefer an acoustic instrument in that situation.

I did try some personal monitor type solutions, without success. More electronics just seemed to make things worse. Possibly I didn't spend enough money for high quality stuff.

Mike - My previous best solution was an Etymotic earplug in my left ear only. This doesn't work well for me, I'm not sure why. Perhaps the uneven sound levels between ears is annoying, perhaps there's a directional perception anomaly. I end up taking the earplug out because it is too annoying. (Playing solo, this is a very good solution.)

This situation developed as my hearing deteriorated over the last few years (age 61). Nothing above 3000 Hz, very sensitive to loud sounds. I'm trying to prevent it from continuing downhill.


November 6, 2017, 9:01 AM · Much of the sound coming from a violin is radiated from the outside surfaces, rather than coming through the ff holes from the inside.
The greater loudness at the left ear is mostly due to it being closer to the violin.

If the right ear is twice as far away from the fiddle as the left ear, loudness will be about 1/4 the level.

November 6, 2017, 10:33 AM · If you don't need to go too high rest it on your arm instead.
November 6, 2017, 10:47 AM · David - What I observed on my hollow body electric violin, with no holes, is a lower volume than an acoustic violin and even more reduced low end. This gave me hope that moving the f holes to the far end of the violin might reduce the sound level at my left ear. If you double the distance from ear to f hole, that would be a significant reduction in that part of the sound. You have far far more expertise on this subject than me, so I would ask you to consider this and other possible solutions to this issue. Thanks.
November 6, 2017, 10:50 AM · Bud - I am unable to play that way. I can't get my fingers where they need to be even in first position.
Edited: November 6, 2017, 10:53 AM · The way I hold my violin, my left ear is about 3 inches from the nearest wood and my right ear at least 9 inches. All things considered, I figured there was probably a 12 - 18 DB difference in sound pressure level to the two ears. A loose-fitting (inexpensive) wax ear plug in my left ear worked wonders for me. Also, with a powerful violin that close to the left ear it is possible for that ear to be overdriven and hear somewhat sharper than the right ear, confusing the brain and often making violinists play flat.

I vote for using a left ear plug but still allowing 12-18 DB attenuation (not complete obliteration) of sound level. I actually tried the experiment with the violin sections of a community orchestra 30 years ago and the immediate result was a noticeable intonation improvement.

November 6, 2017, 11:08 AM · I have heard of the overdriven/sharping effect. I can't tell if that happens to me. But I can't get comfortable using an earplug when playing with a band.

It seems to me that an instrument that solves this issue, even at the expense of sound quality, would give the violinist better feedback and might produce better sound for the listener. At least for (older) violinists who have hearing problems.

November 6, 2017, 12:07 PM · For an orchestral player, a lot of the feedback (not all by any means) comes from the perception of loudness under the ear when it comes to things like intonation cues. If you can't hear yourself, you have few clues whether you are playing in tune or not. But it's a situation often encountered by orchestra players, so I'd defer to the better ones on how they deal with it.
November 6, 2017, 12:13 PM · Cary Ravitz said on November 6, 2017, 10:47 AM: ยท David - What I observed on my hollow body electric violin, with no holes, is a lower volume than an acoustic violin and even more reduced low end.

Cary, an hollow body electric violin with no F holes is designed to do something other than producing acoustic sound, so there is nothing you can deduce when comparing it to a normal violin. I back up David; most of the "loud" sound comes from the outside of the body. The F holes primarily radiate non-offensive lower frequencies, so moving them won't do what you want, in addition to causing all kinds of other tonal mayhem. They are where they are for a reason.

November 6, 2017, 12:34 PM · My answer about f-holes was on that other thread. In the absence of reflections, like outside, not next to water, loudness will be inversely proportional to the square of the distance, imagine the surface area of an expanding sphere. So, there will be a significant difference between the left and right ear. jq
November 6, 2017, 12:55 PM · The inverse square law only applies if you are far away from the sources - far compared to both the wavelength of the sound and the size of the source. It doesn't apply to the distance of the right ear from the violin; the presence of a head between source and ear has a far larger impact.
November 6, 2017, 5:14 PM · Well I mean if any of you have ever seen the Julius Zoller violins and violas, the sound holes are on the sides. I read a book about it and the idea was to have the sound projected better through the 21st century acoustical engineering aspect.
November 6, 2017, 7:15 PM · Julius Zoller violins - interesting, I had not see them.
Edited: November 8, 2017, 6:04 PM · You can see and hear a Julius Zoller violin here:

Interesting lateral thinking in the design, a useful spin-off possibly being that the sound post may be easier to access.

I've heard worse!

[Edit added Nov 9]
Unfortunately, because of innate conservatism in the classical field, I suspect we're not likely to see many copies being made and played professionally in symphony orchestras. There is also the issue that a luthier today would probably prefer a specific commission for such a violin. However, there are violin makers in the folk music field who perhaps would make such instruments for the client base they are accustomed to.

November 8, 2017, 8:06 AM · I find it hard to believe that someone can't hear their band because of their acoustic violin. If anything, it should be the other way around...
November 8, 2017, 9:03 AM · That's not the problem. If I put an ear plug in my left ear, then I can't hear the band well. If I don't plug my left ear, the ear "burns out" so I can't hear well after about 10 minutes.

With my hollow body electric violin, the reduced left ear volume lets me play without an ear plug and I do okay. But I would rather have an acoustic violin that is loud enough for the listeners, but doesn't sound so severe at my left ear.

This was not an issue years ago, so I assume that it is related to hearing loss (everything above 3000 Hz).

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