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> INSTRUMENTOLOGY > STRINGS > Violin > Sound Characteristics

Sound characteristics

Full, lively, singing, eloquent, introspective, supernatural, sensuous, lustrous, bright, metallic, vibrant, clear, glassy, flute-like, shrill, brilliant, sparkling, calm, thin, whistling, round, pure, muffled, solemn, austere, dark, muted, open, sustaining, rough, wafting, soft, sweet, merry, dancing, veiled.

The differences in the violin’s sound – and those of stringed instruments in general – result from a combination of the following factors: string thickness (diameter or gauge), choice of string, point of contact of the bow, bowing speed and bow pressure. These factors determine the level of oscillation of certain partial vibrations, i.e. the timbre. Which of these tonal options he or she uses is up to the violinist. The sound characteristics of the violin are therefore not predetermined; no single timbre predominates in any register. It is the musician who gives the instrument the timbre he or she desires.

Open strings sound brighter than fingered ones. Sometimes this extra brightness is exploited, sometimes it is avoided to maintain the homogeneity of a line.
Frequent changes between strings reduce the need for changes of position (timbre is altered); conversely, frequent changes of position mean fewer changes between strings (timbre is more homogeneous).

Because of the lack of partials, harmonics have a flute-like sound which is thinner than the normal note. Natural harmonics sound louder than artificial ones. Harmonics can not only be played pp and p but also ff.

Sound characteristics of the individual strings

G string (G3–C5, G5)
Dark and sonorous in the low register with a tendency toward roughness. Highly expressive and soulful cantilenas can be expected in the high register. The sound becomes more intense.

D string (D4–G5, D6)
Very full sounding and mellow. The string’s pitch corresponds to the human voice and is used for melodious cantilenas.

A string (A4–D6, A6)
More mellow than the D string.

E string (E5–A7, D8)
Lustrous and metallic, dominates lower-pitched middle voices. Very bright in the upper register though less full sounding. Its brightness makes it more audible.

The division of an instrument’s entire range into registers conveniently describes those areas of the human voice and of wind instruments that have the same timbre. However, for the violin in particular and for stringed instruments in general the concept of different registers as a description of areas of varying timbre with a definite lower and upper boundary and which are bound to a particular register is less appropriate. This does not mean that the violin only has one timbre on offer; on the contrary, it possesses a quite extraordinary range of different timbres. The many different timbres and sound characteristics cannot be categorically ascribed to a particular register, however, but are the result of the choice of string on the one hand and the playing technique employed on the other, i.e. the various sound characteristics are found over the instrument’s entire range. The underlying sound of the violin is homogeneous in all registers.