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Beginner-Practice Mute, String Tension?
Topic Rating: 4 Topic Rating: 4 Topic Rating: 4 Topic Rating: 4 Topic Rating: 4 Topic Rating: 4 (1 votes) 
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NellieGirl
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December 9, 2014 - 8:02 am
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I'm a rank beginner here, having received my Fiddlerman Concert Violin only 6 weeks ago. I am very pleased with its resonance and also my progress, but find that I prefer to practice with the mute on all the time because it seems easier to play in tune. Is this my imagination? Does the mute decrease string tension and if so, would I be better served by light tension strings? Is it a bad habit to use the mute when it isn't strictly necessary? 

Thanks all.

Carole

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BillyG
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December 9, 2014 - 8:58 am
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Hi @NellieGirl - and WELCOME !

OK - I've only been playing about 9 months myself - and I also have an FM Concert.  I don't know how much this will help - just my thoughts - here's what I found.

Before I got the Concert, I was playing on an electric violin for about 2 months.  I usually didn't bother amping it up, and just played the basic instrument.  Of course, in retrospect (and I'll mention this later) - I was bowing "quite hard" with a fair bit of pressure and bow speed to extract any volume from it (it served me well in other ways, but that's another story)

When I got the Concert - wow - the first few days were real difficult - I was bowing FAR too hard - just from my experience on the EV.  The Concert was "almost deafening" to my ears and it did take me a while to "calm down" and play with a lot less pressure.  I find it so "responsive" and now, with a "lighter touch" I'm "at home" with it.   

Now - I have experienced something "similar" in other situations - where there is loud (pretty loud!) music playing, and the volume is suddenly reduced, it (to me, and it may just be my own ears) seems like there is a sudden pitch-change just as the volume is suddenly reduced.   I believe it is an "in-ear" protective physiological response.  The Concert can be quite loud - is that a possibility?

Also, without the mute, it will be naturally louder, and there will be more obvious body and inter-string resonances.  This alone can be "disturbing" to the ear if you're looking for a "clean" sounding note - something is telling you "it doesn't sound the same as it does with the mute" - correct - it won't sound the same - but out of tune - no I don't think so.

I did initially find that using the mute helped me as well - but once I got my bowing speed and pressure under control, I found I didn't really need it (other than its intended purpose).  The mute I use is a soft rubber, or synthetic material.  I believe there are metal mutes, which are probably heavier.

I don't immediately see how the presence of the mute would affect the string tension - but always happy to be corrected!  The extra pressure by the presence of the mute must be a lot less than the actual downward pressure of the strings on the bridge - I don't see it being a problem.

As for it being a "bad habit" - well I don't know - but - it helped me "come to terms" with the lively and bright sound from the Concert as I refined my bowing techniques.

I think you should "persevere" with it, maybe practice playing / bowing REALLY SOFTLY - try to see just how slow a bow, and how little pressure is needed to generate a sustainable sound - both with the mute, and then without it.  

I said I probably wouldn't be able to offer much advice - the above is just my own experience as a beginner.... LOL

I seriously recommend not copying my mistakes.  

Please make your own, different mistakes, and help us all learn :-)

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Uzi
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December 9, 2014 - 10:09 am
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NellieGirl said
I'm a rank beginner here, having received my Fiddlerman Concert Violin only 6 weeks ago. I am very pleased with its resonance and also my progress, but find that I prefer to practice with the mute on all the time because it seems easier to play in tune. Is this my imagination? Does the mute decrease string tension and if so, would I be better served by light tension strings? Is it a bad habit to use the mute when it isn't strictly necessary? 

Thanks all.

Carole

Hi @NellieGirl.  Assuming we're talking about a mute that fits onto the bridge, its function is to reduce the amount of vibration transmitted from the strings to the body of the violins. It does not, or should not, affect string tension in any way.

With regard to the mute being a bad habit, no it is not a bad habit.  Its function is to reduce the volume of the sound produced by the instrument.  As a result, it may also change the tone of the violin to some extent. It is not wrong to like the tone better with or without the mute.  We all want to enjoy the tone of our instrument when we play and anything that we can do to make the tone more pleasing to our ears is a good thing.  However, keep in mind that the tone of a violin may be very different when heard directly under the ear, than it does when heard across a room.

With regard to it being easier to play in tune, the mute should not affect the intonation, assuming that it is not touching the strings.

A positive attitude may not solve all your problems, but it will annoy enough people to make it worth the effort. ~Herm Albright

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NellieGirl
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December 9, 2014 - 11:41 am
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Thanks to both Bill and Uzi. I think perhaps I perceive the mute to be a help because it damps down my bowing mistakes and other errors. I hear much less scratching with the mute on and yes, much less reverb or whatever. My mistakes make me tense up, likely leading to yet more bad sounds. My mate also says I play better with the mute on. Perhaps I should press it further down until my skills improve! I will try to lighten up on the bow as well. 

Carole

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coolpinkone
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December 9, 2014 - 1:56 pm
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@NellieGirl 

I feel / feel the same way about the mute.  I stopped using mine in the beginning because to me it sounded like I was playing better and I couldn't hear all the scratches and make the corrections.  To me it felt I was fooling myself.  However, I still used it when necessary to preserve the  household.   :)

I think I know what you are talking about.   Congrats on your violin.  My secondary violin is similar to yours.

Vibrato Desperato.... Desperately seeking vibrato

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ElisaDalViolin
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December 9, 2014 - 4:06 pm
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Welcome @NellieGirl !

When I practice at home I always have the need to use the mute. My house is really quiet and I don't like my neighbours to hear me. I started with a rubber one and then moved to a metal one. The mute doesn't create string tension, only adds mass to the bridge and doesn't allow the strings to vibrate that much.  

The mute is not a bad habit itself but can create false perceptions of notes.  You can have problems in intonation if you always use it (i.g the notes can sound more nasal and when you are playing without it you may tend to produce lower notes. I had this problem before). My advice is to alternate the use of the mute in your practice sessions.

Happy playing!violin-1267

 
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DanielB
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December 9, 2014 - 4:17 pm
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There is more to consider with this sort of situation than what is immediately pleasant.

Baking powder or baking soda are not cooking ingredients most people would find pleasant to the taste.  But without them, a lot of cupcake and cookie recipes wouldn't turn out well.  That's maybe not a great analogy, but what I'm saying is that if you shape your practice based on what you feel right now is the least offensive sounds, you can end up limiting your playing options enough that it can screw up your development as a player some.

I've been surprised to find out that a lot of teachers start beginners with the martele bow stroke.  "Martele" means roughly "hammered" and it is a rather strong and abrupt sound.  Not soft or pretty.  I won't go into detail on how the stroke is done, since Pierre/Fiddlerman has an excellent video on it, as he does with pretty much all the bow strokes.  But it is a strong sound, very decisive.  And played on pretty much every note by a beginner, it is rather loud and kind of choppy sounding. 

But they start with that to get the student developing a good strong clear note, as one of the first steps towards developing good "tone" (which is a word that I am still not entirely sure I understand as it is used in violin, from some discussions I see on "tone"..LOL).  Getting a good clear strong sound first is usually a good idea with any instrument you learn.  Making it sound prettier or gentler comes later. 

I personally don't care for the sound of mutes.  To me they make the instrument sound too much like someone trying to sing through a pillow.  But that is a matter of personal taste, I think.  I think it is possible that playing with a mute some of the time may even be good for practice, since you have to push the instrument harder to get a good sound with a mute on.  But I wouldn't use it all the time.  If you do, you may be avoiding some of the sounds that you'll really want to know well only a little bit later in your development.

A bit of advice I was told when I first got my current violin was to spend about 15 minutes a day for the first month playing it as loud as I could manage.  Out of consideration for the rest of the household, I would go down to the basement for that part of practice.  Just playing open strings with big loud strong notes, and pushing them almost like I was trying to break the strings or bow hair.  No strings broke and I didn't lose more than one or two bow hairs, though.. LOL  But I was told to do that to help the instrument "play in" so it could sound a bit better, and also to work on my "tone".  Like most beginners, I had rushed into trying to play more complex and "nicer" sounding things and worrying about my intonation before working on getting a good clear strong sound out of the instrument in the first place. 

The other thing to consider is that the sound of the violin always has at least two components.  Part of it is the musical sound and the other part is the bow noise.  Just the way a bow with rosined hair works, it makes a certain amount of hiss and scratch passing over the strings.  As you try to play quieter, you will be reducing volume on the musical note more than you are on the bow noise.  That can lead to you trying to play even quieter, and you can end up playing way too timid.  And still likely not being happy with the sound you're getting.

There is some good news on that though.  The scratch and hiss don't carry as far as the musical sound.  Like the sound of the breath when playing flute, it is far more noticeable to the player than a listener. 

So to sum up this ramble.. What I'm saying is to consider working on playing good strong clear notes first.  Play as fearlessly as you can.  Find the voice and power in your instrument.  Yeah, it may sound a bit rough at first, but it *will* get better with practice.

"Could use some finesse" is a much better place to end up at the end of your first year of playing than "pretty weak playing".

"This young wine may have a lot of tannins now, but in 5 or 10 years it is going to be spectacular, despite the fact that right now it tastes like crude oil. You know this is how it is supposed to taste at this stage of development." ~ Itzhak Perlman

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coolpinkone
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December 9, 2014 - 5:24 pm
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Hello Daniel.. very nice "article"  

Good tips. :)

Vibrato Desperato.... Desperately seeking vibrato

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NellieGirl
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December 10, 2014 - 9:04 am
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DanielB said

A bit of advice I was told when I first got my current violin was to spend about 15 minutes a day for the first month playing it as loud as I could manage.  Out of consideration for the rest of the household, I would go down to the basement for that part of practice.  Just playing open strings with big loud strong notes, and pushing them almost like I was trying to break the strings or bow hair.  No strings broke and I didn't lose more than one or two bow hairs, though.. LOL  But I was told to do that to help the instrument "play in" so it could sound a bit better, and also to work on my "tone".  Like most beginners, I had rushed into trying to play more complex and "nicer" sounding things and worrying about my intonation before working on getting a good clear strong sound out of the instrument in the first place. 

The other thing to consider is that the sound of the violin always has at least two components.  Part of it is the musical sound and the other part is the bow noise.  Just the way a bow with rosined hair works, it makes a certain amount of hiss and scratch passing over the strings.  As you try to play quieter, you will be reducing volume on the musical note more than you are on the bow noise.  That can lead to you trying to play even quieter, and you can end up playing way too timid.  And still likely not being happy with the sound you're getting.

There is some good news on that though.  The scratch and hiss don't carry as far as the musical sound.  Like the sound of the breath when playing flute, it is far more noticeable to the player than a listener. 

Many thanks for this advice, DanielB. I can't tell you how freeing it feels to read it. Yes, I have been timid, trying to make perfect sounds so that my Silent Night for Christmas will sound better than chopped up, musical hash. I am headed to the basement now to experiment with the bow, which is likely the real culprit in my hacking and scratching. The only way I can get anything decent out of the open E string is to hit it hard, fast, straight, and on the bow edge. Is that right? More roisin, less roisin? To the basement! Thank you.

Carole (NellieGirl)

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