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Playing notes on the open strings?
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Heinrich
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October 22, 2018 - 9:38 am
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So, I've come across a few instances now where people are saying that you should never play on the open strings but use different fingering. Has anyone else heard of this and why is it bad to do that?

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damfino
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October 22, 2018 - 10:07 am
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It all depends on the piece you are learning, the sound you want, and often it's just less string jumping to just use the fourth finger (or to change position).

For a lot of Irish fiddling, my teacher said the open string is wanted for that extra emphasis on the note, but even that isn't always going to be true. But I would think for a lot of classical pieces, you're not going to want to be playing all these pretty notes, and then flop down on an open string, you'd most likely want the more soft note of the fourth finger (or to change positions) so you could use vibrato, etc. 

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bocaholly
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October 22, 2018 - 11:03 am
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A bunch of good reasons to use the 4th finger and not play the open string, as @damfino says.

Fortunately, our early beginner books give us fingering suggestions so we don't bite off more than we can chew. Sometimes there's an open string where that flows better, sometimes a 4th finger. I'm OK with that for now as it allows me improve 4th finger without it gobbling up too much of my focus.

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Heinrich
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October 22, 2018 - 12:22 pm
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That makes sense. I do hear a difference in tone when I play a fourth finger A vs open string A. I haven't started vibrato yet but that would clearly be an issue too, ha.

 

Thank you both!

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AndrewH
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October 22, 2018 - 1:55 pm
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As a mostly classical player: it mostly depends on context. In a run of fast notes where there's no time for vibrato, you play whatever's easiest. If that includes an open string, then play the open string. (Note that an open string may not necessarily be easiest; the priority is to minimize awkward shifts and string crossings.) When the notes move more slowly, then you want the notes to sound consistent, which means avoiding the open string.

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Fiddlerman
Fort Lauderdale
October 22, 2018 - 2:07 pm
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Great answers above.
Sound color, vibrato, and positions are the most common reasons for choosing fingered notes over open strings. We often want to match the color of the other notes in a phrase.
As Mandy mentioned, using the open strings for an accent or emphasis is very effective in certain situations.
Avoiding string crossings is often advantageous but also enhancing string changes for certain effects and speed is sometimes desirable.

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but the one who needs the least."

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Pete_Violin
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October 25, 2018 - 1:42 pm
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Here is a good example.  I have been working on Greensleeves for a few weeks now. I am in my Christmas phase.  Sorry to those who cannot begin Christmas until the day after Thanksgiving, but I need the practice.   

Anyway, this piece has several soft tones and is a nice and easy rythim.  So, as much as possible I want to play stopped (fingered) rather than open strings, giving an even, soft, melodic feeling to the whole piece. 

One of the things I really love about the violin is the flexibility to give the music the feeling you want to give.  

- Pete -

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Heinrich
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October 25, 2018 - 3:17 pm
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Thanks for all the help. Is that what is meant by the word "color" when talking about the sound? I hear all sorts of different words when people try to describe sound and isn't always clear to me what they mean.

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BillyG
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October 26, 2018 - 2:22 am
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@Heinrich - I'm with you on the"clarity of meaning" of tonal descriptions - "warm, dark, mellow, bright, and so on"

I resort to the underlying physics-of-sound-production - for instance ( and I just did this off-the-cuff with no particular care to my set-up here - I'll explain what I mean by that in a minute ) but in the attached image we have a Fourier spectrum of a stopped-A on the D string, and below it, an open A   

EDIT:  Plots created using "Audacity"

[ Clarification - if I was "really" doing this test in a scientific manner, I would have paid attention to the overall recording set-up - for instance you'll see frequency components at 50Hz, 100Hz and 150Hz - these are all due to the mains supply frequency here in the UK ( 50Hz, and at lower levels, the second and third harmonic ) - I would normally do tests like this in my "electrically quiet" music room - this was done very quickly on my laptop in the lounge, so, there is a bit of mains-hum on the signal]

The immediate difference you'll see is that on the open string, there is the presence of a richer and greater number of higher harmonics and resonances - that's partly what gives the "tonal quality" ( or color, or timbre, or mellowness, or brightness, or whatever !!! ) a-so.jpg

Sorry - that was all a bit rushed and rough-and-ready, and the plots aren't quite lined up - but it does give a very quick insight as to what is "making up the sound you hear", with the presence of additional harmonics on the open string 

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Gordon Shumway
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October 26, 2018 - 5:30 am
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I had been studiously trying to avoid open strings, but my teacher assured me there were better things to worry about, and open strings are your friend, unless you are in a hot, sweaty orchestra pit.

Andrew

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bocaholly
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October 26, 2018 - 7:12 am
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That's a very cool explanation, @BillyG ! Love those graphs.

I think most folks consider that the open string is not just "different" but also often squeakier than it's stopped "twin". I'm wondering if it's possible to identify the "offending" tone from your graph. Could it be largely the "fault" of that long skinny bar on the open A which is second to the right of 440Hz?

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BillyG
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October 26, 2018 - 7:59 am
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@bocaholly - so sorry - this was done in a real hurry first thing this morning just to demonstrate the idea - the answer to your question is "no" - that tall sort of single-pixel-wide bar is actually the cursor - which "snaps" to the center of each frequency peak.   I happened to have left it there when I snapped the screen-shot...  Apologies for the confusion !   

I will try to get a chance to better capture this, and we can talk further about it.

There is another "issue" with that quick little capture - I currently have the Barcus Berry pickup anchored on to the G-side of the bridge - I know for a fact it dampens the response a bit, but I wasn't minded to remove it before I had my first coffee of the day :)....  I would normally expect to see many (well, several) more related higher harmonics on this particular instrument....  which will/can lead to the apparent "squeakiness" or "shrillness" or "over-brightness" ( choose your own word here ! )

Clearly, with a string open between nut and bridge, it REALLY vibrates exactly as you would expect such a solidly-terminated string to respond, and will, for a start, have the fundamental, and the second, 3rd, 4th, 5th and a measurable 6th harmonic (as well as responses for other strings which simply have been excited by inter-string vibrations and body resonances - for instance the top E is often visible to a small extent although it is not being physically played ).  A stopped string has a much less "solid/rigid" anchor point under the finger and is effectively dampened - taking the energy out of the string and lessening, if not removing the higher frequency responses.   I'm pretty sure it is simply the lessening/removal of these higher harmonic frequencies that removes this "squeakiness".  It might be very interesting indeed to try such an experiment on a fretted fiddle, and compare results. 

I'll get back to you on this - and maybe separate it out into a new topic/thread

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

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Gordon Shumway
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October 26, 2018 - 8:29 am
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Yes, the endpoint when finger-stopped is "fuzzy", i.e. soft, not sharp, so the higher harmonics will be progressively damped. A magnified drawing will illustrate it. Additionally, an open D, A or E string will set up sympathetic resonances in the lower string, which will also be missing.

I wonder if Audacity is good enough to show the FM sidebands when you vibrato.

Andrew

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BillyG
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October 26, 2018 - 9:08 am
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@Gordon Shumway - I suspect it would be - if you vibrated at least long enough for Audacity to capture at its highest resolution ( long enough would probably only need to be a couple or 3 seconds - but - equally clearly it would be "better seen" if you could vibrate really "sharply" between the few cents below to the few cents above, avoiding as much as possible the "frequency slide" effect which I suppose is bound to be present. 

On the other hand, if you vibrated in a really regular fashion with controlled even speed, then, perhaps the spectrum would be more like a flat-topped wider plot, effectively containing all the frequencies from your lowest to highest vibrato pitch.

Really don't know for sure.....  But worth an experiment, just for fun !   

I seriously recommend not copying my mistakes. D'oh - guntohead.JPG

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

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