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I've been watching a lot of videos about violins and about buying violins, and I've noticed that most people seem to use the same type of descriptive words (bright, warm, clear, deep, etc). I've figured out that this has something to do with the sound quality (or undertones or something) of particular violins/strings, but I'm having trouble really getting a feeling for the concept.
I was hoping maybe someone could explain it to me or maybe direct me to a video where you can hear the differences.
I will just quote Pierre/Fiddlerman, the way he described it when I was wondering that myself:
"For those that don't know the difference between dark and bright, imagine listening to the same violin solo on your home stereo system and adjusting the tone control.
Flat should be close to what the recording was intended to sound. (depends very much on your equipment of course)
Raising the treble and lowering the bass would give you a brighter sound.
Raising the bass and lowering the treble would give you a darker sound.
In other words, more bass = darker and more treble = brighter."
World's Okayest Fiddler
on the back of Infeld string packs, they have some listings for (among other things) warm/bright and focused/rich, and they indicate where they think the string is. regardless of the strings, I think that the same descriptions can be applied to the violin itself. too much focus = thin/nasal...too much rich = fuzzy/grainy.
also, imo, there is quite a difference between warm and dark. One of my fiddles is warm, but definitely not dark. A good dark instrument still needs to be focused, otherwise it's not dark, but muddy.
The analogy of the tone control on a stereo is a start, but I think it's a bit more complicated than that.
"Striving to attain Mediocrity"
Bright, warm, dark, rich are all subjective terms which describe tone "color." Timber (pronounced TAM bur) is one of the primary acoustic characteristics that allow us to distinguish which type of musical instrument we are listening to and to notice differences between two instruments of the same type.
When a note is played on a violin, let's say the open A string, the fundamental frequency is about 440 Hz. The fundamental frequency is the lowest frequency that is generated. If only that single frequency was generated, it would not sound pleasant at all. It would sound pretty much like the dial tone on a telephone. However, when a note is played on a violin, many frequencies are generated. The most important are the harmonic frequencies which are multiples of the fundamental frequency. For the open A that's 440, 440 X 2, 440 X 3 and so on. In addition, other frequencies are also generated that are partial multiples for the fundamental frequency. This creates a sort of frequency soup that gives the violin it's characteristic sound or "color".
The fundamental frequency isn't necessarily the loudest or "dominant" frequency. The harmonic frequencies can be as loud or louder than the fundamental frequency. For example, on the transverse flute the fundamental x 2 frequency is the dominant frequency. In cases where the fundamental and lowest harmonics are most pronounced, the sound is "dark." Where the low-mid tones are most noticeable the sound is "warm." Where the upper frequencies are more noticeable the sound is "bright." Where the mixture of harmonics overshadows the partial harmonics the sound is more "pure". Where all of the harmonics and partials are more or less equal, the sound is more "muddy."
Keep in mind, however, that tonal color is completely subjective, so there are no hard and fast rules. The concepts are more felt by the listener, than something that can be defined on graphs and charts.
A positive attitude may not solve all your problems, but it will annoy enough people to make it worth the effort. ~Herm Albright