A Musical Medley
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Mini-Music  Q & A

What You Should Know Before You Buy That Strad.
Prof. Gary Scavone

Comments from attendees:

  • How hard it is to be conclusive about an instrument's quality

  • Visual representations of vibrations

  •  A good violinist can make a bad violin sound good

  • This was great! Thank you, next time a lecture on bows and their importance to quality of sound

  • Older instruments are not necessarily better 

Questions and Answers:

1 - Please comment on what your research has shown on the comparison between the old, established violins and the newer ones?

The work we have conducted thus far here at McGill has not directly addressed the issue of "old vs. new". The aim of our studies has been to better understand how players subjectively evaluate violin qualities. Our first study focused primarily on within-individual and between-individual consistency in preference ranking of violins. A second experiment was then conducted to investigate the origin of inter-individual differences in the preference for violins and to measure the extent to which different attributes of the instrument influence preference. For our studies, we sought a broad range (age and price) of instruments that would be classified as "decent" to "very good." It would have been nice to be able to include some vintage, old instruments in this study, but it was not necessary and in general, it is very difficult to find owners willing to lend out expensive, old instruments for a period of two weeks or so (the time we needed to run that study). That said, given the range of instruments we had (values between about $1.3K - $250K, ages between about 1770 - 2010), we did not find any correlation between age, value, and perceived quality. The 2010 study by Fritz, Curtin, and Tao did directly to explore the "old vs. new" question, using Stradivari and Guarneri violins, and their results were similar to ours.

2 - How significant is the bow and why?

The bow is a very significant part of the instrument. Bows can have very distinct behaviours and players try to find a bow that works well with their instrument. The bow is in direct contact with the vibrating strings and the bow-string interaction is an important aspect of the "feel" of the instrument. The bow itself has particular vibrational characteristics that influence this interaction. For the moment, we have chosen to focus on the subjective evaluation of violins but similar studies of bows would be equally interesting.

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