Acoustics of Violin…. A research study on the instrument making


Violin has been one of the traditional instruments that have been part of few of the great tunes and the music compositions that has been generated till date. The Acoustics of violin had a significant importance in the music related research studies. The researches were carried out on the acoustics of violin for varied purposes from different dimensions. In few of the researches the focus was to understand the dynamics of the acoustics, whereas in few of the researches, it was related to the composition and the arrangements of the strings, fine tuning the frequency levels between the top plate and the back plates, and the wood to be used and other intrinsic factors that could give insights for making good violins. In this research paper the focus is upon understanding the significance of acoustics of violin and the related research studies and its importance, and the analysis of various research studies has been discussed and detailed in this report.

Table of Contents


Abstract 2

Table of Contents. 3

1.0        Introduction. 4

2.0        Evolution of Violin. 6

3.0        Violin Acoustics. 6

3.1        Violin acoustics in the 30ties. 7

3.2        Schelling’s classical work the Violin as a Circuit and the CAS. 8

4.0        Acoustics and Analysis. 8

4.1         Acoustics Sound Analysis. 9

4.2         Sound Resonance profile of Violin. 9

5.0         The Acoustics of Violin Plates. 13

6.0         Conclusion. 15

7.0         References. 16


1.0       Introduction

Music instruments has been in existence for thousands of years and had a predominant role in creating the elatedness of music and entertainment for the people. It is very essential that one should understand the empirical connections of the physical parameters involved like the pitch where the need to judge the string, pipe length, pitch and the sizes of drumheads and the pitch, and the kind of tension in the strings that has to be created to get adequate levels of musical pitch and the timbre to be used in the instrument. (Buen, 2006)

There are many instruments like the bells have been developed by the makers much before the theories of curved plates and other related theories have been developed. Despite of the fact that acoustics and science has developed, even in the present scenario, the facet of making and playing of musical instruments are devised and dominated by the empirical knowledge that have been trained by the direct learning that takes place from the religious practice and also in the case of making of the instruments it’s a same scenario that the makers have hard trained practice of making the instruments rather than the adaptation of technical inputs. It is evident from the facts that both the conditions of making and using the instruments effectively are a talented art rather than a science. (Buen, 2006)

Handling of musical instruments like making the instruments and also playing a pleasing music is an empirical activity and a handicraft of a musical performance. The approach of putting number on the music nodes and the musical sounds can be termed as acoustics. The study on violin acoustics has been taking place for more than 150 years. Despite such significance for the study, still the significance for the research on the topic of acoustics of violin has never faded away. (Hutchins, 1981)

Violin is one of the traditional musical instruments that are renowned for centuries. However one of the great mysteries is that despite of having any practical knowledge of the physics and acoustics still has turned out violins that are one of the most cherished instruments for its efficacy in creating sound. (Am, 2008)

There were many research studies that have been carried out on the physics and acoustics of violin. One such study by Catgut Acoustical Society has applied the modern methods to conduct their study on the acoustics of violin and other kind of stringed instruments.  The studies have revealed many facts about the acoustics of violin as such that about the properties that are associated with the top and back plates of a violin before they are fixed to the instrument. This kind of study helps us in developing better tuning qualities and the fine tuning of the system. (Am, 2008)

In this research study the focus and emphasis is about understanding the dynamics of the acoustics of violin, the insights from various research studies that has been carried out and understanding the inputs that could facilitate us with more insights that could facilitate us with more insights on the acoustics of violin and the related instrument al systems.

2.0       Evolution of Violin

Violin is believed to be the development from the prior bowed instruments which are bowed fiddles, something like Rebec. It is estimated by the studies that the origin of these instruments could be from 13th Century. In the following figurative representation, the oldest model of violin instruments could be seen which are made centuries ago. It is reflective from the studies that violin has been one of the effective methods that have been used for dance music and has been vividly used for playing music in gatherings and prayers right even during the period of 14th century. Earlier the violin makers have been from Italy and France (Buen, 2006)

The peak of the art of violin making and the sound contractions has reached its peak with the makers during the period of 16th century with the craft talent of Niclo Amati and his pupil Antonio Stradvari and Joseph Guarneri. Despite of many other followers of the making and practice, the reputation of them could be never reached by any for ages. It was an empirical state for the making of violins. (Buen, 2006)

The modern age violins has been from the 18th Century where the  emergence of baroque violins which are made in a way that the strings length are shorter, the smaller bass from the guts strings and the bar inside the instrument which is fastened at the neck with nails and used a different kind of bridges. During the period of the 19th century, from France the makers have redesigned the violin with an addition of bow and the modern violin has emerged in to the music world. (Hutchins, 1981)

3.0       Violin Acoustics

The Acoustics have become an important aspect of the study and during the times of 18th century, both Herman Von Helmholz and Lord Rayleigh have contributed to the study of understanding the musical instruments and have provided insights on the acoustics study both in terms of theoretical and practical results. Sir C.V.Raman who is regarded high for his contributions in the literature have written few articles on the transversal vibrations related to the bowed violin and also on the harmonic natural effects of the Indian drums. It is very significant contribution from him that he was the first to discuss about “Wolf Note”. (Buen, 2006)

3.1       Violin acoustics in the 30ties

The studies on the acoustics of violin has been carried out by Herman Backhaus along with his pupil Herman Meinel on the vibration patterns of violin, where the study could reflect on the mapping of vibration modes and the acoustical frequency response from different violins. The work from this team is considered to be one of the critical breakthroughs in the history of acoustics study. It is evident from the study that the work has signified on the role of plate thicknesses, arch heights and the sound post and the other parts which are critical components in the violin for the frequency response that has been taking place. (Buen, 2006)

3.2       Schelling’s classical work the Violin as a Circuit and the CAS

During the period of 1960’s, a classical work came from Schelleng, where the researcher in his study emphasizes the reasons behind additive phase relation the resonance in the first and the second part, depicting the kind of low frequency that is being part in a violin. The study also reflected about the scale laws related the bowed musical instruments. As discussed in the introduction section of this report, the Catgut Acoustical Society that has been formed is by the Saunders, Hutchins and Schelleng, with the objective of devoting the studies to the art and science of making the bowed musical instruments and for almost four decades the CAS society has been significant contributor for studying and providing insights on the acoustical aspects of violin, sharing information through their newsletter and the CAS journals. (Buen, 2006)

One such significant contribution is from Beldie that has provided a detailed explanation on the deep valley amidst the second and third resonance in the violin based on the four mass models for the instrument body. There were many other extension inputs from the studies that are further conducted by various researchers, and the theories around the radiativity of the violins have been detailed. There is significant contribution from many researchers and the music enthusiasts who have carried out on the factors in terms of developing the bridging aspects that could provide us many more inputs on the acoustics of violin. (Am, 2008)

4.0       Acoustics and Analysis

In the current scenario, there are many makers of violins who take the insights of the study in to consideration and take advantage of the violin acoustics that has been considered for the study. Even the popular makers of the violin instruments are being focused and are using the inputs of the acoustical instrumentation towards taking insights in to the combinations in the old violins that are too god in the sound composition. (J.Woodhouse, 1997)

The knowledge sharing in terms of violin acoustics has been taking place in many forums that are being conducted and also in the annual meetings of the acoustics associations. The empirical methods have been much in focus for the research in acoustics of violin. Despite the fact that many of the violin makers from varied countries are depending on the framework and the insights that are provided on the acoustics, essentially the quality outcome is from the handicraft of the makers who are relying on the empirical methods to make the violins that could produce some of the elite music and vibrations. (C. Fritz, I. Cross, E. Smith, & J. Woodhouse , 2006)

4.1      Acoustics Sound Analysis

The Acoustics of violin which is dependent on the vibrations are estimated in the current trends based on system-oriented acoustics measurement techniques which work as a diagnostic tool. With the sound analysis the radiated sound by the vilon’s eignemodes of vibrations are depicted in spatial form which can be considered as a “resonance profile”.

The resonance profile provides the acoustic data which is essential for understanding the harmonic structure and for psychoacoustic evaluation. This reflects the acoustic structure of the efficacy of the vibrations and its impact on the sounds generated.

4.2      Sound Resonance profile of Violin

It is determined by measuring transfer functions that are obtained by the ratio of sound pressure P which is divided by bridge force F that function as the frequency f(x-axis)  and the radiation angle which prevails in the instruments. The outcome of it is the resonance that reflects as peaks in the spectrum.

In the diagram represented below the resonance profile of the varied violin has been depicted and the non-averaged resonance profile reflects on the power of single resonances. This is emphatically important for the tonal color of the instrument.

The following calculations depict the inputs from the study related to the estimations and the calculations that have been carried out on the resonance study of the violin sounds.

Zur Messung: Messung von 6 Übertragungsfunktionen (FRF) mit Abstrahlwinkel (Längengrade) j=0…300°; Dj=60°. Anregung des Instrumentes über Impuls an Stegoberkante-IV:  442x mit Impulshammerpendel. Hammer PCB 086C80. Aufnahme über SPM B&K 2237,  FFT-Analysator: Quattro Data Physics; Software SignalCalc ACE.
Je FRF: Setting FRF_NP: Number of Samples = 16384; Bandwidth = 12.8 kHz; Time = 640 ms. FRF Measure: Schalldruck / Kraft. FFT-Window: Response: No; Reference: Impact 7%. Abstand Instrument-Mikrofon = 0,50m. AVG: 36 Mittelungen je FRF, wobei gesamte Vorrichtung  (Instrument – Mikrofon) im Raum um jeweils a=10° gedreht wird (Herausmitteln der Raummoden); relative Lage Instrument – Mikrofon  dabei für jede FRF unverändert.
L avg. (1/12) = energetisch gemittelter Gesamtpegel (65 Hz…10 kHz) sämtlicher in 1/12 Oktaven (chromatisch) gemittelter Pegel. (Schleske)

It is very essential to note that averaging of a certain frequency band allows to realize the overall distribution of energy which is again depicted in the figure represented below which emphasizes on the averaging bandwidth of musical tierce.

Figure 2 Study of various frequencies

It is evident from the studies that when the violin is performed in solo, the resonance strength has to be in much peak which can be achieved only the wood quality with high tone.

The diagram below depicts the information pertaining to the resonance profile of the modern violin of (Schleske Op. 105) in comparison with a J.B.Guadagnini (anno 174…) that is being performed by a famous soloist.

Figure 3 Solo Performance Resolution

The above resonance differences and the toning quality of the wood reflects the emphasis on the wood plates and its impact on the acoustics of violin and its significance to high quality output.

5.0      The Acoustics of Violin Plates


In one of the research studies that has been conducted by the researchers, the detailed study on the essential aspects of violin making has been studied in detail and based on the inputs from the study they emphasize certain key factors that are very essential to the success of making a violin that could provide good resonance. (C. Fritz, I. Cross, E. Smith, & J. Woodhouse , 2006)

The aid of gaining an insight by the violin makers feels and could hear from the beautifully carved plats, the tests of free plates which are with chladni-pattern method that the studies have considered discovered modes 1,2 and 5. According to the study, the frequency is checked in each mode of the top and black plates, the confirmation of the nodal patterns in tandem with the adjustments of the frequencies pertaining to the three modes for the relations as far possible at each plate and also amidst two plates. The testing of instrument is completed by analyzing the response curve, the loudness from the curve and the inputs from the players. (Hutchins, 1981)

The key insights that have been received from the study in terms of gaining insights are attributed to the following critical factors that could have an emphasis in the acoustics of violin.

1) It is very important that the god quality instruments results only when the mode 5 is having large amplitude and there is sync in the frequency of the tone in the top plate and back plate. It frequency mode 5 for the top plate is quite higher than the back plate, it could result in the brighter tone and if the positioning of the frequency tone is reversed it could have darker impact. (Hutchins, 1981)

2) When the mode 3 in the top plate is within the frequency of 1.4 percent of the mode 2 in the black plate then the second level shall have smooth and easy playing characteristics. (Hutchins, 1981)

3) The other critical reason for effective instrument is about, when the frequency at the mode 5 being same in both top and the back plate, then the mode 2 frequency should be below 1.4 percent of that in the back plate, else the instrument might be hard to be played and could have signs of hard tone and harsh and gritty tone.

4) The other major success factor for an effective violin making is about, when the modes 5 and 2 are approximately in an octave apart in each plate and the corresponding frequencies are at high amplitudes in both the plates, then the resulting instrument could be more effective and empirical. (Hutchins, 1981)

The other major factor that could be successful for a good instrument is about refining the frequency mode in the top plate for mode 1and an octave below the mode 2, and ensure that modes 1,2 and 5 are in sync and harmony. Despite the fact that it could be difficult for making adjustments to frequency mode 1in the top plate it could be attempted, but making such kind of adjustment in the back plate could be very tough due the difference in the structures of both the plates. (Hutchins, 1981)

According to the study it is evident that the above detailed scope for improving the acoustics of violin is easier to be stated, whereas it could be very challenging to attain such level of tuning in the plates. There could be many problems that could come up in terms of attaining optimum eigenmode and Eigen frequency relations. (Woodhouse, 2014)

The intensity of issues could be attributed to the selective thinning of the plate towards desired mode of characteristics which could be impacted due to the coats of sealer and varnish that is used and the impact of the physical properties and the quality of the wood that is used for the top and the back plates. (Buen, 2006)

6.0      Conclusion

Violin has been an integral part of musical anatomy and for years, the music world is cherishing the great music that is being produced by the violin. One of the key factors is that the acoustics of the violin has taken a significant part in the research segment and there are numerous studies that are being carried out on the acoustics of violin. The kind of researches that are being conducted could be related to few centuries back, as discussed in this report. (Am, 2008)

There were numerous studies that have been conducted on the acoustics of violin to understand the frequencies, the patterns to be adapted, the modes which are being more effective and the combination of the front and the back plates and its frequency modes that has to be set in combination for the frequency mode 1 to 5. The effective making of the violin could only be envisaged by the makers only when the players are able to generate the tunes without any harsh tone and in good fine tuning. (C. Fritz, I. Cross, E. Smith, & J. Woodhouse , 2006). In overall it could be stated that the acoustics of violin and the related stud has made a significant contribution towards enhancing the quality standards of the making and playing of the violin that could generate some great tunes in the hands of artistic players.

7.0      References

Am, J. A. (2008). Structural acoustics model of the violin radiativity profile. NCBI, 13-23.


  1. Fritz, I. Cross, E. Smith, & J. Woodhouse . (2006). Perceptual correlates of violin acoustics. ICMPC, 1864-1871.

Hutchins, C. M. (1981). The Acoustics of Violin Plate. Scientific American , 1-11.

J.Woodhouse. (1997). Woodhouse : AO-BO Matching in Violin. ACUSTICA-acta Acustica, 947-956.

Schleske, M. (n.d.). SOUND ANALYSIS. Retrieved Dec 04, 2014, from Martin Schleske:

Woodhouse, J. (2014). The acoustics of the violin: a review. IOP.

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