Cox Violins Blog

What is a violin? What does it do?

"The Sound of Bronze" - Anna Chromy

“The Sound of Bronze” by Anna Chromy, Senovážné Náměstí, Prague

Violinmaker-in-Residence #2

The violin is designed to fit the human body, and allows the player to control pitch by stopping strings with the left hand, and control volume and tone color by using a bow with the right hand. The violin produces sound – variations in air pressure – in a controlled way. Through our own experience with musical conventions, we as listeners respond emotionally and translate that sound into meaning. That musical experience depends directly on two things: the player’s ability to express his or her musical ideas, and the instrument’s capacity to respond to the player’s technique.

The violin is a crucial part of this process as the tool that transforms the actions of the player into sound. In an ideal pairing of musician and instrument, the player feels no limit, no impediment and no distortion in transforming idea to sound, and the audience perceives no strain or discomfort in the player’s ability to communicate his or her musical ideas.

What are the factors that I as a maker need to address?

  • Comfort: Playing the violin is in many ways an unnatural activity, but to the extent possible the feel and proportions of the violin should fit the player and the player’s preferences with respect to size, shape, and feel.
  • Efficiency: The more sound the player can produce with the least expenditure of energy, the better. It may sound crude, but loud is good.
  • Evenness: The violin should respond in a consistent way throughout its pitch and volume range, from very soft to very loud.
  • Tone Color: Violins can vary from very dark to very bright in tone. Preferences vary, and the violin must enable the player to express his or her individual voice.
  • Flexibility: The violin must produce a range of tone colors in response to the player’s use of bowing techniques, and the player must be able to shape the sound.
  • Strength: The violin must dependably resist the tension of the strings and the wear and tear of continual use.

As we follow the construction of the Vermont Symphony Orchestra violin, future posts will address just how I as a maker work to achieve these—sometimes conflicting!—goals.

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Note: Throughout this blog series I speak of violins, but the same principles will usually apply to all members of the violin family.

Mr. Benjamin Sung

Benjamin Sung with violin #156, “Koff” Vuillaume model, made in 1989

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