Savart Journal

science and technology of stringed musical instruments

Stradivari Violins Exhibit Formant Frequencies Resembling Vowels Produced by Females

Hwan Ching Tai, Dai Ting Chung

Abstract

Over the past two centuries, violins made by Antonio Stradivari (1644-1737) have been more favorably received by concert violinists and instrument collectors than instruments by any other maker. Some suggest that Stradivari's success can be attributed to unique tonal characteristics, generally described as brilliance, and this opinion is still widely expressed by leading violinists today. Others believe that the perceived tonal distinction of Stradivari violins may be attributed to psychological bias instead of physical differences, influenced by historical reputation and market evaluation. Furthermore, modern research has yet to clearly identify acoustic differences between Stradivari violins and other professional quality instruments. Since both violin tones and spoken vowels are perceived through steady-state spectral features, we hypothesized that voice analysis techniques may help elucidate the tonal properties of violins. Using linear predictive coding (LPC), a common speech analysis technique, we examined the recorded scales of four Stradivari violins and ten other professional quality instruments, both old and new. On most violin notes, there are typically four or five resonance peaks (formants) below 5.5 kHz. Generally, professional quality violins exhibit formant frequencies (F1-F4) which are equidistant from the formants of male and female voices. But Stradivari violins tend to produce higher formants which are closer to female voices. Stradivari violins also show greater probabilities to emulate the formants of bright-sounding front vowels spoken by females, a tendency shared by other violins judged by concert violinists as having Strad-like tonal characteristics. Our results suggest that, within the sample group being studied, there are measurable and statistically significant differences between Stradivari violins and other professional quality violins in terms of formant features. Having higher formants or having formants that resemble female vowels may be acoustic correlates of the tonal qualities which concert violinists frequently associate with Stradivari violins.

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Article published Jun 14, 2012.
This article has been accessed 11567 times since publication.

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The Savart Journal is published in collaboration with the Guild of American Luthiers.

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Hwan-Ching Tai
Department of Chemistry, National Taiwan University
Taiwan

Hwan-Ching Tai is an Assistant Professor of Chemistry at National Taiwan University, Taipei, Taiwan. He received his bachelor degree in Chemistry from National Taiwan University in 2000, and a PhD in Chemistry from California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA in 2009. His doctoral thesis, advised by Dr. Erin Schuman, examined protein degradation at neuronal synapses. As a postdoctoral researcher in Dr. Bradley Hyman's laboratory at Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, he studied the accumulation of misfolded protein at neuronal synapses in Alzheimer disease. Hwan-Ching Tai's laboratory at National Taiwan University is currently trying to understand the degradation of oxidized proteins in mammalian cells as an anti-aging mechanism. As an amateur violinist and professional chemist, he is interested in the material science of Cremonese violins, especially the chemical analysis of varnish composition. His interest in hi-fi audio has also led him to study the acoustics of Cremonese violins.


Dai-Ting Chung
Chi Mei Culture Foundation
Taiwan

Dai-Ting Chung is the Chief Adviser of Chi Mei Culture Foundation in Taiwan. He is the curator of string instruments at Chi Mei Museum, Tainan, Taiwan, which is renowned for its collection of hundreds of antique violins as well as antique bows. He received his bachelor degree in 1994 with a major in Materials Science and Engineering from Feng Chia University, Taichung, Taiwan. He began studying violin making in Taiwan with Li-Chu Wang, who graduated from the Cremona Violin Making School, and later with Edward Campbell at Chimneys’ Violin Making School in Boiling Springs, PA. He also studied bow making and restoration at Sunny Kot's shop in Philadelphia, PA. Dai-Ting Chung is a member of Entente Internationale des Luthiers et Archetiers and the Chief Adviser at Global Bell String Consultant. He also owns the Ten Sun Yo Violin Shop in Tainan, Taiwan.