Enjoy the beauty of a new violin beyond just good looks. Break it in with play and and witness the tone open up and mature with each note.
by Rhiannon Nachbaur of Award-Winning Fiddleheads Violin Studio
It's a well-known and respected fact among strings players that new violins and other stringed instruments have to be broken-in with play for the tone to develop.
Though there are many theories which attempt to explain it and there is validity behind the science. Plate vibrations, bridge and soundpost settling into the plates, wood drying so sap pockets become air chambers, etc. But we honestly don't know why they require breaking-in. No matter the reasoning it's a no-brainer we string players accept without precise explanation and trust simply from pure experience.
Anyone who has purchased a violin fresh from the maker has witnessed amazing tonal maturity as the instrument is played regularly. A player see this change within the first few days or even hours of playing a quality new instrument. The tone will warm-up and become more rounded and deep.
Even more tonal maturity is easily apparent after 6 months and a violin is
considered fully mature after a couple years of play. The longer you play
it each day, the faster you will witness the tone improving.
This does not apply to all instruments, however. The new instrument in
question must have been well-made in order to mature properly. A junky
$200 beginner fiddle will not (maybe just barely with a lot of effort)
open-up with play.
Musicians seeking to enjoy the many benefits of playing a new instrument may glean some knowledge from the following suggestions:
Simple. Just play the darn thing!
Regular, consistent play breathes life into an instrument. No one knows exactly why this is, but it's been witnessed over centuries that playing an instrument keeps it "alive."
Why do you think the top museums and shops have their instruments played daily by professional musicians to keep the tone "alive?" It just works.
Just pick it up and play it a minimum of an hour a day to witness the tone improve. What do you think we violinists do for hours each day? Sit around and pick our noses? Naw, that gets boring, even for us.
2. New Strings Breathe Life into an Instrument
Would you drive a new Ferrari with ragged all-season tires? Your strings
are like the tires on a performance vehicle. Bad strings will drag down
your instrument's tone.
Are you still using the cheap bow that came with your first violin? Naughty musician, no biscuit.
Remember the bow you use should match the instrument and that a good bow makes all the difference in the tone you produce on your instrument. Not only will you find it easier and more enjoyable to produce a better tone, but your instrument will break-in faster.
4. Let your Fiddle Enjoy Your Stereo
It may sound ridiculous, but your instrument will benefit from a daily music listening session by the stereo speakers. Or keep your instrument in a room where the television is on much of the time. The vibrations from the speakers will cause your violin, viola or cello to resonate and will speed up the tonal break-in period.
This method is applied to instruments in display cases in museums which cannot be played daily by actual musicians. A basic construction is much like the speaker suggestion above. A recording playing a range of pitches and harmonics runs though speakers under or behind the instrument. It's pretty cool to see a violin's strings and body visably vibrating as it is being pseudo-played!
5. Adjustments & Proper Setup
In keeping with the Ferrari analogy, you need to know your instrument well enough to diagnose when something isn't running quite right or there's a funny noise coming from "under the hood."
When you first receive the instrument make sure to memorize the exact placement of the bridge and sound post. This will help you determine if the instrument requires luthier servicing in the event the instrument is ever bumped hard or dropped.
The best thing you can do to avoid luthier repair bills is to keep the bridge from warping.
Each time you tune your violin with the pegs check that the bridge remains straight, especially after major tuning changes or changing strings. If necessary, gently correct the bridge angle as you tighten the pegs as it may be pulled toward the pegs by the strings. (In fact, the bridge should lean a tad back towards the tailpiece).
If you're unsure if your violin is properly setup ask your teacher or a luthier to show you what to look for. Finally, from time to time, check for any buzzes, seam cracks, wear or any other problems.
If you notice anything unusual I am happy to assist customers with any concerns via phone or email. The testmonial to the right is an example of a player who called seeking advice on what she thought was a soundpost problem. Sue came home on very cold day and discovered an incision in the soundpost she had not previously noticed and thought the post was supposed to be in the middle of the violin, not to the side. Was it broken?
Luckily, for her, everything was normal. The incision in the post is from the luthier installing the post and the soundpost is meant to be to the right, near the E-string. Now Sue knows what to look for on her violin to keep it out of fiddle sickbay.
With care and some maintenance you won't have to pay any unnecessary "mechanic" bills...
6. Careful Storage and Transport
While we talk about the mechanics of an instrument, it is worth mentioning storage and transport.
It can never be stressed enough how important careful storage and transport routines are to your instrument's health. What good is a gorgeous-sounding cello if you're going to trip on it in the dark and smash it to bits... That was a rhetorical question, by the way.
Never, never leave your instrument in the car. Big no no. BAAAAAAD viola player. Not only could it be stolen, but it could be damaged by the extreme heat, humidity, cold and dryness which are more extreme in vehicles throughout the year.
When travelling by car make sure the instrument will not fall over or be damaged where it is stored. Try to travel with it in the back seat on the floor rather than in the trunk or boot.
Don't let the airline check your fiddle. Get hostile and froth at the mouth before you let them put it under the plane. Tell them Rhiannon gave you that advice and watch airport security laugh at my little joke. Really, I'm sure they'll get a kick out of your enthusiasm for your music!
Really, try not to fly with your instrument under the plane. It's just a risky proposition.
Use a hygrometer if extreme dryness is a concern where you live. The Dampit is best as it goes inside the instrument and humidifies it from within.
Wrap your instrument in a cloth before putting it in its case. [Not great advice for cellists or bassists: you people should just cough up the cash and get a properhard-shell case with wheels so you won't break your instrument or your back, hence the wheels.]
Don't keep the violin in its case under your bed, where it tends to be cold and dusty. Instead find a large space on a bottom book shelf where the case can rest.
If you like leaving the instrument out where it is easily accessible, use an instrument holder or stand rather than resting it on its back on your cluttered coffee table or greasy dinner table. [Okay, anyone who knows me has seen me put my fiddle on my paper-infested office desk, but I do have a very nice violin rack which I also use].
Just don't leave your violin *ON* your bed. Dumb thing to do, especially if you are a teenager and prone to throwing things across the room and whacking your violin. Not naming any names... Mary...
7. Enjoy your Instrument!
To make it simple, just play your fiddle and enjoy it. The tone will open up and you will want to play it more every day... until the next upgrade!
**Rhiannon Nachbaur is an award-winning classical performer and teacher who operates Fiddleheads Violin Studio in Kamloops, BC. The award-winning shop offers instrument trials across North America and the best service a player of any level can enjoy.