William Fitzpatrick - violin expert

Vibrations and Pitch

How to use vibrations to improve your pitch and sound

In this video, Prof. Fitzpatrick gives you interesting tips on how to use your violin's vibrations for perfect intonation and overall better sound.

Released on January 6, 2021

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

So that's what a vibration looks like. What an oscillation looks like on the violin. The note I just played was an open G. And as you can see, it oscillates quite a bit.

I mean, from the first time we all picked up a violin, if you were like me at least, what you mesmerized by this simple little thing? The string vibrating, the strings vibrating. So what if I stretch our imagination a little bit and say that this oscillation or vibration has a connection to the decisions we make with regard to intonation or pitch?

Well, the first thing we need to observe is that every string vibrates or oscillates in parts. I know it only looks like it just vibrates from the bridge to the nut, but that vibration divides itself symmetrically. First halfway, then each half divides itself as well. Here, here, it even goes the other way. Here, here.

But as we continue, we enter into a zone that we really can't hear this, but it does continue. So how does this help us with pitch? Well, do you see that first division of that open G string?

I think it's really fun to play this G.

And make the open G-string vibrate without playing it.

Wow. Here, check it out.

I remember once in Nashville, giving a lesson to what very young violinists. And I wanted to teach her about pitch. Well, what I did was to tell her to stand by the piano that was at the other end of the room. I told her that I could make this note, B natural, on the G-string. That I could make this note vibrate a string, the same string in the piano from across the room.

She looked at me with a very disbelieving look, but I insisted. I told her to press the note B next to middle C, and then press on the right pedal of the piano, the sustain pedal, and keep it down. I waited until there was no sound coming from the piano. And I picked up my violin, and with my bow I played the B natural.

Sure enough, the B string in the piano vibrated, shocking my young debutante. She looked at me with amazement and thought I was a magician. In fact, all that I had done was to utilize what we call sympathetic vibrations.

On a side note, the student played more in tune than other students twice her age after that one year of study.

In any event, it's through sympathetic vibrations that the G on the D string will cause the open G to vibrate. The same thing happens when you play a D on the A string.

You see, this is the first harmonic, that first division of the lower string that we observed earlier. This harmonic, and all subsequent divisions, are what's called the harmonic series. It's through the series that we can form a foundation for our pitch. So what do I mean by all this? How's it helpful? Well, let's take a closer look.

You see, for example, if I play A, first finger on the G string, the open A string will vibrate as well. That is, if the violin is in tune, of course. Now, if I play a B flat, there's no open string available. But it will vibrate or oscillate in the same manner as the open string. Vibrates, oscillates.

If you look closely, however, you will see the variation start to diminish as I move my finger lower or higher. This degree of flexibility, this corridor, gives us the ability to adjust when one is going from one tonality or key to another.

I mean, is the placement of an F natural and F major the same as F natural and D minor? Hmm. So I've barely scratched the surface of this discussion, but at least from these observations, we can begin to visually decide where to place our fingers on the string. We can visually judge whether or not a note is in tune. With that, voila. I just added another asset to my let's-get-it-in-tune box.
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